Frederick the Great - George Upton

End of the Seven Tears' War

Maria Theresa and the Elector of Saxony realized that under such circumstances as these they were in no condition to continue the war alone against Prussia and that, whether they would or not, they must take steps to conclude a treaty of peace. The Seven Years' War had convinced both of them that they could never take beautiful Silesia from the hands of their brave enemies, much less humble the Margrave of Brandenburg. So they extended the hand of peace to the King. The hunting castle of Hubertsburg was selected as the place for the negotiations and there the plenipotentiaries made peace, the King of Prussia being represented by Minister Von Herzberg. As he had fought many enemies in the field he had to make treaties with many, and they were concluded in such an honorable and skilful manner that Frederick was once more in possession of Silesia, and the county of

Glatz did not lose a foot of its old possessions. The treaty was signed February 15, 1763, and caused unbounded enthusiasm in city and country. Those who have not experienced the horrors of war have little idea of the true significance of the word "peace." It recalls Schiller's beautiful words: "Gentle peace, sweet concord, abide with us. May that day never come when war's hordes shall devastate this quiet valley and when the evening sky, tinged with roseate hues, shall reflect the dreadful glare of burning villages and towns."

Crowned with victory, the King returned to his capital amid the rejoicings of his subjects. The Berliners had arranged an ovation for the home-coming hero. In view of the devastation and misery caused by the war he declined an immediate reception. On the thirtieth of March, a little later than he had intended, he entered his capital in the dusk of evening, remained there a short time, and then hastened on to Potsdam and Charlottenburg. At the latter place he one day summoned his musicians and fixed a time at which they should sing the chorale, "We praise thee, O God."

They assembled punctually, supposing that the church would be filled with a large and brilliant audience. Instead of this, the King alone appeared, seated himself, and gave them the signal. The singers began, and each one did his utmost to contribute to the success of the performance. As the music of the hymn of praise, majestic as a song of cherubim, filled the house of God, Frederick was so affected that he reverently fell upon his knees and with tears in his eyes expressed his sincere gratitude to the Almighty for his many deliverances and for the help which had been vouchsafed him through the long and dreadful war now so happily ended. It was thus the victorious King celebrated his peace festival, and his devout attitude was so impressive that there was not a dry eye among the singers. Never before had they taken part in such a solemn and inspiring ceremony.

Frederick always spoke freely of the battles in the long war and liked to hear the accounts of his generals. On one occasion General Seydlitz was dining with him at Potsdam. After a general conversation, mention was made of the battle of Rossbach, and the King said: "My dear Seydlitz, I am greatly indebted to you, to your officers, and to your whole division for that victory."

Seydlitz replied: "Excuse me, Your Majesty, not alone my division, but my chaplain, Balke, also conducted himself most gallantly. When the battle began he buckled on a sword and fought splendidly."

"You don't say so," said the King. "He must be rewarded in some special way for such unusual service. The Provost has just died. Balke shall have the place." The chaplain was summoned to Potsdam, and was not a little surprised to receive an appointment to the vacant position.

The King extended his generosity not only in individual cases, but all over the country. There was urgent necessity to awaken fresh life and secure prosperity once more for the exhausted provinces. The war, which had been conducted with great bitterness and sometimes barbarity, had not only greatly distressed Prussia, but had left all Germany in a wretched plight. An entire circuit of towns and villages had been destroyed. The luxuriant fields had been trodden down by hoofs of horses and were lying waste. Entire villages were destitute of men, for their former residents had either been killed or driven away by the enemy. The Prussian army alone lost over two hundred thousand men during the war, and its allies, England, Hanover, Hesse, and others one hundred and sixty thousand more. The losses of the enemy were still greater, for they amounted to more than half a million men. Austria lost one hundred and forty thousand, Russia, one hundred and twenty thousand, France twenty-two thousand, Sweden, twenty-five thousand, and the German Reich, twenty-eight thousand.

Under such circumstances, it is not strange there were not enough men left in the country to till the soil. Women had to do that work, and in some places there were not women enough. Consequently the King issued an order to take a hundred of the strongest boys from the Potsdam Orphan Asylum, and set them at work in these depopulated localities. He devised still other means to make up this lack of men. He released Prussians from the army, filled their places with foreign recruits, and then ordered that as few Prussians as possible should be enlisted until the deficiency was made good. The number thus released was thirty thousand seven hundred and eighty. Every effort was made to assist them in the habits of self-reliance and industrial life, and orders were also issued that soldiers in such districts should be allowed to marry without a license from the authorities. Many buildings abandoned by their owners were going to ruin, and more than thirteen thousand houses in Prussia were destroyed. Fertile fields after the war looked like a barren wilderness, for there was a lack of seed-corn and products, and implements of every kind needed to put them in good condition again.

Gentry and peasants alike had been plundered by so many armies, and had lost so much by contributions and confiscations, that they were utterly destitute. The enemy had left them nothing but their lives. The country was not the only sufferer. Prosperity was ruined and trade was dead in the cities. There was no longer any regard for habits of order, and the police administration was wretched. The courts of justice and financial institutions had been reduced to inaction by these frequent invasions of the enemy. The silence of the laws had made the people reckless and produced in them an uncontrollable greed of gain. Nobles, merchants, farmers, and laborers raised the prices of their commodities, and their demands were exorbitant beyond belief.

The situation called for drastic remedies, and the King, who was greatly concerned over the country's condition, did not hesitate to apply them in a practical way. He realized that the Provinces could not recover unaided, and so he decided to help them. By his orders Silesia had to contribute three million; Pomerania and Neumark, one million four hundred thousand; the Electorate, seven hundred thousand; the Duchy of Cleve, one hundred thousand, and the province of Prussia, eight hundred thousand thalers. Beside this, he distributed among the most needy localities twenty-five thousand bushels of rye and meal, and seventeen thousand bushels of oats taken from the public storehouses. He went even further than this. He reduced the army, and distributed thirty-five thousand horses among the peasants and gentry. In those parts of the country which had suffered most severely during the war, particularly Crossen, Hohenstein, and Halberstadt, the taxes were reduced one-half. In Silesia the payment of taxes was suspended for six months, and in Pomerania and Neumark for two years. The gentry also received considerable sums of money for the arrangement of their affairs and the payment of debts, for their resources had been so greatly impaired, money was so scarce, and credit so uncertain, that there was otherwise no hope for their recovery.

It was not only cities and villages that were ruined during this war. The discipline of the army was so impaired by dissoluteness that more stringent regulations had to be adopted. The work, however, proceeded so slowly that permanent results were not apparent until 1775. From that time the army displayed the genuine military spirit. Everything except the regulations governing enlistments had been changed.

It was natural that by the reduction of the army many a deserving soldier found himself badly off. When the free battalions were organized, a blacksmith's journeyman in a Silesian village enlisted in the one commanded by Quintus Icilius, became a corporal, and subsequently was promoted to the position of major and was given the decoration for merit. After the battalion was disbanded, he was left to shift for himself, and as he could find nothing better went back to the smithy, but still wore his decoration. Seydlitz found him at work, and inquired where he got that decoration. He told his story, and Seydlitz told it to the King. Quintus was in attendance upon the King, and, one day at table, he said to him:

"Quintus, you had some fine specimens of officers in your battalion. There is, for instance, a blacksmith journeyman who has decorated himself with a service badge. How did that Cyclops come by it?"

Quintus replied: "I remember the brave fellow. I wish Your Majesty had had more such smiths in the campaign. This one certainly did well, and Your Majesty recognized his service and gave him the decoration in Saxony."

"Why have you not told me about him before?" said the King.

Quintus answered: "It has been done, but Your Majesty at the time was much prejudiced against the free battalions and struck the name of this brave fellow off the list."

The King smiled and shaking his head, said: "He has had hard luck and I must help him some way. Now, listen, I will give the man a pension for service, but he must not wear his decoration when at work and he must keep quiet until I call him."

The quondam major shortly after this received a kindly letter, which assured him a generous pension and made him the happiest of men.

Considering the care with which this sagacious sovereign looked after matters in general as well as individual affairs, and devoted himself to the humblest as well as the greatest in his dominions, it is not surprising that the ruined towns and villages, and the waste lands as well, soon presented a changed aspect, but it took years before the sorely oppressed country recovered entirely from the devastating effects of war. With the increasing industry of the people, however, and the unfailing encouragement and assistance of the King in advancing the interests of commerce, trade, and agriculture, Prussia in time rose to a higher degree of prosperity and culture than ever before.