It is odd that Prussia would become such a focus of German nationalism. Until this time, Prussia had basically been ignored by the western parts of Germany, who saw Prussia as existing on the German cultural fringe. Further, after the defeats of 1806, Prussia stood in a sorry state, led by an unexciting king. However, able administrators emerged who employed French reforming techniques while capitalizing on anti-French nationalism. By 1815, the Prussian state, economy, and army were once again powerful, and played a substantial role in bringing down Napoleon at Waterloo.

Prussia's military reforms under Scharnhost and Gneisenau mirrored French liberalizing reforms in many ways. Yet whereas the French made these changes from the "bottom up", in response to a revolution by underprivileged classes, Prussia made similar changes, but from the "top down." The Prussian changes were made not to affirm the dignity of all men, as might be claimed for French liberalization, but to help Prussia improve its military. Prussia's modernization of its military and economy were pragmatically rather than philosophically based: Prussia wanted to keep up with the French. Gneisenau had fought for England during the American War of Independence, and he had been very impressed by the power of patriotism to make the American revolutionaries into an effective fighting force. Gneisenau had seen similar developments in France, and knew that the French army derived much of its strength from a similar sense patriotic pride. Based on these two models, Gneisenau concluded that he could harness a patriotic power by opening posts to individuals based on talent resulted in an improved fighting force. The army, then, is a perfect example of the fact that liberalization of Prussian institutions took place not for ideological reasons, but out of a desire to beat France.

Thus, the furnace of the Napoleonic Wars actually encouraged Prussia to make liberal reforms. The reformer's intent may have been to prepare Prussia for battle, but the ultimate result was a considerable amount of progressive change.

Popular pages: Napoleonic Europe (1799-1815)