THE Germans of 1800 were a class-conscious people, accepting class division as a system of social order and economic organization; and rare was the man who acquired a noble title except by birth. “In Germany,” noted Mme. de Staël, “everybody keeps his rank, his place in society, as if it were his established post.”1 This was less so along the Rhine and among university graduates, but in general the Germans were a more patient people than the French. Not till 1848 did they reach their 1789.
The influence of the French Revolution was exciting in literature, slight in industry. Germany had rich natural resources, but the persistence of feudalism, and the power of feudal barons, in the central and eastern states, slowed the rise of a business and manufacturing class that might have been stimulated by a free and classless economy to apply to industry the coal and metals lying abundantly in the soil. Commerce was helped by magnificent rivers—the Rhine, the Weser, the Elbe, the Saale, the Main, the Spree, the Oder; but the fragmentation of states kept roads short and few and poor, and on these there were brigands and feudal tolls. Commerce was hindered by guild regulations, high taxes, and the geographical diversity of measures, weights, coinages, and laws.
German industry, till 1807, had to meet the competition of British goods produced by the latest machinery; England enjoyed a generation of priority in the Industrial Revolution, and it forbade the export of its new technology, or its skilled technicians.2 The double-faced god of war, breeding industries to feed and clothe and kill men, nourished national economies; and after 1806 the Continental Blockade, more or less excluding British goods, helped the mainland industries to grow. Mining and metallurgy developed in western Germany, especially in or near Düsseldorf and Essen. At Essen in 1810 Friedrich Krupp (1787–1826) began the complex of metal works that would arm Germany for a century.
Despite such figures the entrepreneur was looked down upon by noble and king as a potential profiteer, and no merchant or manufacturer was allowed to marry into the nobility, or to buy a feudal estate. Financiers-Huguenot, Jewish, or other—were allowed to lend to nobility or royalty, but when (1810) they proposed that Prussia imitate England and France and establish a national bank, issue government securities at a low interest, and so let a public debt help to finance the state, the King agreed with the nobles that such a procedure would put the kingdom at the mercy of the bankers. Prussia rejected control of the nation by the managers of capital, and chose rather to be led by a military caste and a Junker aristocracy.