Austria History – Maria Theresa’s Reforms and Politics

By | January 7, 2022

According to searchforpublicschools, the empress took advantage of the few years of peace that she could enjoy between the war for the Austrian succession (1740-1748) and the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), for internal reforms that aimed above all at improving the military conditions of the Empire. He also worked to emancipate the monarch from the whim of the states; and it was the first to create a state administration of first and second instance. The soul of these reforms was Count Haugwitz. The Systemalpatent of July 26, 1748 affirmed for the first time the principle of the general obligation of taxes, an obligation from which until then the states were exempt, and at the same time forbade them to pass on their tax burdens on employees. A first Robotpatent (law on rustic servants or corvées), which others followed during the reign of Maria Theresa and Joseph II, placed limits on the overloading of peasants by the masters. The spirit of the times, aimed at greater coordination of state tasks, prompted the emperor to remove or attenuate the current separation of the political administration from the financial one. In May 1749, the imperial chancelleries and the court chamber were abolished and the companies of the two central offices united in the newly founded Directorium in publicis et cameralibus. Later, Universal CommerzDirectorium also joined, established in 1746 by the court chamber, as a central organ for commercial policy. Justice, on the other hand, was forever separated from the administration and entrusted to the new Justizhofstelle (office of the court of justice), which was to act simultaneously as the supreme court, the supreme body of administrative justice and the control office on codification. Then, in 1753, the Kompilationskommission was established, which had the task of unifying the civil and penal codes existing in the individual hereditary lands and which presented in 1758 the first part of a civil code with the title of Codex Theresianus, foundation of the civil code completed in 1811. Even greater importance of these new central bodies is assumed by the governmental magistracies established in the individual regions, that is, in all the capitals, under the title of Repräsentation und Kammer with the task of governing all internal administration, also financial, and to collect taxes. But for this there were very lively protests of the states, which saw the old position of privilege removed. Even stronger was the aversion of the landed nobility against district offices (Kreisämter), subjected to the Repräsentationen und Kammern as administrative bodies of first instance. They had first of all to prevent the exploitation of the rural populations by the masters, and to keep them in a position to be able to pay taxes; then they had the task of enlisting for the army. The justice exercised by the owners of the great estates and that of the noble cities was not yet statized; but the lords were obliged to appoint an official judge with legal knowledge. In harmony with these regulations, legal and university studies in general were also reformed: this was the merit of the brilliant doctor of the empress, Gherardo von Swieten. The universities were removed from the hitherto dominant influence of the Jesuits; until, in the year 1752, a new general organization of studies was provided. Finally, in 1760, Studienhofkommission, central body for all things of education, which was to implement the elaborate reforms.

Austria History - Maria Theresa's Reforms and Politics

After only twelve years of life, in 1761, the Directorium in publicis et cameralibus was dissolved and divided into political and financial administration. The first was entrusted to the “reunited Bohemian-Austrian imperial chancellery”, the other divided into three sections: a) the court room, re-established, was to deal with financial policy, loans and tax laws; b) the general treasury made the payments; c) the court of accounts acted as the state accounting office. The separation of justice and administration remained in effect. In the province, alongside the Gubernien, tax offices were established everywhere as organs of the administration of finance, and CommerzienForums, to increase trade and industry. These changes did not mean a renunciation of the centralizing policy of 1749. The Staatsrat or council of state, proposed to the empress by the chancellor prince Kaunitz, represented the supreme administrative body, to which all other central technical offices were subject. It regularly held its meetings, presided over by the empress and in the presence of the emperor and the crown prince, and it was also a manifestation of energetic centralization. These reforms aimed primarily at increasing the military strength and efficiency of the state. The army grew to 108,000 men, in those years of reform, and the expenses for it reached 12 million florins. Marshal Daun was tasked with drawing up service regulations for the entire army and regulations for individual weapons. In 1752, the empress founded the military academy for the education of the officers and donated the old Habsburg castle in Wiener Neustadt to the new institute that bore his name. One purpose was before the empress: the reconquest of Silesia and, consequently, the Austrian supremacy in Germany. Always with the same aim, they thought of a vast system of alliances that enveloped Prussia and held it in check. To do this, it was first of all necessary to overcome the three-century contrasts with France. He succeeded in the ability of the Chancellor Prince Kaunitz, ardent advocate of French cultural influence, to convince the Paris court of the common interest of the Habsburgs and the Bourbons to oppose the ascension of the Hohenzollerns. The Franco-Austrian alliance was concluded on 10 May 1756 at Versailles; at the same time,seven years, War of the) was not to lead to happy success. After years of very hard struggle, in which victories and defeats alternated on both sides, Maria Theresa had to conclude the peace of Hubertusburg (February 15, 1763), which left Frederick as the definitive master of Silesia. Prussia thus rose to a great European power like the Habsburg monarchy; and the antagonism between the Habsburgs and the Hohenzollerns then left its mark on the entire history of Germany.

Only in the years of peace that followed the Seven Years’ War did the reforms introduced by Maria Theresa begin to bear fruit also in the economic and cultural fields. The class of nobles, which had to renounce the absolute mastery over the peasants exercised in the past, was compensated by almost reserving for them only the posts in diplomacy and in the army and by calling them to participate in the splendor of the imperial court, to which Maria Theresa was able to attract not only the ancient families of the inherited countries, but also the Hungarians, previously so rebellious to the dominion of the Habsburgs. The government of Maria Theresa thus represents the culmination of the aristocratic life at the court of Vienna.

The government wanted the bourgeoisie to find a way to satisfy all the needs of economic life with national products; and this economic policy was crowned with success. For this purpose, the customs tariffs introduced in 1769 burdened with high percentages only foreign luxury products; instead they favored the importation of the most necessary raw materials with low rates. At the same time the corporative order was broken, medieval survival, which in each city had created compulsory guilds for individual trades with a fixed number of authorized masters: the owners of the most important industrial companies (the so-called manufactures) that were springing up at the time. Thus the time of Maria Theresa was also the one in which Austrian industry began. Above all in the field of artistic industries, in the production of porcelain, glass, furniture, silk and cotton fabrics, a refinement of taste was achieved, which remained a model for almost a century. The bourgeoisie of Vienna and of the main provincial cities, enriched by trade and industry, began to rival the nobility in comfort and standard of living.

The effect of Maria Theresa’s reforms, however, was more beneficial and lasting in the peasant class, which was then the lowest social stratum. It is true that the empress did not completely free the peasants from economic aggravations, only attenuating their extent; but it is also true that it opened the way for the peasants to elevate themselves morally, a way that was completely forbidden to them until then, because until then it was the exclusive privilege of the clergy, the nobility and the bourgeoisie. With the famous decree of September 1770 Maria Teresa instituted compulsory education, and with the general school regulations of December 6, 1774 she founded the Austrian popular school, the most enduring monument of her government.