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The Prussian "October Edict" of 1807, signed by King Frederick William III, Minister Karl Baron vom und zum Stein, and Others (October 9, 1807)

This important document brought both Prussian villagers’ subjection to seigneurial overlordship and personal serfdom (where it survived) to an immediate end. Furthermore, it stipulated that estate laborers’ contracts deriving from their subject-status would end in 1810. The October Edict largely justified itself in economic terms by arguing that replacing the centuries-old system of seigneurialism with free markets in land and labor would raise property values to the benefit of the landed nobility, while also allowing members of this class to enter industrial and commercial fields hitherto closed to them. For landed villagers with hereditary tenures, the terms under which they could acquire freehold farms remained to be specified. Villagers with previously temporary tenures now faced the prospect of having their land enclosed into the seigneurial estate, as happened frequently though not universally in the following years.

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The Prussian Reform Edict of October 9, 1807

We, Frederick William, by the Grace of God King of Prussia, etc., etc.,

Hereby make known and give to understand:

Since peace has been established we have been occupied before everything else with the care for the depressed condition of our faithful subjects and the speediest revival and greatest possible improvement in this respect. We have considered that in face of the prevailing want the means at our disposal would be insufficient to aid each individual, and even if they were we could not hope to accomplish our object, and that, moreover, in accordance with the imperative demands of justice and the principles of a judicious economic policy it behooves us to remove every obstacle which has hitherto prevented the individual from attaining such a state of prosperity as he was capable of reaching. We have farther considered that the existing restrictions both on the possession and enjoyment of landed property and on the personal condition of the agricultural laborer especially interfere with our benevolent purpose and disable a great force which might be applied to the restoration of cultivation, the former by their prejudicial influence upon the value of landed property and the credit of the proprietor, the latter by diminishing the value of labor. We desire therefore to reduce both kinds of restrictions so far as the common well-being demands and accordingly ordain the following:

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