Frederick the Great

On this date in 1712, "Enlightened Despot" Frederick II, King of Prussia, was born in Berlin. Frederick endured a severe military education at the hands of his unsympathetic father, who once beat him publicly when he was 18. Frederick was forced to witness the execution by decapitation of a friend with whom he had planned an escape from Prussia. When Frederick ascended the throne in 1740, he instituted many domestic reforms, including abolishing court serfdom, permitting freedom of speech and enforcing universal religious toleration, promoting education and the arts, improving infrastructure, and creating industries. Under his sway, his court was turned into an international hub of Enlightenment and culture. He separated from his wife, chosen for him in an arranged marriage, and is widely believed to have been gay. He corresponded for 40 years with Voltaire. He was admired for his military strategies and expansions. By the time he died, he had doubled the size of his country. Frederick the Great was the first to codify German law, and he reformed the criminal codes and abolished torture. While holding absolute power, he dedicated himself as "first servant of the state" and modernized Prussia. Frederick's collected writings fill 31 volumes. D. 1786.

“Religion is the idol of the mob; it adores everything it does not understand. . . . We know the crimes that fanaticism in religion has caused . . . ”

—Frederick the Great, letter to Voltaire, July 6, 1737. Cited by James A. Haught in 2,000 Years of Disbelief

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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