« Altenburg, Colloquy of Altenstein, Karl Freiherr von Stein Zum Althamer, Andreas »

Altenstein, Karl Freiherr von Stein Zum

ALTENSTEIN, ɑ̄l´´ten-stɑin´, KARL FREIHERR VON STEIN ZUM: German statesman, first minister of public worship in Prussia (1817-40); b. at Ansbach (20 m. w.s.w. of Nuremberg), Bavaria, Oct. 1, 1770; d. in Berlin May 14, 1840. He lost his father at the age of nine, and to the fact that his character was formed under the influence of his mother has been attributed his incapacity in after-life for making thoroughgoing and clear-cut decisions. He was educated in his birthplace and at the universities of Erlangen and Göttingen, where he studied law primarily, but found plenty of time for researches in philosophy, especially the philosophy of religion, and the natural sciences. In 1793 he received a minor legal appointment at Ansbach, which in the mean time had become Prussian. Here he was under Hardenberg, who recognized his ability and had him transferred to 143 Berlin in 1799. At the capital he gained the reputation of an authority in financial matters, and was made a privy councilor in the financial department in 1803, succeeding Stein as minister of finance in 1808. Unable to cope with the almost impossible task of satisfying the demands of Napoleon, he retired in 1810. Hardenberg, who had been compelled to join in overthrowing him, tried three years later to bring him back to public life, and in 1817 secured his appointment as head of the newly founded ministry of public worship, education, and medicine. These important branches of public administration had until then formed departments of the ministry of the interior, and had been badly managed.

Altenstein took up religious questions as a man who understood and cared for them, though his Christianity had a decidedly rationalistic tinge. Difficulties of many kinds beset him during his long tenure of office, arising partly from the determined and obstinate character of his sovereign and partly from demagogic opposition, as well as from the great Halle controversy of 1830 and from the vexed question of the Catholic attitude in regard to mixed marriages. When, in 1824, without his knowledge, the direction of education was taken from Nicolovius and given to Von Kamptz, Altenstein was on the verge of resigning his post, but he decided that it was his duty to remain. One of the great achievements of his administration was the systematic improvement to a remarkable extent of primary and secondary education.

(F. Bosse).

Bibliography: Freiherr von Stein, in Deutsche Revue, vol. vii., 1882; H. Treitschke, Deutsche Geschichte in 19. Jahrhundert, Leipsic, 1882; ADB, vol. xxxvi.

« Altenburg, Colloquy of Altenstein, Karl Freiherr von Stein Zum Althamer, Andreas »
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