Stein, Karl, Freiherr vom und zum (kärl frĪˈhĕr fəm ŏnt tsŏm shtĪn) [key], 1757–1831, Prussian statesman and reformer. Rising through the Prussian bureaucracy, he became minister of commerce (1804–7) but was dismissed by King Frederick William III for his attempts to increase the power of the heads of the ministries. He was recalled (1807) as chief minister after Prussia's defeat by the French only to be dismissed again (1808) on pressure by Napoleon I. An exile in Russia, Stein helped to bring about the Russo-Prussian alliance of 1813 and returned to prominence as chief administrator of the reconquered and newly conquered Prussian provinces, following the Wars of Liberation against Napoleon. His hopes for a united Germany were disappointed at the Congress of Vienna, and his role after 1815, when Prussia turned to reaction, was not prominent. Few men have achieved as many radical and successful reforms in so peaceful a manner and in such difficult circumstances as did Baron Stein. His chief reforms were carried out in 1807–8, when Prussia was a defeated nation and a virtual dependency of France. They were continued by K. A. von Hardenberg after Stein's exile, and they were forwarded by such men as Gerhard von Scharnhorst in the military field and Wilhelm von Humboldt in the educational system. Before Stein's reforms Prussia was still a semifeudal state. Stein caused the king to abolish serfdom and the estate system by the Edict of 1807. The law ended the restrictions against the sale to burghers of land owned by nobles; those restrictions had had disastrous effects on Prussian economy, for the nobles lacked the capital to till their land properly. The edict also opened all trades and professions to all classes. Stein instituted local self-government in towns, cities, and provinces. His administration transformed Prussia into a modern state and enabled it to play its leading role in the eventual unification of Germany. Stein was also responsible for the publication, beginning in 1826, of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, which became the model for editions of national historical documents.
See biography by Sir John R. Seeley (3 vol., 1878, repr. 1968); G. S. Ford, Stein and the Era of Reform in Prussia (1922, repr. 1965); R. C. Raack, The Fall of Stein (1965).