• Banking and Finance in Historical Perspective
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36. Jahrgang | Jahr 2010 | Heft 2


Aufsatz: Seite 107–123

Martin Espenhorst
More than a Principle
The History of Savings Banks in the Course of Stein's Städteordnung, 1808–1838
The interest in savings banks was always strong when the issue was the development of new social protection systems. The reform of the principles of municipal self-administration initiated by Baron vom Stein (Stein'sche Städteordnung), introduced in 1808, provided such tools as were required for the savings banks to prosper – to start with, in Prussia. The notion of a savings bank was not a novel one at that time. The first 'proto-savings bank' in Hamburg had already been established in 1778, and the political economist Johann Heinrich Justi developed tangible ideas about savings banks as early as 1761. But only in exceptional cases were savings banks founded before 1808. Although the notion of savings banks corresponded to a large extent with the goals of the Enlightenment in the second half of the 18th century, the development of savings banks obviously needed a completely new impetus – namely the reform of the principles of municipal self-administration introduced by Baron vom Stein – in order to be successful across the entire country. It has to be said that there is no direct link between the municipalisation of the savings banks after 1808 and the Enlightenment discourse of the time prior to that. Only now, one had a new approach for interweaving sociopolitical and municipal tasks with 'commercial' issues. The fact that vom Stein handled the question of savings banks personally and reserved a special place for them in the (re-)organization of the cities and municipalities will be demonstrated in this article.

I. Introduction

Between 1808, the year when Stein’s Städteordnung (municipal law) came into force, and 1838, when the Prussian Sparkassen-Reglement (savings banks regulation) was enacted, various aspects shaped the debate on savings banks. One of them continued in the tradition of the Enlightenment, which had been embracing all areas of life since the second half of the 18th century. It dealt with the question on how to reintegrate ‘the poor’ and ‘the suffering’ into society, how to offer them a life at the fringe of civil society and allow them to secure or possibly even to improve their livelihood. In this context, savings banks were just like orphanages, social and philanthropist institutions. They were part of the ‘Policey’ (public administration) and interior administration organized by the ‘Landesherr’ (sovereign), of ecclesiastical pastoral care and private social commitment by wealthy noble and upper middle class ‘philanthropists’, who either supported their fellow human beings independently or through associations.