Oldenburg a grand-duchy of Germany, consists of three distinct and widely separated territories, viz. Oldenburg Proper, the principality of Lubeck, and the principality of Birkenfeld, and has a collective area of nearly 2469 square miles, and a population of 341,525 (in 1885). Oldenburg Proper, which comprises seven eighths of this area and four fifths of the entire population, is bounded on the north by the German Ocean, on the east, south, and west by the territory formerly the kingdom of Hanover. The principal rivers of Oldenburg are the Weser, the Jahde, the Haase, the Leda, and other tributaries of the Ems.
The grand-duchy of Oldenburg Proper is divided into eight circles. The country is flat, belonging to the great sandy plain of Northern Germany, and consists for the most part of moors, heaths, marsh or fens, and uncultivated sandy tracts; but here and there, on the banks of the rivers, the uniform level is broken by gentle acclivities, covered with wood, or by picturesque lakes surrounded by fruitful pasture-lands. Agriculture and the rearing of cattle constitute the chief sources of wealth. The scarcity of wood for fuel, and the absence of coal, are compensated for by the existence of turfbeds of enormous extent. With the exception of some linen and stocking looms, and a few tobacco-works, there are no manufactories. Oldenburg has principally a coasting-trade, but there are exports of horses, cattle, linen, thread, hides, and rags, which find their way chiefly to Holland and the Hanseatic cities.
The principality of Lubeck, consisting of the secularized territories of the former bishopric of the same name, is surrounded by the Prussian province of Sleswick Holstein, and is situated on the banks of the rivers Schwartau and Trave. It contributes 140 square miles to the general area of the grand- duchy, and 34,721 inhabitants to the collective population. It is divided into four administrative districts. It has several large lakes, as those of Plon — noted for its picturesque beauty — Keller, Uklei, and Gross-Eutin; while in regard to climate, soil, and natural products it participates in the general physical characteristics of Holstein.
The principality of Birkenfeld, lying south-west of the Rhine, among the Hundsrtick Mountains, and between Rhenish Prussia and Lichtenberg, is an outlying territory, situated in lat. 49° 30'-49° 52' N., and in long. 7°-7° 30' E. Its area is 194 square miles, and its population 39,693. The soil of Birkenfeld is not generally productive; but in the lower and more sheltered valleys it yields wheat, flax, and hemp. Wood is abundant. The mineral products, which are of considerable importance, comprise iron, copper, lead, coal, and building-stone; while in addition to the rearing of cattle, sheep, and swine, the polishing of stones, more especially agates, constitutes the principal source of industry. The principality is divided into three governmental districts.
Oldenburg is a constitutional ducal monarchy, hereditary in the male line of the reigning family. The constitution, which is based upon that of 1849, revised in 1852, is common to the three provinces, which are represented in one joint chamber, composed of thirty-three members, chosen by free voters. Each principality has, however, its special provincial council, the members of which are likewise elected by votes; while each governmental district within the provinces has its local board of counselors, and its several courts of law, police, finance, etc.; although the highest judicial court of appeal, and the ecclesiastical and ministerial offices, are located at Oldenburg. Perfect liberty of conscience was guaranteed by the constitution of 1849. The Lutheran is the predominant Church, upwards of 2610,000 of the population belonging to that denomination, while about 75, 000 persons profess the Roman Catholic religion. There are two gymnasia, one higher provincial college, several secondary, and over 500 elementary schools; but in consequence of the scarcity of villages in: the duchy, and the isolated position of many of the houses of the peasantry, schools are not common in the country districts, and the standard of education of the lower classes is, from these causes, scarcely equal to that existing in other parts of Northern Germany.
History. — The territory now included in the grandduchy of Oldenburg was in ancient times occupied by the Teutonic race of the Chauci, who were subsequently merged with the more generally known Frisii, or Frisians; and the land, under the names of Ammergau and Lerigau, was for a long period included among the dominions of the dukes of Saxony. In 1180, the counts of Oldenburg and Delmenhorst succeeded in establishing independent states from the territories of Henry the Lion, which fell into a condition of disorganization after his downfall. This family has continued to rule Oldenburg. On the death, in 1667, of count Anthony Gunther, the wisest and best of the Oldenburg rulers, his dominions, in default of nearer heirs, fell to the Danish reigning family, a branch of the house of Oldenburg, and continued for a century to be ruled by viceroys nominated by the kings of Denmark. In 1773, by a family compact, Christian VII made over his Oldenburg territories to the grand-duke Paul of Russia, who represented the Holstein-Gottorp branch of the Oldenburg family. Paul having renounced the joint countships of Delmenhorst and Oldenburg in favor of his cousin, Frederick Augustus, of the younger or Keil line of the house of Oldenburg, who was prince-bishop of Lilbeck, the emperor raised the united Oldenburg territories to the rank of a duchy. The present reigning family is descended from duke Peter Friedrich Ludwig, cousin to the prince-bishop, Friedrich Augustus. For a time the duke was a member of Napoleon's Rhenish Confederation; but French troops having, in spite of this bond of alliance, taken forcible possession of the duchy in 1811, and incorporated it with the French empire, the ejected prince joined the ranks of the allies. In recognition of this adhesion, the Congress of Vienna transferred certain portions of territory, with 5000 Hanoverians and 20,000, inhabitants of the quondam French district of the Saar, to the Oldenburg allegiance, and it was raised to the dignity of a grand-duchy. The revolutionary movement of 1848 was quite as productive of violent and compulsory political changes in this as in other German states; and in 1849. after having existed for centuries without even a show of constitutional or legislative freedom, it entered suddenly into possession of the most extreme of liberal constitutions. The reaction in favor of absolutism, which the license and want of purpose of the popular party naturally induced all over Germany, led in 1852 to a revision and modification of the constitution, giving it the essential principles of popular liberty and security. See Halem Geschichte des Grossherzogthums Oldenburg (Oldenburg, 1794, 3 vols.); Runde, Oldenburgische Chronik (ibid. 1863).