Heinrich von Kleist wrote Michael Kohlhaas in 1811. I read the translation published in Melville House's 'Art of the Novella' series.
In sixteenth-century Brandenburg, a horse dealer named Michael Kohlhaas sets out for business in neighboring Saxony (where he maintains a second home). At the border, a crooked knight seizes two of his horses. It later turns out that the horses were worked almost to death and that one of Kohlhaas's servants was harassed and abused by the knight's men.
The rest of the story is about Kohlhaas's quest for justice from the local potentate, the Elector of Saxony. Justice is repeatedly denied since the crooked knight has friends in high places. Kohlhaas rebels against the state by forming his own army, which attacks several Saxon towns.*
One interesting idea in the story concerns the role of the state. The state exists to provide justice to its inhabitants, from which it follows (according to one of the Elector's counselors) that by denying justice to Kohlhaas they have expelled him from the state, so that he is no longer subject to its laws; as a result, he's not so much a criminal as a foreign power making war against their state.
The tale at times comes across as a simple revenge story with Kohlhaas refusing to accept the legal outcome and forgive his enemies (as his wife and Martin Luther urged him to do). At other times, though, the story seems to present a clash between two laws: the human law that derives from the ruler and a higher, natural law that rulers ignore at their peril. This is the law that Kohlhaas, cast into the state of nature, aims to uphold.
In the end, it is Kohlhaas' willingness to die for this law that gives him more power than the Saxon prince, who fears for his own fate.
*Kleist thoroughly vilifies the Saxons, who in his own day were allied with Napoleon against his beloved Prussia.
Update (Sept. 26, 2009): Here's a stimulating reflection on Kohlhaas, the Grimms, etc. by Waggish.