Frederick III: Germany's Liberal Emperor

By Patricia Kollander | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Rebellion against Conservatism, 1862-1863

Frederick's constitutional-liberal views were put to a severe test when his father proposed to break with his new era ministers because of their inability to induce parliament to accept the king's military reforms. Although conservatives and liberals agreed that military reforms were necessary, 1 a clash threatened when the crown revealed details of the reform plan. The reforms were expensive, and the proposed tax increases alarmed liberal deputies from the commercial classes, whose constituents were just recovering from the depression of 1857. 2 The liberals also opposed the government's proposal to incorporate a large part of the citizen's militia into the regular army, since this would put the militia under the command of the conservative professional military. Since the militia, unlike the latter, was sympathetic to the political hopes and demands of the liberals, parliament saw this particular reform as a poorly disguised attempt by the Junker military caste to strengthen the authority of the monarchy at the cost of the bourgeoisie. 3 The same criticism was levelled at the crown when the government announced its intention to extend the term of required military service for new recruits from two to three years. The liberals in the parliament rejected the army reforms for fear that the new army would bolster monarchical power and be used to suppress liberal agitation for genuine constitutional government. 4

Despite the strong air of suspicion between crown and parliament, the disagreement brewed for two years before an impasse was reached. In 1860 and 1861, parliament approved the funds for the expansion of the army but rejected the king's plans for the militia and the three-year term of service. Surprisingly, the government opted not to do battle with parliament on the issue and asked for only a "provisional appropriation" so that it could proceed with army expansion and technological improvements for one year. 5

Parliament agreed, but the aura of compromise was illusory. In early 1861, the government reorganized the militia without parliamentary approval of the necessary funds. The liberals were outraged at what they regarded as a breach of parliament's budgetary rights granted by the constitution and blamed the new era ministry for giving in to the king and the conservatives. Feelings against the ministry and the

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