Frederick III: Germany's Liberal Emperor

By Patricia Kollander | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5
From Optimism to Disillusionment, 1871-1879

Although his position was just as difficult in the new empire as it was before, the early 1870s were happy years for Frederick William. He was a popular war hero and earned praise even from a French journalist who wrote: "The Crown Prince has left the memory of countless traits of kindness and humanity in the land that he fought against. . . . He and his subordinates showed esteem for the unfortunate defeated enemy, and paid a tribute of respect to their bravery." 1 The London Times heralded Frederick's visit to England in July 1871 with the following tribute:

The Prince has won as much honour for his gentleness as for his prowess in the war. . . . He comes among us, the hero of military exploits unsurpassed, if equalled, in the world's history. . . . The Prince is known to have been the consistent friend in Prussia of all mild and liberal administration, so far as was consistent with the paramount objects which his father had in view. He has gathered around him by tendency the general confidence of his future subjects, and the fact that he is the heir to the resuscitated throne is one of the most reassuring circumstances in the prospects of the Empire. His influence in any position has been exerted, and will, we believe, be exerted, in behalf of a peaceful and unaggressive policy. 2

After suffering criticism from both sides of the political spectrum in the wake of his Danzig speech and his opposition to the war of 1866, such praise was a tonic for the crown prince. During a tour of Swabia in August 1872, Frederick happily noted to his wife: "Massive crowds of people greeted me at every stop on the tour. At every station, I was asked to hear speeches that were not only patriotic, but very flattering to me personally. I wish that you could have been with me to experience the wonderful impact which the achievement of emperor and empire has had on the people of Swabia." 3

Such approbation made the crown prince look forward to his reign, which appeared imminent in view of his father's advanced age and precarious health. 4 His enthusiasm about his coming reign was also based on his belief that he would be

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