Frederick III: Germany's Liberal Emperor

By Patricia Kollander | Go to book overview

Conclusion

This study has focused on the evolution of Frederick III's liberal views within the larger context of liberal development during his lifetime. As far as can be seen from the previous record, Frederick had little in common with the legend that was created by his wife and nurtured by her liberal supporters. As we have seen, the legend obscured several truths about his liberal views: it downplayed Frederick's opposition to British-style liberalism, his alliance with Bismarck during the latter's period of cooperation with the liberals, his rejection of the idea of ruling alongside the left-liberal Freisinn Party when he came to the throne, and, above all, his bouts of depression and his lack of enthusiasm about his coming rule that dominated the last decade of his life. In the final analysis, the legend says a lot more about Victoria's political views than those of her husband. It was Victoria, not Frederick, who wanted to dismantle Bismarck's system and convert Prussia and Germany to genuine parliamentary governments.

However, the fact that Frederick had little in common with his legend should not diminish his contribution to the course of German liberal development. As a youth, Frederick underwent a conversion from conservative prince to constitutional liberal. The conversion was genuine: he was the only ruler of Germany who never wavered in his conviction that the monarch and the people were subject to the rule of law and that the constitution was a binding agreement between the monarch and the people that had to be upheld at all costs.

Frederick felt he had good reason to reject Victoria's view that it was necessary to adopt British political institutions in Germany. To compromise the power of the monarchy by giving the people greater power, he felt, would invite the dreaded "revolution from below," since the German people were politically too immature to use wisely the gift of increased political power. As he saw it, the monarchy was responsible for responding to the needs of the people, whereas the role of parliament was to assist the monarchy in its efforts to ensure their welfare. His political ideal was achieved during the new era, a time when government and parliament appeared to share a mutual desire to pursue liberal reforms--such as free expres

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