Frederick III: Germany's Liberal Emperor

By Patricia Kollander | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
The Failure of "Moral Conquests," 1864-1866

Frederick's interpretation of moral conquests stipulated that Prussian sponsorship of the nationalist cause in foreign affairs would solve the constitutional conflict and increase Prussian influence in German affairs. An opportunity to test this theory arose in late 1863 when the German-speaking inhabitants of Schleswig- Holstein rebelled against the Danish king's attempt to incorporate Schleswig into his realm. This act violated the London treaties of 1852 and aroused the anger of German nationalists, who regarded both duchies as German states. 1 The nationalists demanded that the duchies be separated from Denmark and admitted to the German Confederation under the prince of Augustenburg, who claimed that the Danish king was not the rightful heir to the duchies. 2

The issue of the duchies was important to German nationalists. If the German national movement failed to separate Schleswig-Holsteiners from Denmark, a minor power, it was hardly likely that the movement would be strong enough to create a German nation-state. German nationalists in Austria, Prussia, and the German Confederation therefore wished to exploit the popular indignation over Denmark's treatment of the duchies in order to spur their respective governments into action. 3 In December 1863, the Nationalverein and its rival, the Reformverein (which supported unification under Austrian leadership) staged a large rally in Frankfurt in support of the claims of Augustenburg and the liberation of the duchies from Danish rule. As historian Otto Pflanze put it, "The purpose of the rally was to demonstrate the existence of a national movement of great power which no German statesman could ignore."4

Frederick and his wife agreed that the Prussian government could effect an important "moral conquest" by supporting the nationalists' demands. The prince of Augustenburg, a close friend, assured the royal couple that the duchies, once placed under his leadership, would be ruled according to liberal principles. 5 From this the royal couple concluded that Prussia would appear to be a country sympathetic to liberal ideas if it played a decisive role in the creation of a new liberal state and that the movement for unification under Prussia would gain ground as a result.

-55-

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