Frederick III: Germany's Liberal Emperor

By Patricia Kollander | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
The Succession Crisis, 1880-1887

Frederick's sense of resignation about his coming rule increased during the 1880s as he saw the chancellor obtain stronger conservative consensus for his policies by achieving greater control over the executive branches of the imperial and Prussian government. In 1881, Bismarck tried to bring the working classes into his conservative coalition at the expense of the Social Democratic Party by securing passage of a social welfare program. 1

The crown prince and his wife shared the views of those opposition liberals who rejected the social welfare legislation. Liberals predicted it would repress individual initiative and ultimately decrease productivity. 2 Frederick agreed with this assessment. As he confided to his diary in November 1884, "The monarchy has been put into an awkward position since Bismarck has declared 'social kingship' as his weapon against socialism. . . . We are faced with a [new] year that will be full of unwelcome developments, which will arise from the government's false position toward the workers." 3

The royal couple also witnessed with dismay the growing factionalism among the liberal parties, which they attributed to the movement's inability to block the chancellor's conservative policies. They bemoaned the resolution of the Heidelberg Conference of National Liberals in 1884, which made it clear that the National Liberals were closer to the conservative rather than the opposition parties on decisive contemporary issues such as social welfare legislation. The party deemed cooperation with the government as a necessary means to combat its enemies in the Center Party, who were attempting to secure abrogation of Kulturkampf laws. 4 The crown prince did not accept this logic. In Frederick's mind, the resolution of the conference showed that the National Liberals had completely "sold out" to conservatives and interest groups; in short, they bore no resemblance to the "good" National Liberals of the past. 5 Victoria agreed: "As far as the good National Liberals are concerned, their blindness has led to our woeful circumstances! Instead of building an oppositional bloc to Bismarck, they are only his plaything, and allow themselves to follow wherever he tells them to go." 6

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