George Barnett Smith.

William I. and the German empire. A biographical and historical sketch online

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soldier, and that there is in Prussia an Order for Merit which
you do not yet possess. It is true this Order has a special
military meaning, but, nevertheless, you ought to have had
it long ago, for truly at many a grievous time you have
shown the highest courage of the soldier, and you have also
thoroughly and completely proved at my side in two cam-
paigns that, apart from everything else, you have the fullest
claim to conspicuous military distinction. I will, therefore,
now make up for what I have hitherto neglected, by con-
ferring on you the accompanying Ordre ijour le Merite, and
that, too, with oaken leaves, in token that you ought to have
had it long ago, and that you have repeatedly deserved it.
Knowing, as 1 do, how much you are imbued with the spirit
of a soldier, I hope it will gratify you to receive this Order,
which several of your ancestors proudly wore ; as 1, for my
part, derive satisfaction from thus bestowing this well-
merited soldier's reward on the man whom God in His
gracious providence has placed at my side, and who has done
such great things for the Fatherland. I shall, indeed, be
most heartily glad to see you in the future wearing the
Ordre pour le Mtrite.'

The expulsion of the Poles from Prussian territory led to
a good deal of ill-feeling between Germany and Austria and


Enssia. When the latter Powers complained and asked for
information, the former rejolied that the matter ^Yas one
which concerned the internal afiairs of Prussia only. The
edict issued by the Government ordered all Poles who were
not Prussian subjects to be expelled from the country, and
this edict was carried out with great severity. The total
number of persons banished exceeded 34,700, the majority
of whom were Eussian subjects. Most of them found a
refuge in Austria, but others emigrated to America. No
charge of disloyalty or conspiracy was made against them,
neither were the poorest of them paupers. The edict was
especially hard upon those thrifty workmen who had for
years been members of mutual relief societies, and who had
paid the necessary premiums to secure a provision in old
age. They now lost their savings and were turned adrift to
begin life anew. The question was discussed in the Prussian
Diet on the 6th of May, 1885, when the Home Minister,
Herr von Puttkamer, affirmed that the measure was dictated
by State necessity, and that the Government could not
tolerate the presence in Prussia of large numbers of Poles
who were not Prussian subjects any more than it could that
of Danes in Schleswig-Holstein or of Frenchmen in Alsace-
Lorraine. The Polish element in the population had been
growing largely in excess of that of the German, and the
edict was necessary for the political security of the State
and the maintenance of German nationality and German
culture. The Minister's explanations were deemed very
unsatisfactory, though no practical issue was raised upon

At a later date, however, the subject came up again in the
German Parliament, when the Imperial Government was
requested to take steps to check the expulsion of Poles from
the country. Prince Bismarck opposed to this a declaration
from the throne which caused great excitement. The
Chancellor was extremely wroth at the supposition that the
Imperial Government could be called in to redress wrongs
alleged to be committed by Prussia within her own terri-
tories. ' There exists,' he said, ' no Government in the
Empire entitled, under the control of the Eeichstag, to claim
supervision, as this interpellation endeavours to do, of the
exercise of the rights of Sovereignty enjoyed by the
indi\TLdual States of the Confederation, in so far as the right


to exercise sucli supervision lias not been conceded to tlie
Empire.' The Emperor-King was therefore compelled to
express to the Eeichstag his conviction that ' the view
adopted by the majority of deputies in supporting the inter-
pellation in question is at variance with the German consti-
tution,' and in case of any endeavour being made to carry
the same into effect, he would ' maintain and defend against
such endeavour the rights of each of the Federal Govern-
ments, as recited in the Treaty of Confederation.' Bismarck
concluded by entirely denying the competence of the German
Parliament to call the Kings of Prussia and Bavaria, or the
Grand Dukes of Baden and Hesse, to account for the way in
which they exercised their Sovereign rights within their own
particular dominions. He then strode from the Chamber,
followed by the other members of the Federal Council.

A debate on the question of Sunday labour gave Prince
Bismarck the opportunity of delivering a singular speech,
in which he ventilated his views upon the English Sabbath.
The Ultramontanes and the Socialists having brought for-
ward in the Keichstag a Bill for the prohibition of Sunday
labour, the Chancellor strongly opposed the scheme on
economical and political grounds, and also in the interest
of working-men themselves. "Workmen who would thereby
lose 14 per cent, of their wages would certainly be against
such a measure, he said, which would also diminish by
one-seventh the production of the country, and inflict a
heavy loss on the manufacturers. Moreover, a Sunday
spent in pleasure was likely to be followed by a Monday
spent in drink. The industrial prosperity of England and
the United States was due to other causes than the Sunday

' England,' continued the Prince, ' would not enjoy so
great an industrial superiority over Germany if her coal
fields and her iron mines were not in close proximity to each
other, and if she had not enjoyed the blessings of civilization
long before Germany did. Even in the time of Shakspeare,
about 300 years ago, there was a degree of prosperity,
culture, and literary development in England far above
what we possessed at that time in Germany. The Thirtv
Years' War had a retrograde eftect on Germany more than
on any other nation ; and I cannot admit that Englishmen
are better Christians than the Germans. If the keepino-



of the Sunday liad not been from time immemorial an
English custom, I doubt very much if any Government or
Parliament would now be strong enough to make it com-
pulsory. For my part, the English Sunday has always
produced an unpleasant impression upon me; I was glad
when it was over, and judging by the way the Sunday was
passed in England, I think Englishmen were so too. Here
in our villages we are glad to sec the people enjoying
themselves in their Sunday best, and we thank God that
we are not under the compulsion of the English Sunday.
Some forty years I went to England for the hrst time, and
I was so glad to land, after a bad passage, that I whistled
a tune. "Please don't do that," said a fellow-passenger.
" "Why not ? " I inquired. " Because it is Sunday ! " '

There were some truths and some fallacies in this speech,
but it w^as effectual in shelving the Bill, which was put
off for inquiries. When the information sought for was
forthcoming it was very largely antagonistic to the proposal.

Two important financial measures became law in Prussia
during the year. One provided for a graduated income-
tax. There were seventeen different rates of the tax, com-
mencing with a rate of about 3^c?. in the pound for
incomes of from £80 to £90, and ending with a rate of 7 id.
in the pound for incomes of over £5U0 a year. Besides
the usual allowances, relief was provided to the extent
of half the rate originally imposed in special circum-
stances, such as continued illness or misfortune. The
second law was one relating to exchange duties. The
fixed stamp introduced by the law of July, 1881, had not
proved very productive, and the large profits of speculators
on the various exchanges had remained untaxed. By the
new law, purchases of stock, shares, foreign bank-notes, &c.,
were to be subject to a duty of one-tenth per cent., and
purchases of goods at the various exchanges, if not pro-
duced by one of the contracting parties, were to be taxed
at the rate of one-fifth per cent.

The Brunswick succession caused some excitement in
1885, the Duke of Cumberland, only son of the King of
Hanover, claiming the throne. As the Duke had long been
at the head of the anti-Prussian party in Hanover, however,
the Federal Council decided against him, and the Brunswick
Diet unanimously elected Prince Albrecht regent.


The important post of Governor of Alsace-Lorraine
became vacant by the death of Field Marshal von Man-
teuftel. The Marshal had ruled benevolently and yet
despotically, with the object of making Alsace-Lorraine
the most Grerman of Grerman States. But he signally failed,
and fifteen years of German rule had produced only distrust
and discontent. The new Governor appointed was Prince
Hohenlohe-Schillingfiirst, German Ambassador in Paris,
who had for nearly a quarter of a century taken a pro-
minent part in German politics.

Prince Bismarck was once more occupied with important
colonial questions. The Congo Conference concluded its
labours in the month of February ; and it was decided that
freedom of commerce should be established in the basin and
mouths of the Congo, on the whole coast line between the
Colony of Gaboon and the province of Angola, and in the
countries between the Congo basin and the Indian Ocean —
subject, however, to the assent of their rulers. But difficulties
next arose between Germany and England, with regard to
the German acquisitions in the Cameroons and New Guinea.
After a long correspondence between the Foreign Minister
of Germany and the English Colonial Minister, these difier-
ences, together with others arising out of German Protec-
torates in various quarters, were satisfactorily adjusted. On
the whole, German relations with Great Britain, and also
with France, were of a pacific character. A serious dispute,
however, arose between Germany and Spain out of the
establishment of a German Protectorate over the Caroline
Islands. Spain had claimed the suzerainty of these islands
since the seventeenth century, but she had never been in
actual possession of the territories. Germany now repudiated
her claim, hoisted her own flag upon one of the islands, and
placed all the group between the equator and 11 degrees
north and 164 degrees east of Greenwich under German
protection. Spain protested, and Bismarck — feeling for once
that he was wrong — agreed to submit the matter to the Pope.
The result was that by a protocol ultimately signed by the
German and Spanish Governments, the Caroline Islands
were left under the Sovereignty of Spain, while to Germany
was granted the right of forming agricultural colonies in the
islands, and she also obtained possession of certain coaling
and naval stations. With regard to the Eastern Questions,


both Asiatic find European, tlic German Chancellor still
threw his influence into the scale of peace.

The celebration of Prince Bismarck's seventieth birthday,
•which occurred on the 1st of April, 1885, was also the
celebration' of his fiftieth year of public life. The double
event excited great enthusiasm through all Germany, Many
valuable presents were made to him, but the most important
was the gift of the purchase deeds of the ancestral estates
of Schonhausen, which had been sold by the family when in
diSiculties, and were now repurchased for £150,000, raised
by subscriptions throughout the Fatherland. Among the
congratulations received by the Prince were an autograph
letter from the Emperor of Germany, telegrams from the
Emperors of Eussia and Austria, the Kings of Saxony, Bavaria,
Sweden, Pioumania, Siam, Wurtemburg, and Belgium, as well
as 2100 letters and o50D telegrams from various sources.

The Emperor "William, accompanied by the Crown Prince
and other members of his family, went to the Chancellor's
residence, and, aft'ectionately embracing him with tears in
his eyes, presented him with a reduced copy of Yon Werner's
famous painting of the ' Proclamation of the Empire at
Versailles.' The Emperor's letter, referred to above, ran as
follows : —

*]\Iy dear Prince, — The German people having shown a warm
desire to testify to you, on the occasion of your seventieth
birthday, that the recollection of all you have done for the
greatness of the Fatherland lives in so many grateful hearts.
I, too, feel strongly impelled to tell you how deeply gratified
I am that such a feeling of thankfulness and veneration for
you moves the nation. I am rejoiced at this, for you have
most richly earned the recognition, and my heart is warmed
at seeing such sentiments nnmifested in so great a measure ;
for it dignifies the nation in the present, and strengthens
our hopes of its future, when it shows appreciation of tlie
true and the great, and when it celebrates and honours its
most meritorious men. To me, and to my house, it is an
especial pleasure to take part in such a festival ; and by the
accompanying picture, we wish to convey to you with what
feelings of grateful recollection we do this, seeing that it
calls to mind one of the greatest moments in the history of
tlie House of Ilohenzollern — one which can never be thought
of without at the same time recalling your merits.


' Yoli, my dear Prince, know how I sliall always be animated
towards you with feelings of the fullest confidence, of the
most sincere affection, aud the warmest gratitude. But, in
saying this, I tell you nothing which I have not often enough
already repeated to you, and methinks that this painting will
enable your latest descendants to realise that your Kaiser
and King, as well as his house, were well conscious of what
they had to thank you for. With these sentiments and
feelings, which will last beyond the grave, I end these lines.
— Your grateful, faithful, and devoted Kaiser and King,


In addition to the fame which Bismarck had acquired, one
would think that even a less kingly appreciation than this
would have kept him at his post many times when he was
tempted to retire to his Pomeranian estates.

The Prussian Parliament met in January, 1886, and
almost immediately the Polish question was again raised.
A motion approving the action of the Government was in-
troduced by the National Liberals and Conservatives, by
way of reply to the previous hostile interpellation of the
Ultramontanes. Prince Bismarck, in an able speech lasting
more than two hours, placed the whole question on the basis
of international policy. He contended that the action of
the Prussian Government towards the Poles since 1815 had
been an uninterrupted series of blunders, culminating in
the philanthropic ideas of 1848. The Polish rising in 1830
first opened the eyes of the Prussian authorities to the true
aspect of the question. Frederick William IV. hoped to
win over the Poles by conciliation, but he was rudely
awakened from his dream by the insurrections of 1846 and
1848. The concession of certain constitutional privileges
since had only increased the disaff'ection of the Poles, and
accentuated their aversion to their German rulers.

The Chancellor unfolded a plan for the acquisition of such
Polish estates as might become free. He proposed to farm
them out to Germans, provided that they pledged them-
selves to remain German, and, above all things, to marry
German wives. The estates would be allotted on leases, but
the tenants would become proprietors of the soil in from
twenty-five to fifty years. Polish soldiers and officials would
at the same time be given an opportunity of availing them-
selves of the advantages of German civilization by being


posted for service in provinces far away from their homes.
Bismarck then concluded with the following peroration, which
created great excitement in the House : ' Gentlemen, the
future is not wholly free from apprehensions. It is not
foreign dangers that menace us, but it is imj)0ssihle to work
with such a majority as that in the Reichstag. We must aim
at becoming stronger : we must show that we stand not on
feet of clay, but of iron. We must find a means of becoming
independent of the obstruction of the majority of the Reich-
stag. I do not advocate such a step, but, if the Fatherland
should be endangered, I should not hesitate to propose to
the Emperor the necessary measures. The minister who
will not risk his head to save the Fatherland, even against
the will of the majority, is a coward. I will not allow the
achievements of our army to perish by internal discord,
which I will find the means of counteracting.' This was a
bold speech, and it was followed by another in which the
Chancellor compared the position of the Poles in Germany
to that of the Parnellites in England. After protests from
the Poles, the Radicals, and the Centre party, the j)olicy of
the Prussian Government was approved by 234 votes, the
Opposition minority having previously left the House. Bills
were subsequently brought in and carried through, granting
100,000,000 marks to the Government for German coloniza-
tion in Polish districts and for transferring to the State the
supervision in such districts of popular education.

As a counter-move against Democratic Socialism the
Chancellor introduced into the German Parliament the
Spirit IMonopoly Bill and the Socialist Bill. The Radicals
opposed the former bill because it strove to bring about an
aristocratic socialism instead of that which was in favour
with the working classes. Bismarck, in supporting the
measure, let fall some ominous expressions. ' We do not
know what may happen in France,' he said. ' We hope that
j)cace will not be endangered for a long time, but, even at
the risk of losing my reputation as a diplomatist and a
statesman, I must confess that in the spring of 1870 I did
not foresee or fear the war which came a few months
later. If any such danger should again threaten us, I want
Germany to be at the height of her power. We have had
pcac(; for fifteen years, but the nation is not yet fully pre-
pared, and I hasten on these reforms in order that the


Empire may really stand fast if war slioiild come to test our
firmness.' The House was not to be played upon through
fear, however, and the Bill was rejected by 181 to 3 votes
only. The second measure proposed to prolong the Socialist
Law for five years. It was strongly attacked by Herr
Bebel, who declared that the incessant pressure of the
ruling classes was finally driving the lower orders to use
force in self-defence. It was so in Belgium, and, if similar
conditions existed in Germany, he would be the first to adopt
similar measures to counteract them. Prince Bismarck
replied in severe terms. He afiirmed that Bebel's words
contained a direct threat to assassinate the German Emperor
if certain conditions existed in Germany, as to which he and
his fellow-socialists were to decide whether they justified
such assassination. After a good deal of recrimination the
Continuance Laws against the Socialists were passed by a
majority of 169 to 137, but they were only to continue for
two years instead of five as proposed by the Government.

Great excitement was caused in June by the news that
King Louis II. of Bavaria had become insane, and that,
while sufi'ering from mental derangement, he had committed
suicide in the Lake of Starnberg, dragging down with him
to a watery grave his physician and attendant. Dr. Gudden.
King Louis was popular with the lower classes, but his
mania for building palaces and his refusal to perform the
Eoyal functions had caused great embarrassment to his
ministers. As the King's brother, Prince Otto, was also
sufi'ering from mental derangement, the liegency was as-
sumed by Prince Luitpold, uncle of the late sovereign.
Prince Luitpold was a supporter of the new regime in Ger-
many, and was opposed to all Ultramontane measures, though
a strong Catholic himself The Emperor William at once
accepted the Eegent, whose mother, by the way, was a niece
of Queen Louisa, the mother of the German Emperor.

The difiiculties with Eome, which for four years had
caused great friction in Germany, were satisfactorily ad-
justed in May of this year. A revision of the May Laws
was carried by a majority of 260 to 108. Neither Bismarck
nor the Pope could claim a complete triumph in regard to
this legislation, for, although the Chancellor made consider-
able concessions, he by no means surrendered the control of
the Roman Catholic Church in Prussia, while the Vatican


had been obliged also greatly to abate its demands. Shortly
before the Bill was introduced in the Prussian Parliament,
the Pope had said in reply to an address from a party of
German Catholics : ' I believe that you may now look with
confidence to the future. The Emperor William has assured
me of his kind sentiments and of his determination to meet
the wishes of his Catholic subjects.' Practically this new
legislation abrogated all the provisions of the May Laws
except that which gave the State control over the ecclesias-
tical appointments of the Pioman Catholic Church in Prussia.
This provision was conceded by the Pope — whom Bismarck
described as ' a wise, moderate, and pacific gentleman ' — in
return for the abandonment by the Prussian Government of
various checks, such as those relating to State examinations
of candidates for the priesthood, which had been described
by the Chancellor as almost worthless, but which were
regarded as very important at the Vatican.

Germany over sea still continued to be a matter of much
concern with Prince Bismarck. His colonial policy was
vigorous and adventurous, though he caused it to be known
that the German flag would only go where German trade
had already penetrated. Nevertheless, the naval expendi-
ture greatly increased, for in addition to keeping ships at
the six existing trans-oceanic naval stations, the German
Government held in constant readiness a flying squadron,
so as to be prepared for all emergencies. Other evidences
of colonial enterprise were the founding of a seminary of
Oriental languages in connection with the University of
Berlin, and the grant of a Government subsidy to a line
of German mail-steamers to Eastern Asia, with a branch
service to Australia.

An agreement was concluded between Prince Bismarck
and Baron Courcel, the French Ambassador, as to the
possessions of Germany and France respectively on the
West Coast of Africa. Germany ceded to France all her
rights of sovereignty or protectorate over the territories of
the Campo Eiver ; while France, on her part, recognized the
German protectorate over the Togo country, and withdrew
the claims arising from her relations with King Mensa to
the territory of Porto Seguro. She further recognized the
protectorate of Germany over Little Popo, and in both
territories the French and German settlers were to be


treated alike. With respect to the South Seas, Germany-
engaged not to do anything to prevent the occupation hy
France of islands in the immediate vicinity of the Society
Islands or of the New Hebrides. Great Britain and
Germany also came to an agreement as to the boundaries
of their respective possessions in the AVestern Pacific, and a
further settlement was concluded between the two Powers
of the difficulties which had arisen on the West Coast of
Africa. A convention was likewise concluded between
Germany and Portugal as to South Western and Central

European relations, however, became seriously strained.
France had completed her powerful armaments, Ptussia was
assuming a threatening attitude, and Austria had grown
lukewarm in her demeanour towards Germany. All this,
of course, meant the fanning of the war spirit in Germany.
Prince Bismarck decided to prepare for all eventualities
by an increase of the German army. A Bill was accordingly
brought forward in the Keichstag for raising the peace
strength of the army — which stood at 427,274 men — by
about 40,000 men, and for strengthening the artillery by
twenty-four new batteries : the augmentation to take effect
from the beginning of the ensuing financial year, namely
April 1, 1887. The existing Septennate, which fixed the
peace strength of the army, did not expire until 1888 ; but
the Government represented that, although its relations
with Foreign Powers were friendly, it was necessary — in

Online LibraryGeorge Barnett SmithWilliam I. and the German empire. A biographical and historical sketch → online text (page 26 of 30)