The History of Germany from 1890 To 1914!
The most important man in Germany in post Bismarckian era was William II. He came to the throne in 1888 after the short reign of his father Frederick III.
At the time of his accession, he was a young man of 29. He had a lot of energy and possessed high ambitions.
He was determined to make Germany one of the greatest Powers of the world. He believed in the policy of “World Power or Downfall.” He was vain and impulsive.
- William II (1888-1918)
- Chancellor Caprivi (1890-94)
- Chancellor Hohenlohe (1894-1900)
- Chancellor Bulow (1900-09)
- Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg (1909-17)
1. William II (1888-1918):
The most important man in Germany in post Bismarckian era was William II. He came to the throne in 1888 after the short reign of his father Frederick III. At the time of his accession, he was a young man of 29. He had a lot of energy and possessed high ambitions. He was determined to make Germany one of the greatest Powers of the world. He believed in the policy of “World Power or Downfall.” He was vain and impulsive.
According to H.A.L. Fisher, “The new autocrat became at once a vital and disquieting force in European society. That he had some admirable and even brilliant qualities was at once apparent. His outlook on affairs was bold and spacious; his curiosity eager and comprehensive; his industry vast; his memory for detail powerful and exact. He was pious, dutiful, and patriotic and sometimes, especially when he spoke of the sea, would rise to heights of moving eloquence. But with these shining qualities were mingled others of a baser alloy, an egregious vanity, an ungovernable temper, a love of theatrical ostentation which exposed him to ridicule, and a vein of malevolence which merited contempt. There was no flattery so base that he would not exploit it, no barbarity so extreme that he would not in a spasm of fury invest it with imperial authority.
A nervous exalts ability and impulsiveness, whether it gave a certain zest and charm to his companionship, always made him dangerous as a ruler, so that, after experience of many alarums and excursions, his ministers began to ask themselves in trepidation whether the headstrong and loquacious master of Germany was not in fact deranged in mind.”
According to Grant and Temperley, “Had William II been a Frederick, the Great, he would have known, like him, how “to move millions with inhuman harmony.” He could have forced their energies in almost any direction that he chose, and commanded their unquestioning allegiance. But harmony could only be secured if the purpose of the ruler was steady, unremitting, remorseless and fixed. Such a purpose was wholly lacking in the fickle, brilliant and easily swayed Kaiser. His religion, though sincere, led him towards absolutism.
Yet he had much fear of the people, and assiduously courted them. At heart perhaps pacific, his reckless and impulsive public praise of his army and of war, his amazing private indiscretions to foreign diplomats, frequently produced the worst impressions and led to situations full of danger.
He would always be a hero to himself and did not like contradiction or opposition in others. His admirers compared him (with his knowledge) to Siegfried or to Achilles, and his nostrils snuffed the incense of a truly Byzantine flattery. His nerves were unequal to a crisis as was shown in 1908, when the storm of wrath which arose against him for his Daily Telegraph indiscretion made him speak of abdicating and reduced him to a state of pitiable collapse.”
On his accession to the throne in June 1888, William II issued proclamations to the army, the navy and the people. As regards the army, he declared: “These are days of sore trial and affliction in which. God’s decree has placed me at the head of the army, and it is with deep emotions that I first address myself to my army.
We belong to one another.” In his address to the navy, he gave an assurance that he stood for its growth. He issued the proclamation to the people three days after. In his speech from the throne, William II declared, “As regards the foreign politics I am determined to keep peace with everyone, so far as it lies in my power.
My love for the army will never lead me into the temptation to endanger the benefits which the country derives from peace. Germany is iii no need of fresh military glory, nor does she require new conquests.”
The new Emperor came into conflict with the Iron Chancellor and ultimately forced him to resign in 1890. After that, he became his own Chancellor and during the rest of his reign he had his own way and the ministers had merely to carry out his final decisions. However, reference may be made to the four Chancellors of his reign after 1890.
2. Chancellor Caprivi (1890-94):
Bismarck was succeeded by Caprivi as Chancellor in 1890. Bismarck himself had referred to him as his successor in 1878 in these words. “I have often wondered who could be my successor; today I have seen him.” In 1890, he himself suggested his name.
When Caprivi took office, he admitted his political inexperience. William II gave him the assurance in these words. “I will assume responsibilities for affairs.” William II wrote thus to the Austrian Emperor about Caprivi: “He is the greatest German after Bismarck loyal to me and firm as a rock.”
Caprivi was hated by the Prussian aristocracy and he himself was attracted towards businessmen. He was friendly inclined towards Great Britain. It was during his time that Heligoland was exchanged for Zanzibar in 1890. The German tariff system was put on the basis of reciprocity. The Reinsurance Treaty with Russia was allowed to lapse and it was during his period that the Franco-Russian alliance materialized. His dismissal was demanded by the Prussian conservatives and he resigned in 1894.
3. Chancellor Hohenlohe (1894-1900):
Caprivi was succeeded by Hohenlohe. He was 75 at the time of his appointment and he was merely a figurehead in the affairs of the State. The actual conduct of the State affairs was in the hand of William II and Bulow (who was the Foreign Secretary at that time). Germany concentrated during this period on trade and investments overseas. William I declared thus in 1895. The German Empire has become a world Empire.”
In 1897, two German Christian missionaries were murdered in China. Germany took advantage of this and a lease for 90 years of about 202 square miles of territory in China. In 1899, Germany purchased from Spain the Caroline Islands in the Pacific.
During 1899-1999, Germany got the two largest Islands of Samoa. In 1900, Germany participated in the action against the Boxer Rising in China. In 1899, German bankers got from the Sultan of Turkey some concessions for the building of railways up to Baghdad. German settlers were established in Brazil. German investments and trade in South Africa began to increase.
Germany began to take more interest in the growth of her navy. William II outlined the German policy in these words. “Germany’s future lies upon the water.” Again, “The ocean is essential to Germany’s greatness.” In 1898, the first law concerning the German navy was passed and in 1900 was passed the second. In this way, German navy went on growing. During all this period, William II was assisted by Tirpitz who was put in charge of the department of Navy in 1897 and who continued to occupy that position up to 1916.
4. Chancellor Bulow (1900-09):
After the retirement of Hohenlohe in 1930, Prince Bulow, who was already associated with William II, was appointed the Chancellor. It was during his regime that the British efforts to enter into an alliance with Germany failed. The Entente Cordiale between England and France was also made during his regime.
The first and second Morocco arises of 1905-6 and 1908 also took place during his regime. He also sent William II to Tangier in 1905 to show that Germany was interested in Morocco and would not allow France to swallow the same. The Bosnian crisis of 1908-9 also took place during his regime. The German Navy continued to develop. German goods began to penetrate into every nook and comer of the world. Germany followed a world policy and she began to demand a “place in the sun.”
It is stated that when Bulow became Chancellor, he offered the Foreign Office to Holstein who haughtily refused the same. This ‘mystery-man’ inspired a large number of articles in the press. He was responsible for countless diplomatic intrigues. His power was so great that he was sometimes able to overawe the Chancellor or the Foreign Office of the time. He did not care even for the Emperor and called him a mad man or a fool.
The Emperor called him a ‘mad hyena’ in private but had not the courage to face him in public. He gave interviews to foreign ambassadors without the knowledge of the Chancellor or Foreign Minister. It is pointed out that most of the wrong decisions in foreign policy were due to him. This was particularly so when Germany refused to accept England’s overtures in 1898 and 1901. The German attitude over Morocco in 1905 was also due to his influence.
He threatened many a time to resign his job in the German Foreign Office but neither the Emperor nor the Chancellor had the courage to accept the same on account of the fear that he would start a press campaign against them. However, they took courage in 1906 and he was relieved of his job.
5. Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg (1909-17):
Bulow was succeeded by Bethmann-Hollweg. It was during his regime that the third Morocco crisis took place in 1911. An honest attempt was made to come to an agreement with England on the question of naval competition but as William II backed Tirpitz, the Chancellor was helpless.
No wonder, the Haldane mission failed in 1912. The Morocco question was amicably settled and Germany got some compensation in the form of some French territory in Africa. Tension between Great Britain and Germany continued to increase and ultimately it resulted in the war of 1914.