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The Kaiserreich Notes

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The Kaiserreich: 1890-1914 Domestic Politics

Kaiser Wilhelm II was 27 when he took to the Imperial throne, full of ambition and confident in his ability to make the right decisions. He was uncertain, unpredictable and sensitive to criticism. He wanted to carry out a 'personal rule, but couldn't bring himself to take time over the papers. His concentration and judgement were poor. He adored public ceremony and militaristic tradition, with right-wing views passed down to him from his father, Freidrich of Prussia. The chancellor was required to countersign all the Kaiser's decrees and orders, meaning the position remained a crucial one. Wilhelm declared 'there is only one man in charge of the Reich, and I will not tolerate any other'. The free reign chancellors enjoyed under Wilhelm I ended, they were no longer able to make their own policies with Reichstag support. Chancellors were merely expected to ensure the Kaiser's wishes were carried out, but their lack of responsibility to the Reichstag meant legislation often faltered, while their leadership was weak.

General Georg Leo, Count von Caprivi, 1890-4:
- Caprivi was a military figure, appointed by Wilhem II given his moderate, conciliatory attitude to socialism.
- He set out a 'new course' giving minister more influence in policy making, increasing Reichstag cooperation, reconciling the working classes through social reform and lowering tariffs to help Germany's export trade.
- The Anti-Socialist Law lapsed in 1890, while Industrial tribunals were set up to arbitrate wage disputes, a minimum wage introduced, Sunday working forbidden and employment of under 13s forbidden. Progressive income tax was introduced, while duties on imports were reduced.


The Conservative Junkers, led by the Eulenburgs and the Agrarian league, opposed the measures and tried to bring Caprivi down. Hostility increased when, in 1893, Caprivi agreed to allow the Reichstag to debate military issues and reduced military service from three years to two to get support for increasing the army to 84,000. When Caprivi tried to take the initiative, the Kaiser often intervened. Notably when Caprivi tried to return control of education to Church authorities, Wilhelm forced him to withdraw, keen to avoid having to rely on Centre Party support.



Growth in SPD support at the 1893 elections split the two men again. After anarchist attacks the Kaiser called for an Anti-Socialist Subversion Bill and presented it to the Reichstag after Caprivi refused to introduce it. Caprivi persuaded him not to rule without the Reichstag if the measure was refused, but then resigned, claiming relations 'have become intolerable'.

Prince Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, 1894-1900:
- Hohenlohe was 75 when selected, chosen not for his personal abilities but because he posed no political threat.
- He tried to do as the Kaiser requested, attempting to force through the Subversion Bill in 1894 and the Anti-Union Bill in 1899. Both were thrown out by the Reichstag, the reliable Conservatives no longer had a majority as their representation fell by 21 per cent between 1893 and 1898.
- The Kaiser's advisers, led by Philipp zu Eulenburg, encouraged the Kaiser to by-pass the chancellor and choose his own ministers from 1897. Hohenlohe claimed 'I cannot stay if the Kaiser appoints ministers without consulting me'.
- Hohenlohe ultimately resigned over a dispute regarding German's policy towards China. He was probably glad to escape as a quarrel over tariffs was breaking out in the Reichstag.

At this time the Kaiser began to develop an interest in Weltpolitik, a policy of expansion to achieve world power status. It was seen as a means of overcoming Reichstag difficulties by uniting all Germany people. The Kaiser personally concentrated on Imperial policy, aided by Joannes von Miquel, Ernst von Koller, Bernhard von Bülow and Admiral von Tirpitz.

- The policy of concentration was intended to rouse nationalist sympathies by bringing landowners and industrialists together against socialist threats.
- Caprivi's tariff reforms had broken the alliance between landowners and industrialists, while social reforms failed to win over the working class.
- The Kaiser's advisors believed damage could be undone by highlighting the threat of socialism. This would help win back middle class support and unite industrialists and landowners in a pact of 'steel and rye'.
- Society was deliberately split into law-abiders and radical anarchists.

Posadowsky-Wehner tried to introduce a bill to imprison those who threatened 'public security', but the planes were rejected by the Reichstag. In response to such opposition the Kaiser talked of abandoning the constitution.
- Bülow put the main emphasis on foreign policy, as two naval bills were passed in 1898 and 1900, committing Germany to the construction of 38 battleships, 8 battle cruisers and 24 cruisers. Tirpitz and the Navy League launched a huge press campaign to win popular support for the programme.
- The policy led Germany towards war despite aiming to solve domestic issues. Count Bernhard von Bülow, 1900-9:

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