GHDI logo

Ludwig Bamberger on Hopes for Parliamentary Government under Kaiser Friedrich III (March 31, 1888)

Ludwig Bamberger (1823-1899) was a jurist, banker, publicist, and liberal politician. As a result of his role in the revolutionary events of 1848/49 he spent many years in exile: in Switzerland, London, Holland, and Paris. An amnesty granted in 1866 enabled him to return to Germany, where he supported Bismarck’s course. He was a member of the Reichstag from 1871 to 1893, initially serving as a National Liberal, then as a representative of the Liberal Union [Liberale Vereinigung], and after 1884 as a member of the German Radical Party [Freisinnige Partei]. The text below is an excerpt from an article Bamberger contributed to the liberal journal Die Nation in March 1888. It discusses the relationship between the emperor and the Reichstag. Kaiser [Emperor] Wilhelm I had died on March 9 and was succeeded by his son, who took the title Kaiser Friedrich III. Bamberger was one of the new monarch’s close advisers, and he shared the hope of other left-liberals that Friedrich’s reign would introduce liberal reforms and democratization. But Bismarck’s long history of dominating Wilhelm I, in combination with Bamberger’s knowledge of the new Kaiser’s terminal cancer, left him justly skeptical about Friedrich’s ability to carry out such reforms. Friedrich’s reign lasted only 99 days: he was succeeded by Kaiser Wilhelm II on June 15, 1888.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 3

German Kaiserdom and the German parliament were born on the same day, and they are children of a single thought.

[ . . . ]

Therefore, nothing would be more wrong than to introduce the notion of a division, or even a contradiction, between these two living pillars of the German state system in its highest order. No one is more imperially minded than the person who is vigorously disposed towards the dignity of the Reichstag, and, likewise, an emperorship that were to deny the Reichstag its fullest rights would fail to appreciate the roots of its own power.

For this reason, the decree in which Kaiser Friedrich brought the maintenance of his own prerogatives together with those of the Reichstag also met with a warm and cheerful reception from the ranks of freedom lovers.*

[ . . . ]

This is precisely the right time to remind oneself that the imperial succession that has just taken place is something new and unprecedented for the German Empire [Reich]. King Wilhelm I had become emperor only after he had been King of Prussia for a number of years. As a mature man and heir to the throne in Prussia, he had gone through all the friction and changes that left behind such bitter animosity and alienation between the Prussian crown and the imperial idea. Only as a man of 74 years, did he accept – not without hesitation and reservations and only after carefully obtaining the assent of the other German rulers – the imperial crown, thus fulfilling the nation’s desire.

The son has had an entirely different experience. He ascends the throne as emperor and king at the same time. As crown prince of the German Reich, he had 17 years to settle into the future prospect of ascending the imperial throne that was his father’s. There is an incredible difference between this experience and that of the King (and previously the Prince) of Prussia, who first became Kaiser in the twilight of a rich and varied life.

[ . . . ]

* A reference to the decree to the Reich Chancellor dated March 12, 1888: “In the Reich, the constitutional rights of all allied German governments are to be respected just as conscientiously as those of the Reichstag; however, both are required to show the same respect for the rights of the Kaiser.” (See Briefe, Reden und Erlasse des Kaisers und Königs Friedrich III [Letters, Speeches, and Decrees by Kaiser and King Friedrich III]. Collected and annotated by G. Schuster. Berlin, 1906, p. 341.) Footnote adapted from Gerhard A. Ritter, ed., Das Deutsche Kaiserreich 1871-1914. Ein historisches Lesebuch [The German Kaiserreich 1871-1914: A Historical Reader], 5th ed. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992, pp. 254.

first page < previous   |   next > last page