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Bismarck’s Letter of Resignation (March 18, 1890)

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According to the information conveyed to me yesterday by Lieutenant General von Hahnke and Cabinet Privy Councilor von Lucanus, I can have no doubts that Your Majesty knows, and believes, that it is impossible for me to rescind the order while at the same time staying on as Minister-President. Nevertheless, Your Majesty has upheld the command given to me on the 15th of March and has held out the prospect of granting my request for dismissal.

After past discussions with Your Majesty on the question of whether my remaining in office would be unwelcome to Your All-Highest Majesty, I had reason to assume that Your All-Highest Majesty would be pleased if I gave up my positions in His Prussian services but continued on in Reich services. Upon closer examination of this question, I took the liberty of drawing attention, with all due reverence, to a number of serious consequences that would result from the separation of my offices, especially with regard to the future appearance of the Chancellor in the Reichstag, and I will refrain from repeating all of the consequences that such a separation between Prussia and the Reich Chancellor would have. As a result, Your Majesty deigned to grant permission to “leave things as they are” for the time being. However, as I had the honor of explaining, it is not possible for me to maintain the office of a Minister-President after Your Majesty has repeatedly ordered the capitis diminutio (reduction of authority) entailed by the annulment of the fundamental order of 1852.

During my reverent report on the 15th of March, Your Majesty also deigned to place restrictions on the expansion of my official privileges, thereby leaving me without the degree of participation in state affairs and the oversight of the latter, and without the degree of freedom in my ministerial decisions and in my dealings with the Reichstag and its members, that I require to assume constitutional responsibility for my official activity.

However, even if it were feasible to make our foreign policy as independent from our domestic policy and our Reich policy as independent from our Prussian policy as would be the case if the Reich Chancellor were just as uninvolved in Prussian politics as he is in Bavarian or Saxon politics, and if he had no share in the arrangement of the Prussian vote vis-à-vis the Federal Council and the Reichstag, it would still be impossible for me to implement the orders stipulated by Your Majesty with regard to foreign policy. It would be impossible after Your Majesty’s recent decisions on the direction of our foreign policy, as summarized in the imperial billet which Your Majesty enclosed with the reports that were returned to the consul in Kiev yesterday. If I were to do so, I would call into question all of the important successes attained for the German Reich under a foreign policy in keeping with the wishes of Your Majesty’s two late successors, all of the successes attained over decades, and under unfavorable conditions, in our relations with Russia, and whose great significance, beyond all expectations, for the present and the future, was just confirmed to me by Count Shuvalov after his return from St. Petersburg.

Considering my attachment to service for the monarchy and for Your Majesty and the long-established relationship which I had believed would exist forever, it is very painful for me to terminate my accustomed relationship to the All Highest and to the political life of the Reich and Prussia; but, after conscientious consideration of the All Highest's intentions, to whose implementation I must always be ready to act, if I am to remain in service, I cannot do other than most humbly request Your Majesty to grant me an honorable discharge with legal pension from the posts of Reich Chancellor, Minister-President, and Prussian Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Judging from my impressions over the past weeks and from the revelations of which I learned yesterday from communications by Your Majesty’s Civilian and Military Cabinet, I have reason to reverently assume that I am accommodating the wishes of Your Majesty with my request for discharge, and thus I am able to rely with certainty on the gracious approval of my request. I would have submitted the request for dismissal from my offices to Your Majesty earlier, had I not been under the impression that it was Your Majesty’s wish to make use of the experience and talents of a loyal servant to His ancestors. Now that I am certain that Your Majesty does not require these, I may withdraw from political life without fearing that my decision will be condemned as untimely by public opinion.

Source of English translation: A portion of this translation was taken from Louis L. Snyder, ed., Documents of German History. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1958, pp. 266-268. Passages omitted from Snyder’s anthology were translated by Erwin Fink for German History in Documents and Images and added to Snyder’s translation.

Original German text printed in Otto von Bismarck, Die gesammelten Werke [Collected Works], ed., Gerhard Ritter and Rudolf Stadelmann, Friedrichsruh ed., 15 vols., vol. 6c, no. 440, Berlin, 1924-1935, pp. 435ff. Original German text republished in Otto von Bismarck, Werke in Auswahl [Selected Works], ed. Gustav Adolf Rein et al., 8 vols., vol. 7, Reichsgestaltung und Europäische Friedenswahrung [Formation of the Reich and Keeping Peace in Europe], pt. 3, 1883-1890, ed. Alfred Milatz. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2001, pp. 758-61.

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