Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Wilhelm I of Germany
Early Life and Military Career
As second son of Friedrich Wilhelm III Wilhelm had no expectations to ascend to the throne and thus he received only little education. He served in the army from 1814 onward, fought against Napoleon, and was reportedly a very brave soldier. He also became an excellent diplomat by engaging in diplomatic missions after 1815. In 1848 he successfully crushed a revolt that was aimed at his elder brother King Friedrich Wilhelm IV.
King and Kaiser
On January 2, 1861 Friedrich Wilhelm died and Wilhelm ascended the throne as Wilhelm I of Prussia. He inherited a conflict between King and the liberal parliament. He was considered a politically neutral person as he intervened less in politics than his brother. He nevertheless found a conservative solution for the conflict: he appointed Otto von Bismarck to the office of Prime Minister. According to the Prussian constitution, the Prime Minister was solely responsible to the king, not to parliament. Bismarck liked to see his work relationship with Wilhelm as that of a vassal to his feudal superior. Nonetheless it was Bismarck who effectively directed the politics, interior as well as foreign; on several occasions he gained Wilhelm's assent by threatening to resign.
In the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War Wilhelm was proclaimed German Emperor on January 18, 1871 in Versailles, in the palace of Louis XIV. By this ceremony, the North German Confederation (1867-1871) was transformed into the German Empire ("Kaiserreich", 1871-1918). This Empire was a federal state; the emperor was head of state and president (primus inter pares) of the federated monarchs (the kings of Bavaria, Wurttemberg, Saxony, the grand dukes of Baden and Hessen, and so on, not to forget the senates of the free cities of Hamburg and Bremen). Wilhelm accepted the title "German Emperor" grudgingly; he would have preferred "Emperor of Germany", which however was unacceptable to the federated monarchs.
In his memoirs, Bismarck describes Wilhelm as an old-fashioned, courteous, infallibly polite gentleman and a genuine Prussian officer, whose good common sense was occasionally undermined by "female influences".
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