Wilhelm II and the resignation of Otto von Bismarck

Publication type Article
Status Published
Affiliation: Institute of World History, RAS
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow
Journal nameNovaia i noveishaia istoriia
EditionIssue 5

The article focuses on the turning point in the history of the German Empire in 1871–1918, associated with the circumstances of the resignation of the first Imperial Chancellor and Minister-President of Prussia Otto von Bismarck in March 1890 and the transition to the so-called Wilhelmian period in the history of the country. The subject has been well studied in German historiography, yet it is still a matter for discussion among historians. Drawing on studies already undertaken, the author supplements them with information from the correspondence between the Russian Embassy in Berlin and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Empire in January–April 1890, which is largely unknown to the general public. The author focuses on the character and personality of Emperor Wilhelm II, the principal stages in his biography up to 1890 which influenced the emergence and course of the resignation crisis; the political differences between the Emperor and the Chancellor which became the catalyst for their break-up; the consequences of Bismarck's resignation and the impact of these events on the subsequent development of Germany. As a result of this research, the author concludes that, firstly, the main reason was psychology, the psychological disposition of the monarch. By firing the chancellor, he wanted to get a sense of freedom. A man who had been emotionally very dependent on his 'mentors' his whole life was trying to break free from the tutelage of the chief of them, Bismarck. Secondly, the German Empire was in no way inferior to the British Empire, whose reigning house he had a whole gamut of love-hate feelings towards. In such a situation, Bismarck, who had resisted state colonial policy and domestic transformation in every way, was not at all suited to be the main pillar of the new monarch, who had such far-reaching, albeit very vague, plans. His notion of the ability to single-handedly determine the entire policy of a country such as Germany at the end of the nineteenth century was inherently doomed to failure. Removing a constraining and guiding factor such as Bismarck from the system made it even more unstable. But there was no other way out of the conflict, the Bismarcks could not in any circumstances replace the Hohenzollerns.

KeywordsGermany, German Empire, Hohenzollerns, domestic political crises, political figures, Wilhelm II, Otto von Bismarck
Publication date17.11.2022
Number of characters38985
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