Emperor William First - George Upton

Troublous Times

On June 7, 1840, that sorely tried monarch Frederick William Third, who had borne so much with and for his people, breathed his last, and the Crown Prince ascended the throne as Frederick William Fourth, William receiving the title of Prince of Prussia as had that brother of Frederick the Great who afterward succeeded him, thus being raised to the rank and dignity of a Crown Prince, for the marriage of Frederick William Fourth was childless.

On June 11 the body of the deceased King was laid to rest in the mausoleum at Charlottenburg beside that of his noble and much-lamented Queen. And now began a period of ferment, difficult to understand by those not directly concerned in it or its after effects. Even at the time of the War of Liberation a feeling of discontent had begun to show itself among the people of Germany at the condition of affairs created by the allies at the so-called Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815. There was an ever-increasing demand for popular representation in the legislature, what is now called the Diet or House of Deputies, and also a closer consolidation of the national strength and resources, such as would be afforded by a German Confederation for the purpose of restoring the Empire to its old power and importance. These ideas, as yet but half-formed and visionary, were agitated, especially by the youth of Germany, with a spirit and enthusiasm that appeared so dangerous to the existing order of things as to require suppression. At the time or the French Revolution of 1830, they began to assume more definite form, though under the paternal rule or Frederick William Third no general movement was attempted by his subjects. With the accession of Frederick William Fourth, however, the time seemed to have come to demand the exchange of an absolute monarchy for a constitutional form of government, and also, perhaps, the reestablishment of the German Empire; but in both respects their hopes were doomed to disappointment. The King's refusal to grant the people a voice in the government was as firm as his rejection of the offer of an imperial throne. His action aroused a deep feeling of dissatisfaction throughout the country, which was increased by several years of bad crops and famine, until at last the French Revolution of 1848 lighted the torch of insurrection in Germany also.

Frederick William Fourth had already assigned to his brother, the Prince of Prussia, the responsible post of guardian of the Rhine, and at the outbreak of these disturbances he made him Governor General of the Rhenish provinces and Westphalia. Before the Prince had left Berlin, however, the uprising had spread to that city also, so he remained in close attendance upon the King, taking a leading part in his councils as first Minister of State. Frederick William Fourth was much disturbed by such an unheard-of state of affairs in Prussia, and possibly failed to appreciate the significance of the outbreak, but rather than come to open conflict with his people he had all the troops sent away from Berlin. Bitter as the recollection must be, it remains a lasting honor to the Prussian army that this trying order was obeyed without a murmur or complaint, and adds another laurel to those since won on many a hard-fought field. The removal of the troops gave the insurgents free scope for a time, and the efforts of the leaders to direct the anger of the deluded populace against the army, that stanch and loyal bulwark of the throne, resulted in setting the turbulent masses against the Prince of Prussia likewise, who was well known as the army's most zealous friend and patron. They even went so far as to threaten to set fire to his palace, but a few patriotic citizens succeeded in restraining them at the critical moment. To avoid any further occasion for such excesses, the King sent his brother away to England, where he remained until the storm had subsided, returning in May, 1848, to Babelsberg, where he spent several months in retirement. The King was finally forced to recall the troops, then under the command of General von Wrangel, to quell the tumult in Berlin, and shortly afterwards Prussia was given its present constitution, by which the people were granted a chamber of representatives.

The insurrection of 1848, meanwhile, had spread throughout the country and led to a revolution in Baden, which overthrew the existing government and assumed such serious proportions that the Grand Duke besought the help of King Frederick William Fourth, who at once despatched his brother, the Prince of Prussia, to Baden with an army. It was William's first experience as a commander.

In June, 1849, he proceeded from Mainz to the Palatinate of Bavaria, where he was welcomed with open arms by the inhabitants. With the assistance of his gallant young nephew Frederick Charles, he soon quickly crushed the insurgents who were besieging the Palatinate and pushed on across the Rhine to Baden, where in a succession of engagements he proved an inspiring example of coolness and courage to his enthusiastic troops. After the fight at Durlach, the townspeople brought out bread and wine for the victorious Prussians. The Prince was also offered a piece of bread, which he was about to eat with relish when he saw a hungry soldier watching him with longing glances. Quickly breaking it in two he held out half to the man, saying kindly, "Here, comrade, take some too!"

It was by such acts as this that he won the devotion of his soldiers. On June 25 he entered the capital, Carlsruhe, and was hailed with joy by the citizens, while the leader of the rebellion retired to the castle of Rastall, where, after a few more unsuccessful resistances, the greater part of the insurgents also took refuge. The Prince immediately laid siege to the place, and with such good results that on July 23 it surrendered at discretion, and the Prussians took possession the same day. On August 18 the Grand Duke of Baden returned to his capital, accompanied by the Prince of Prussia, to whom he gave public thanks as the restorer of order in the country, and soon after William set out on his return to Berlin, where he was welcomed with enthusiasm by his family, the populace, and above all by the army.

His duties as military governor of Westphalia and the provinces of the Rhine required him to take up his residence at Coblentz, where he remained till 1857, with occasional journeys made in the interest of the service or for the government. These were unsettled and not very pleasant times, for Austria was perpetually seeking to undermine the power of Prussia and more than once the sword was loosened in its sheath. But there were bright spots also in the lives of the princely pair, such as the marriage of their daughter Louise to the Grand Duke of Baden. Another favorite wish was gratified by the alliance of Prince Frederick with the Princess Royal, Victoria of England, in 1857. Fresh troubles occurred in this year also, for on the occasion of some army maneuvers at Giebichenstein, King Frederick William Fourth was stricken with apoplexy and his brother was appointed to represent him at the head of the government. At first it was hoped that the trouble might be relieved, and the arrangement was made for three months only; but the apoplectic fits continued at intervals, and at the end of a year, finding his condition worse rather than improved, the King was forced to make the Prince of Prussia Regent of the kingdom. Four years later Frederick William Fourth was released from his sufferings, and his brother ascended the throne of Prussia as William First.