Emperor William First - George Upton

In Trust

Our hero was nearly sixty-four years old when he was called by Providence to assume this exalted position, an age at which men usually begin to look about for a quiet spot wherein to end their days in peace and freedom from care. But for King William, though already on the threshold of age, this was out of the question. This Nestor among German princes had been chosen as an instrument for the restoration of national unity and power. It was his task, as head of the "Holy German Empire," to overthrow all her enemies and crown her arms with victory and fame. And nobly did the venerable monarch fulfil this trust, keeping a watchful eye on the interests and welfare of the Fatherland for more than twenty-seven years.

The aims and hopes with which he began his reign are set forth in the proclamation issued to his people at that time. It hints too at the serious struggle he saw approaching, in which Prussia would have to fight for her existence against the neighboring countries, jealous of her growing power. It had been the labor of his life to provide the country with a strong, well-disciplined army; his task now as sovereign was to make it equal in size to any demand that might be made upon it. During his regency he had tried to secure the consent of the Diet to a large increase in the standing army, and preliminary measures had already been taken to this effect, but after the Prince's accession to the throne the House of Deputies withdrew its consent and absolutely refused to grant the necessary appropriation. This was a hard blow to the King, but he felt that his duty to the country required him to persist in his demands, a decision in which he was loyally upheld by his recently appointed councillor, Otto von Bismarck, a man of remarkable talents and ability, to whom might well be applied the poet's words:

"He was a man, take him for all in all,

I shall not look upon his like again."

For a time, however, their efforts met with no results, the Diet remaining firm in its refusal, and finally disclaiming any participation in the policy of the government, domestic or foreign. Not until great events had occurred, not until splendid proofs had been furnished of the wisdom of the King's judgment, were the representatives convinced that the aims of the government were for the country's best good. Nor was it long before an opportunity for such proofs was offered.

For many years the Kings of Denmark had appropriated to themselves the title of Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, though more as a matter of form than of real sovereignty, for the two sea-girt duchies had retained their own constitution, their laws, and their language. Within the space of ten years, however, it had become more and more apparent that Denmark was aiming at complete absorption and suppression of their nationality. In 1840, and again in 1850, they had struggled to retain their independence, but in vain, being too weak themselves and meeting with insufficient support from their German brethren, who at that time had all they could manage with their own affairs. When, however, on November 15, 1863, King Frederick Seventh of Denmark died and Christian Ninth ascended the throne, Germany decided to interfere in behalf of the duchies. As the various States could come to no agreement, Prussia and Austria, as the two leading powers, took matters into their own hands. The Danish King was called upon to evacuate Holstein within forty-eight hours and to withdraw the form of government introduced into Schleswig, and on his refusal to comply with these demands Schleswig was at once invaded. The general command of the expedition was given to Von Wrangel, Prince Frederick Charles leading the Prussian troops, Field Marshal Lieutenant von Gablenz the Austrians who had come on through Silesia and Brandenburg.

On February 1, 1864, Wrangel gave the order to advance "in God's name!"—an order which proved the signal for a succession of heroic deeds that covered the German army with glory, for from the Danish War sprang that between Prussia and Austria two years later, and in 1870 the Franco-Prussian War. The first of February, 1864., therefore, surely deserves a place in the pages of history as the starting point of the glorious achievements of the German army and the victorious career of its royal commander.

King William himself took no active part in the Danish War. Only about one and a half army corps were mobilized, too small a force to be under the command of the sovereign of so powerful a nation as Prussia. But when after a number of victorious engagements Prince Frederick Charles succeeded in storming Duppel and capturing all the supposedly impregnable entrenchments, thus proving that Prussia's old valor still survived in a younger generation, King William could no longer keep away from his victorious troops. His arrival in Schleswig was hailed with joy by the people as well as the army, and at Grevenstein he held a review of the columns that had fought so brilliantly at the storming of Duppel, praising and thanking them personally for their bravery. He also visited the hospitals, encouraging the wounded with his presence and kindly words of cheer. The people of Schleswig were assured that their affairs would be brought to a happy issue, and a feeling of confidence in the speedy liberation of their brethren from the power of Denmark spread throughout Germany.

And so it proved, for on June 28 the enemy's defeat was completed by the capture of the island of Alsen, used by the Danes as a storehouse for arms and provisions. A truce was proclaimed, and on October 30, 1864, the Peace of Vienna was concluded, by which the King of Denmark renounced all his rights to the duchies of Schleswig, Holstein, and Lauenburg in favor of the King of Prussia and the Emperor of Austria, and agreed to recognize whatever disposition the allies should make of the three States. This treaty, by completely freeing the duchies from the power of Denmark, realized one of the dearest wishes of the people, a wish that had long been cherished in the hearts of patriots; while to Germany it gave a greater increase of territory and influence than had fallen to her share for many years.

In spite of this fact, however, the idea of German unity still seemed far from realization owing to the conflicting interests of the several States, of which there were more than thirty, each jealous of the slightest supremacy of the others. When Prussia proposed, therefore, that the three duchies should be governed by their liberators rather than be added to the German States, of which there were already too many, the plan was bitterly opposed by the majority of the Confederation. But Prussia was determined not to yield, and with the cooperation of Austria succeeded in carrying her point. By the treaty of Gastein it was agreed that Austria should assume the provisional administration of Holstein, and Prussia that of Schleswig, while Lauenburg was made over to the Prussian government for the sum of seven and a half million marks.

It would seem that the army's splendid achievements might have inclined the Diet to withdraw its long-standing opposition to the plans and wishes of the government, but such was not the case. Not only did the majority of representatives refuse as before to grant any appropriation for increasing the army, but also failed to make provision for the cost of the recent victorious campaign, expecting in this way to force the government to yield. Nothing was farther, however, from the intentions of King William and his trusty councillor, Bismarck. Firmly convinced that they were in the right, it would have seemed treachery to the Fatherland to abandon their purpose. Recognition of their efforts must come some time, and as it proved, that day was not far distant.