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Frederick William IV

Frederick William IV, 1795–1861, king of Prussia (1840–61), son and successor of Frederick William III. A romanticist and a mystic, he conceived vague schemes of reform based on a revival of the medieval structure, with the rule of estates and a patriarchal monarchy. During the revolution of 1848 in Prussia, which broke out in March, Frederick William was forced at first to accede to revolutionary demands. Later, however, he crushed the opposition, dissolved (Dec., 1848) the constituent assembly, and promulgated a conservative constitution, which, as modified in 1850, remained in force until 1918. Frederick William refused the crown of a united Germany offered him (1849) by the Frankfurt Parliament on the grounds that a monarch by divine right could not receive authority from an elected assembly. Although unwilling to accept the crown from an elected assembly, Frederick William desired German unity under Prussian leadership and presented the Prussian Union plan for a confederation of Prussia and the smaller German states. Austrian opposition to the plan forced Frederick William to abandon it in the Treaty of Olmütz (1850). In 1848, Frederick William briefly supported the revolt in Schleswig-Holstein against Denmark but yielded to British pressure for an armistice. In 1857 his mental condition necessitated a temporary (later permanent) regency of his brother, who succeeded him as William I.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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