William II, emperor of Germany and king of Prussia: Foreign and Domestic Affairs

Foreign and Domestic Affairs

As emperor, William endeavored to maintain and if possible extend the royal prerogative in order to make Germany a major naval, colonial, and commercial power. Friction soon developed between him and Otto von Bismarck, the chancellor who had controlled German affairs for nearly 30 years, and Bismarck was forced to resign in 1890. Succeeding chancellors (Leo von Caprivi, Prince Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, Prince von Bülow, and Theobold von Bethmann-Hollweg) were much less influential, and William was in general the dominating force in his own government. In domestic affairs he extended social reform, although he detested the socialists.

The conduct of foreign affairs was William's major interest, but he had no basic policy and was greatly influenced by his ministers. The reinsurance treaty with Russia, which had been a chief feature of Bismarck's system of alliance, was not renewed in 1890. Although sincerely desirous of maintaining friendly relations with Great Britain, William by his naval program and his colonial and commercial aspirations precluded an alliance between the two countries and drove England into the Entente Cordiale with France (see Triple Alliance and Triple Entente).

The German support of Russia in East Asia and the friendly relations between William and Czar Nicholas II of Russia (as revealed in the “Willy-Nicky” correspondence) were counteracted by the encouragement William gave to Austria in its Balkan policy. The already strained relations with France were further embittered by German interference in French colonial affairs in Africa, especially in Morocco. Alarmed at the growing isolation of Germany, William strengthened the Triple Alliance with Austria and Italy and secured Turkish adherence.

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