Kaiser Wilhelm I

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Ladies and Gentlemen: — Summoned by the German societies of New York I stand here to give expression to the feelings which have been aroused in us by the death of the first Emperor of the reborn German nation. Not for a promulgation of political creeds are we met. Here I see before me native Americans to whom the German Empire is a foreign land. Even the honored chief of our National Government, members of his council, the presiding officers of the two houses of Congress, the governor of our State, the mayor of our city, and more, the father of American history, as well as other lights of science, are, if not in person, at least with their expressed sympathies, here present. And as to us German-born: I see here the strict republican, and by his side the man who in his native land was an equally strict monarchist. I see here survivors of those who, after the year 1848, after unsuccessful struggles for honest convictions, sought the shores of the New World as refugees, hardly believing then a day could come when, without breaking faith with themselves — for a self-respecting man does not hesitate to be truthful and just — they would unite with the younger generation in the funeral cortège of one of the princes who had sent them into exile. Before you stands one of them, who lost many friends under the iron hand of the Prince now mourned, and who himself escaped from that iron hand with difficulty and peril.

But whatever may be our origin and our antecedents, here we are assembled as citizens of the great American Republic, to which belongs our faithful devotion. We remember well the old and wise rule of this Republic never to meddle with the affairs of the Old World, even though as American citizens we are permitted to take a warm interest in the destinies of the peoples from whom we sprang or to whom we are bound in sympathy. This mourning service, thousands of miles from the country which has been ruled by the scepter of the departed Emperor, has therefore nothing of the perfunctory tribute of allegiance which the subject is wont to pay to his sovereign. Neither do we speak the language in which that allegiance traditionally expresses itself. The universal and free expression of opinion here indicates how genuine is the feeling expressed in Germany; and our simpler words carried across the sea are evidence of the mourning that is there expressed in more formal speech. A common sorrow makes the whole world kin.

This is, indeed, a rare manifestation. How many kings have died in this century whose death did not elicit more sympathy in America than any ordinary event of general interest! Why, then, this general emotion after Kaiser Wilhelm's death? Why these flags at half-mast, these eloquent eulogies, this universal impulse to lay a wreath upon the dead Kaiser's grave? He was certainly no republican. Forty years ago he helped to suppress with relentless power the revolutionary insurrections the spirit of which found almost undivided approval in America. His severe assertions of princely authority by divine right, his principles as to the share of the will of the people in the government, his preference given to the military element in the organism of State were more than foreign to American ideas. The development of constitutional forms in Germany under his dominion appeared to American ways of thinking little in harmony with the spirit of this century and the civilization of the German people. Not a few of his measures of government suffered the severest criticism from Americans. These things would have sufficed in determining the judgment passed upon any other prince. But with all this Kaiser Wilhelm was by far the most popular monarch among Americans whom this century has seen, aye, even more, a truly popular man.

We all know the reason. Under his auspices was satisfied that profound yearning which the German had carried in his heart through so many years of misfortune and humiliation, the yearning to be once more a united and great people. Thus he was at the same time a King and a popular leader. In indelible characters his name is written upon the monument which in the history of the world marks the rebirth of a great nation. Like a heroic poem appeared this tremendous event which our times witnessed with amazement and upon which posterity will look back with wonder. And this heroic poem tells of the warrior King, as he, the snow of old age upon his head, surrounded by his paladins, in the midst of his armed people led his armies into the field and piled victory upon victory; how he then came home adorned with the imperial dignity as the emblem of the finally united and now powerful and glorious nation, and how he, centuries hence, will live in the history and legends of the German people, like Frederick Barbarossa, a figure standing in dim, mythical splendor.

This was Kaiser Wilhelm who, when the one great deed had illumined all his past, entered into the heart of the Germans, as a national hero, crowned with victory, whom this heart with German fidelity and gratitude held and cherished as an honored national patriarch, whose joys and sorrows, hopes and cares, the people felt as their own; whose wishes were seldom crossed without regret; before whose window day after day the multitudes assembled to catch one more look of his countenance, and to cheer his old eyes with signs of attachment; whose venerable image even during his life, similar to the old legend, exercised its charm far beyond the German boundaries until, at last, the heavy burden of years brought him to the grave. And when at that grave it is said that no future Emperor will bear the crown of the Empire as his equal it is true in a sense of profound significance.

This does, indeed, not mean that no successor may equal or even surpass him in mental power, for his gifts were not those of genius; but he did possess the gift invaluable in a ruler — a gift of mind and of character at the same time — to perceive with a clear eye the genius, the wisdom and the energy of others, to accommodate himself with modesty to the superiority of others, and to open to them the sphere of action and of glory, aye, without jealousy to see the merit of others under his orders placed, in the opinion of the world, above his own. In September, 1870, after the battle of Sedan, he offered in the circle of his faithful ones, but heard by the whole civilized world, this toast: “We must to-day drink the health of my brave army. You, Minister of War von Roon, have sharpened the sword; you, General von Moltke, have wielded it, and you, Count Bismarck, have lifted Prussia to the present altitude of its power through the conduct of its policy.” Well, and if Roon, Moltke and Bismarck had done all this, for which King William expressed to them his gratitude, before all the world, what then remained for King William himself? The merit of having brought to light and of having given free scope to the statesmanlike genius of Bismarck, the organizing genius of Roon and the military genius of Moltke; the merit of that sound sense which, sacrificing pride and prejudice, puts those more capable into action and encourages them to the highest exertion of their power; the merit of that unselfishness which is so often lacking in the powerful, which permitted him to say after an achieved success to Bismarck, Roon and Moltke: “This is your work.” This made him neither a great statesman nor a great general, but it made him a successful ruler and a capable head of a government doing great deeds. However, this quality of mind and character has by no means been without example in the house of Hohenzollern, and not on this account can it be said that Kaiser Wilhelm will not have his equal on the imperial throne of Germany.

He stands alone and his position will always be unique as the link which binds together the old time and the new. His childhood saw the deepest humiliation of the fatherland. With his mother, the noble Louise, Prussia's Regina Dolorosa, he was compelled to fly from the capital conquered by Napoleon. The French Empire, which had crushed Prussia and subjugated Germany, was to him not a mere foreign state, but the product of revolutionary ideas. He, like all those around him, saw the salvation of his country only in a strong military power ever ready to oppose hostile armies, and in an unlimited royal power with which to suppress revolutionary ideas. These were the traditions of his house, these were the prevailing views of his time, the only ones with which he came in touch. Under their exclusive influence he grew up. Thus his principles and conceptions of duty formed themselves, and to those principles and conceptions of duty he has held fast all the days of his life. Like the other Princes of his house, he, as a boy, became a soldier, but more of a soldier than the others. His soldier-like zeal for service and the article of creed that the King according to his will must care for the welfare of the people, and that every subject owes obedience to the King, filled his whole horizon. As a youth he saw how the promises of representative institutions, which had been given in the year 1813 in the days of the popular insurrection against the Napoleonic despotism, remained unfulfilled because they would have been dangerous — dangerous to public order, which to him meant the same thing as the unlimited power of the King. As a man he found himself face to face with the revolutionary movements of the years 1848 and 1849, to which again the French Revolution had given the immediate impulse. The soldier, the first subject of the King, as he called himself, knew of no other duty than to strike down insurrections with armed force. Thus he went into the field and with severity he did his work.

At last the day came when he himself mounted the throne and with his own hand put upon his head the crown “given him by God.” That was to him no mere traditional form of speech — it was in him a deep-rooted religious conviction. The years of revolutionary movement had indeed resulted in a constitution, but the most essential part of all constitutions was to the King the least possible limitation of his power. It was his honest, aye, his pious faith, that God had made him King and ordained him to govern his people according to the best of his knowledge and conscience and that it was the duty of the representatives of the people simply to help him in doing so; that he would violate his own sacred duty if he permitted any essential part of the kingly power bestowed on him by God to escape him, and that those who would undertake to curtail the power of the monarch would be culpable of a revolt against God's commandment. His army was to him the sword of the Lord, the shield of the order of the universe, and of all human obligations he perhaps knew of none more sacred than the oath of fidelity sworn to the colors. The servant of the state was according to his mind not irresponsible, but politically responsible only to the monarch. Irresponsible he did not feel even himself, but responsible only to God and his own conscience. This was his constitutionalism — a constitutionalism certainly little in harmony with the constitutional ideas of other countries, but by no means sprung from the lust of power of a despotic nature.

Indeed no greater contrast can be imagined than that between Kaiser Wilhelm and the typical despot who, despising and oppressing the people, squanders the marrow of the land in lazy, luxurious extravagance. His life was one of such frugal simplicity that the millionaires of this country would do well to follow his example. As a boy he had made a vow at the time of his confirmation in church in which the following sentences are found: “I will never forget that the Prince is also a man and that he also is subject to the universal laws. I will cultivate a sincere, cordial benevolence to all men, even the lowliest, for they are my brothers. I esteem it much higher to be loved than to be feared, or merely to have a princely authority.” This was not a mere youthful idealism, evaporating quickly. He had a warm heart for the people, and this it was that brought him so near to the people's heart. Many of the plans of legislation to better the condition of the laboring man probably sprang from this source. He had a profound feeling for the sufferings of the poor. Deputations telling him of want and misery often drew tears from his eyes. The proud Hohenzoller, the unbending soldier, the severe champion of kingly power, the unforgiving suppressor of insurrections, the fame-crowned warrior King felt a real yearning to be personally popular. This was not a mere princely whim nor was it cold calculation. It was a trait of his heart. It was natural to him to give pleasure even to strangers whom he met, by a friendly greeting; he loved to show himself, to satisfy the wish of the multitudes who daily assembled before his window, but also to rejoice at the signs of attachment which he received. If this multitude had disappeared, as a symptom of indifference or antipathy, it would have been a blow to his heart.

No prince could have taken the duties of governing more seriously than the Kaiser himself. No blacksmith at his anvil, no peasant on his acres, no merchant in his counting-room could have devoted himself to his business more conscientiously, more indefatigably, more industriously than Kaiser Wilhelm worked in his government business. To concern himself with everything, great and small, to look into everything, to manage everything, or at least to help in conducting, was to him a stern command of duty, and he who looks for an illustration of that which is called in the Prussian idiom “service” will find it in Kaiser Wilhelm's daily life. Into his last clear moments, even into the feverish dreams of the hours of his death, the thought of his official duties pursued him, and with the voice of a dying man he gave to his successor his counsels on the great interests of his country. “I have no more time to be tired,” he said when he felt the last hour coming. But in his whole life he had given himself little time to be tired.

Not only the welfare of his own people, but also the peace of Europe he bore upon his shoulders. No opinion could be more mistaken than that, after the achievement of German unity, the Kaiser and his mighty Chancellor had wished for further conquests or new feats of arms. The Germans are a military but not a war-loving people. The German army is the whole people in arms, and such an army is not led into the field with a light mind. The Danish, the Austrian and the French wars were preparatory to the foundation of German national unity, and thus was this great problem of the time solved. The united Germany is the guardian of the peace of Europe. Without exaggeration it may be said that it has prevented more wars than it has carried on. How great in that respect was the merit of the Chancellor the world knows, but it knows also how the old Kaiser himself, with restless care and zeal and in personal meetings and conversation, made his friendly relations with other monarchs of Europe tell for the peace of the Continent. And it is certain that the restraining words of the friendly and powerful old man not seldom fell heavily in the scale.

Thus he has in internal and foreign policies endeavored to perform, with personal care and zealous activity, that kingly duty which, together with the kingly power, he felt imposed upon him by God. This conception of monarchical power and duty was his political religion, to which he held fast with the strong pious faith of his nature and which he professed always with full sincerity. To those principles he stood with open visor, and the glory of this great national policy of his government and the hearty attachment of the people to the old father on the imperial throne helped him mightily to maintain them. It is therefore less astonishing that under his reign the development of constitutional methods did not make more progress, than that it has progressed so far. He stepped from the old time into the new, representing the spirit of the old time in its most successful, most venerable, most winning form.

The patriarch is departed, and with him the prestige of the patriarchal régime. There can be no second patriarch like him. When after that wonderful career from misfortune and humiliation to highest power, magnificent fame and almost unexampled popularity the old Kaiser at last closed his eyes forever, there appeared a spectacle such as the world had not seen in centuries. Not only the funeral pomp was extraordinary; not only did all the powers of Europe gather around his bier, even France, once so grievously struck by his hand, bringing a wreath to adorn it; but more than this: all civilized peoples on earth, as if surprised by an event expected for years, turned their eyes to the German capital with cordial sympathy, but also with almost anxious expectation, and everywhere the question was asked, “What now?” Almost universal was the thought: “What is here being consigned to the grave is more than a great historic personality, it is the strongest pillar of a historic idea of government.” So the whole world attended this funeral cortège with the feeling of awe by which man is touched in the face of a stupendous event.

An unusually universal and heartfelt sympathy turns to the old Kaiser's successor. The name “Our Fritz,” which Kaiser William first pronounced and which the German people adopted with enthusiasm, has resounded through the world as the name of a popular favorite; and in him who bore it, people saw a Prince who was closer to the ways of thinking and feeling of the citizen than princes ordinarily are. With profound feeling has all civilized mankind lamented his terrible suffering and with their whole hearts wished him recovery and a long life. With the same feeling it watches his effort, in the uncertain days through which he struggles with his disease, to impress the stamp of his own mind upon the great inheritance Kaiser William leaves him.

Great, indeed, is this inheritance. Few as great have been left by princes to posterity. May a benign fate protect it. He who attentively contemplates the life of states and nations during long periods learns to be careful not to pass too dogmatic a judgment upon the past and not to conceive plans and expectations too sanguine for the future. He knows that new creations in order to stand firm must be built upon that which is vital, strong and durable in the past. He knows that historical developments do not, without danger of relapse, move forward by great leaps; but he knows also that they do not stand still.

In obedience to the law to which all earthly things are subject, the inheritance left by Kaiser William will have further to develop itself in order to be in accord with the character and the needs of the time. Nobody will dare to say that he looks clearly into the future. But one thing appears certain, the new German Empire, which honors Emperor William as its father and its first head, will stand all the firmer the more it can say of itself that it has created what is the true aim and end of all government — a people united, strong and happy in liberty, peace and progress.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).

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