To what extent did Kaiser Wilhelm have the real power within the second Reich?

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Essay for Markedbyteachers – To what extent did the Kaiser have the real power within the second Reich?

Introduction: Kaiser Wilhelm had real power within the second Reich to a large extent; his semi-autocratic manner overshadowed politics and dramatically effected policies such as Weltpolitik. However, other parts of the government had some power. Such as the Chancellors, who following Bismarck tried to appease the Kaiser in various ways, as their position was reliant on Wilhelm II, not the Reichstag. The Reichstag lacked the fundamental components of democracy and had virtually no power, while the elites heavily dominated the government and put pressure on the Kaiser to release policies in their favour. In contrast to the elites, the lower working class claimed they were unrepresented, on the other hand, they could exert pressure on the Kaiser through mass strikes. Although certain elements of the government could place pressure on the Kaiser, Wilhelm’s ‘personal rule’ was left unchallenged until 1918 and even the Daily Telegraph Affair, which provided the Reichstag with an opportunity to demand constitutional change, was not used to its full advantage.

The Kaiser’s real power can be seen in the structure of the German government. As the German Emperor, he headed the military and political apparatus of the Second Reich. For instance, he could appoint and dismiss chancellors; the Reichstag did not elect them. Therefore, those who wished to join the government had to appeal to the Kaiser’s wishes, resulting in an unelected body being chosen by an unelected ruler because the Kaiser’s position was hereditary. This gave the Kaiser a lot of power to shape Germany, even though the Chancellors had legislative initiative, if they depended on the Kaiser then it was really his policies being introduced in the Reichstag. Following the Kaiser and Bismarck’s tense relationship, the Kaiser wished to pursue a period of ‘personal rule’. Consequently, his ultimate power can be shown when examining Hohenlohe’s chancellorship. The Kaiser managed to build an ocean-going fleet and involved himself in complex foreign and domestic policies, as well as major decisions, showing he could exercise his power domestically and internationally. Even political parties did not challenge the Kaiser to some extent because they feared they would be labelled unpatriotic. This can be demonstrated when the socialists and Catholics opposed the Colonial policy, under chancellor Bulow. They were presented in the 1907 election as unpatriotic and the Progressives were enticed to join a new coalition based on support for Weltpolitik. Thus, Bulow won a crushing electoral victory with 216 seats as opposed to 105 seats of the Centre Party and the SPD lost 36 seats. It wasn’t until the SPD’s votes increased in the 1912 election, party due to their voting on an army bill, as they were worried of being labelled unpatriotic again. Although the chancellors were reliant upon the Kaiser, they did have some power in the second Reich.

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The chancellors had power in the Second Reich, although not to the extent the Kaiser did. This is because they were reliant upon the Kaiser, and yet not accountable to the Reichstag. The chancellor was the only minister mentioned by title in the constitution and he presided over the Bundesrat, all degrees and orders had to be countersigned by him. He also appointed government ministers and Bismarck exercised a huge amount of power as Chancellor under the disinterested Kaiser Wilhelm I, but fell foul of the very system he had created when Wilhelm II came to power and promptly ...

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