While I will not be able to do an entire analysis of the Wilhelmine empire between 1888-1918 I will include relevant information congruent with this topic.
Although both Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II were both conservative German Emperors there were a couple of major differences. Wilhelm I preferred his position as King of Prussia and was a rather reluctant emperor. Kaiser Wilhelm II reveled in his position as German Emperor. Wilhelm I was content to rule through his Chancellor and this could have been the start of the monarch evolving into a figurehead. However, Wilhelm II wanted no such role. He wanted to take the reigns of government on himself as much as possible. Wilhelm II succeeded his father, Emperor Friedrich III, in the summer of 1888 and by 1890 Wilhelm dismissed the aged old Iron Chancellor Bismark beginning a short period of personal rule.
In appointing first Leo von Caprivi (1890-1894) and then Prince Chlodwig, of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst (1894-1900), found Wilhelm II embarking upon new course in which he hoped to exert decisive influence in the government of the empire. There is debate amongst historians as to the extent of “personal rule” Wilhelm had in this time period, but what is clear is that there was a very different dynamic that existed between the Crown and its chief political servant the Chancellor. The differences between Bismark and Wilhelm’s other chancellors was that they were civil servants and not seasoned politician-statesmen like Bismarck. Wilhelm wanted to insure that the emergence of another Iron Chancellor, whom he ultimately detested, would not come about once more. He felt that Bismark had kept a stranglehold on effective political power.
During his reign Wilhelm II slowly striped himself of his powers through missteps and outright blunders. The Abushiri Arab Revolt in East Africa of 1889, The Hun’s speech of 1900, The Moroccan Crisis of 1905, The Daily Telegraph scandal of 1908, all demonstrated Wilhelm II’s ineptness at foreign policy. The Daily Telegraph scandal, where he insulted Britain, sent him spiraling into depression for weeks where he refused to get out of bed. From that point on his ministers assured that no speech of the Kaisers would be released without their approval. From 1909-1917 Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg was the German Chancellor and we begin to see a return to a period with a strong Chancellor and an Emperor who was mostly held in check by his ministers.
Next week I will examine the downfall of the Hohenzollern Monarchy.