With the death of Emperor William, March 17, 1888, the old order of things changed. The reign of the next emperor, Frederick III, William I's only son, was shrouded in gloom, for he came to the throne as a dying man. Had he lived he would have inaugurated a mild and liberal policy. His great desire, he said in a proclamation to his people, was to make Germany a sanctuary of peace. He was very open to English influences, and Bismarck hated those influences worse than poison.
Frederick III was born October 18, 1831. Like all the princes of the House of Hohenzollern, he became a soldier. In the winters of 1850 and 1851 he attended the University of Bonn, the first of the Hohenzollern princes to take up academic studies. His fields of study were mainly history, law, politics and French and English conversation. In the winter of 1855-56 he was made acquainted with the inside working of the different ministerial departments, and, as he expressed himself to his future father-in-law, the Prince Consort Albert of Great Britain, he was disgusted with the unjust and reactionary government of the Manteuffel ministry. In 1858 he married Victoria daughter of the Prince Consort and Queen Victoria of Great Britain.
When Bismarck took the reins his unconstitutional government naturally met with the disapproval of the liberal minded Crown Prince. Undoubtedly he was carried too far by this sincere sentiment. In his hostility to Bismarck's policies he went so far as to call him a "most dangerous adviser for Crown and country."
During the war with Denmark, 1864, the Crown Prince was attached to the staff of the old Field-Marshall Wrangel, whom he had to supervise. He did it with great tact and showed at the same time his ability as a general. Misunderstanding entirely Bismarck's policy for Germany's unity, he opposed the war with Austria. In that war he commanded one of the three armies and decided the battle of Koniggratz, and thereby the war.
After it, the Crown Prince, with the right wing of the Liberal Party, became convinced of Bismarck's high patriotism and his ability to conduct the foreign affairs of the Empire. In their fundamental conceptions of internal policy, however, they could never agree. The Franco-German War found the Prince commanding the Third Army composed of troops from the southern states. In this position he gained the highest reputation as a general and an enormous popularity as soldier and man. He was not able to exert great influence in internal politics, since he did not agree with Bismarck, who was upheld by the Kaiser.
The field in which he was especially interested was social reform. As M. von Poschinger in her biography of Frederick, says (pp. 355-356): "In form accordance with his idealistic tendencies he regarded the modification of class distinctions, recognition of intellectual claims, personal 'rapprochement' of employers and employed, and kindly intercourse between men, as the chief means of compensation for the inevitable hardships of industrial life. Freedom from economic distress would, he hoped, result from the spiritual liberty and elevation of the nation. He became in course of time, the center and initiator of all charitable efforts in the country."
From June 4 to December 5, 1878, the Crown Prince was commissioned with the regentship because of the serious condition of his father resulting from an attempt upon his life made by the fanatic socialist Hodel. He followed the wishes of the Kaiser in carrying on the government according to Bismarck's principles. Observers could not, therefore, consider this period of government as characteristic of what his future reign might have been.
In the beginning of 1887 a terrible disease, cancer of the throat, began to develop from which the Prince suffered severely up to the end of his life on June 7, 1888. He therefore could do very little during the ninety-nine days of his rule.
With Kaiser Frederick III died the hope of the liberal educated class of Germany. During his whole life, while not a political liberal he had been the champion of free thought and tolerance. Audiatur et altera pars (Let the other side also be heard) was his fundamental principle. Justice to every opinion of a serious minded man could be expected from him. From his firm attitude towards Bismarck before 1866, and his insistence on the dismissal of Puttkammer, we may draw the conclusion that he would have been a factor in the German government had destiny given him more time. Although by nature liberal minded, he had a very strong historic sense, and had expressed himself against the introduction of the responsible ministerial form of government. With the radical liberal parties he disagreed entirely in his ideas on the army and navy.