Speech on the Meeting of the Prussian Diet
Illustrious, noble, and honoured Gentlemen of both Houses of the Diet, It is in a season of sorrow that I bid you welcome for the first time from this place. The sceptre rested but a few months in the hand of my deceased father, yet long enough to show what manner of ruler our Fatherland has lost in him. The majesty of his appearance, the nobility of his character, the glorious part which he played in the great destinies of his country, and the heroism of the Christian resignation with which he fought against his dread malady, have reared for him an imperishable monument in the hearts of his people. I tender to all who have approached me with their condolences my royal thanks for the countless proofs of loyal feeling and loving sympathy which have reached me during these, for me, so trying days.
And whereas by the demise of my father the crown of my ancestors has descended to me, it has become requisite for me at the commencement of my reign to summon you round me, and without delay to take the oath prescribed by the Constitution.
I swear that I will uphold the Constitution of the Kingdom firm and inviolable, and that I will reign in accordance with the same and with the laws, so help me God.
Gentlemen, in his glorious reign, rich in noble achievements both in war and peace, the Emperor William created the Prussia that we see to-day, and realised the national unity to which the nation aspired.
Animated by the same filial devotion which I feel towards him, my father, now at rest in God, after his accession to the throne, adopted in the public documents which represent the political legacy he bequeathed to us, the policy and works of my late grandfather, and I am resolved to follow him in this path both in the government of Prussia and in the field of Imperial policy. As King William I. did, so will I, true to the oath I have sworn, loyally and conscientiously respect and protect the laws and the rights of the representatives of the people, and with equal conscientiousness I will maintain and exercise the constitutional prerogatives of the Crown, so that some day I may hand them over unimpaired to my successor on the throne. It is far from my intentions to disturb the confidence of the people in the stability of our Constitution by any attempts to extend the rights of the Crown. My existing prerogatives, as laid down by our Constitution, suffice to ensure the due measure of monarchical influence which Prussia requires, according to its historical development, its present composition, its position in the Empire, and the temperament and habits of its own people. I am of the opinion that our Constitution contains a just and beneficial division of our joint work between the different powers of the State, and for this reason, and not solely on account of my oath, I will uphold and protect it. Following the example of my illustrious ancestors, I shall at all times deem it my duty to accord my royal protection to all religious creeds in my land in the free exercise of their faith.
I have learnt with special satisfaction that our recent ecclesiastical legislation has tended to impart to the relations of the State to the Catholic Church and its Spiritual Head, a form acceptable to both parties. I will make it my endeavour to maintain religious peace in the land.
The reform of our domestic administration was, in the main, effected in the last session of the Diet. The passage of the new legislation affords a proof that the conception of the dignity of self-government has passed into the living consciousness of the people, and that the requisite resources have been readily placed at the service of the public welfare. It is my will and pleasure to hold firmly to this valuable result achieved, and by adapting and strengthening the new institutions, contribute to the per- manency of their successful working.
In matters of finance I hold fast to the old Prussian traditions, which laid the foundation of the prosperity of our country, and enabled the State to meet its obligations even in times of distress and difficulty. I am able to look with satisfaction upon the financial position of the State, as I find it on my accession, thanks to the care of my ancestors on the throne. This favourable position of the Budget of the State has permitted me to make a successful beginning with the relief of taxation of the Communes and the less wealthy classes of the community. It is my pleasure that this aim should be pursued still further, and that in like manner urgent needs, which have hitherto had to be postponed owing to the inadequacy of the means available, should next be satisfied.
The devastating floods by which wide and fertile portions of the country were visited in the spring of this year claim my full sympathy. By the readiness with which you voted abundant supplies my Government has been enabled to heal many of the wounds inflicted, and take fresh precautions to avert such calamities for the future. If any consolation could be afforded to the sorely tried inhabitants of the districts affected, it would be found in the noble rivalry with the care of the State which has been displayed by all ranks and all classes of the population, and even by Germans residing in foreign lands. I feel it incumbent on me to express from this place my thanks to all who have contributed to relieve this distress.
Gentlemen, at the close of a legislative period you can look back with satisfaction at the important results which have been secured, thanks to your harmonious co-operation with the Government. On looking back at the past I feel confident that for the future, too, we shall succeed by our common labours, supported by mutual confidence and undisturbed by differences of opinion on any points of fundamental importance in promoting the prosperity of the country.
Gentlemen, in an hour of sorrow have I undertaken the duties of my royal office, but I enter on the task committed to me by the disposal of God with all the confidence of a high sense of duty, and in performing the same keep before my mind the saying of the great Frederick, that in Prussia 'the King is the First Servant of the State.'
During the reign of the Emperor Frederick both France and Russia maintained to some extent an attitude of armed suspicion. But now, on the accession of his youthful successor, who, in the opinion of his antagonists, did not enjoy any measure of support from the political parties and the German Sovereigns, the time seemed to have arrived for a renewal of the secret and open political attacks on Germany. Now was the opportunity for the Emperor William to show the whole world that he was a lover of peace, and, further, that he would take every step possible to remove all misunderstandings, and thus maintain peace. And, indeed, he himself felt that it was incumbent upon him that he should demonstrate that he was, above all, an Emperor devoted to peace and conciliation.