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Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Describes a Prussian State Council Meeting (January 17, 1871)

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The question of the imperial flag provoked few reservations, since the King did not raise any substantial objections to the black-white-and-red cockade, the less so because the latter, as he himself put it, had not risen from the dirt of the gutter, as had the black-red-and-gold flag. Even so, he would only tolerate the tricolor flag being flown side by side with the Prussian one.

The coat of arms proposed by Count Bismarck and myself did not encounter any opposition, though it was not expressly accepted either.

The more clearly, however, the consequences of the designations “Emperor” and “Reich” emerged in the course of the deliberations, the more infuriated the King became. Finally, he burst out in words to the effect that he was merely taking over a pseudo-Kaiserdom, nothing more than another designation for “President;” that he was just like a major who had been granted the title of “acting lieutenant-colonel” upon retirement. Now that it had come to this, he certainly would have to bear this cross, but he wished to do so alone; for this reason, he would not tolerate anyone who expected him to make the same unreasonable demand on the Prussian army that he was facing personally; therefore, he would not hear of calling his forces an “Imperial Army,” since he at least wished to spare our army that, and he could not tolerate the troops being asked to accept “German” names and designations. For all he cared, the navy might be called an “Imperial Navy.” Moreover, he said in the most extraordinary state of agitation, that he could not even begin to describe to us how despondent he felt about having to say farewell tomorrow to the old Prussia, to which he alone was clinging and would continue to cling in future. At this point, sobs and tears interrupted his words.

[ . . . ]

Without having achieved anything in these matters, and with each of us asking the other what was actually going to happen now, we left the prefecture. These were the impressions we took along as we ushered in the magnificent German celebration scheduled for the following day!

Original German text printed in Kaiser Friedrich III. Tagebücher von 1848-1866 [Kaiser Friedrich III. Journals from 1848-1866], ed. Heinrich Otto Meisner. Leipzig: R.F. Koehler, 1926.

Reprinted in Johannes Hohlfeld, Deutsche Reichsgeschichte in Dokumenten 1849-1926 [German Imperial History in Documents 1849-1926], 2 vols. Berlin: Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft für Politik und Geschichte, 1927, vol. 1, pp. 69-76.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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