During Rathenau’s life, a number of different kings or Emperors ruled Prussia, which became the German Empire in 1871. Friedrich Wilhelm III ruled for the first two years of Rathenau’s life. Friedrich Wilhelm IV ruled from 1840-1861 and Wilhelm I followed, ruling Prussia from 1861 to 1871. Beginning in 1871, Wilhelm I ruled as Emperor of the German Empire until 1888. For less than one year, Friedrich III ruled the German Empire in part of 1888. For the last years of Rathanau’s life, Wilhelm II ruled Prussia from 1888 to 1918.
In 1848, a rebellion in Austria and Hungary ended with much bloodshed both during the fighting and after due to executions. When the rebellion was ended, a change in political power in Austria to heads of government spurred Frederick Wilhelm IV to move against political opponents in his own country to prevent a rebellion in his country. He ordered 13,000 soldiers to march into Berlin to end street demonstrations. Frederick Wilhelm IV also replaced his prime minister, who was a constitution monarchist with a conservative military commander, Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Brandenburg. Fifty thousand more troops were moved into Berlin to keep order. The bloodshed in other countries influenced Germans greatly and many thought if such violence and disorder occurred during reform, like in Austria and in the French Revolution, then it might be better to have slow reforms.
After the uprisings in 1848, Prussia became a constitutional monarchy under Friedrich Wilhelm IV. In 1861, Wilhelm I began his rule. He wanted to spend 90% of the nation’s budget on rebuilding the army that was in day after fighting with Austria and the southern German states in 1848 and 1849. However, when the Parliament disagreed with Wilhelm I and rejected his plans, Wilhelm I ignored the Parliament. He hired Otto von Bismarck to be prime and foreign minister. Bismarck raised the money to rebuild the army by implementing increased direct taxation. Rebuilding the army became somewhat necessary since, in 1866, a German-German war took place between Prussia and Austria. In the end, under Prussia, the North German Federation was founded (without Austria). A few years later, a German-French war occurred in 1871, provoked by Bismarck. As a result of this war, the Deutsches Reich (German Empire) was founded. Wilhelm I was Emperor, “Kaiser”, of this new empire and Bismarck was the Chancellor. Berlin became the seat of government for Prussia and the German Empire as a result of the 1871 war. The German Empire would last under Wilhelm II until 1918, the end of WWI. In 1884, the first colonies were claimed by the German Reich. Wilhelm II also fired Bismarck and was determined to create a navy larger than Britain’s because he felt threatened. His bad sense of diplomacy regarding Britain and alliance with Austria with made him largely responsible for WWI.