|"Dropping the Pilot," British Cartoon, 1890|
Incompatible in temperament, aspirations, and methods for conducting diplomacy, Bismarck and the Kaiser worked together for two years before the "Iron Chancellor" was sent packing. Wilhelm subsequently played a more personal and often destructive role in shaping policy, with the Russian-German relationship quickly withering.
After Kaiser Wilhelm II's accession to the throne in June 1888, conflict between the old chancellor Bismarck and the 29-year-old emperor was almost inevitable. Tensions came to a head over the workers' question and how to deal with the Social Democrats. Germany had experienced a wave of strikes in 1889, and opinion was divided on how to meet the challenge. Wilhelm II did not want to start his reign with bloodshed. His Royal Decree of February 1890 promised social reform and workers' protection. But Bismarck was more inclined toward a collision course with the Social Democrats, who had emerged from the Reichstag elections of February 1890 with more votes than any other party. He hoped to provoke a domestic crisis that would make him indispensable. On 15 March 1890, Bismarck was awoken at 9 a.m. with the news that the Kaiser wished to see him in the Foreign Office in half an hour's time. At last the break between the two men could no longer be postponed, and a rancorous, awkward scene resulted, leaving Bismarck no choice but to offer his resignation. As it happened, more than two days ensued before he did so, during which time both men tried to seize the tactical advantage (Bismarck wanted to draw up a letter of resignation that could be published later).
Source: German History in Documents and Images