• GERMANIC MIGRATIONS AND
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  • JOHANNES REUCHLIN
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  • W
  • INFLATION, REPARATIONS, AND
  • THE STRESEMANN ERA, 19231929
  • STABILIZATION AND LOCARNO,
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  • DENUNCIATION AND RELUCTANT
  • GERMANIC MIGRATIONS AND
  • Bismarck, Otto Eduard Leopold

    von

    (18151898)

    statesman

    One of Germanys most famous statesman, Otto

    von Bismarck was responsible for the unification

    of Germany by the creation of the Second German

    Empire in 1871. During his tenure as chancellor

    of the Reich he waged a cultural war

    (KULTURKAMPF) against Catholicism, opposed the

    rise of socialism, instituted state-sponsored social

    insurance, and protected Germany diplomatically

    through the Triple Alliance.

    Otto von Bismarck was born on April 1,

    1815, to Ferdinand Bismarck, a typical estate

    owner in Pomerania, and Wilhelmine Mencken,

    whose lineage included bureaucrats and professors.

    His mother was educated in the thinking of

    the English Utilitarians, French Positivists, and

    German LIBERALISM. On her insistence, the family

    moved to BERLIN, where he attended a gymnasium.

    He studied law at the University of

    GÖTTINGEN, Germanys seat of liberalism, and

    subsequently at Berlin. Not accepted for a position

    in the foreign ministry, he began a civil service

    career in the judiciary. His lifestyle was

    characterized by laziness, drinking, and atheism,

    his body afflicted by a number of diseases, and

    his personality probably neurotic. Developing a

    contemptuous attitude toward the bureaucracy,

    274 Biermann, Wolf

    he left to manage the family estates from 1838

    to 1847. In the process of reforming his life, by

    1847 he had abandoned his skepticism, adopting

    Christian PIETISM, which stressed subjective religious

    experience, acquired a sense of mission,

    married Johanna von Puttkamer, and entered

    politics.

    His opportunity to enter politics came when

    the king, FREDERICK WILLIAM IV, called for a

    meeting of the Prussian Diet to consider new

    taxes. Here he gained a reputation for himself as

    a staunch defender of conservatism against the

    liberal majority. During the REVOLUTION OF 1848

    he helped plan its defeat. In 1851 he was

    rewarded with an appointment to the prestigious

    position of Prussian representative to the

    Diet of the GERMAN CONFEDERATION, where he

    obstructed AUSTRIA. Subsequently, he was

    appointed to a series of diplomatic posts at

    Vienna in 1854, at St. Petersburg in 1859, and

    briefly at Paris in 1861.

    In 1862 the new king, WILLIAM I, faced a constitutional

    crisis over budgetary increases to pay

    for the expansion of the army and the increase

    of the length of compulsory service from two to

    three years. Since the Prussian parliament

    refused to support this policy, the king needed

    a strong minister-president who would stand up

    to the opposition. Believing that he was the right

    man for the job, Bismarck wrote to the minister

    of war, Albrecht von Roon, who invited him to

    come to Berlin and meet with the king. Received

    in audience with the despairing king, Bismarck

    offered to lead the fight against Parliament.

    According to Bismarck, the king appointed him

    not as a constitutional minister in the usual

    sense of the word but as the servant of Your

    Majesty. Yet, the king was unenthusiastic about

    his choice of this wild, witty, and notoriously

    reactionary JUNKER, but felt that he had no alternative

    than mad Bismarck to teach the democratic

    opposition not to challenge the kings

    desires concerning his army. The new ministerpresident

    continued to run the government, collected

    taxes, and expanded the army against the

    will of Parliament, which continued to refuse to

    pass a budget. One of the most enduring images

    of Bismarck as the blood and iron minister

    who favored war over parliamentary speeches

    was created in 1863, not from a speech given in

    the Parliament, but from remarks made in a

    small budget committee.

    Bismarcks character as a diplomat and his

    achievements are not easy to explain. He was

    impatient, arrogant, and inclined to bluff. Later

    in life, through his memoirs, speeches, and conversations

    he explained that he had foreseen

    and planned his successes. In reality he was a

    master at seizing opportunities as they came. In

    German affairs his goal was to gain parity for

    PRUSSIA with the Austrian Empire. Bismarck

    sought to isolate Austria by gaining the diplomatic

    support of Russia and France. The

    Crimean War (185456) had embittered relations

    between Austria and Russia, while Prussian

    neutrality ensured that Russia would not

    Bismarck, Otto Eduard Leopold von 275

    Otto von Bismarck (Library of Congress)

    intervene in a German conflict. At the same time

    economic expansion had created increasing

    demand for national unity throughout the German

    states. Being a very astute diplomat, Bismarck

    liked to keep his options open and,

    during these years, followed a policy that

    favored unification within the GERMAN CONFEDERATION.

    Bismarcks opportunity to demonstrate

    his skills came with the complicated problems

    concerning Schleswig and Holstein. These German

    provinces were part of the Danish kingdom

    but had been promised in 1852 that they would

    be separate from the Danish state. In 1864, however,

    much like 1848, the Danish king absorbed

    Schleswig into Denmark. In response to an

    aroused German national feeling, the German

    Confederation decided to take action against

    Denmark. Although Bismarck secretly desired to

    incorporate the duchies into Prussia, by dealing

    with the problem as a violation of the Treaty of

    London (1852), he kept France and England

    out of the coming conflict. Austrian and Prussian

    troops attacked Schleswig, quickly defeated the

    Danes, and the Austrians and Prussians agreed

    to administer the duchies in the Bad Gastein

    Convention (August 1865).

    There is little doubt that Bismarck intended to

    provoke a war with Austria. While criticizing

    Austrias administration of Holstein, Bismarck

    appealed to German liberal national sentiment,

    demanding that a parliament be elected for all of

    Germany by universal manhood suffrage in

    order to deal with this problem. In response,

    Austria mobilized the military forces of the Confederation

    against Prussia. Bismarck already had

    protected his flank through a secret treaty with

    Italy and had obtained a promise of neutrality

    from Napoleon III, suggesting territorial rewards

    along the RHINE. When the prewar crisis came to

    a head, the other German states in the Confederation

    sided with Austria. Bismarck responded

    that the Confederation was dissolved, and without

    a declaration of war invaded Bohemia, instigating

    the Austro-Prussian War (1866). What

    was expected to be a long-drawn-out conflict

    with an Austrian victory ended up being decided

    in only seven weeks with a crushing defeat of

    Austria at the BATTLE OF KÖNIGGRÄTZ (Sadowa).

    Bismarck convinced the Prussian king not to further

    humiliate the Austrians with a march to

    Vienna and to offer a lenient peace in the Treaty

    of Prague. Prussia now annexed Schleswig-Holstein,

    HANOVER, Hesse-Kassel, and the city of

    FRANKFURT. In the new NORTH GERMAN CONFEDERATION,

    Austria was excluded, an assembly was

    popularly elected, with the king of Prussia as its

    executive. A defensive alliance was also negotiated

    with BAVARIA, Württemberg, and Baden.

    Back in Berlin Bismarcks prestige soared and

    the liberals in Parliament actually retroactively

    approved his four years of unconstitutional government,

    which proved to be disastrous for the

    future of German liberalism. The Iron Chancellor

    also was granted funds to buy an estate in

    Pomerania.

    Bismarcks diplomatic genius was again evident

    during the events leading up to the Franco-

    Prussian War (1870). Napoleon III became

    resentful when he failed to receive Belgium as

    a reward for his neutrality in 1866. The French

    were further antagonized over Bismarcks support

    of Leopold von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringens

    claim of succession to the Spanish throne.

    The French ambassador was sent to discuss the

    problem with the Prussian king, who was on

    holiday at the resort of Bad Ems. The French

    demanded assurances that Leopolds candidacy

    would be permanently withdrawn, while the

    king declined to make such a commitment.

    Receiving a telegraph concerning what had

    occurred, Bismarck then attempted to embarrass

    the French by editing the famous EMS TELEGRAM.

    All the conciliatory phrases were left out before

    it was released to the press, which fomented volcanic

    eruptions of nationalism and prowar sentiment

    in both Paris and Berlin. According to

    Bismarck, he pushed both countries to the brink

    of war because it was an unavoidable necessity,

    when he realized that France would never

    peacefully allow Germany to unite. It was, however,

    the French who first declared war on July

    19, 1870. Six weeks later, they were quickly

    defeated when Napoleon III and his army surrendered

    at the Battle of Sedan on September 2,

    276 Bismarck, Otto Eduard Leopold von

    1870. In Paris, however, a republic was declared,

    and the new government continued to resist the

    Germans. The Prussian victory led to the formation

    of a unified German Empire, including the

    South German states. ALSACE and LORRAINE

    were annexed, ensuring that the French would

    seek revenge in the future. In the Hall of Versailles

    the king of Prussia was proclaimed

    William I, German emperor. As a reward for this

    triumph Bismarck was granted the title of

    prince.

    Bismarck remained chancellor of the German

    empire and prime minister in Prussia until

    1890. The constitution, largely written by Bismarck,

    maximized his personal power on the

    federal level and weakened the possibility for

    the REICHSTAG and the political parties to challenge

    his authority. It combined conservative

    authoritarian political ideas with liberal economic

    precepts. The hereditary leadership of the

    Empire was vested in the Prussian king with the

    title of German emperor, who appointed the

    imperial officials, including the chancellor,

    directed foreign affairs, commanded the army,

    made war and peace, and initiated domestic legislation.

    Not only had Bismarck succeeded in

    creating an authoritarian emperor, but he had

    dangerously done so in what was to become the

    most powerful nation in Europe. Of crucial

    importance was the lack of ministerial responsibility

    over the army and foreign affairs. In the

    area of economic modernization Bismarck

    worked with the NATIONAL LIBERAL PARTY to

    transform Germany, despite the crash of 1873

    and periods of depression and deflation through

    the next two decades. But Bismarcks other

    major internal policies were never so successful.

    His attempt to stop the Catholic CENTER PARTY

    and his struggle during the Kulturkampf with

    the Catholic Church was a failure. After 1878

    his policies to suppress socialism were also

    unsuccessful, as the GERMAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC

    PARTY continued to increase its support

    among voters. To combat the threat of socialism,

    Bismarck sponsored the first comprehensive

    program of social insurance covering health, old

    age, and unemployment benefits.

    Bismarcks diplomatic efforts after unification

    were directed at consolidating and protecting the

    German Empire, especially against French

    revenge. In 1872 he established the Three

    Emperors League (18721878, 18811887). In

    1879 he negotiated the Austro-German Dual

    Alliance and in 1882 the Triple Alliance with

    Austria and Italy. In 1887 the Russo-German

    Reinsurance was signed. In 1878 he presided

    over the CONGRESS OF BERLIN, which dealt with

    the issues of imperialism. In general his diplomatic

    skills helped Europe avoid a general war

    until 1914.

    Bismarck continued in office after the death

    of WILLIAM I, through the unfortunately short

    reign of FREDERICK III (died June 15, 1888), and

    for almost two years for his son, WILLIAM II. Disagreeing

    with Bismarcks control of ministers

    and his Russian policy, William accepted the

    chancellors resignation. Bismarck retired to his

    family estates, criticized his successors, and

    wrote his memoirs. He disavowed the policies of

    the emperor until his death on July 30, 1898.

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