“When you want to fool the world,
tell the truth.”
Prince Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck was born after the end Napoleon wars (1815). At this time Prussia did not become a powerful European state as it aimed to. Thus, it was Bismarck’s fate to create a united German Empire and to lead it to the domination in Europe. Bismarck was an ardent follower of monarchical power. Even at the end of the 1840s, when the foundations of monarchical power were shattered, von Bismarck advocated monarchy. In 1848 there were a lot of revolutionary movements in German lands; however, democratic unification of Germany didn’t take place at that time. Prussia was then hoping to establish a smaller union under the threat of war with Austria in 1850. In 1853 – 1855 Russia carried war (Crimean War) on against the coalition of most influential states in Europe, and Bismarck thought that nothing good would be brought to Germany by this war. Austria sided with the alliance, and also addressed Russia with ultimatum. Seeing the events, the King of Prussia followed the advice of Bismarck and concentrated his military forces at the border between Austria in Russia. He did this in order to crush Austria and finally unite Germany. It didn’t work. Further obstacles on the way of joining Germany were France and Austria. They (and Russia as well) did not need a powerful state in the centre of Europe. However, Russia after the defeat in 1855 didn’t hinder Prussia.
In 1862 the King of Prussia invited von Bismarck to take office in Prussia, so the latter became the head of Prussian government. The first goals that Bismarck accomplished, after he had acquired the new position, were to strengthen the political situation in the country and to reinforce the army. He strongly supported the rearmament of Prussian army, the training of officers and the militarization of new soldiers. His policy brought quick results because the military participated in the war against Denmark, which it defeated rather rapidly. Then the Prussian army won the battle against Austria (Seven Weeks’ War), and France was left the only obstacle for German unification. To achieve the primary goal, von Bismarck, known as a very talented diplomat, organized the preparation for Prussian people to participate in the war against France, and made France declare war to Prussia in 1870. This situation was very favorable to von Bismarck, as the people of Prussia were convinced that they struggled for the protection of their homeland from the French aggression. During the war, Prussia appeared to be better equipped, and it crushed poorly prepared French army. Thus, in 1871 the Treaty of Frankfurt ended the war, and Germany could finally be united. So, in 1871 the King of Prussia Wilhelm I was crowned as the emperor of the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, and Otto von Bismarck became the chancellor of unified Germany.
When Bismarck became the chancellor of the German Empire, he tried in all possible ways to make Germany as strong economically as it was politically. For this reason, he supported all financially progressive changes in the state.
Being a unique figure in the history of Germany as well as in the world history, von Bismarck conducted various Domestic and Foreign policies to make Germany a powerful European state.
Thus, the purpose of the present study was to evaluate the role of Bismarck, and his polices to the ascension of Germany, and to determine whether his activity was the only factor influencing the development of the country.
Bismarck’s biography in brief
Future chancellor of the German Empire was born on the 1st of April 1815 in an ordinary Prussian family. Otto von Bismarck was “the offspring of a marriage between a typical Prussian country Junker father and a mother who came from a non-Prussian family of academics” . At the urgent request of Bismarck’s mother, he and his elder brother were sent off to study to the Plamann Institute in Berlin. Otto was unwilling to study, and didn’t make a good student; however, he was highly intelligent even in his early ages. Bismarck majored in law, and “led the life of a heavy-drinking, hard-fighting, whoring young nobleman let off the leash” . In 1836 Bismarck entered government service, from where he resigned after a year. Later he took over the management of the family estates. In order to succeed in this business Bismarck learned accounting, chemistry, and farming. He appeared to be an efficient farmer, and was able to increase the value of his family’s estate for one third during the nine years of his management. After the death of his father in 1845, family’s property was divided between the children. In 1847 Bismarck got married with Johanna von Puttkamer, and soon after the wedding he started to take his first steps towards the stunning political career. It was his acquaintance with Ludwig von Gerlach that helped Bismarck to get elected as a “representative of the Magdeburg estates to the United Prussian diet of 1847. The previous representative had had to retire for reasons of health, but Bismarck, although not on the list of alternatives and only recently returned to the province, was chosen” . By this he received an opportunity to start his political career. Bismarck was very loyal to the king, and for this reason he emphasized that “the loyalty of Prussians was to the state that the great king had served, and not to the black-red-gold flag” . His political career was successfully continued by his confirmation to a post of the representative of Prussia in the negotiations with Austria. In 1862 he became a prime minister and foreign minister of Prussia. Upon his assignment to this post his main goal was to “make progress on the German question through a Prussian policy of strength and thereby to reconcile the Prussian liberals to the uncompromising stand of the King on the question of military control” . Thus, this purpose also guided him when he made his famous “iron and blood” speech. Being a successful politician, Bismarck was able to win the war against France and finally achieve the main goal of his life – the unification of Germany. This remarkable event happened on the 18th of January 1871, when the German Empire was proclaimed at Versailles. Thus, Bismarck became a chancellor of the German Empire, and held this position for 19 years. His political career almost ended in March 1890 when Bismarck is forced from the office. He continued to hold a strong political stand; however, he was not needed to the emperor any more. On the 30th of July 1898 Bismarck died and was buried at his estate.
Life in Germany and international climate before 1871
After the end of Napoleonic invasions the territory of Germany was divided between several European monarchies. The little states, of which Germany than consisted, were called the German Union, and the most significant states in this union were Austria and Prussia. The Eastern regions were less developed, because the Prussian landed gentry did not wish to change the established social and economic structure. The principle difference between Eastern and Western provinces of Prussia laid in unregulated customs system, which was composed of several dozens of tariffs. By the middle of 1820s Prussia made the neighbouring countries cancel the existing tariffs and quotas. It is interesting to note the status of peasants at that time. Though the serfdom was already abolished, the peasants still had to fulfil certain duties, and were unable to redeem their lands due to the high costs. The revolution of 1848 – 1849 did not change anything in the matter of unification of Germany. Landlords continued to be a ruling class; however, petty bourgeoisie also gained access to the elections to institutions of local governing. At the beginning of 1850s Germany faced two options concerning its unification, which should have been headed by either Prussia or Austria. In September 1850 Russia also intruded into the conflict, and Prussia had to relinquish. Prussia denied its wish to control the whole Germany, as this battle was already lost. Under the influence of the war against Italy in 1859, Austria weakened, and Prussia again tried to oppose Austria. At first, “Prussia declared its willingness to assist Austria, and placed its army on a war footing. But the prince regent demanded that, if a war of the Confederacy were to be waged, he should have the command of all the troops. Austria did not consent, but the Emperor Francis Joseph made peace with France, ceding Lombardy to Italy (the Peace of Villa-Franca, July 11, 1859). Prussia was then widely blamed for having left Austria without help.”
In 1861 the King of Prussia died, and William I became the king. William I soon after his coronation began to implement his policy, directed to the improvement of the army. He increased the number of solders and lengthened the period of service in the reserve. The first minister appointed by the King didn’t receive the approval of the deputies, and William I. recalled Otto von Bismarck to take a position of prime minister and foreign minister. By appointing Bismarck the King wanted to introduce order on the territory of Prussia, and Bismarck was the best candidature to do that, because he was known as a true royalist possessing a strong character. It was the forerunner of William I. Frederick William IV, who once said about Bismarck- “red reactionary, smells of blood”. When Bismarck headed the Prussian government, he conducted the military reform. His words spoken in front of the deputies that Germany will be united by “blood and iron” made the representatives of opposition step back. “In the legislative body he was met by utter distrust; and since he proceeded to carry out the king’s purpose of reorganizing the army, the contest only grew more bitter during 1862 and the two following years” .
Being a successful and naturally talented diplomat, he soon became the leading figure in Prussia, discovering that others were in opposition. Bismarck realized that he “had to apply the spur, where previously he had put on the brake” . Bismarck was in good relationship with the liberals, who were now fond of his speeches and followed his ideas. Bismarck was rather intolerant with the German princes, and even with the King of Prussia, whom he sort of controlled, because the King always listened to Bismarck’s advice. Bismarck “did not capitulate to the liberals, though he allied with them . He used his diplomatic approach everywhere, trying to be a dominant figure in every association. As the author of the book “Bismarck: the Man and the Statesman” Taylor noted: “Bismarck was balancing between the various forces and playing one off against another, and he aimed to be the dominant partner in any association. He never became identified with any cause, whether monarchy or German nationalism or, later, conservatism. It gave him the freedom to manœuvre, but in the last resort, the lack of any party of his own led to his fall” .
After the death of King Frederick VII of Denmark in 1863, there was a conflict between German Princes, which lead to the war between the alliance of Austria and Prussia and Denmark. Though a war is always considered to be an unpleasant and painful event, namely the war against Denmark started the process of unification of Germany, which was achieved eight years later.
3. German ascension
The defeat of Denmark marked the first step to the German unification. The next step that needed to be taken was the war against Austria. To achieve this goal Bismarck directed his political activity in the special way in order to force Austria out of the German Union. His intentions to solve the problem diplomatically failed, and Austria started mobilization. In response, Prussia took defensive measures, counting on help from the side of other German states. In search of foreign allies the future Chancellor of Germany signed a treaty with Italy in April 1866. Prussian army was well-equipped and trained. As a result, on the 3rd of July 1866 Prussian army defeated Austrian army near Sadova that is now situated in Czech Republic. Together, with the defeat of Austrians their allies were also crushed by the Prussian army. In August 1866 Austria signed a peaceful treaty with Prussia, according to which Austria left the German union and denied to have any claims on German lands in future. However, Bismarck decided not to occupy the capital of Austria, as he strategically planned to create a union with Austria in future. Instead of German Union the North German Confederation was created, which was composed of 22 states. Thus, the second goal of Bismarck was accomplished, and the only thing that was left to do was to unite all German lands. However, there was one more obstacle on the way towards the unification. “The years between Sadova and Sedan were for Bismarck years of transition when he moved from defence to creation” . According to Taylor, Bismarck “ceased to be a Prussian and became a German”. In 1867 a new Constitution was adopted, according to which Wilhelm I became the only ruler in the union. The last thing to be done in order to unify Germany was to defeat France, a conflict with which Bismarck provoked by revealing the secret correspondence discreditable Napoleon III. Thus, on the 19th of July 1870 France declared war against Prussia. The great advantage of Prussia was that it was able to mobilize in a short period of time (4 days), and all institutions, including railway, medical arrangement and means of communication were ready for the war. The army of the North German Confederation counted about 908 thousand of soldiers, while France only possessed 600 thousand. Because French army wasn’t prepared in time, Napoleon III commanded not to start the war, so the war was started by Bismarck. The information about the defeat near Sedan angered French, who demanded the creation of the republic. On the 4th of September, a new government started to be established, and the new republic was proclaimed. However, on the 22nd of January a popular uprising started in Paris. Being afraid that the revolt might be supported by the workers, on the 28th of January 1871 French government capitulated and yielded Paris to Germans. The defeat of France liquidated the last obstacle for the creation of unified Germany. So, in 1871 William I became the emperor, and Otto von Bismarck became a chancellor of the German Empire.
Bismarck in 1871-1890
It is hard to find more dominating figure in Germany than Prince Otto von Bismarck. According to the author of article “Bismarck and the Making of Modern Germany” Ambrose Wild “Bismarck’s claim to fame is secure: alone he unified the German states into one Empire, led it remarkably successfully for several decades and finally gave up control of the ship of state in a peaceful, if not entirely voluntary, manner, in 1890” . With the creation of new and unified German Empire the conservative views of many politicians continued to rule in the country. Though Otto von Bismarck was a royalist, he also tried to give an incentive to the bourgeoisie. Bismarck was a “tricky” diplomat and used his talent while negotiating with foreign countries. When he was a chancellor, the German Empire made a great success on the international arena, political and economical environment in the country improved and Germany became a prospering country. Whether it was Bismarck’s domestic or foreign policy or maybe other factors, which influenced the ascension of Germany, will be discussed further.
a. Domestic policy
In order to speak about Domestic policy conducted by Otto von Bismarck in 1871-1890 it is necessary to note that during this period of time he was trying to implement certain changes in economy of the country. For this reason he abolished some of the feudal laws existing in the country for a rather long period of time. He liquidated the consequences of former atomism of the country. Bismarck introduced new monetary system and reformed the banking system by converting the Prussian bank into the bank of Reichstag. He also established a system of legal procedure in the German Empire. However, there was a “deep yearning among Germans that their show of international power should be buttressed by internal unity” . German people knew that the chancellor wasn’t able to achieve the same success in unifying the German internally as he had done it externally. The major problem that Bismarck’s new empire faced was the fight for culture, known as Kulturkampf. Kulturkampf is a “fierce struggle between the state on the one hand and the Roman Catholic Church and Catholic Center party on the other” . That’s why during the first years of his chancellorship Bismarck was busy with the conflict with the Catholic Church. In order to overcome the conflict Bismarck even cooperated with the liberals. However, the cooperation didn’t last long. In 1878 the Center Party won the elections to the Reichstag and Kulturkampf became less intensive. So, in the late 1870s Bismarck broke the cooperation with the liberals, because he did not agree “to appoint three liberals to his ministry” . Besides this he also adopted protective tariffs instead free trade position proposed by the liberals.
During the period when Bismarck was a chancellor, the formation of unified German market was completed. And Bismarck’s domestic policy wasn’t the only one factor influencing this event. The economy of the German Empire was growing due to the industrial boom, which took place in Germany at that time, and due to the rapid growth of industry and trade, which also influenced the successful growth of the economy.
Bismarck did his best to hold power in his hands. That’s why he paid his attention to the Socialistic Party. He passed the antisocialist law in 1878, which was made to “prohibit the circulation of socialist literature, empowered the police to break up socialist meetings, and put the trial and punishment of socialists under the jurisdiction of police courts” . This law significantly weakened the socialists.
The specific attention of Bismarck was drawn to the army, who regularly had an eye on the growth of many soldiers and the quality of training. Bismarck also passed a law, improving the quality of life of German people. The law provided insurance for “sickness, accidents, and old age, limited woman and child labor; and established maximum working hours”. This law was passed in 1883 – 1887 and faced large opposition. However, it favorably influenced German economy, resulting in “the rapid expansion of German commerce and industry and the acquisition of overseas colonies and spheres of influence .
It is obvious, that Bismarck wasn’t as much concerned with domestic policy as he was with foreign policy. Bismarck was a native diplomat, so he was more interested in foreign policy. In the book “Bismarck” Edgar Feuchtwanger writes “His social policies of the 1880s, which would never have become law without his great pressure, were forward-looking and creative. He did not even mention them in his memoirs, which suggests that he attached no great importance to them” .
After the death of William I, Bismarck started to lose the power he gained over such an extended period. William II desired to play a more active role in the life of Germany. Thus, Bismarck wasn’t able to implement antisocialists laws. His last try to gain control was made when he “ordered ministers not to see the Kaiser without consulting him first” . William II didn’t like this order and offered Bismarck to resign. And Bismarck resigned, explaining his resignation by the disagreement with the King on a matter concerning foreign policy.
b. Foreign policy
The main point of Bismarck’s foreign policy was not to permit another was with France, so it wasn’t able to make revenge. For this reason, he created different unions and coalitions, singed secret treaties – he was ready to take any possible measures. Before he was appointed to be a chancellor of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck already demonstrated his talent of a diplomat and a strategic politician. To reach his main goal and unite Germany Bismarck had defeated all enemies opposing his plan. He won the wars against Denmark, Austria, and France by himself, without any allies. But as soon as Germany was unified the chancellor changed his policy and his goals. “After 1871 Bismarck was committed to preserving the peace of Europe” .
According to the Taylor, the author of the book “Bismarck: the Man and the Statesman” foreign policy of Bismarck were “packed with insurances and reinsurances, and he kept away from war simply because victory could never be guaranteed” . Sometimes the main goal of his foreign policy was just to be “left alone.” In 1873 Germany participate in the formation of the Dreikaiserbund, which was a treaty between Germany, Austria, and Russia. The treaty was designed to isolate France. Two major concerns of Bismarck after he became a chancellor were the conflict at the Balkans, which he touched during the Congress in Berlin in 1878, and the fear of French revenge. Thus, the main goal of Bismarck at this time was to create fame for Germany as a European peacemaker. Another treaty was signed in 1879 and was called The Dual Alliance, which was a secret treaty with Austria. Bismarck signed treaties with Austria-Hungary and Russia to avoid war in the Balkans. However, the last worry of Bismarck was the British “who refused to commit to alliances with nations on the European continent” . He considered this refusal to be a “potential threat to the stability of Europe” . The chancellor of Germany found the way out and signed two agreements in 1887, which were “designed to preserve the status quo from any threats from Russia. Britain joined with Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Germany in these agreements to protect its interests in the Middle East from Russian expansion” . The treaty signed in 1887 received the name The Reinsurance Treaty. Being the chancellor of the German Empire Bismarck did succeed in his international policy, because he was able to prevent all war conflicts, to isolate France that was eager to avenge its defeat. Thus, the political activity of Bismarck made Germany one of the leaders in international policy not only in Europe but also in the world.
Having spoken about the prominent politician, diplomat and the chancellor of Germany Otto von Bismarck, and his political activity in Germany and the international arena, it is necessary to conclude.
Without a doubt, Bismarck played a significant role in the development of Germany and showed himself as an experienced and self-confident politician. Under his rule, Germany became a prospering state with the first economical, political and social indices. However, the main achievement of Bismarck was the unification of Germany, after which Bismarck implemented his new policy concerning the economic and social life in the country. Though he did make significant improvements in the presence of Germany, he wasn’t interested much in the domestic policy. That’s why much of his activity was directed to the foreign policy rather than domestic one. Of course, Bismarck was the one, who is responsible for the ascension of Germany; however, it would be more reasonable to say that it was his foreign policy that made Germany a prospering country. Other factors, such as the industrial boom and the growth of trade also influenced Germany, but none of it would have happened if Bismarck hadn’t unified Germany into one state, and made it a leading European country.
Though Bismarck lived in the 19th century and now is the 21st century, he remains a significant figure in the world’s history. His policy is taught in every school worldwide, and his words became quotations cited by many people every day.
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Otto von Bismarck
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