How Otto von Bismarck Unified Germany

How Otto von Bismarck Unified Germany

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The Prussian King Wilhelm I, Bismarck and General Moltke observe the largest battle in the history of war: on 3 July , 1866, about 180,000 Austrians and 200,000 Prussians faced each other. 1,500 guns were used.

On 18 January 1871 Germany became a nation for the first time in history after a nationalistic war against France masterminded by the “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck.

The ceremony took place in the palace of Versailles outside Paris rather than in Berlin – and this overt symbol of militarism and conquest would foreshadow the first half of the next century as the new nation became a major power in Europe.

A photograph of Otto von Bismarck later in his life.

A motley collection of states

Before 1871 Germany had always been a motley collection of states – which shared little more than a common language.

Custom, systems of rule and even religion varied wildly across these states – of which there had been more than 300 on the eve of the French Revolution, and the idea of unifying them was as distant and disparaged as a United States of Europe is today. Until Bismarck.

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As the 19th century progressed, and particularly after several German states had played a role in defeating Napoleon, nationalism did become a genuinely popular movement.

However it was mainly held by students and middle class liberal intellectuals, who called upon Germans to unite based on shared language and a tenuous common history.

The German states in 1789. They were then part – in name at least – of Charlemagne’s ancient Holy Roman Empire. Another Emperor – Napoleon – would finally dissolve this ancient group of states in 1806.

Few people took much notice beyond a few mildly nationalistic festivals, and the fact that the movement was confined to intellectuals was illustrated poignantly in the European revolutions of 1848, where a brief stab at a national German parliament quickly fizzled out and this attempted Reichstag never held much political power.

After this, it seemed that German unification was no nearer to happening than ever, and the kings, princes and dukes of the German states – who were opposed to unification for obvious reasons – generally retained their power.

The power of Prussia

The power balance of the German states was important, for if one was ever more powerful than the others put together, then it might attempt conquest of intimidation. By 1848 Prussia – a conservative and militaristic kingdom in the east of Germany – had been the strongest of the states for a century.

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However, it was restrained by the combined strength of the other states, and, more importantly, by the influence of the neighboring Austrian Empire, which would not allow any German state to have too much power and become a possible rival.

After the brief flirtation with revolution in 1848 the Austrians had restored order and the status quo, humiliating Prussia in the process. When the formidable statesman von Bismarck was appointed Minister-President of that country in 1862 his aims were revenge and the restoration of Prussia as a great European power.

The first would come quickly.

One of statesman Otto von Bismarck’s most famous quotes – and he certainly acted upon it.

After effectively taking command of the country unconstitutionally he vastly improved the military for which Prussia would become famous, and managed to enlist the newly formed country of Italy to fight for him against their historic oppressor Austria.

The defeat of Austria in the Seven Weeks’ War

The war that followed in 1866 was a resounding Prussian victory which radically changed a European political landscape which had remained virtually the same since the defeat of Napoleon.

Many of Prussia’s rival states had joined Austria and been cowed and defeated, and the Empire then turned its attentions away from Germany in order to restore some of its severely battered prestige. The ethnic tensions that this move created would later kick-start World War One.

The battle of Konniggratz by Georg Bleibtreu (1866). The Prussian King Wilhelm I, Bismarck and General Moltke observe one of the largest battles in history up to that point. On 3 July 1866, about 180,000 Austrians and 200,000 Prussians faced each other. 1,500 guns were used.

Prussia, meanwhile, was able to form the other beaten states in North Germany into a coalition which was effectively the beginnings of a Prussian Empire. Bismarck had masterminded the whole business and now reigned supreme – and though not a natural nationalist he was now seeing the potential of a fully united Germany ruled by Prussia.

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This was a far cry from the heady dreams of the earlier intellectuals, but, as Bismarck famously said, unification would have to be achieved, if it was to be achieved, by “blood and iron.”

He knew, however, that he could not rule a united country dogged by infighting. The south remained unconquered and the north was only tenuously under his control. It would take a war against a foreign and historic enemy to unite Germany, and the one that he had in mind was particularly hated across Germany after Napoleon’s wars.

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71

France was ruled at this point by the great man’s nephew, Napoleon III, who did not have his uncle’s brilliance or military skill.

Through a series of clever diplomatic tactics Bismarck was able to provoke Napoleon into declaring war on Prussia, and this seemingly aggressive move on France’s part kept the other European powers such as Britain from joining her side.

A montage of scenes from the Franco-Prussian War, which ended in defeat for France and annexation of the Alsace-Lorraine region by the newly formed Germany.

It also created a furious anti-French feeling across Germany, and when Bismarck moved Prussia’s armies into position, they were joined – for the first time in history – by men from every other German state. The following war was devastating for the French.

The large and well trained German armies won many victories – most notably at Sedan in September 1870, a defeat which persuaded Napoleon to resign and live out the last miserable year of his life in exile in England. The war did not end there however, and the French fought on without their Emperor.

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A few weeks after Sedan, Paris was under siege, and the war only ended when it fell in late January 1871. In the meantime, Bismarck had gathered the German generals princes and Kings at Versailles and proclaimed the new and ominously powerful country of Germany, changing the political landscape of Europe.

Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898)

Otto von Bismarck in uniform © Bismarck was responsible for transforming a collection of small German states into the German empire, and was its first chancellor.

Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck was born into an aristocratic family at Schönhausen, northwest of Berlin, on 1 April 1815. He attended a prestigious school in Berlin followed by the University of Göttingen. He then entered the Prussian civil service but was bored by his job and in 1838 resigned. For nearly a decade, he helped his father manage the family estates.

In 1847, Bismarck married Johanna von Puttkamer, who provided him with stability. It was a year of significant change in his life, when he also embraced the Christian tradition of Lutheranism, and began his political career in the Prussian legislature, where he gained a reputation as an ultra-conservative royalist. In 1851, King Frederick Wilhelm IV appointed Bismarck as Prussian representative to the German Confederation. He then served as ambassador to Russia and France. In 1862, he returned to Prussia and was appointed prime minister by the new king, Wilhelm I.

Bismarck was now determined to unite the German states into a single empire, with Prussia at its core. With Austrian support, he used the expanded Prussian army to capture the provinces of Schleswig and Holstein from Denmark. He then escalated a quarrel with Austria and its German allies over the administration of these provinces into a war, in which Prussia was the victor. Prussia then annexed further territory in Germany.

Unable to persuade the southern German states to join with his North German Confederation, he provoked hostilities with France as a way of uniting the German states together. The German victory in the Franco-Prussian War won over the southern German states, and in 1871 they agreed to join a German empire. Wilhelm I of Prussia became emperor.

As 'chancellor' of the new Germany, Bismarck concentrated on building a powerful state with a unified national identity. One of his targets was the Catholic Church, which he believed had too much influence, particularly in southern Germany. He also worked to prevent the spread of socialism, partly by introducing health insurance and pensions.

Abroad, Bismarck aimed to make the German empire the most powerful in Europe. In 1879, he negotiated an alliance with Austria-Hungary to counteract France and Russia. Italy later joined the alliance. To avoid alienating Britain, Bismarck arranged the two Mediterranean Agreements of 1887, designed to preserve the status quo against a Russian threat.

In 1890, Bismarck resigned after disagreeing with the new emperor, Wilhelm II. He retired to his estate near Hamburg and died there on 30 July 1898.

Otto von Bismarck &The wars of German unification

During the summer of 1849, and into the summer of 1850, the Prussian Government invited other north German States to enter into a fresh "Erfurt" union on the basis of a new Constitution - to be that accepted by the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848, but altered so far as might be found necessary. The union was to be a voluntary one.

Had this policy succeeded, the Prussia that was most dear to Bismarck's heart would have been no more. Otto von Bismarck was a Prussian aristocrat and was, as such, opposed to this policy of the King of Prussia and his ministers. He took the extreme particularist view he had no interest in Germany outside Prussia Würtemberg and Bavaria were to him foreign States. In all these proposals for a new Constitution he saw only that Prussia would be required to sacrifice its complete independence that the King of Prussia would become executor for the decrees of a popular and alien Parliament. They were asked to cease to be Prussians in order that they might become Germans. In a speech to the Prussian Assembly on 6 September Bismarck said:-

The possibility of Habsburg Austria gaining more influence in the Germanic Confederation, to Prussia's detriment, was very much to the front of Bismarck's mind. He had entered political life almost by accident, having been deputised in the place of another who had been taken ill. Originally prepared to respect Austria, as a champion of conservatism, he had come to view Austria as being a dedicated rival of Prussia with this rivalry only being open to being resolved to Prussia's advantage by the humbling of Austrian claims to predominance in the affairs of the German Confederation.

Throughout his career, subsequent to his coming to resent Austria, Bismarck devoted his considerable efforts to performing several difficult tasks including that of the exclusion of Austria, ( as being Prussia's rival ), from German affairs and that of the preserving of the Prussian tradition from being eroded by the effects of both Nationalism and Democratisation.

German-nationally minded liberals in northern Germany were inspired by the career of the chief minister to the House of Savoy, Camillo de Cavour (who had, in the summer of 1859, achieved a greater degree of integration of northern "Italian" territory under the leadership of the Victor Emmanuel II), to form, in November 1859, the Nationalverein or National Union. This soon grew into being a liberal-national movement actively supported by several thousand parliamentarians, professors, lawyers and journalists who exerted their diverse efforts towards the establishment of a more unified and powerful "German" state.

In these times Bismarck was serving as a diplomat in the Prussian service and had been accredited to the Court of the Tsar in St Petersburg since the early months of 1859. In March, 1860, whilst on leave in Berlin, Bismarck paid courtesy calls upon the leaders of the Nationalverein in Berlin.
Early in 1861 King Frederick William IV, whose mind had failed, was replaced as King of Prussia by his brother, who had been serving as regent, but who now came to the throne as King Wilhelm I. Bismarck prepared a memorandum on the German question for the consideration of King Wilhelm I, this was delivered to the King at Baden-Baden at the end of July 1861. In this so-called "Baden-Baden Memorial" Bismarck advocated that Prussia should attempt to exploit the growing sentiment of German patriotism by supporting a demand "for a national assembly of the German people".
In March, 1862, Bismarck received a new diplomatic posting that led to his becoming Prussian ambassador to France. From his base in Paris Bismarck took an opportunity to cross the English Channel, in June, 1862. This visit was ostensibly for the purpose of visiting an Industrial Exhibition but Bismarck met several senior British statesmen including Disraeli, leader of the Opposition, to whom he outlined his proposal for bring a form of unity to Germany under Prussian leadership even if this involved a degree of conflict with the Austrian Empire.
That evening Disrali was heard to remark "Take care of that man! He means what he says!"

In September 1862 there was a crisis in Prussia where the Prussian Landtag, or lower parliamentary house, was refusing to approve increased military spending in defiance of the King's wishes. Wilhelm I was advised by his Minister of War, Roon, to send for Bismarck as a formidable personality who might secure the passing of the budget and the associated military reforms in the Landtag.
On the 17 September the crisis had reached such a pitch that King Wilhelm I seriously considered abdicating his throne. That evening Roon sent by telegraph to Bismarck suggesting that he, Bismarck, should hurry to Berlin and that there was danger in delay. The message in French and Latin read :- Depechez-vous Periculum in mora.

On 22 September Bismarck met King Wilhelm I and assured him that he could form a ministry and carry through the army reforms desired by the king, if necessary against the will of the deputies in the Landtag. Given this assurance the King decided not to abdicate. Bismarck was appointed acting chief minister to the House of Hohenzollern.
Bismarck made an appearance before the Landtag on the 29 September where he spoke expressing his regret at the hostility of the deputies to passing of the military budget and stressed the need for progress to be made on the military proposals favoured by the king. The next day at a meeting of a Budget Committee Bismarck went perhaps further than he his better judgement might have intended in asserting that:-

" The position of Prussia in Germany will not be determined by its liberalism but by its power . Prussia must concentrate its strength and hold it for the favourable moment, which has already come and gone several times. Since the treaties of Vienna, our frontiers have been ill-designed for a healthy body politic. Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided - that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 - but by iron and blood".

This somewhat aggressively phrased speech caused alarm to liberal opinion in the Germanies and beyond. This was in part attributable to subsequent reportage amending its wording to read more pithily as " blood and iron ". This speech has since become known as Bismarck's Blood and Iron Speech.

As Minister-President of Prussia Bismarck arranged things such that the increase in the size of the army took place despite the opposition of the Landtag. The existing practices of the Prussian state allowed Bismarck to continue in office provided the King was willing to remain favourable to his ministry.

Popular Nationalism was seen by Bismarck as being potentially erosive of his desired future for the Prussian Kingdom. This nationalism being a liberal German nationalism which offered to seek to incorporate Prussia, along with other German states, into an extensive "constitutional-liberal" German state.

Bismarck began to devise schemes whereby the Prussian king and kingdom could better hope to receive the respect of many of those in Prussia, and more widely in the German states, who held German liberal-nationalist-constitutionalist sympathies. He came to see that the prestige Prussia already enjoyed in Germany, both as a notably powerful and somewhat constitutional state, and as the central power to a pervasively influential "Zollverein", or Customs Union, could be exploited to secure the acceptance of policies embarked upon by a Prussian government to promote German unification.
It being understood by Bismarck that such promotion of German unification was to be on terms acceptable to a Kingdom of Prussia where the king retained his sovereignty.

In January 1863 the Poles in Russian administered Polish territories again attempted to forcefully win concessions of change from a reluctant Tsar-King. Russia regarded the retention of its Polish lands as a principal aim of policy. Whilst several western states, including France, lost the Tsar's good opinion by offering moral support to the Poles, an offer of assistance to Russia made by Bismarck, that was initially thought presumptuous, left an abiding impression with Russia that Prussia was a state that it should view with favour.
Bismarck's support for Russia was practical as well as strategic. Prussia had annexed Polish lands during her own participation in the Partitions of Poland. Bismarck considered that a revived Polish polity might well contest Prussia's continued hold on some of the lands so annexed.

Russia was to take some time to recover from this expense of resources in what proved to be protracted efforts to retain control over Poland.

In 1863 Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria, proposed that a reform of the Germanic Confederation be discussed by the German Princes in a meeting to be held that autumn in Frankfurt. Franz Joseph urged agreement between the Princes of Germany as the best way of preserving a German Confederation under the leadership of its historic dynasties whilst containing the revolutionary tides of liberalism, democratisation and socialism that were pressing for diverse radical changes.

In the lead up to this proposed conference Franz Joseph met the King of Prussia on 2 August at Bad Gastein and felt encouraged, during a personal interview, that the Prussian king would be agreeable to reforms. Many of the most prominent princes of Germany convened at Frankfurt and authorised one of their number, the King of Saxony - a notably cultured individual who was on terms of personal friendship with the King of Prussia, to personally convey an invitation to attend on behalf of the assembled rulers to the king of Prussia.

The Prussian King was inclined to accept this pressing invitation personally delivered as it was by a King on behalf of more than thirty German rulers. In order to prevent the formulation an agreed approach to the reform of the Confederation Bismarck went to very great lengths, even to the point of reducing the King to tears and himself to nervous exhaustion, in order to persuade the King of Prussia, very much against his own inclination, not to attend. Austria had a preponderance of influence in the Confederation and any agreed reform would probably have been broadly favourable to the Austrian interest. With the absence of Prussia, which was, after Austria herself, inherently the second most powerful state in the confederation, nothing could be fully decided upon.

Prussian domestic elections of October 1863 saw only thirty-eight deputies being returned who could be relied on to support Bismarck's policies. King Wilhelm I was greatly dispirited by these results and even suggested to Bismarck that he, the King, might possibly expect to be guillotined in the Palace Square. Nevertheless Bismarck continues to follow the military and other policies which had alienated public opinion.
The Emperor of Austria also had domestic troubles to contend with during these times. A so-called February Patent of 1861 had instituted a limited form of parliamentism that was supported mainly by Germanic "liberals" who were comfortable with an autocratic centralism effectively run by the Germans of the Empire largely in the interests of those same Germans. The parliament was largely boycotted by the Magyars, Poles and Czechs who felt themselves to be excluded from real power and representation.

Schleswig and Holstein again loomed to the forefront of European affairs in that the resolution internationally agreed after the difficulties that become critical in 1848 was breaking down. That resolution as enshrined in a Treaty of London of 1852 had envisaged these territories remaining separate from Denmark, but with the Danish King being Duke of Holstein and Duke of Schleswig. Holstein was predominantly peopled by ethnic Germans, whilst Schleswig had an ethnic German majority in its southern areas.
This attempted resolution of 1852 over Schleswig and Holstein featured an early example of the powers proposing that an eventual settlement should be consistent with the nationality of the person's affected rather than on dynastic claims or treaties. Denmark undertook to respect the rights of ethnic Germans in the Duchy of Schleswig. Holstein and the tiny Duchy of Lauenburg were to remain in the German Federation with equal recognition of German and Danish nationality.

In 1863 the Danish King moved to break the traditionally recognised link between the two Duchies and to incorporate Schleswig fully into Denmark. Such a move was supported by the Eider Dansk Danish Nationalism of the ethnic Danish majority in the north of Schleswig. In November 1863 the demise of the then King of Denmark allowed a new succession issue to further complicate an issue which Bismarck fully intended to exploit to Prussia's advantage.

Although the Diet of the German Confederation authorised the actual sending of federal forces to intervene in the Duchies Prussia and Austria preferred to act as joint-principals rather than as agents of the Confederation in an extensive intervention that was characterised as being undertaken in support of existing treaties. A so-called Danish War ensued and by February 1864 both Schleswig and Holstein had substantially fallen to Prussian and Austrian forces and a conference of Vienna of October assigned Schleswig, Holstein, and a small territory of Lauenberg to joint Prussian and Austrian control.

Bismarck was not alone, in these times, in hoping to take measures, broadly exploitative of populist sentiment, which would enhance the position of a German Kingdom.

In January 1864 Odo Russell, nephew of the British Foreign Secretary and a quasi-official British representative in Rome, in a private audience with the Pope was told that:-

"The example of Italy" (i.e. where the House of Savoy was annexing, with local popular consent, the territories of other Princes) will be the ruin of the smaller Princes of Germany and I think very ill of the condition of that country. Each of the smaller sovereigns hopes to aggrandise his Kingdom at the expense of his neighbour and all will be swept away like the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, Modena and Parma were in Italy. The King of Bavaria was here and I did what I could to convince him that he was running great risks but he could not see it. His idea is that the House of Wittlesbach should be as powerful as the Houses of Hapsburg and Hohenzollern, and if he had his own way he would begin by annexing Baden and Würtemberg to Bavaria."

The situation within the lands of the Habsburgs where the parliament, as elected under restricted rules of suffrage, was particularly supported by the Germans of Austria, of Bohemia, and of Moravia, and was largely boycotted by other nationalities was not entirely as Emperor Franz Joseph would wish and after some consideration, and against the advice of most of his ministers, he responded positively to an article published in the spring of 1865 by the prominent Magyar liberal, Ferenc Deak, that outlined conditions under which the inherently powerful Magyars would find it possible to co-operate more fully with his own exercise of sovereignty. These conditions amounted to a restoration of the Hungarian constitution of 1848 and the virtual establishment of two distinct states - one largely German-Austrian and one largely Magyar - that would co-operate fully and that would together function towards the outside world as a single power.

A Convention of Gastein of August 1865 recognised Holstein, (the more southerly Duchy actually bordering Prussian territory), as being under the administrative control of Austria whilst Schleswig was to be administered by Prussia. A small Duchy of Lauenberg passed absolutely to Prussia after the payment of a steep purchase price.
Prussia, which had previously no major sea-port under its control, was given rights to exploit the potential of the important port of Kiel on the "Baltic" coast of Holstein and was authorised to plan and execute an ambitious "Kiel Canal" from the Baltic coast across Holstein to the North Sea coast. Holstein was also allowed to enter the Prussian led Zollverein customs union.

Austria had reason to believe that Prussia was still not satisfied in relation to Holstein and that Italy was not satisfied in relation to Venetia. In September Bismarck secretly sounded out Napoleon III at Biarritz as to his possible reaction to an open conflict between Prussia and Austria. In November Austria received offers of very substantial sums from Italy, if Venetia would be transferred to Italian control, and from Prussia, if Holstein would be transferred to Prussian control. Austria declined both these offers probably deeming it dishonourable for any dynastic state to sell off territories.

In late December 1865 Prussia and Italy entered into a commercial treaty and in January King Victor Emmanuel was invested with the Prussian Order of the Black Eagle. Bismarck continued to work towards securing the Prussian King's permission to enter into a formal military alliance with Italy that would prejudicial to the Austrian interest. It was contrary to the basic principles of the Germanic Confederation that any member would ally with an outside power against any other member of the Confederation. The fact that Prussia intended to secretly ally with Italy shows the seriousness with which Bismarck was pursuing his own version of reform of the Confederation.

The alliance between Prussia and Italy was finalised in April and promised Venetia to Italy in return for her participation in a war against the Austrian Empire. The alliance was to hold for only three months. Within days of the Italian alliance having been concluded Bismarck challenged Austria by having the Prussian delegate to the Confederal Diet propose reforms of the Confederation that would be deeply prejudicial to the Austrian interest and also voicing complaints about the way the Austrian administration of Holstein was being conducted. Austrian diplomacy, meanwhile, indulged in some provocations of Prussia including that of requesting that the Federal Diet should adjudicate on the future of the Duchies. A Prussian force was sent into Holstein on Bismarck's orders. A "Seven Weeks War" between Austria and Prussia ensued in which the Prussian interest convincingly prevailed despite Austria also being supported by several other German states.

Bismarck had to strenuously and extensively use his powers of persuasion to restrain the forces of Prussia and her allies from making too many claims on an humbled Austria.

In his personal outlook Bismarck was not a German Nationalist - he was more truly first minister to the House of Hohenzollern. In his view it was necessary to avoid the possibility that a coalition of powers that might otherwise be formed to aid a severely threatened Austria. Should Habsburg Austria be critically damaged it was an open question as to what settlement would spring up in its place - it would be possible that Austria's non-German territories deprived of their admittedly weak bond through the historical sovereignty of the Habsburgs could be re-constituted as a number of unstable, and even radical, small republics.

It would also be likely that if the Habsburgs were more intimately involved with German affairs through the incorporation of German Austria into an extended German state they would routinely rival Prussian influence in political affairs with the support of a coalition of lesser german state interests.
Bismarck considered that a preserved Habsburg Austria, although somewhat humbled in these disputations, could be a possible diplomatic and military ally in the future. Although largely excluded from German affairs in the West it was in Prussia's interest that Austria should nonetheless be allowed an opportunity to re-establish herself as a power to the east.

Prussia did annexe territories at this time - Schleswig and Holstein, the Kingdom of Hanover, the Electorate of Hesse-Nassau, and the City of Frankfurt together with some smaller territories. Austrian agreement was secured for the formation of a Prussian-led North German Confederation with the inclusion of the independent Kingdom of Saxony. The Austrians secured Prussian agreement that Northern Schleswig could return to Danish sovereignty should the population there so decide in a plebiscite.

The conflicts with Denmark over Schleswig-Holstein and between Austria and Prussia are sometimes referred to as "Wars of German Unification" but they were at that time more truly "Wars of Prussian Consolidation". In the wake of these two availing conflicts that had been, in large part, subtly fomented by Bismarck as the champion of "traditional Prussia", and which led to the formation of a North German Confederation in 1867, the Landtag was encouraged to bestow retrospective immunity on Bismarck's unconstitutional acts.
Such retrospective immunity was not the only "reward" that fell to Bismarck at this time as he was raised to the nobility as Count Bismarck and invested with the prestigious Prussian Order of the Black Eagle.

In the wake of the defeat in the "Seven Weeks War" the Austrian Emperor, whose position had been weakened thereby, agreed a Compromise (Augsgleich) with the Magyars that re-established the Austrian Empire as Austro-Hungary - an Imperial and Royal "Dual Monarchy" comprised of an Austrian Empire and an Hungarian Kingdom - under a single monarch and with common ministries of Foreign Affairs, War and Finance.
From these times the Austrian aspect of this state developed along lines that showed a preparedness to be somewhat liberal in accomodating its powerful minority peoples whilst within the Hungarian Kingdom the Magyars tended to moreso work towards cultural assimilation of the numerous Slav minorities domiciled in the "lands of the Crown of St. Stephen" but offered many social and civic concessions to those who assimilated themselves to an officially Magyar state. The Magyars thus gained a substantial independence whilst retaining assurance that their King would seek to defend the Hungarian Kingdom with Austrian as well as Hungarian resources.

The North German Confederation operated under a Constitution dictated by Bismarck. The Federal Presidency was vested in the Prussian Crown. The Prussian Minister was to be Federal Chancellor. A degree of democratisation was allowed in relation to the election of a lower parliamentary house - partly as a means of breaking down the traditional German particularisms in a Confederation that was being formed of historic dynastic states that continued to convene local assemblies. Prussian originated institutions - army, postal service, the Zollverein (Customs Union) etc., - were effectively extended towards giving the new Confederation a Prussian character.

In order to provide the North German Confederation with an acceptable and distinctive flag Bismarck, in 1867, sponsored the adoption of a Black-White-Red tricolour flag. This flag is widely accepted as being derived from the black and white colours traditional to Prussia in combination with the white and red associated with the Hanseatic League - this being an historic trading bloc with which many states and cities in the Germanies had celebrated traditions of involvement in earlier times.

The adoption of this, unprecedented, emblem tended towards the avoidance of possible ill-will through giving a prominence to the Prussian flag that might prove unwelcome to other German states. It also side-stepped issues associated with the inherent claims of the Black-Red-Gold tricolour emblem of the popular "liberal and constitutional" German tradition. (This Black-Red-Gold emblem had, moreover, been adopted as the common flag of the alliance of South German states led by Austria during the War of 1866. )

Croat nationalism continued to be a powerful centrifugal force such that in 1868 the Magyar dominated Reichstag at Pest agreed to recognise the Croatian Landtag as having competence to consider Croatian domestic matters.

Prussia had long hoped to be dominant in the Germanies north of the river Main, this was now achieved but a groundswell of Germanic sentiment supported the establishment of a more territorially extensive German nation state. Bismarck was keen to preclude threats to Prussian influence in the German lands and was also open to achieving yet more expansions of the territory of Prussia-Germany. In strategic terms the France of Napoleon III was a presumptive opponent of any increased influence being exercised by the Prussian dominated North German Confederation over the states of Southern Germany.

The diplomatic position of France was in one most important respect to the advantage of Bismarck's expansionary policies. There was a tradition of competition and cultural misunderstanding between north and south Germany. That being said there was also a more intense tradition of rivalry between German Europe and French Europe. In the nineteenth century alone Germany had fought a "War of Liberation" against Napoleon in 1813, whilst in 1840 there was a crisis, which blew over, featuring widespread, and popularly supported, German alarm when it appeared that the French intended to seize territories south of the Rhine. Bismarck hoped to exploit German rivalry in relation to France to precipitate cooperation and solidarity between north and south Germany and also increase acceptance of the Prussian dynasty.

In these times, at the Biarritz meeting and later, Napoleon III of France had more or less hinted to Bismarck that in return for French neutrality at the time of the recent Austro-Prussian War France should expect "Compensations". France had remained neutral, largely out of the belief that the war would be more protracted and expensive of lives and resources than it had been. Napoleon III seemed to anticipate that the position of France would have been relatively enhanced by the exhaustion of Austria and Prussia and had even expected that Prussia would be defeated. France hoped that a third Germany, apart from Austria and Prussia, could be formed based on the South German states. The unexpectedly brief conflict, and decisive outcome in favour of Prussia, with no compensating advantage to France, meant that France, formerly the power of note in Western Europe, had lost much advantage as a result. Napoleon reminded Bismarck that he expected some sort of "Compensation".

In efforts to attain this compensation the French sought part of Belgium but met with British and other opposition, and then the Palatinate on the Upper Rhine but met with Germanic opposition. Bismarck was able to get a written copy of these claims on the Palatinate. Then the French agreed a compact with the King of Holland whereby the French could gain Luxembourg by purchase and Bismarck although initially prepared to accept such a transfer was subsequently made aware of a groundswell of popular "German" opposition to the acquisition of "Germanic" Luxembourg by France and decided to encourage such popular opposition. In the Reichstag Bismarck deplored the willingness of a prince "of German descent" to sell to France territory which "had been German at all times".

An international situation resulted from the Spanish being prepared to accept a Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen cousin of the King of Prussia as the successor to their vacant throne. France, which had historical reason to consider itself the foremost power on the western Europe continent, considered that the presence of a cousin of the King of Prussia of the Spanish throne would "disturb . the present equilibrium of forces in Europe" and sought to ensure that this Hohenzollern related candidacy was not merely withdrawn, but was withdrawn in such a way as making it seem that Prussia had climbed down somewhat under French pressure. The disputed candidacy was initially withdrawn without much appearance of a climb-down but French diplomacy persisted in efforts to produce such an appearance. It was in these circumstances in 1870 that Bismarck as Minister-President subtly added Prussian provocations to those of France by editing a so-called Ems Telegram, (that had been sent to Bismarck by the Prussian king outlining an interview that the Prussian king had had with a French diplomat), in order to let it seem that the French diplomat had been disrespectfully treated by the Prussian King. Bismarck ensured that this edited version was published in a special newspaper supplement. France for her part had been seeking a contest of arms in which it hoped to prevail. The "Ems Telegram" provided material which led to a declaration of War. The French Emperor spoke of entering into this war "with a light heart". In the event the Prusso-German interest prevailed in this war and received some support from the states of South Germany.

The outcomes of an ensuing "Franco-Prussian" War, which is also referred to as a War of German Unification, included the formation of a federal German Empire. This "Second German Reich" was proclaimed after the King of Prussia was persuaded to accept the Imperial Crown that had been offered on behalf of all the German Princes by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The actual announcement taking place in the fabulous Hall of Mirrors in the sumptuous palace of Versailles outside Paris.

The Second German Empire was a Confederation composed of clearly separate constituent states (4 kingdoms, 5 grand duchies, 13 duchies and principalities, and the free cities of Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen). Within this Confederation the inherently powerful Kingdom of Bavaria was able to retain its own army, which would fall under Prussian command only in times of war. Bavaria could also retain its own railways, its own postal system, its maintain its own diplomatic contacts. As with the now defunct North German Confederation the Presidency was vested in the Prussian Crown and the Prussian Minister was to be Imperial Chancellor.

Imperial Germany was to operate as a federation with strong central control. Both the short-lived North German Confederation and the subsequent German Empire functioned under constitutional arrangements which, whilst including a Federal Parliament, or Reichstag, elected by universal suffrage, did not concede effective power to that Reichstag. Authority over the duration of administrations, central finances, and the armed forces, residing moreso in a Bundesrat of State delegates dominated by Prussia.

The outcome of the Wars of German Unification considerably altered the European political scene. France deplored the seizure of Alsace-Lorraine by Imperial Germany after the Franco-Prussian War and Bismarck thereafter strove to diplomatically isolate France denying her the opportunity of winning back her lost provinces as an outcome of war. Aside from this limitation on alliances that might threaten Imperial Germany Bismarck hoped that France would progress and be reconciled and was prone to encourage her to direct her energies towards extending sway over parts of North Africa. The German Empire's establishment inherently presented Europe with the reality of a populous and industrialising polity possessing a considerable, and undeniably increasing, economic and diplomatic presence.

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The Creation of a Nation-State: Bismarck’s Unification of Germany

The Holy Roman Empire was a fragmented union of states, each of which had its flag depicted on the double-headed eagle symbol of the empire. (Image: Jost de Negker/Public domain)

The Collapse of the Old Empire

Compared to rest of Europe, Germany was a new nation-state. It was the last of the major European states to achieve nation-state status. Until 1871, Germany had been divided into dozens of small states. This was the old Holy Roman Empire of the German nation, which had existed for 900 years when it finally collapsed under Napoleonic pressure. This was also known as the old Reich, or the First Reich (Reich is the German term for empire). It was, as Voltaire pointed out, “neither Holy, Roman nor an Empire.” But that’s what it certainly was called, and the emperor was in Vienna.

That old empire collapsed in the first decade of the 19th century. It was not until 1871 that Germany was unified by Otto von Bismarck, the Chancellor of Prussia. The united nation-state lacked common traditions it lacked shared political norms. In fact, ‘German Central Europe’ is the term one ought to use—not ‘Germany’—until 1871. The question of who or what is German was still a relevant question in 1871 in a way that “Who’s French?” was not.

This is a transcript from the video series A History of Hitler’s Empire, 2nd Edition. Watch it now, Wondrium.

The Creation of a Smaller Germany

When unification came in 1871, it was not the result of some sort of groundswell of grassroots nationalism on the part of the German people. Unification was delivered to Germany by Prussian military might.

Bismarck unified Germany under Prussian auspices through successful wars: against Denmark in 1864 against Austria in 1866, which excluded the Habsburgs, the traditional dynastic family of Germany and then finally in 1870–71, with the defeat of France. This was a unification without territories that had traditionally been seen as part of the old Holy Roman Empire.

What Bismarck had achieved was the creation of a smaller Germany, Kleindeutschland, instead of a Grossdeutschland, a greater Germany. Even this ‘small Germany’ was a Germany that had never existed before, and this would be the Second Reich. Nobody called it the Second Reich at the time nobody started talking about number of empires until the Nazis, who of course saw themselves as delivering Germany a Third Reich.

The Forced Unification of Germany

Bismarck, in a way, forced unity on the Germans. There was no agreement. There was controversy about the flag there was a controversy about any sort of national anthem. They couldn’t agree about the national holiday, like the Fourth of July. They didn’t use the day that Karl Wilhelm was proclaimed Emperor at the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles after the defeat of France because some of the German states didn’t want that.

The National Day of Unified Germany was decided to be the day on which Napoleon III was defeated at Sedan by Bismarck’s armies. (Image: Wilhelm Camphausen/Public domain)

So what would they do? What sort of holiday would they take? They looked around with all these different competing traditions from the different states. They finally decided on the day of victory over France. It was called Sedantag, after the Victory of Sedan, where Napoleon III was captured.

The Support for Unification

Unification had been supported by not so much the proverbial man and woman in the street, but by the commercial and industrial elites of Germany. They couldn’t compete with English or French goods, and there was no common currency, weights, or measures and so on. They wanted a united Germany.

Bismarck was perfectly happy with the united Germany, as long as it was under Prussian control. His task, as he saw it, was to deliver a Germany that would be based on traditional elites, monarchy, the army, bureaucracy—all supported by the old aristocracy. However, Bismarck was a realistic man in many ways. The age of mass politics had arrived, so the constitution he wrote for this Second Reich was one that had all the trappings of a real democracy.

The Three Stresses of the New German State

This new state was beset by three very basic problems, or a set of cleavages or divisions in the society that needed to be confronted.
There was religious division. Germany was the home of the Protestant Reformation. Southern Germany was largely Catholic and northern Germany was largely Protestant.

There was regional division as well. These were old traditional loyalties, and they overlapped with religion to a great extent. Finally, there was a social division, a class division, between an increasingly organized industrial, blue-collar, working class and everybody else.

Germany was also in the midst of rapid industrialization. Industrialism did come fast. Though it did come very late, it was very thorough. These conditions created social tensions that were aggravated by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

Common Questions about Bismarck’s Unification of Germany

Until 1871, Germany had been divided into dozens of small states. This was the old Holy Roman Empire of the German nation, which had existed for 900 years until it finally collapsed under Napoleonic pressure.

Bismarck unified Germany under Prussian auspices through successful wars: against Denmark in 1864 against Austria in 1866, which excluded the Habsburgs, the traditional dynastic family of Germany and then finally in 1870–71, with the defeat of France.

The different German states that were unified could not agree on many things. There was controversy about the flag there was a controversy about any sort of national anthem. They couldn’t agree about the single national holiday, that celebrated this new nation.

The new German state was beset by three basic problems. There was religious division. Southern Germany was primarily Catholic, northern Germany was largely Protestant. There was regional division as well, which overlapped with religion to a great extent. Finally, there was a class division, between an industrial, blue-collar, working class and everybody else.

What was the role of Bismarck in German unification?

Otto Von Bismarck was the Prussian Chancellor. His main goal was to further strengthen the position of Prussia in Europe. to unify the north German states under Prussian control. to weaken Prussia’s main rival, Austria, by removing it from the German Federation.

View more on it here. Just so, was Bismarck responsible for German unification?

Otto Bismarck Responsible For The Unification Of Germany History Essay. In 1871, Otto Von Bismarck became the Imperial Chancellor of the Second German Reich. His position unchallenged and strongly supported as German people portrayed him as their national hero.

In this manner, what principle does the unification of Germany under Otto von Bismarck demonstrate?

(1815-1898) Prussian chancellor who engineered the unification of Germany under his rule. Delivers “blood and iron” speech. “Blood and Iron” was the speech that Otto Von Bismarck gave with the belief that a strong industry and military was needed in a country to have success.

Why was Bismarck dismissed? Technically, Kaiser Wilhelm II did not “fire” Otto von Bismarck. Instead, Bismarck resigned his office because of his disagreements with the Kaiser. Wilhelm was very young (only 29) and wanted to make his own mark on Germany. He clashed with Bismarck over foreign and domestic policy.

Likewise, what led to the unification of Germany? The first war of unification was the Danish War in 1862, followed by the Austro-Prussian war in 1866. Finally, Bismarck used the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 to complete unification. In the 1860s, Prussia under Bismarck used force to unify the various German states.

How did Bismarck promote German nationalism?

Bismarck had a number of primary aims: to unify the north German states under Prussian control. to weaken Prussia’s main rival, Austria, by removing it from the German Federation. to make Berlin, not Vienna, the centre of German affairs.

What did Bismarck mean when he said by blood and iron?

German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck used the expression “Blood and Iron,” or more accurately “Eisen und Blut,” to describe how the great moments in history are decided through conflict and warfare. Bismarck delivered his famous speech in 1862 during a budget commission at the Landtag.

How did Bismarck use war to strengthen Prussia?

The Congress of Vienna created the German Confederation. How did Bismarck use war to create a united Germany under Prussia rule? After creating a powerful military, Bismarck was ready to pursue an aggressive foreign policy. Each war increased Prussian power and paved the way for German unity.

Why is German unification important?

It was the seminal event of the nineteenth century. Not only did the unification of Germany create a new, ambitious Great Power, it set an existing one on the path to destruction. After its defeat at the hands of Prussia in 1866, the Habsburg Monarchy became Austria-Hungary: the so-called Dual Monarchy.

What did Otto von Bismarck do for Germany?

Germany became a modern, unified nation under the leadership of the “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), who between 1862 and 1890 effectively ruled first Prussia and then all of Germany.

Why was Bismarck successful?

Bismarck did succeed in avoiding massive political, social and economic upheaval in Germany after the unification. He maintained the political and social dominance of the Prussian Junkers. Free trade had been introduced on Bismarck’s terms. His welfare policies had made Germany a model for other countries.

What event resulted in a united Germany?

Franco-German War, also called Franco-Prussian War, (July 19, 1870–May 10, 1871), war in which a coalition of German states led by Prussia defeated France. The war marked the end of French hegemony in continental Europe and resulted in the creation of a unified Germany.

What is a Prussian?

Prussia, German Preussen, Polish Prusy, in European history, any of certain areas of eastern and central Europe, respectively (1) the land of the Prussians on the southeastern coast of the Baltic Sea, which came under Polish and German rule in the Middle Ages, (2) the kingdom ruled from 1701 by the German Hohenzollern

How did Bismarck use realpolitik?

Bismarck used Realpolitik in his quest to achieve Prussian dominance in Germany. He manipulated political issues such as the Schleswig-Holstein Question and the Hohenzollern candidature to antagonize other countries and cause wars if necessary to attain his goals.

What prevented German unification before the mid 1800s?

What does German unification mean?

German Unification. From Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English ˌGerman Unifiˈcation the uniting of East and West Germany in 1990 after they had been separated since 1945. This followed the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and then the collapse of the East German government.

How did German unification affect the rest of Europe?

The German unification affected the rest of Europe by causing a blow to liberalism, it changed the balance of power forever and created bitter resentment due to the way Germany was united, it brought two more competitive powers to European politics, and France’s and Austria’s weaknesses were revealed.

How Did Bismarck Unify Germany?

Otto Von Bismarck achieved the unification of Germany during a series of wars in which a Prussian military force, under Bismarck's command, was able to acquire land and subsequently enforce new laws over its peoples. These wars became known as the wars of German unification.

Bismarck allied with the Austrian chancellor and his military force during the first war of German unification. In 1862 the newly formed Austrian-Prussian military force successfully engaged in an offensive against the Danes located in the areas of Schleswig and Holstein. The area was a part of the German Confederation of Northern States, but was contested by Danish claims of authority.

The second war of German unification occurred in 1866, when Bismarck and Prussia battled their greatest German rival, Austria. Known as the Austro-Prussian War, the fighting lasted only a few weeks. Although Bismarck and Prussia were victorious, Bismarck allowed many of his enemies (such as Austrian allies, Baden and Bavaria) to maintain their independence. Bismarck instead formed the North German Confederation, which served as the strongest German political body in Europe and attracted many other, smaller German states as allies.

The final war of German unification occurred when Bismarck attracted the allegiance of the western German states by engaging in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. After defeating the French, and signing a peace treaty in the palace of Versailles in 1871, Bismarck declared Berlin the official capital of the new German Empire and the King of Prussia the Kaiser of all German states. This arrangement remained until the end of the first World War in 1918.

Bismarck and the Unification of Germany

Liberal hopes for German unification were not met during the politically turbulent 1848-49 period. A Prussian plan for a smaller union was dropped in late 1850 after Austria threatened Prussia with war. Despite this setback, desire for some kind of German unity, either with or without Austria, grew during the 1850s and 1860s. It was no longer a notion cherished by a few, but had proponents in all social classes. An indication of this wider range of support was the change of mind about German nationalism experienced by an obscure Prussian diplomat, Otto von Bismarck. He had been an adamant opponent of German nationalism in the late 1840s. During the 1850s, however, Bismarck had concluded that Prussia would have to harness German nationalism for its own purposes if it were to thrive. He believed too that Prussia’s well-being depended on wresting primacy in Germany from its traditional enemy, Austria.

In 1862 King Wilhelm I of Prussia (r. 1858-88) chose Bismarck to serve as his minister president. Descended from the Junker, Prussia’s aristocratic landowning class, Bismarck hated parliamentary democracy and championed the dominance of the monarchy and aristocracy. However, gifted at judging political forces and sizing up a situation, Bismarck contended that conservatives would have to come to terms with other social groups if they were to continue to direct Prussian affairs. The king had summoned Bismarck to direct Prussia’s government in the face of the Prussian parliament’s refusal to pass a budget because it disagreed with army reforms desired by the king and his military advisers. Although he could not secure parliament’s consent to the government’s budget, Bismarck was a tactician skilled and ruthless enough to govern without parliament’s consent from 1862 to 1866.

As an ardent and aggressive Prussian nationalist, Bismarck had long been an opponent of Austria because both states sought primacy within the same area–Germany. Austria had been weakened by reverses abroad, including the loss of territory in Italy, and by the 1860s, because of clumsy diplomacy, had no foreign allies outside Germany. Bismarck used a diplomatic dispute to provoke Austria to declare war on Prussia in 1866. Against expectations, Prussia quickly won the Seven Weeks’ War (also known as the Austro-Prussian War) against Austria and its south German allies. Bismarck imposed a lenient peace on Austria because he recognized that Prussia might later need the Austrians as allies. But he dealt harshly with the other German states that had resisted Prussia and expanded Prussian territory by annexing Hanover, Schleswig-Holstein, some smaller states, and the city of Frankfurt. The German Confederation was replaced by the North German Confederation and was furnished with both a constitution and a parliament. Austria was excluded from Germany. South German states outside the confederation–Baden, Wuerttemberg, and Bavaria–were tied to Prussia by military alliances.

In 1870 Bismarck engineered another war, this time against France. The conflict would become known to history as the Franco-Prussian War. Nationalistic fervor was ignited by the promised annexation of Lorraine and Alsace, which had belonged to the Holy Roman Empire and had been seized by France in the seventeenth century. With this goal in sight, the south German states eagerly joined in the war against the country that had come to be seen as Germany’s traditional enemy. Bismarck’s major war aim–the voluntary entry of the south German states into a constitutional German nation-state–occurred during the patriotic frenzy generated by stunning military victories against French forces in the fall of 1870. Months before a peace treaty was signed with France in May 1871, a united Germany was established as the German Empire, and the Prussian king, Wilhelm I, was crowned its emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

Otto von Bismarck: How did he maintain peace in Europe

The war of 1870 between France and Prussia had two major consequences. First and foremost, the defeat of France and the subsequent Treaty of Frankfurt marked the end of the French dominance in continental Europe. Secondly, the German annexation of Alsace and Lorraine completed the establishment of German Empire which propelled them among the ranks of major European powers. The reunification of Germany caused a fundamental shift in the distribution of power in 19 th century Europe. Bismarck had understood that among others his objective was to gain trust and make Germany look peaceful and friendly to other countries. Bismarck was able to convince other European powers that unified German empire was a status quo power and posed no security threats to them. Consequently, through his diplomatic tact and proactiveness Bismarck maintained peace in Europe for nearly two decades.[1] The main theme of this article is to elucidate how the foreign policy undertaking by Bismarck and his system of alliance with Austria and Russia was able to prevent Germany from war against other European powers and thus preserved peace in Europe.

Bismarck and His System of Alliances

Aftermath the Franco Prussian War, France was in agony over the lost territories. The French despised the Germans, the hatred and the animosity against Germany was at all time high and the French would pounce upon any opportunity to get revenge on Germany. Bismarck, cautious of the French revanchism, directed his foreign policy and diplomatic engagement towards keeping France at bay and isolated, for he knew any hostile alliance by France with other European powers posed the danger of a potential two-front war that threatened the survival of the German Empire.So, he sought maintaining amiable relations with other countries and core part of his focus was on building a peaceful and friendly alliance with Austria and Russia. [2]

Initially, Bismarck found himself in a crossroad when Russia and Austria were contending over the issue of the Balkans. The relative decline of the Turkish power had opened up opportunities for Russia and Austria to fill the power vacuum in the region. The Balkans were of a strategic importance to both the Russians and the Austrians. With neither willing to let the other have influence in the region, Bismarck sensed Germany could become reluctantly involved in any future Austro-Russian conflict over the area.[3] So, he proposed the formation of the League of the Three Emperors (Dreikaiserbund) which officially took shape in 1873. The objectives of the Dreikaiserbund were twofold: first and foremost, to ease off tensions between Austria and Russia over territorial claims in the Balkans and secondly, to prevent intervention in any potential strife between Germany and France. Although, the alliance did not have military component to it, for the time being, it fulfilled Bismarck’s aim to isolate France. In addition, the three parties also vowed to preserve the status quo in Europe.

Likewise, the German Empire had just come into being, although unified Germany was powerful, they weren’t indispensable and Bismarck knew this to the core. Back then, Britain controlled most of the world’s colonies as well as the oceans. In order to perpetuate Germany’s security and survival, the last thing Bismarck wanted was to antagonize Britain by getting himself into colonial competition. In addition, he viewed colonies as counterproductive that could easily create entanglements that result in diplomatic rift and disputes with powerful forces. Moreover, he sensed inherent danger of colonial commitments leading to shift German focus from Europe. Furthermore, Bismarck saw German future in Europe his reference to “My Map of Africa lies in Europe” being a testament to it. This explains why, initially, in spite of domestic pressure, Bismarck was reluctant to get into colonial adventures for fears of confrontation with Britain and ­­­­instead focused on trade and industrialization to bolster German economy.

The events in the Balkan Crisis (1875-1878) exacerbated Austria-Russia rivalry. Yet again, Bismarck feared Austro-Russian war could engulf the whole region. In order to prevent this from happening, Bismarck hosted the Congress of Berlin as an “honest-broker”. Dissatisfied with the outcome of the Congress and at Bismarck’s role, Russia ended the Dreikaiserbund. However, Bismarck was able to uphold and maintain the peace but at Russian antagonism. Fearing Russian military preparedness, Bismarck sensed Germany could be subject of a two-front war realizing the need for ally, he got into military alliance with the Austrian empire and formed the Dual Alliance. The terms of the treaty stated both Austria and Germany would aid one another in the event of an attack from Russia. Later, Italy joined the alliance to make it the Triple Alliance. All these efforts from Bismarck made sure France formed no alliance with major powers.

With German alliance getting stronger, and feeling increasingly isolated, Russia came to an understanding with Germany and Austria which resulted in the Renewal of the Dreikaiserbund. This alliance effectively made sure France remained isolated and any French-Russian coalition wouldn’t materialize throughout his tenure. Once, on the verge of getting in a potential Austro-Russian conflict, Bismarck made sure, all contending parties were pacified and the status quo was preserved. However, the Bulgarian Crisis (1885) escalated the situation when Russia sought war with Austria and Britain would support Austria to stop Russian takeover of Bulgariathe tension all but ended the Dreikaiserbund once again. The onus was on Bismarck to reconcile Russia and Austria and with his diplomatic adeptness Bismarck negotiated a defensive alliance – Reinsurance Treaty with Russia. The terms of the treaty secured neutrality in the event either party was attacked. It achieved one of Bismarck’s primary foreign policy goals –isolation of France.

However, all wasn’t gold for Bismarck in his foreign policy. The War in Sight Crisis of 1875 was one of such. France had recovered earlier from the defeats of the Franco-Prussian war than Germany anticipated them to and kicked off their rearmament program. By virtue of Security-Dilemma, Germany felt threatened. This unwanted crisis unfolded when an article “Krieg-in-Sicht” was published in Germany that mentioned several high-profile German officials contemplating preventive war against France. It created fear among the Europe’s elite the Brits and the Russians made their position clear to Germany that no preventive war would be entertained. This unwanted incident resulted in Bismarck’s diplomatic failure and taught him a lesson that unallied France can still pose a threat. However, this incident can be considered a wakeup call for him who later initiated policies that sought peace in Europe and quite remarkably achieved it.

David Copeland’s Dynamic Differential Theory

Going by the realist assumption in a world characterized by anarchy and self-help where states are rational unitary actors, David Copeland in the Origins of Major war has posited that a dominant but a declining state perceives a rising power as a serious security threat and in order to perpetuate its survival, the declining major power is more than likely to resort to war. Thereby increasing chances of great power wars. By virtue of Dynamic Differentials theory, Copeland has maintained that polarity constraints the likelihood of war. In a multipolar world, a declining major power is only likely to pursue war as long as its relative military power is considerably higher than other major powers in the multipolar system. However, in a bipolar world, there is a clear delineation of friend and foes. There is also no third power that could take opportunity of the spoils between two major powers. Therefore, in this system, a declining power is likely to pursue war even if it just matches relative military capabilities of the rising power. [4]

It can be argued that during the time Bismarck was in power there were no major wars. However, it wasn’t because of his “love for peace” – as was demonstrated by Bismarck’s appetite for wars between 1864 and 1870 (with Austria, Denmark and France). Rather it had got to do with systemic conditions – polarity – constraining the prospects of war. Back then, Europe was multipolar. Germany was going through extensive industrialization and nowhere near did they possess a considerable military prowess. Bismarck knew any expansionist adventure would be met by force from Russia, France and Britain. Similarly, upon unification, Germany although became a powerful force, it was still only a rising power and the hegemon – Britain- was not in decline. Thus, war wasn’t initiated due to power differentials in economic and military aspects between the Hegemon and the rising power. Furthermore, talks of preventive wars were discussed in 1875, 1877 and 1887, however weren’t pursued for the very reasons. [5] Bismarck wanted peace and economic stability for the unified Germany until it became preponderant to challenge the system.

To sum up, Bismarck’s success in maintaining peace in Europe for nearly two decades can be attributed to his understanding of the constraints posed by the European multipolar order. Most importantly, his diplomatic engagements to pacify Austria and Russia as well as his ability to bring these two powers into defensive alliance with Germany made sure France remained isolated. It prevented Germany from facing two-front war which in turn prevented the breakout of a major war in Europe.

Works Cited:

[1] Watson, Adam. The Evolution of International Society. (London: Routledge, 1993), 242-249

[2] Miller, Stuart T. “Bismarck and International Relations 1871–90.” Mastering Modern European History, 1988, 242–53.

[3] Williamson, D. G. War and Peace: International Relations, 1890-1941. (London: Hodder Education, 2015)

[4] Copeland, Dale C. The Origins of Major War. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), 15

Which country is best for education?

Top 10 Countries With the Best Higher Education System

  1. United States of America. American education system is known to be one of the countries with best education system.
  2. Switzerland. Switzerland education system is applauded and is included in best education in the world list.
  3. Denmark.
  4. United Kingdom.
  5. Sweden.
  6. Finland.
  7. Netherlands.
  8. Singapore.

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1 The European Revolution of 1848 begins A broad outline of the background to the onset of the turmoils and a consideration of some of the early events.

2 The French Revolution of 1848 A particular focus on France - as the influential Austrian minister Prince Metternich, who sought to encourage the re-establishment of "Order" in the wake of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic turmoils of 1789-1815, said:-"When France sneezes Europe catches a cold".

3 The Revolution of 1848 in the German Lands and central Europe "Germany" had a movement for a single parliament in 1848 and many central European would-be "nations" attempted to assert a distinct existence separate from the dynastic sovereignties they had been living under.

4 The "Italian" Revolution of 1848 A "liberal" Papacy after 1846 helps allow the embers of an "Italian" national aspiration to rekindle across the Italian Peninsula.

Watch the video: Otto von Bismarck 18151898. German Unification (May 2022).