Otto von Bismarck
|Otto von Bismarck|
|1st Chancellor of Germany|
21 March 1871 – 20 March 1890
|Deputy||Otto zu Stolberg-Wernigerode
Karl Heinrich von Boetticher
|Preceded by||Post created|
|Succeeded by||Leo von Caprivi|
|Minister President of Prussia|
9 November 1873 – 20 March 1890
|Preceded by||Albrecht von Roon|
|Succeeded by||Leo von Caprivi|
23 September 1862 – 1 January 1873
|Preceded by||Adolf zu Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen|
|Succeeded by||Albrecht von Roon|
|Chancellor of the North German Confederation|
1 July 1867 – 21 March 1871
|Preceded by||Post created|
|Succeeded by||Post abolished|
|Foreign Minister of Prussia|
23 November 1862 – 20 March 1890
Albrecht von Roon
|Preceded by||Albrecht von Bernstorff|
|Succeeded by||Leo von Caprivi|
|Born||1 April 1815
(in modern Saxony-Anhalt, Germany)
|Died||30 July 1898 (aged 83)
Friedrichsruh, Schleswig-Holstein, German Empire
|Spouse(s)||Johanna von Puttkamer
(1847–1894; her death)
|Alma mater||University of Göttingen
University of Berlin
Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg, (1 April 1815 – 30 July 1898), known as Otto von Bismarck, was a conservative Prussian statesman who dominated German and European affairs from the 1860s until 1890. In the 1860s he engineered a series of wars that unified the German states (excluding Austria) into a powerful German Empire under Prussian leadership. With that accomplished by 1871 he skillfully used balance of power diplomacy to preserve German hegemony in a Europe which, despite many disputes and war scares, remained at peace. For historian Eric Hobsbawm, it was Bismarck, who "remained undisputed world champion at the game of multilateral diplomatic chess for almost twenty years after 1871, [and] devoted himself exclusively, and successfully, to maintaining peace between the powers."
In 1862 King Wilhelm I appointed Bismarck as Minister President of Prussia, a post he would hold until 1890 (except for a short break in 1873). He provoked three short, decisive wars against Denmark, Austria and France, aligning the smaller German states behind Prussia in defeating his arch-enemy France. In 1871 he formed the German Empire with himself as Chancellor, while retaining control of Prussia. His diplomacy of realpolitik and powerful rule at home gained him the nickname the "Iron Chancellor". German unification and its rapid economic growth was the foundation to his foreign policy. He disliked colonialism but reluctantly built an overseas empire when it was demanded by both elite and mass opinion. Juggling a very complex interlocking series of conferences, negotiations and alliances, he used his unrivaled diplomatic skills to maintain Germany's position and used the balance of power to keep Europe at peace in the 1870s and 1880s.
He was the master of complex politics at home. He created the first welfare state in the modern world, with the goal of gaining working class support that might otherwise go to his Socialist enemies. In the 1870s he allied himself with the Liberals (who were low-tariff and anti-Catholic) and fought the Catholic Church in a culture war. He lost that battle as the Catholics responded by forming a powerful Center party and using universal male suffrage to gain a bloc of seats. Bismarck then reversed himself, ended the culture war, broke with the Liberals, imposed tariffs, and formed a political alliance with the Center party to fight the Socialists. A devout Lutheran, he was loyal to his king, who in turn gave Bismarck his full support, against the advice of his wife and his heir. While Germany's parliament was elected by universal male suffrage, it did not have real control of the government. Bismarck distrusted democracy and ruled through a strong, well-trained bureaucracy with power in the hands of a traditional Junker elite that comprised the landed nobility of the east. Bismarck largely controlled domestic and foreign affairs under the elderly Wilhelm I until he was removed by young Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1890.
Bismarck, an aristocratic Junker himself, had an extremely aggressive and domineering personality. He displayed a violent temper and kept his power by threatening to resign time and again. He possessed not only a long-term national and international vision, but also the short-term ability to juggle many complex developments simultaneously. As the leader of what historians call "revolutionary conservatism", Bismarck became a hero to German nationalists; they built hundreds of monuments glorifying the iconic symbol of powerful conservative leadership. Historians generally praise him as a statesman of moderation and balance who kept the peace in Europe, and was primarily responsible for the unification of Germany and building its world-renowned bureaucracy and army.
- 1 Early years
- 2 Early political career
- 3 Ambassador to Russia and France
- 4 Minister President of Prussia
- 5 Unification of Germany
- 6 Chancellor of the German Empire
- 7 Foreign policies
- 8 Social legislation
- 9 Forced to resign
- 10 Legacy and memory
- 11 Place names
- 12 Titles and styles from birth to death
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 Bibliography
- 16 External links
Bismarck was born in Schönhausen, a wealthy family estate situated west of Berlin in the Prussian province of Saxony. His father, Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand von Bismarck (1771–1845), was a Junker estate owner and a former Prussian military officer; his mother, Wilhelmine Luise Mencken (1789–1839), was the well-educated daughter of a senior government official in Berlin. The world saw Bismarck as a typical Prussian Junker—an image which he encouraged by wearing military uniforms. Bismarck was well educated and cosmopolitan, with a gift for conversation. He was fluent in English, French, Italian, Polish and Russian.
Bismarck was educated at Johann Ernst Plamann's elementary school, and the Friedrich-Wilhelm and Graues Kloster secondary schools. From 1832 to 1833 he studied law at the University of Göttingen, where he was a member of the Corps Hannovera, and then enrolled at the University of Berlin (1833–35). At Göttingen, Bismarck became friends with the American student John Lothrop Motley. Motley, who later became an eminent historian and diplomat while remaining close to Bismarck, wrote a novel in 1839, Morton's Hope, or the Memoirs of a Provincial, about life in a German university. In it he described Bismarck as a reckless and dashing eccentric, but also as an extremely gifted and charming young man.
Although Bismarck hoped to become a diplomat, he started his practical training as a lawyer in Aachen and Potsdam, and soon resigned, having first placed his career in jeopardy by taking unauthorized leave to pursue two English girls, first Laura Russell, niece of the Duke of Cleveland, and then Isabella Loraine-Smith, daughter of a wealthy clergyman. He also served in the army for a year and became an officer in the Landwehr (reserve), before returning to run the family estates at Schönhausen on his mother's death in his mid-twenties.
Around age 30 Bismarck had an intense friendship with Marie von Thadden, newly married to one of his friends. Under her influence, Bismarck became a Pietist Lutheran, and later recorded that at Marie's deathbed (from typhoid) he prayed for the first time since his childhood. Bismarck married Marie's cousin, the noblewoman Johanna von Puttkamer (1824–94) at Alt-Kolziglow (modern Kołczygłowy) on 28 July 1847. Their long and happy marriage produced three children, Herbert (b. 1849), Wilhelm (b. 1852) and Marie (b. 1847). Johanna was a shy, retiring and deeply religious woman—although famed for her sharp tongue in later life—and in his public life Bismarck was sometimes accompanied by his sister Malwine "Malle" von Arnim. Bismarck soon adopted his wife's pietism, and he remained a devout Pietist Lutheran for the rest of his life.
Early political career
In 1847 Bismarck, aged 32, was chosen as a representative to the newly created Prussian legislature, the Vereinigter Landtag. There, he gained a reputation as a royalist and reactionary politician with a gift for stinging rhetoric; he openly advocated the idea that the monarch had a divine right to rule. His selection was arranged by the Gerlach brothers, fellow Pietist Lutherans whose ultra-conservative faction was known as the "Kreuzzeitung" after their newspaper, the Neue Preussische Zeitung, which was so nicknamed because it featured an Iron Cross on its cover.
In March 1848, Prussia faced a revolution (one of the revolutions of 1848 across Europe), which completely overwhelmed King Frederick William IV. The monarch, though initially inclined to use armed forces to suppress the rebellion, ultimately declined to leave Berlin for the safety of military headquarters at Potsdam (Bismarck later recorded that there had been a "rattling of sabres in their scabbards" from Prussian officers when they learned that the King would not suppress the revolution by force). He offered numerous concessions to the liberals: he wore the black-red-and-gold revolutionary colours (as seen on the flag of today's Germany), promised to promulgate a constitution, agreed that Prussia and other German states should merge into a single nation-state, and appointed a liberal, Ludolf Camphausen, as Minister President.
Bismarck had at first tried to rouse the peasants of his estate into an army to march on Berlin in the King's name. He travelled to Berlin in disguise to offer his services, but was instead told to make himself useful by arranging food supplies for the Army from his estates in case they were needed. The King's brother, Prince Wilhelm had fled to England, and Bismarck intrigued with Wilhelm's wife Augusta to place their teenage son Frederick William on the Prussian throne in Frederick William IV's place. Augusta would have none of it, and detested Bismarck thereafter, despite the fact that he later helped restore a working relationship between the King and his brother. Bismarck was not yet a member of the Landtag—the lower house of the new Prussian legislature. The liberal movement perished by the end of 1848 amid internal fighting. Meanwhile, the conservatives regrouped, formed an inner group of advisers—including the Gerlach brothers—known as the "Camarilla"—around the King, and retook control of Berlin. Although a constitution was granted, its provisions fell far short of the demands of the revolutionaries.
In 1849, Bismarck was elected to the Landtag. At this stage in his career, he opposed the unification of Germany, arguing that Prussia would lose its independence in the process. He accepted his appointment as one of Prussia's representatives at the Erfurt Parliament, an assembly of German states that met to discuss plans for union, but he only did so to oppose that body's proposals more effectively. The parliament failed to bring about unification, for it lacked the support of the two most important German states, Prussia and Austria. In September 1850, after a dispute over Hesse, (the Hesse Crisis of 1850) Prussia was humiliated and forced to back down by Austria (supported by Russia) in the so-called Punctation of Olmütz; a plan for the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership, proposed by Prussia's Minister President Radowitz, was also abandoned.
In 1851, Frederick William IV appointed Bismarck as Prussia's envoy to the Diet of the German Confederation in Frankfurt. Bismarck gave up his elected seat in the Landtag, but was appointed to the Prussian House of Lords a few years later. In Frankfurt he engaged in a battle of wills with the Austrian representative Count Friedrich von Thun und Hohenstein, insisting on being treated as an equal by petty tactics such as insisting on doing the same when Thun claimed the privileges of smoking and removing his jacket in meetings. This episode was the background for an altercation in the Frankfurt chamber with Georg von Vincke that led to a duel between Bismarck and Vincke and Carl von Bodelschwingh as impartial party, which ended without injury.
Bismarck's eight years in Frankfurt were marked by changes in his political opinions, detailed in the numerous lengthy memoranda which he sent to his ministerial superiors in Berlin. No longer under the influence of his ultraconservative Prussian friends, Bismarck became less reactionary and more pragmatic. He became convinced that to countervail Austria's newly restored influence, Prussia would have to ally herself with other German states. As a result, he grew to be more accepting of the notion of a united German nation. He gradually came to believe that he and his fellow conservatives had to take the lead in the drive toward creating a unified nation in order to keep from being eclipsed. He also believed that the middle-class liberals wanted a unified Germany more than they wanted to break the grip of the traditional forces over society.
Bismarck also worked to maintain the friendship of Russia and a working relationship with Napoleon III's France—the latter being anathema to his conservative friends the Gerlachs, but necessary both to threaten Austria and to prevent France allying herself to Russia. In a famous letter to Leopold von Gerlach, Bismarck wrote that it was foolish to play chess having first put 16 of the 64 squares out of bounds. This observation was ironic as after 1871, France indeed became Germany's permanent enemy, and eventually allied with Russia against Germany in the 1890s.
Bismarck was also horrified by Prussia's isolation during the Crimean War of the mid-1850s, in which Austria sided with Britain and France against Russia; Prussia was almost not invited to the peace talks in Paris. In the Eastern crisis of the 1870s, fear of a repetition of this turn of events would later be a factor in Bismarck's signing the Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879. However, in the 1850s Bismarck correctly foresaw that by failing to support Russia (after Russian help in crushing the Hungarian Revolt in 1849, and at Olmütz in 1850, the Austrian leader Schwarzenberg had said, "Austria would astonish the world by the depth of her ingratitude"), Austria could no longer count on her support in Italy and Germany, and had thus exposed herself to attack by France and Prussia.
Ambassador to Russia and France
In October 1857, Frederick William IV suffered a paralysing stroke. His brother Wilhelm took over the Prussian government as Regent. Wilhelm was initially seen as a moderate ruler, whose friendship with liberal Britain was symbolised by the recent marriage of his son Frederick William to Queen Victoria's eldest daughter. As part of Wilhelm's "New Course" he brought in new ministers, moderate conservatives known as the "Wochenblatt" party after their newspaper. Soon the Regent replaced Bismarck as envoy in Frankfurt and made him Prussia's ambassador to the Russian Empire. In theory, this was a promotion as Russia was one of Prussia's two most powerful neighbors. But Bismarck was sidelined from events in Germany, watching impotently as France drove Austria out of Lombardy during the Italian War of 1859. Bismarck proposed that Prussia should exploit Austria's weakness to move her frontiers "as far south as Lake Constance" on the Swiss border; instead Prussia mobilised troops in the Rhineland to deter further French advances into Venetia.
As a further snub, the Regent, who scorned Bismarck as a "Landwehrleutnant" (reserve lieutenant), had declined to promote him to the rank of major-general, normal for the ambassador to St Petersburg (and important as Prussia and Russia were close military allies, whose heads of state often communicated through military contacts rather than diplomatic channels). Bismarck stayed in St Petersburg for four years, during which he almost lost his leg to botched medical treatment and once again met his future adversary, the Russian Prince Gorchakov, who had been the Russian representative in Frankfurt in the early 1850s. The Regent also appointed Helmuth von Moltke as the new Chief of Staff of the Prussian Army, and Albrecht von Roon as Minister of War with the job of reorganizing the army. Over the next 12 years these two and Bismarck transformed Prussia. Bismarck later referred to this period as "the most significant of my life."
Despite his lengthy stay abroad, Bismarck was not entirely detached from German domestic affairs. He remained well-informed due to his friendship with Roon, and they formed a lasting political alliance. In May 1862, he was sent to Paris, to serve as ambassador to France. He also visited England that summer. These visits enabled him to meet and take the measure of several adversaries—Napoleon III in France, and in Britain, Prime Minister Palmerston, Foreign Secretary Earl Russell, and Conservative politician Benjamin Disraeli. Disraeli, who would become Prime Minister in the 1870s, later claimed to have said of Bismarck, "Be careful of that man – he means every word he says".
Minister President of Prussia
The regent became King Wilhelm I upon his brother's death in 1861. The new monarch often came into conflict with the increasingly liberal Prussian Diet. A crisis arose in 1862, when the Diet refused to authorize funding for a proposed re-organization of the army. The King's ministers could not convince legislators to pass the budget, and the King was unwilling to make concessions. Wilhelm threatened to abdicate in favour of Frederick William (who opposed it) and believed that Bismarck was the only politician capable of handling the crisis. However, Wilhelm was ambivalent about appointing a person who demanded unfettered control over foreign affairs. When, in September 1862, the Abgeordnetenhaus (House of Deputies) overwhelmingly rejected the proposed budget, Wilhelm was persuaded to recall Bismarck to Prussia on the advice of Roon. On 23 September 1862, Wilhelm appointed Bismarck Minister President and Foreign Minister.
Bismarck, Roon and Moltke took charge at a time when relations among the Great Powers—Great Britain, France, Austria and Russia—had been shattered by the Crimean War and the Italian War. In the midst of this disarray, the European balance of power was restructured with the creation of the German Empire as the dominant power in Europe. This was achieved by Bismarck's diplomacy, Roon's reorganization of the army, and Moltke's military strategy.
Despite the initial distrust of the King and Crown Prince, and the loathing of Queen Augusta, Bismarck soon acquired a powerful hold over the King by force of personality and powers of persuasion. Bismarck was intent on maintaining royal supremacy by ending the budget deadlock in the King's favour, even if he had to use extralegal means to do so. Under the Constitution, the budget could only be passed after the king and legislature agreed on its terms, Bismarck contended that since the Constitution did not provide for cases in which legislators failed to approve a budget, there was a "hole" in the Constitution, and he could merely apply the previous year's budget to keep the government running. Thus, on the basis of the 1861 budget, tax collection continued for four years.
Bismarck's conflict with the legislators intensified in the coming years. Following the Alvensleben Convention of 1863, the House of Deputies resolved that it could no longer come to terms with Bismarck; in response, the King dissolved the Diet, accusing it of trying to obtain unconstitutional control over the ministry (which, under the Constitution, was responsible solely to the king). Bismarck then issued an edict restricting the freedom of the press; this policy even gained the public opposition of the Crown Prince. Despite attempts to silence critics, Bismarck remained a largely unpopular politician. His supporters fared poorly in the elections of October 1863, in which a liberal coalition (whose primary member was the Progress Party) won over two-thirds of the seats. The House made repeated calls for Bismarck to be dismissed, but the King supported him as he feared that if he did dismiss the Minister President, he would likely be succeeded by a liberal.
Unification of Germany
Blood and Iron speech
German unification had been a major objective of the revolutions of 1848, when representatives of the German states met in Frankfurt and drafted a constitution creating a federal union with a national parliament to be elected by universal male suffrage. In April 1849, the Frankfurt Parliament offered the title of Emperor to King Frederick William IV. Fearing the opposition of the other German princes and the military intervention of Austria and Russia, the King refused this popular mandate. Thus, the Frankfurt Parliament ended in failure for the German liberals. On 30 September 1862, Bismarck made a speech to the Budget Committee of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies, in which he expounded on the use of "iron and blood" to achieve Prussia's goals:
Prussia must concentrate and maintain its power for the favorable moment which has already slipped by several times. Prussia's boundaries according to the Vienna treaties are not favorable to a healthy state life. The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions—that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849—but by iron and blood.
Defeat of Denmark
Germany, prior to the 1860s, consisted of a multitude of principalities loosely bound together as members of the German Confederation. Bismarck used both diplomacy and the Prussian military to achieve unification, excluding Austria from a unified Germany. Not only did this make Prussia the most powerful and dominant component of the new Germany, but also ensured that it remained authoritarian, rather than a liberal parliamentary regime.
Bismarck faced a diplomatic crisis when Frederick VII of Denmark died in November 1863. Succession to the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein were disputed; they were claimed by Christian IX (Frederick VII's heir as King) and by Frederick von Augustenburg, a Danish duke. Prussian public opinion strongly favoured Augustenburg's claim, as Holstein and southern Schleswig were and still are mostly German-speaking. Bismarck took an unpopular step by insisting that the territories legally belonged to the Danish monarch under the London Protocol signed a decade earlier. Nonetheless, Bismarck denounced Christian's decision to completely annex Schleswig to Denmark. With support from Austria, he issued an ultimatum for Christian IX to return Schleswig to its former status. When Denmark refused, Austria and Prussia invaded, commencing the Second Schleswig War and Denmark was forced to cede both duchies.
At first this seemed like a victory for Frederick of Augustenburg, but Bismarck soon removed him from power by making a series of unworkable demands, namely that Prussia should have control over the army and navy of the Duchies. Originally, it was proposed that the Diet of the German Confederation (in which all the states of Germany were represented) should determine the fate of the duchies; but before this scheme could be effected, Bismarck induced Austria to agree to the Gastein Convention. Under this agreement signed 20 August 1865, Prussia received Schleswig, while Austria received Holstein. In that year he was given the title of Graf (Count) von Bismarck-Schönhausen.
Defeat of Austria
In 1866, Austria reneged on the agreement and demanded that the Diet determine the Schleswig–Holstein issue. Bismarck used this as an excuse to start a war with Austria by accusing them of violating the Gastein Convention. Bismarck sent Prussian troops to occupy Holstein. Provoked, Austria called for the aid of other German states, who quickly became involved in the Austro-Prussian War. Thanks to Roon's reorganising, the Prussian army was nearly equal in numbers to the Austrian army. With the strategic genius of Moltke, the Prussian army fought battles it was able to win. Bismarck had also made a secret alliance with Italy, who desired Austrian-controlled Venetia. Italy's entry into the war forced the Austrians to divide their forces.
Meanwhile, as the war began, a German radical named Ferdinand Cohen-Blind attempted to assassinate Bismarck in Berlin, shooting him five times at close range. Bismarck had only minor injuries; Cohen-Blind committed suicide while in custody.
The war lasted seven weeks—Germans called it a "Blitzkrieg' ("lightning war"—a term also used in 1939). Austria had a seemingly powerful army; it was allied with most of the north German and all of the south German states. Nevertheless Prussia won the decisive Battle of Königgrätz. The King and his generals wanted to push onward, conquer Bohemia and march to Vienna, but Bismarck, worried that Prussian military luck might change or that France might intervene on Austria's side, enlisted the help of the Crown Prince (who had opposed the war but had commanded one of the Prussian armies at Königgrätz) to dissuade his father after stormy meetings. Bismarck insisted on a "soft peace" with no annexations and no victory parades, so as to be able to quickly restore friendly relations with Austria.
As a result of the Peace of Prague (1866), the German Confederation was dissolved. Prussia annexed Schleswig, Holstein, Frankfurt, Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, and Nassau. Further, Austria promised not to intervene in German affairs. To solidify Prussian hegemony, Prussia forced the 21 states north of the River Main to join it in forming the North German Confederation in 1867. The confederation was governed by a constitution largely drafted by Bismarck. Executive power was vested in a president—a hereditary office of the kings of Prussia. He was assisted by a chancellor responsible only to him. As president of the confederation, Wilhelm appointed Bismarck as chancellor of the confederation. Legislation was the responsibility of the Reichstag, a popularly elected body, and the Bundesrat, an advisory body representing the states. The Bundesrat was, in practice, the stronger chamber. Bismarck was the dominant figure in the new arrangement; as Foreign Minister of Prussia, he instructed the Prussian deputies to the Bundesrat. Prussia only had a plurality (17 out of 43 seats) in the Bundesrat despite being larger than the other 21 states combined, but Bismarck could easily control the proceedings through alliances with the smaller states. This began what historians refer to as "The Misery of Austria", in which Austria served as a mere vassal to the superior Germany, a relationship that was to shape history until the two World Wars. Bismarck had originally managed to convince smaller states like Saxony, Hesse-Kassel, and Hanover to join Prussia against Austria, after promising them protection from foreign invasion, morale unity, and fair commercial laws.
Bismarck, who by now held the rank of major in the Landwehr, wore this uniform during the campaign, and was at last promoted to the rank of major-general in the Landwehr cavalry after the war. Although he never personally commanded troops in the field, he usually wore a general's uniform in public for the rest of his life, as seen in numerous paintings and photographs. He was also given a cash grant by the Prussian Landtag, which he used to buy a new country estate, Varzin, larger than his existing estates combined.
Military success brought Bismarck tremendous political support in Prussia. In the House of Deputies elections of 1866, the liberals suffered a major defeat, losing their large majority. The new, largely conservative House was on much better terms with Bismarck than previous bodies; at the Minister-President's request, it retroactively approved the budgets of the past four years, which had been implemented without parliamentary consent. Bismarck suspected it would split the liberal opposition. While some liberals argued that constitutional government was a bright line that should not be crossed, most of them believed it would be a waste of time to oppose the bill, and supported it in hopes of winning more freedom in the future.
Franco-Prussian War 1870–71
Prussia's victory over Austria increased tensions with France. Its emperor, Napoleon III, feared that a powerful Germany would change the balance of power in Europe; opposition politician Adolphe Thiers had observed, it was France, not Austria, who was really defeated at Königgrätz. Bismarck, at the same time, did not avoid war with France, though he feared the French for a number of reasons. First, he feared that Austria, hungry for revenge, would ally with the French. Similarly, he feared that the Russian army would assist France to maintain a balance of power. Still, however, Bismarck believed that if the German states perceived France as the aggressor, they would unite behind the King of Prussia. To achieve this he kept Napoleon III involved in various intrigues whereby France might gain territory from Luxembourg or Belgium—France never achieved any such gain, but it was made to look greedy and untrustworthy.
A suitable premise for war arose in 1870, when the German Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was offered the Spanish throne, vacant since a revolution in 1868. France pressured Leopold into withdrawing his candidacy. Not content with this, Paris demanded that Wilhelm, as head of the House of Hohenzollern, assure that no Hohenzollern would ever seek the Spanish crown again. To provoke France into declaring war with Prussia, Bismarck published the Ems Dispatch, a carefully edited version of a conversation between King Wilhelm and the French ambassador to Prussia, Count Benedetti. This conversation had been edited so that each nation felt that its ambassador had been disrespected and ridiculed, thus inflaming popular sentiment on both sides in favor of war. Langer, however, argues that this episode played a minor role in causing the war.
France mobilized and declared war on 19 July. The German states saw France as the aggressor; swept up by nationalism and patriotic zeal, they rallied to Prussia's side and provided troops. Both of Bismarck's sons served as officers in the Prussian cavalry. The war was a great success for Prussia as the German army, controlled by Chief of Staff Moltke, won victory after victory. The major battles were all fought in one month (7 August till 1 September), and both French armies were captured at Sedan and Metz, the latter after a siege of some weeks. Napoleon III was taken prisoner at Sedan and kept in Germany for a time in case Bismarck had need of him to head the French regime; he later died in exile in England in 1873. The remainder of the war featured a siege of Paris, the city was "ineffectually bombarded"; the new French republican regime then tried, without success, to relieve Paris with various hastily assembled armies and increasingly bitter partisan warfare.
Bismarck acted immediately to secure the unification of Germany. He negotiated with representatives of the southern German states, offering special concessions if they agreed to unification. The negotiations succeeded; patriotic sentiment overwhelmed what opposition remained. While the war was in its final phase Wilhelm I of Prussia was proclaimed German Emperor on 18 January 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors in the Château de Versailles. The new German Empire was a federation: each of its 25 constituent states (kingdoms, grand duchies, duchies, principalities, and free cities) retained some autonomy. The King of Prussia, as German Emperor, was not sovereign over the entirety of Germany; he was only primus inter pares, or first among equals. But he held the presidency of the Bundesrat, which met to discuss policy presented by the Chancellor (whom the emperor appointed).
At the end, France had to surrender Alsace and part of Lorraine, because Moltke and his generals wanted it as a defensive barrier. Bismarck opposed the annexation because he did not wish to make a permanent enemy of France. France was also required to pay an indemnity; the indemnity figure was calculated, on the basis of population, as the precise equivalent of the indemnity which Napoleon I imposed on Prussia in 1807.
Chancellor of the German Empire
In 1871, Otto von Bismarck was raised to the rank of Fürst (Prince). He was also appointed as the first Imperial Chancellor (Reichskanzler) of the German Empire, but retained his Prussian offices (including those of Minister-President and Foreign Minister). He was also promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general, and given another country estate, Friedrichsruh, near Hamburg, which was larger than Varzin, making him a very wealthy landowner. He also continued to serve as his own foreign minister. Because of both the imperial and the Prussian offices that he held, Bismarck had near complete control over domestic and foreign policy. The office of Minister President of Prussia was temporarily separated from that of Chancellor in 1873, when Albrecht von Roon was appointed to the former office. But by the end of the year, Roon resigned due to ill health, and Bismarck again became Minister-President.
Bismarck launched an anti-Catholic Kulturkampf ("culture struggle") in Prussia in 1871. This was partly motivated by Bismarck's fear that Pius IX and his successors would use papal infallibility to achieve the "papal desire for international political hegemony. ... The result was the Kulturkampf, which, with its largely Prussian measures, complemented by similar actions in several other German states, sought to curb the clerical danger by legislation restricting the Catholic church's political power." In May 1872 Bismarck thus attempted to reach an understanding with other European governments to manipulate future papal elections; governments should agree beforehand on unsuitable candidates, and then instruct their national cardinals to vote appropriately. The goal was to end the pope's control over the bishops in a given state, but the project went nowhere.
Bismarck accelerated the Kulturkampf. In its course, all Prussian bishops and many priests were imprisoned or exiled. Prussia's population had greatly expanded in the 1860s and was now one-third Catholic. Bismarck believed that the pope and bishops held too much power over the German Catholics; he was further concerned about the emergence of the Catholic Centre Party (organised in 1870). With support from the anticlerical National Liberal Party, which had become Bismarck's chief ally in the Reichstag, he abolished the Catholic Department of the Prussian Ministry of Culture. That left the Catholics without a voice in high circles. In 1872, the Jesuits were expelled from Germany. More severe anti-Roman Catholic laws of 1873 allowed the Prussian government to supervise the education of the Roman Catholic clergy, and curtailed the disciplinary powers of the Church. In 1875, civil ceremonies were required for civil weddings. Hitherto, weddings in churches were civilly recognized.
Kulturkampf became part of Bismarck's foreign-policy, as he sought to destabilize and weaken Catholic regimes, especially in Belgium and France.
The Catholics reacted by organizing themselves; they strengthened the Centre Party. Bismarck, a devout pietistic Protestant, was alarmed that secularists and socialists were using the Kulturkampf to attack all religion. He abandoned it in 1878 to preserve his remaining political capital. He now needed the Centre Party votes in his new battle against socialism. Pius IX died that year, replaced by the more pragmatic Pope Leo XIII who negotiated away most of the anti-Catholic laws. The pope kept control of the selection of bishops, and the Catholics supported unification and most of Bismarck's policies; however they never forgot his culture war and preached solidarity lest it ever happen again.
In 1873, Germany and much of Europe and America entered the Long Depression, the Gründerkrise. A downturn hit the German economy for the first time since industrial development began to surge in the 1850s. To aid faltering industries, the Chancellor abandoned free trade and established protectionist import-tariffs, which alienated the National Liberals who demanded free trade. The Kulturkampf and its effects also stirred up public opinion against the party that supported it, and Bismarck used this opportunity to distance himself from the National Liberals. This marked a rapid decline in the support of the National Liberals, and by 1879 their close ties with Bismarck had all but ended. Bismarck instead returned to conservative factions—including the Centre Party—for support. He helped foster support from the conservatives by enacting several tariffs protecting German agriculture and industry from foreign competitors in 1879.
The government tried to Germanise the state's national minorities, situated mainly in the borders of the empire, such as the Danes in the North of Germany, the French of Alsace-Lorraine and the Poles in the East of Germany. He pursued an extremely hostile policy concerning the Poles furthering enmity between the German and Polish peoples. The policies were motivated by Bismarck's view that Polish existence was a threat to the German state. Bismarck compared Polish population to animals that need to be shot and privately confessed that he would like to exterminate them .
Worried by the growth of the socialist movement—in particular, that of the Social Democratic Party—Bismarck instituted the Anti-Socialist Laws in 1878. Socialist organizations and meetings were forbidden, as was the circulation of socialist literature. Police officers could stop, search, and arrest socialist party members; socialist leaders were arrested and tried by police courts. But despite these efforts, the movement steadily gained supporters and seats in the Reichstag. Socialists won seats in the Reichstag by running as independent candidates, unaffiliated with any party, which was allowed by the German Constitution.
Bismarck had unified his nation, and now he devoted himself to promoting peace in Europe with his skills in statesmanship. He was forced to contend with French revanchism—the desire to avenge the losses of the Franco-Prussian War. Bismarck therefore engaged in a policy of diplomatically isolating France while maintaining cordial relations with other nations in Europe. He had little interest in naval or colonial entanglements and thus avoided discord with Great Britain. Historians emphasize that he wanted no more territorial gains after 1871, and vigorously worked to form cross-linking alliances that prevented any war in Europe from starting. A. J. P. Taylor, a leading British diplomatic historian, concludes that, "Bismarck was an honest broker of peace; and his system of alliances compelled every Power, whatever its will, to follow a peaceful course."
Well aware that Europe was skeptical of his powerful new Reich, Bismarck turned his attention to preserving peace in Europe based on a balance of power that would allow Germany's economy to flourish. Bismarck feared that a hostile combination of Austria, France, and Russia would crush Germany. If two of them were allied, then the third would ally with Germany only if Germany conceded excessive demands. The solution was to ally with two of the three. In 1873 he formed the League of the Three Emperors, an alliance of Wilhelm, Czar Alexander II of Russia, and Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria-Hungary. Together they would control Eastern Europe, making sure that restive ethnic groups such as the Poles were kept in control. The Balkans posed a more serious issue, and Bismarck's solution was to give Austria predominance in the western Balkan areas, and Russia in the eastern areas. The system collapsed in 1887.
In 1872, a protracted quarrel began to fester between Bismarck and Count Harry von Arnim, the imperial ambassador to France. Arnim saw himself as a rival and competitor for the chancellorship, but the rivalry escalated out of hand, and Arnim took sensitive records from embassy files at Paris to back up his case. He was formally accused of misappropriating official documents, indicted, tried, and convicted, and fled into exile, where he died. No one again openly challenged Bismarck in foreign policy matters until his resignation.
Between 1873 and 1877, according to Stone (1994), Germany repeatedly acted the bully against France by manipulating the internal affairs of France's neighbors to hurt it. Bismarck put heavy pressure on Belgium, Spain, and Italy hoping to obtain the election of liberal, anticlerical governments. His plan was to promote republicanism in France by isolating the clerical-monarchist regime of President MacMahon. He hoped that ringing France with liberal states would help the French republicans defeat MacMahon and his reactionary supporters.
The bullying almost got out of hand with a brief war scare in mid-1875. It was sparked by an editorial entitled "Krieg-in-Sicht" ("War in Sight") in a Berlin newspaper close to the government, the Post. It indicated that highly influential Germans were alarmed by France's rapid recovery from defeat in 1875 and its announcement of an increase in the size of its army. They talked of launching a preventive war against France to hold it down. Bismarck denied knowing about the article ahead of time, but he certainly knew about the talk of preventive war. The editorial produced a war scare. Britain and Russia made it clear they would not tolerate a preventive war against France. Bismarck did not want any war either, and the crisis blew over. It was a rare instance where his opponents outmaneuvered and embarrassed Bismarck, but he learned an important lesson. It forced him to take into account the fear and alarm that his bullying and Germany's fast-growing power was causing among its neighbors. The crisis reinforced Bismarck's determination that Germany should work in proactive fashion to preserve the peace in Europe, rather than passively let events take their own course and react to them.
Bismarck maintained good relations with Italy, although he had a personal dislike for Italians and their country. He can be seen as a marginal contributor to Italian unification. Politics surrounding the 1866 war against Austria allowed Italy to annex Venetia, which had been a kingdom of the Austrian Empire since the 1815 Congress of Vienna. In addition, French mobilization for the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 made it necessary for Napoleon III to withdraw his troops from Rome and The Papal States. Without these two events, Italian unification would have been a more prolonged process.
After Russia's victory over the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, Bismarck helped negotiate a settlement at the Congress of Berlin. The Treaty of Berlin revised the earlier Treaty of San Stefano, reducing the size of newly independent Bulgaria (a pro-Russian state at that time). Bismarck and other European leaders opposed the growth of Russian influence and tried to protect the integrity of the Ottoman Empire (see Eastern Question). As a result, Russo-German relations further suffered, with the Russian chancellor Gorchakov denouncing Bismarck for compromising his nation's victory. The relationship was additionally strained due to Germany's protectionist trade policies. Some in the German military clamored for a preemptive war with Russia, but Bismarck said that "Preemptive war is like committing suicide for fear of death."
The League of the Three Emperors having fallen apart, Bismarck negotiated the Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary, in which each guaranteed the other against Russian attack. He also negotiated the Triple Alliance in 1882 with Austria-Hungary and Italy; this was a completely different Alliance to the Dual Alliance. Italy and Austria-Hungary soon reached the "Mediterranean Agreement" with Britain. Attempts to reconcile Germany and Russia did not have lasting effect: the Three Emperors' League was re-established in 1881, but quickly fell apart (the end of the Russian-Austrian-Prussian solidarity which had existed in various forms since 1813). Bismarck therefore negotiated the Reinsurance Treaty of 1887 with Russia, in order to prevent the Bismarckian Nightmare of a Franco-Russian Encirclement. Both powers promised to remain neutral towards one another unless Russia attacked Austria-Hungary. However, the Reinsurance Treaty failed to be renewed by Wilhelm II in 1890 after Bismarck's departure from office, thus creating a critical problem for Germany in the event of a war.
Bismarck had opposed colonial acquisitions, arguing that the burden of obtaining, maintaining, and defending such possessions would outweigh any potential benefit. He felt that colonies did not pay for themselves, that the German bureaucratic system would not work well in the easy-going tropics, and that the diplomatic disputes colonies brought would distract Germany from its central interest, Europe itself. However, in 1883–84 he suddenly reversed himself and overnight built a colonial empire in Africa and the South Pacific. Historians have debated exactly why he made this sudden and short-lived move. He was aware that public opinion had started to demand colonies for reasons of German prestige. He also wanted to undercut the anti-colonial liberals who were sponsored by the Crown Prince, who might soon become Kaiser and remove Bismarck. The old Kaiser was 84 years old. Bismarck was influenced by Hamburg merchants and traders, his neighbors at Friedrichsruh. The establishment of the German colonial empire proceeded smoothly, starting with German New Guinea in 1884. Other European nations, led by Britain and France, were acquiring colonies in a rapid fashion (see New Imperialism). Bismarck therefore joined in the Scramble for Africa. Germany's new colonies included Togoland (now Togo and part of Ghana), German Kamerun (now Cameroon and part of Nigeria), German East Africa (now Rwanda, Burundi, and the mainland part of Tanzania), and German South-West Africa (now Namibia). The Berlin Conference (1884–85) established regulations for the acquisition of African colonies; in particular, it protected free trade in certain parts of the Congo basin. Germany also acquired colonies in the Pacific, such as German New Guinea.
In February 1888, during a Bulgarian crisis, Bismarck addressed the Reichstag on the dangers of a European war.
He warned of the imminent possibility that Germany will have to fight on two fronts; he spoke of the desire for peace; then he set forth the Balkan case for war and demonstrates its futility:
"Bulgaria, that little country between the Danube and the Balkans, is far from being an object of adequate importance ... for which to plunge Europe from Moscow to the Pyrenees, and from the North Sea to Palermo, into a war whose issue no man can foresee. At the end of the conflict we should scarcely know why we had fought."
Bismarck also repeated his emphatic warning against any German military involvement in Balkan disputes. Bismarck had first made this famous comment to the Reichstag in December 1876, when the Balkan revolts against the Ottoman Empire threatened to extend to a war between Austria and Russia.
Only a year later , he is faced by the alternative of espousing the cause of Russia or that of Austria. Immediately after the last crisis, in the summer of 1875, the mutual jealousies between Russia and Austria had been rendered acute by the fresh risings in the Balkans against the Turks. Now the issues hung upon Bismarck's decision. Immediately after the peace, he had tried to paralyse the Balkan rivals by the formation of the Three Emperors' League. "I have no thought of intervening," he said privately. "That might precipitate a European war. [...] If I were to espouse the cause of one of the parties, France would promptly strike a blow on the other side. [...] I am holding two powerful heraldic beasts by their collars, and am keeping them apart for two reasons: first of all, lest they should tear one another to pieces; and secondly, lest they should come to an understanding at our expense." In the Reichstag, he popularises the same idea in the words: "I am opposed to the notion of any sort of active participation of Germany in these matters, so long as I can see no reason to suppose that German interests are involved, no interests on behalf of which it is worth our risking—excuse my plain speaking—the healthy bones of one of our Pomeranian musketeers."
A leading diplomatic historian of the era, William L. Langer sums up Bismark's two decades as Chancellor:
Whatever else may be said of the intricate alliance system evolved by the German Chancellor, it must be admitted that it worked and that it tided Europe over a period of several critical years without a rupture. ... there was, as Bismarck himself said, a premium upon the maintenance of peace.
His had been a great career, beginning with three wars in eight years and ending with a period of 20 years during which he worked for the peace of Europe, despite countless opportunities to embark on further enterprises with more than even chance of success. ... No other statesman of his standing had ever before shown the same great moderation and sound political sense of the possible and desirable. ... Bismarck at least deserves full credit for having steered European politics through this dangerous transitional period without serious conflict between the great powers."
Bismarck implemented the world's first welfare state in the 1880s. He worked closely with large industry and aimed to stimulate German economic growth by giving workers greater security. A secondary concern was trumping the Socialists, who had no welfare proposals of their own and opposed Bismarck's. Bismarck especially listened to Hermann Wagener and Theodor Lohmann, advisers who persuaded him to give workers a corporate status in the legal and political structures of the new German state. In March 1884, Bismarck declared:
The real grievance of the worker is the insecurity of his existence; he is not sure that he will always have work, he is not sure that he will always be healthy, and he foresees that he will one day be old and unfit to work. If he falls into poverty, even if only through a prolonged illness, he is then completely helpless, left to his own devices, and society does not currently recognize any real obligation towards him beyond the usual help for the poor, even if he has been working all the time ever so faithfully and diligently. The usual help for the poor, however, leaves a lot to be desired, especially in large cities, where it is very much worse than in the country.
Bismarck's idea was to implement welfare programs that were acceptable to conservatives without any socialistic aspects. He was dubious about laws protecting workers at the workplace, such as safe working conditions, limitation of work hours, and the regulation of women's and child labor. He believed that such regulation would force workers and employers to reduce work and production, and thus harm the economy. Bismarck opened debate on the subject in November 1881 in the Imperial Message to the Reichstag, using the term practical Christianity to describe his program. Bismarck's program centered squarely on insurance programs designed to increase productivity, and focus the political attentions of German workers on supporting the Junkers' government. The program included sickness insurance, accident insurance, disability insurance, and a retirement pension, none of which were then in existence to any great degree.
Based on Bismarck's message, the Reichstag filed three bills to deal with the concepts of accident and sickness insurance. The subjects of retirement pensions and disability insurance were placed on the back-burner for the time being. The social legislation implemented by Bismarck in the 1880s played a key role in the sharp, rapid decline of German emigration to America. Young men considering emigration looked at not only the gap between higher hourly "direct wages" in the United States and Germany but also the differential in "indirect wages"—social benefits, which favored staying in Germany. The young men went to German industrial cities, so that Bismarck's insurance system partly offset low wage rates in Germany and furthered the fall of the emigration rate.
Sickness Insurance Law of 1883
The first bill that had success was the Sickness Insurance Bill, which was passed in 1883. Bismarck considered the program the least important and the least politically troublesome. The program was established to provide sickness insurance for German industrial laborers. The health service was established on a local basis, with the cost divided between employers and the employed. The employers contributed 1/3, while the workers contributed 2/3s. The minimum payments for medical treatment and sick pay for up to 13 weeks were legally fixed. The individual local health bureaus were administered by a committee elected by the members of each bureau, and this move had the unintended effect of establishing a majority representation for the workers on account of their large financial contribution. This worked to the advantage of the Social Democrats who—through heavy Worker membership—achieved their first small foothold in public administration.
Accident Insurance Law of 1884
Bismarck's government had to submit three draft bills before they could get one passed by the Reichstag in 1884. Bismarck had originally proposed that the Federal Government pay a portion of the Accident Insurance contribution. Bismarck's motive was a demonstration of the willingness of the German government to lessen the hardship experienced by the German workers as a means of weaning them away from the various left-wing parties, most importantly the Social Democrats. The National Liberals took this program to be an expression of State Socialism, which they were dead set against. The Center party was afraid of the expansion of Federal Power at the expense of States Rights. As a result, the only way the program could be passed at all was for the entire expense to be underwritten by the Employers. To facilitate this, Bismarck arranged for the administration of this program to be placed in the hands of "Der Arbeitgeberverband in den beruflichen Korporationen" (the Organization of Employers in Occupational Corporations). This organization established central and bureaucratic insurance offices on the Federal, and in some cases the State level to perform the actual administration. The program kicked in to replace the sickness insurance program as of the 14th week. It paid for medical treatment and a Pension of up to 2/3s of earned wages if the worker was fully disabled. This program was expanded in 1886 to include Agricultural workers.
Old Age and Disability Insurance Law of 1889
The Old Age Pension program, an insurance equally financed by employers and workers, was designed to provide a pension annuity for workers who reached age 70 years. Unlike the Accident Insurance and Sickness Insurance programs, this program covered all categories of workers—industrial, agrarian, artisans and servants from the start. Also, unlike the other two programs, the principle that the national government should contribute a portion of the underwriting cost, with the other two portions prorated accordingly, was accepted without question. The Disability Insurance program was intended to be used by those permanently disabled. This time, the State or Province supervised the programs directly.
Forced to resign
The only known recording of Bismarck's voice. See the file's page for a transcript and other details.
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In 1888, the German Emperor, Wilhelm I, died leaving the throne to his son, Friedrich III. The new monarch was already suffering from an incurable throat cancer and died after reigning for only 99 days. He was succeeded by his son, Wilhelm II, who opposed Bismarck's careful foreign policy, preferring vigorous and rapid expansion to enlarge Germany's "place in the sun".
Bismarck was 16 years older than Friedrich. Before the latter became terminally ill, Bismarck did not expect he would live to see Wilhelm ascend to the throne, and thus had no strategy to deal with him. Conflicts between Wilhelm II and his chancellor soon poisoned their relationship. Perhaps on account of his prominent role in Wilhelm's upbringing, Bismarck believed that he could dominate the young Kaiser and showed little respect for his policies in the late 1880s. However, Wilhelm wanted to be his own master and was surrounded by sycophants telling him that Frederick the Great would not have been so great with a Bismarck at his side. Their final split occurred after Bismarck tried to implement far-reaching anti-Socialist laws in early 1890. The Kartell majority in the Reichstag, of the amalgamated Conservative Party and the National Liberal Party, was willing to make most of the laws permanent. But it was split about the law allowing the police the power to expel socialist agitators from their homes, a power used excessively at times against political opponents. The National Liberals refused to make this law permanent, while the Conservatives supported only the entirety of the bill and threatened to and eventually vetoed the entire bill in session because Bismarck would not agree to a modified bill.
As the debate continued, Wilhelm became increasingly interested in social problems, especially the treatment of mine workers during their strike in 1889, and keeping with his active policy in government, routinely interrupted Bismarck in Council to make clear his social policy. Bismarck sharply disagreed with Wilhelm's policy and worked to circumvent it. Even though Wilhelm supported the altered anti-socialist bill, Bismarck pushed for his support to veto the bill in its entirety. But when his arguments could not convince Wilhelm, Bismarck became excited and agitated until uncharacteristically blurting out his motive to see the bill fail: to have the socialists agitate until a violent clash occurred that could be used as a pretext to crush them. Wilhelm replied that he was not willing to open his reign with a bloody campaign against his own subjects. The next day, after realizing his blunder, Bismarck attempted to reach a compromise with Wilhelm by agreeing to his social policy towards industrial workers, and even suggested a European council to discuss working conditions, presided over by the German Emperor.
Despite this, a turn of events eventually led to his distancing from Wilhelm. Bismarck, feeling pressured and unappreciated by the Emperor and undermined by ambitious advisers, refused to sign a proclamation regarding the protection of workers along with Wilhelm, as was required by the German Constitution, to protest Wilhelm's ever increasing interference to Bismarck's previously unquestioned authority. Bismarck also worked behind the scenes to break the Continental labour council on which Wilhelm had set his heart.
The final break came as Bismarck searched for a new parliamentary majority, with his Kartell voted from power due to the anti-socialist bill fiasco. The remaining forces in the Reichstag were the Catholic Centre Party and the Conservative Party. Bismarck wished to form a new block with the Centre Party, and invited Ludwig Windthorst, the parliamentary leader, to discuss an alliance. This would be Bismarck's last political manoeuvre. Wilhelm was furious to hear about Windthorst's visit. In a parliamentary state, the head of government depends on the confidence of the parliamentary majority, and certainly has the right to form coalitions to ensure his policies a majority. However, in Germany, the Chancellor depended on the confidence of the Emperor alone, and Wilhelm believed that the Emperor had the right to be informed before his minister's meeting. After a heated argument in Bismarck's office Wilhelm, whom Bismarck had allowed to see a letter from Tsar Alexander III describing him as a "badly brought-up boy", stormed out, after first ordering the rescinding of the Cabinet Order of 1851, which had forbidden Prussian Cabinet Ministers to report directly to the King of Prussia, requiring them instead to report via the Prime Minister. Bismarck, forced for the first time into a situation he could not use to his advantage, wrote a blistering letter of resignation, decrying Wilhelm's interference in foreign and domestic policy, which was published only after Bismarck's death.
Bismarck resigned at Wilhelm II's insistence on 18 March 1890, at age 75, to be succeeded as Chancellor of Germany and Minister-President of Prussia by Leo von Caprivi. Bismarck was discarded ("dropping the pilot", in the words of the famous Punch cartoon), promoted to the rank of "Colonel-General with the Dignity of Field Marshal" (so-called because the German Army did not appoint full Field Marshals in peacetime) and given a new title, Duke of Lauenburg, which he joked would be useful when travelling incognito. He was soon elected to the Reichstag as a National Liberal in Bennigsen's old and supposedly safe Hamburg seat, but he was embarrassed by being taken to a second ballot by a Social Democrat opponent, and never actually took up his seat. He entered into a restless, resentful retirement on his estates at Varzin, now part of Poland. Within one month of his wife's death on 27 November 1894, he moved to Friedrichsruh near Hamburg, waiting in vain to be called upon for advice and counsel.
Last warning and prediction
In December 1897, the Emperor Wilhelm II visited Bismarck for the last time. Bismarck again warned him about the dangers of improvising government policy based on the intrigues of courtiers and militarists. Bismarck's last warning was:
Your Majesty, so long as you have this present officer corps, you can do as you please. But when this is no longer the case, it will be very different for you.
Subsequently, Bismarck made this prediction:
"Jena came twenty years after the death of Frederick the Great; the crash will come twenty years after my departure if things go on like this" ― a prophecy fulfilled with the Kaiser's abdication almost twenty years to the day after Bismarck's death.
According to Albert Ballin, the year before he died Bismarck told him:
"One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans".
Bismarck spent his final years composing his memoirs (Gedanken und Erinnerungen, or Thoughts and Memories), a work of literary genius but questionable accuracy, in which he increased the drama around every event and always presented himself favorably. He died in July 1898 at the age of 83 in Friedrichsruh, where he is entombed in the Bismarck Mausoleum. He was succeeded as Fürst von Bismarck-Schönhausen by his son Herbert. He continued his feud with Wilhelm II by attacking him in his memoirs and by publishing the text of the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia, a breach of national security for which any individual of lesser status would have been prosecuted.
Bismarck managed one final attack on Wilhelm II by having his tombstone inscribed with the words "Here lies a true servant of the Emperor Wilhelm I".
Legacy and memory
Historians have reached a broad consensus on the content, function and importance of the image of Bismarck within Germany's political culture over the past 125 years. According to Steinberg, his achievements in 1862–71 were "the greatest diplomatic and political achievement by any leader in the last two centuries."
Bismarck's most important legacy is the unification of Germany. Germany had existed as a collection of hundreds of separate principalities and Free Cities since the formation of the Holy Roman Empire. Over the centuries various rulers had tried to unify the German states without success until Bismarck. Largely as a result of Bismarck's efforts, the various German kingdoms were united into a single country.
Following unification, Germany became one of the most powerful nations in Europe. Bismarck's astute, cautious, and pragmatic foreign policies allowed Germany to retain peacefully the powerful position into which he had brought it; maintaining amiable diplomacy with almost all European nations. France, the main exception, was devastated by Bismarck's wars and his harsh subsequent policies towards it; France became one of Germany's most bitter enemies in Europe. Austria, too, was weakened by the creation of a German Empire, though to a much lesser extent than France. Bismarck believed that as long as Britain, Russia and Italy were assured of the peaceful nature of the German Empire, French belligerency could be contained; his diplomatic feats were undone, however, by Kaiser Wilhelm II, whose policies unified other European powers against Germany in time for World War I.
Historians stress that Bismarck's peace-oriented, "saturated continental diplomacy" was increasingly unpopular, because it consciously reined in any expansionist drives. In dramatic contrast stands the ambition of Wilhelm II's Weltpolitik to secure the Reich's future through expansion, leading to World War I. Likewise Bismarck's policy to deny the military a dominant voice in foreign political decision making was overturned by 1914 as Germany became an armed state.
Bismarck's psychology and personal traits have not been so favourably received by scholars. The American historian Jonathan Steinberg portrays a malign genius who was deeply vengeful, even toward his closest friends and family members. Evans says he was "intimidating and unscrupulous, playing to others' frailties, not their strengths." British historians, including Evans, Taylor, Palmer and Crankshaw, see Bismarck as an ambivalent figure, undoubtedly a man of great skill but who left no lasting system in place to guide successors less skilled than himself. Being a committed monarchist himself, Bismarck allowed no effective constitutional check on the power of the Emperor, thus placing a time bomb in the foundation of the Germany that he created.
Observers at the time and ever since have commented on Bismarck's skill as a writer. As Henry Kissinger has noted, "The man of 'blood and iron' wrote prose of extraordinary directness and lucidity, comparable in distinctiveness to Churchill's use of the English language."
During most of his nearly 30 year-long tenure, Bismarck held undisputed control over the government's policies. He was well supported by his friend Albrecht von Roon, the war minister, as well as the leader of the Prussian army Helmuth von Moltke. Bismarck's diplomatic moves relied on a victorious Prussian military, and these two men gave Bismarck the victories he needed to convince the smaller German states to join Prussia.
Bismarck took steps to silence or restrain political opposition, as evidenced by laws restricting the freedom of the press, and the anti-socialist laws. He waged a culture war (Kulturkampf) against the Catholic Church until he realized the conservatism of the Catholics made them natural allies against the Socialists. His king Wilhelm I rarely challenged the Chancellor's decisions; on several occasions, Bismarck obtained his monarch's approval by threatening to resign. However, Wilhelm II intended to govern the country himself, making the ousting of Bismarck one of his first tasks as Kaiser. Bismarck's successors as Chancellor were much less influential, as power was concentrated in the Emperor's hands.
Immediately after he left office, citizens started to praise him and established funds to build monuments like the Bismarck Memorial or towers dedicated to him. Throughout Germany, the accolades were unending, several buildings were named in his honour, portraits of him were commissioned from artists such as Franz von Lenbach and C.W. Allers and books about him became best-sellers. The first monument built in his honour was the one at Bad Kissingen erected in 1877.
Numerous statues and memorials dot the cities, towns, and countryside of Germany, including the famous Bismarck Memorial in Berlin and numerous Bismarck towers on four continents. The only memorial depicting him as a student at Göttingen University (together with a dog, possibly his Reichshund Tyras) and as a member of his Corps Hannovera was re-erected in 2006 at the Rudelsburg. The gleaming white 1906 Bismarck Monument in the city of Hamburg, stands in the centre of the St. Pauli district, and is the largest, and probably best-known, memorial to Bismarck worldwide. The statues depicted him as massive, monolithic, rigid and unambiguous. Two warships were named in his honour, the SMS Bismarck of the German Imperial Navy, and the Bismarck from the World War II–era.
Gerwarth (2007) shows that the Bismarck myth, built up predominantly during his years of retirement and even more stridently after his death, proved a powerful rhetorical and ideological tool. The myth made him out to be a dogmatic ideologue and ardent nationalist when, in fact, he was ideologically flexible. Gerwarth argues that the constructed memory of Bismarck played a central role as an anti-democratic myth in the highly ideological battle over the past which raged between 1918 and 1933. This myth proved to be a weapon against the Weimar Republic, and exercised a destructive influence on the political culture of the first German democracy. Frankel (2005) shows the Bismarck cult fostered and legitimized a new style of right-wing politics, and made possible the post-Bismarckian crisis of leadership, both real and perceived, that had Germans seeking the strongest possible leader and asking, "What Would Bismarck Do?"
For example, Hamburg's memorial, unveiled in 1906, is considered one of the greatest expressions of imperial Germany's Bismarck cult and an important development in the history of German memorial art. It was a product of the desire of Hamburg's patrician classes to defend their political privileges in the face of dramatic social change and attendant demands for political reform. To those who presided over its construction, the monument was also a means of asserting Hamburg's cultural aspirations and of shrugging off a reputation as a city hostile to the arts. The memorial was greeted with widespread disapproval among the working classes and did not prevent their increasing support for the Social Democrats.
A number of localities around the world have been named in Bismarck's honour. They include:
- Bismarck Archipelago, near the former German colony of New Guinea.
- Bismarck, Illinois
- Bismarck, North Dakota, a city and state capital in the United States.
- Bismarck, Missouri, a city in Missouri.
- Bismarck Sea
- Bismarck Strait, a channel in Antarctica.
- Bismarckburg (Kasanga, Tanzania)
Titles and styles from birth to death
The Prince of Bismarck
|Reference style||His Serene Highness|
|Spoken style||Your Serene Highness|
- 1 April 1815 – 1865: Junker Otto von Bismarck
- 1865–1871: High Born Count Otto of Bismarck-Schönhausen
- 1871–1890: His Serene Highness The Prince of Bismarck
- 1890 – 30 July 1898: His Serene Highness The Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg
Bismarck was created Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen ("Count of Bismarck-Schönhausen") in 1865; this comital title is borne by all his descendants in the male line. In 1871, he was further created Fürst von Bismarck ("Prince of Bismarck") and accorded the style of Durchlaucht (equivalent to "Serene Highness"); this princely title descended only to his eldest male heirs.
Duke of Lauenburg
In 1890, Bismarck was created further Herzog von Lauenburg ("Duke of Lauenburg"; the Duchy was one of the territories which Prussia seized from the Danish king in 1864).
It was Bismarck's ambition to be assimilated into the mediatized houses of Germany. He attempted to persuade Kaiser Wilhelm I that he should be endowed with the sovereign duchy of Lauenburg, in reward for his services to the imperial family and the German empire. This was on the understanding that Bismarck would immediately restore the duchy to Prussia; all that he wanted was the privilege of a mediatized family for himself and his descendants. This novel idea was turned down by the conservative emperor, who thought that he had already given the chancellor enough rewards. There is reason to believe that he informed Wilhelm II of his wishes. After being forced by the sovereign to resign, he received the purely honorific title of "Duke of Lauenburg", without the duchy itself and the sovereignty that would have transformed his family into a mediatized house. Bismarck regarded it as a mockery of his ambition, and he considered nothing more cruel than this action of the emperor.
On Bismarck's death in 1898, his dukedom (held only for his own lifetime) was extinguished and the princely title passed to his eldest son, Herbert.
- Adelbert Theodor Wangemann, made only known recording of Bismarck's voice
- Film footage of Bismarck removing his military helmet
- Gerson von Bleichröder, Bismarck's banker and economics advisor
- House of Bismarck
- Wilhelm Stieber, master spy
- Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire: 1875–1914 (1987), p. 312.
- Hull, Isabel V. (2004). The Entourage of Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1888–1918. p. 85. ISBN 9780521533218.
- Lowe, Charles (2005). Prince Bismarck: An Historical Biography With Two Portraits. Kessinger Publishing. p. 538. ISBN 9781419180033.
- Field 1898, pp. 603–4.
- Steinberg, 2011, pp. 39–41.
- Steinberg, 2011, p. 93.
- Pflanze 1971, p. 56.
- Steinberg, 2011, p. 89.
- Steinberg, 2011, p. 86.
- Steinberg, 2011, pp. 87–88.
- Pflanze 1971, p. 64.
- Alan Palmer, Bismarck [Charles Scribner Publishers: New York, 1976] p. 41
- Alan Palmer, Bismarck, p. 42.
- Steinberg, 2011, p. 117.
- Steinberg, 2011, pp. 142–43.
- Quotations from letters between Leopold von Gerlach and Bismarck debating the topic of Napoleon III are in Steinberg, 2011, pp. 131–33.
- Steinberg, 2011, ch. 5.
- Steinberg, 2011, ch. 6.
- Eyck 1964, pp. 58–68.
- Taylor 1955, pp. 48–51.
- Eyck 1964, pp. 69–70.
- Hollyday 1970, pp. 16–18.
- Gordon A. Craig, Germany, 1866–1945 (1978), pp 1–21
- Eyck 1964, pp. 58–106.
- Eyck 1964, pp. 107–38.
- Pearce 2010.
- Friedrich Darmstaedter (2008). Bismarck and the Creation of the Second Reich. Transaction Publishers. p. 289. ISBN 9781412807838.
- Steinberg, 2011, p. 253.
- Bismarck, Otto von (1966). The Memoirs vol. II. New York, NY: Howard Fertig. pp. 58–60.
- Eyck 1964, pp. 139–86
- William Langer, "Bismarck as Dramatist," in Studies in Diplomatic History & Historiography in Honour of G.P. Gooch (1962) pp 199–216,
- Taylor 1969, p. 126.
- Taylor 1969, p. 133.
- Hollyday 1970, p. 6.
- Blackbourn 1998, pp. 261–3.
- Ross 2000.
- Gross 2005.
- James Stone, "Bismarck and the Containment of France, 1873-1877," Canadian Journal of History (1994) 29#2 pp 281-304 online
- Rebecca Ayako Bennette, Fighting for the Soul of Germany: The Catholic Struggle for Inclusion after Unification (Harvard U.P. 2012)
- E. J. Feuchtwanger, Bismarck (2002) p. 208
- Koschnirk, Leonore; von Specht, Agnete. "Room 10: The Social Dimension - "Founders" and "Enemies of the Empire"". Deutsches Historisches Museum. Archived from the original on July 2, 2004.
- Norman Davies, God's Playground, a History of Poland: 1795 to the present (1982) p 124 online
- The Immigrant Threat: The Integration of Old and New Migrants in Western Europe Since 1850 (Studies of World Migrations) – Page 60 Leo Lucassen – 2005 University of Illinois The depth of his hatred for the Poles is illustrated by a letter Bismarck wrote in 1861 to his sister: "Hit the Poles, so that they break down. If we want to exist, we have to exterminate them;
- Friedrich Darmstaedter, Bismarck and the creation of the Second Reich (2008) p. xiv, xvii
- A.J.P. Taylor, Europe: Grandeur and Decline (1967) p 89
- Raymond James Sontag, European Diplomatic History: 1871–1932 (1933) pp 3–58
- Crankshaw 1981, p. 322.
- James Stone, "Bismarck and the Containment of France, 1873–1877", Canadian Journal of History (1994) 29#2 pp 281–304, online
- Lothar Gall, Bismarck: The White Revolutionary, Volume 2: 1871–1898 (1986) pp 46–48
- William L. Langer, European Alliances and Alignments, 1871–1890 (2nd ed. 1950) pp 44–55
- Taylor 1969, p. 212.
- Retallack 2008, p. 29.
- Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann. "Domestic Origins of Germany's Colonial Expansion under Bismarck." Past & Present (Feb 1969), Issue 42, pp 140–159 in JSTOR
- Kennedy 1988, ch 10.
- Eyck 1964, pp. 273–76.
- Wehler 1970, pp. 119–55.
- Strandmann 1969, pp. 140–59.
- Crankshaw 1981, pp. 395–97.
- S. G. Firth, "The New Guinea Company, 1885–1899: A case of unprofitable imperialism," Historical Studies (1972) 15#59 pp 361–377 DOI:10.1080/10314617208595478
- Ludwig 1927a, p. 73.
- Ludwig 1927b, p. 511.
- William L. Langer, European Alliances and Alignments: 1871–1890 (2nd ed.) 1950 p 459
- Langer, European Alliances and Alignments: 1871–1890 pp 503–04
- E. P. Hennock, The Origin of the Welfare State in England and Germany, 1850–1914: Social Policies Compared (Cambridge University Press, 2007)
- E. P. Hennock. "Social Policy under the Empire: Myths and Evidence" German History 1998 16(1): 58–74; Herman Beck, The Origins of the Authoritarian Welfare State in Prussia. Conservatives, Bureaucracy, and the Social Question, 1815–70. 1995.
- Frederic B. M. Hollyday, Bismarck (1970) p. 65
- Moritz Busch. Bismarck: Some secret pages from his history. New York: Macmillan, 1898. Vol. II, p. 282
- Holborn, Hajo. A History of Modern Germany – 1840–1945. Princeton UP, 1969. pp. 291–93.
- David Khoudour-Castéras. "Welfare State and Labor Mobility: The Impact of Bismarck's Social Legislation on German Emigration Before World War I." Journal of Economic History 68.1 (2008): 211–243.
- Leichter, Howard M. (1979). A comparative approach to policy analysis: health care policy in four nations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. ISBN 0-521-22648-1. "The Sickness Insurance Law (1883). Eligibility. The Sickness Insurance Law came into effect in December 1884. It provided for compulsory participation by all industrial wage earners (i.e., manual laborers) in factories, ironworks, mines, shipbuilding yards, and similar workplaces.".
- Hennock, Ernest Peter (2007). The origin of the welfare state in England and Germany, 1850–1914: social policies compared. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. ISBN 978-0-521-59212-3..
- E. P. Hennock, "Social Policy in the Bismarck Era: A Progress Report," German History, (June 2003) 21#2 pp 229–238 online
- Cowen 2012.
- Craig, (1978) pp 225–29
- Steinberg, 2011, pp. 429–64.
- Craig, (1978) pp 171–79
- Rich, Norman (1965). Friedrich von Holstein: politics and diplomacy in the era of Bismarck and Wilhelm II 1. London: Cambridge University Press. pp. 279–83.shows that Friedrich von Holstein was a key player
- Palmer, Alan (1976). Bismarck. New York City: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 267. ISBN 978-0684146836.
- Taylor 1969, p. 264.
- Churchill, Winston (1923). The World Crisis. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 195.
- Müller (2008)
- Urbach (1998)
- Steinberg, 2011, p. 184.
- Richard J. Evans, "The Gambler in Blood and Iron," New York Review (Feb. 23, 2012) p 39
- Kissinger 2011.
- Sieglinde Seele, Lexikon der Bismarck-Denkmäler. Türme, Standbilder, Büsten, Gedenksteine und andere Ehrungen, Michael Imhof Verlag: Petersberg, 2005; 480 pp.
- Mark A.Russell, "The Building of Hamburg's Bismarck Memorial, 1898–1906," Historical Journal 2000 43(1): 133–156
- "THE "MEDIATIZED" – OR THE "HIGH NOBILITY" OF EUROPE; Consisting of Something Like Fifty families Which Enjoyed-Petty Sovereignty Before the Holy Roman Empire's Overthrow, They Still Exercise Certain Special Privileges Mixed with Unusual Restrictions.". New York Times. September 27, 1908.
- Crankshaw, Edward (1981), Bismarck, The Viking Press.
- Darmstaedter, Friedrich. Bismarck and the Creation of the Second Reich (2008)
- Dawson, William Harbutt. The Evolution of Modern Germany (1908), 503pp covers 1871–1906 with focus on social and economic history & colonies online free
- Engelberg, Ernst. Bismarck; 2 vols., (1986–90); major academic study by an east-German historian (only in German)
- Eyck, Erich (1964), Bismarck and the German Empire, ISBN 0393002357 (excerpt and text search)
- Feuchtwanger, Edgar (2002), Bismarck, Historical Biographies, Routledge, 276 pp., basic starting point.
- Gall, Lothar (1986), Bismarck: The White Revolutionary, 2 vol; major academic study
- Headlam, James Wycliffe. Bismarck and the Foundation of the German Empire (1899) 471 pp solid old biography online
- Heuston, Kimberley Burton (2010), Otto von Bismarck: Iron Chancellor of Germany, Franklin Watts.
- Hollyday, FBM (1970), Bismarck, Great Lives Observed, Prentice-Hall.
- Kent, George O (1978), Bismarck and His Times.
- Kissinger, Henry A (31 March 2011), Otto von Bismarck, Master Statesman, The New York Times (book review).
- Lerman, Katharine Anne. Bismarck: Profiles in Power. Longman, 2004. ISBN 0-582-03740-9; 312pp
- Ludwig, Emil (1927a), Wilhelm Hohenzollern: The last of the Kaisers, New York, ISBN 9780766143418, popular.
- Ludwig, Emil (1927b), Bismarck: The Story of a Fighter, Little, Brown, popular.
- Pflanze, Otto, Bismarck and the Development of Germany; 3 vols., 1963–90. vol 1 online, Bismarck and the Development of Germany: The Period of Unification, 1815–1871
- Pflanze, Otto (Apr 1955), Bismarck and German Nationalism, American Historical Review 60 (3): 548–66, doi:10.2307/1845577, JSTOR 1845577
- Steinberg, Jonathan. Bismarck: A Life (Oxford University Press, 2011), 592 pp
- Stern, Fritz (1977), Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichröder and the Building of the German Empire, Penguin.
- Taylor, A.J.P. (1969), Bismarck: the Man and the Statesman, New York: Alfred A Knopf.
- Berghahn, Volker. Imperial Germany, 1871–1914 (1994)
- Blackbourn, David (1998), The Long Nineteenth Century: A History of Germany, 1780–1918.
- Clark, Christopher. Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600–1947 (2009)
- Craig, Gordon A. Germany, 1866–1945 (1978) online edition
- Holborn, Hajo (1969), "The Constitutional Conflict in Prussia and the Early Years of the Bismarck Ministry", The History of Modern Germany 1840–1945, Alfred A Knopf, pp. 131–72.
- ———————— (1969), "The Founding of the New German Empire, 1865–71", The History of Modern Germany 1840–1945, Alfred A Knopf, pp. 173–229.
- ———————— (1969), "Bismarck and the Consolidation of the German Empire, 1871–90", The History of Modern Germany 1840–1945, Alfred A Knopf, pp. 233–97.
- Langer, William L. European alliances and alignments, 1871–1890 (1964)
- Retallack, James N (2008), Imperial Germany, 1871–1918, Oxford University Press.
- Robinson, Janet, and Joe Robinson. Handbook of Imperial Germany (2009) excerpt and text search
- Sheehan, James J. German History, 1770–1866 (1989), dense, thorough political history
- ———————— (1978), German liberalism in the ninetury century (ebooks), University of Chicago Press; ACLS
- Beck, Hermann (1995), Origins of the Authoritarian Welfare State in Prussia, 1815–1870.
- Clark, Chester Wells. Franz Joseph and Bismarck: The Diplomacy of Austria before the War of 1866 (Harvard University Press, 1934).
- Field, WG (October 1898), Bismarck's First School, The Journal of Education (Oxford University Press) 20: 603–4.
- Goddard, Stacie E. "When Right Makes Might: How Prussia Overturned the European Balance of Power," International Security, Volume 33, Number 3, Winter 2008/09, pp. 110–42 in Project MUSE, covers 1864–71
- Gross, Michael B (2005), The War against Catholicism: Liberalism and the Anti-Catholic Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Germany.
- Hennock, E. P. The Origin of the Welfare State in England and Germany, 1850–1914: Social Policies Compared (Cambridge University Press, 2007) 381 pp.
- Hennock, E. P. "Social Policy in the Bismarck Era: A Progress Report," German History, (June 2003) 21#2 pp 229–238 online
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- Lord, Robert H. "Bismarck and Russia in 1863," American Historical Review, Vol. 29, No. 1 (October 1923), pp. 2–48. in JSTOR
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- Stern, Fritz. Gold and Iron: Bismark, Bleichroder, and the Building of the German Empire (1979) economic and financial history; Bismark worked closely with this leading banker excerpt and text search
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- Waller, Bruce. Bismarck at the Crossroads. The Reorientation of German Foreign Policy after the Congress of Berlin 1878–1880 (1974)
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Historiography and memory
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