xxxxxThe Prussian statesman Otto Von Bismarck entered politics in 1847 and soon made his name as a reactionary politician. He became prime-
OTTO EDUARD LEOPOLD VON BISMARCK 1815 -
Bismarck: detail, by the German painter Franz von Lenbach (1836-
xxxxxThe German statesman Otto von Bismarck came to prominence as a politician in the late 1840s and was appointed prime minister of Prussia in 1862. He held this post until 1890 and, during his first ten years in office, pursued an aggressive foreign policy, aimed at bringing about the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. As we have seen, he partly succeeded in this aim after waging successful wars against Denmark in 1864 and Austria in 1866. Four years later, in 1870, he completed the unification of Germany after defeating France in the Franco-
xxxxxBismarck was born at Schonhausen, near Berlin in 1815, the son of a nobleman. He studied law and after managing the family estates, he entered politics in 1847. In the popular uprising the following year he made a name for himself as an arch reactionary, and in 1851 was appointed as Prussia’s representative to the German Confederation, a loose organisation of thirty-
xxxxxTrue to his word -
xxxxxThe decision to take on the might of the Austrian Empire was indeed a big gamble on Bismarck’s part but, in fact, the Austrian forces, weakened by having to send troops in defence of Venetia (their surviving Italian possession), proved no match for the highly efficient Prussian army. Within a matter of seven weeks they were overwhelmed and their defeat at the Battle of Sadowa in July 1866 sealed their country’s fate. But the peace settlement that followed showed Bismarck’s political skill at its best. To the outside world it was both moderate and generous. Austria lost no territory -
xxxxxBut the German chancellor was astute enough to realise that the remainder of the German states -
xxxxxCreated a prince, Bismarck now became chancellor of the German Empire. In foreign affairs he saw his major task as strengthening the Empire by a series of defensive alliances. However, as we shall see, his Three Emperors’ League with Russia and Austria in 1873 fell apart following fears over Russian ambitions in the Balkans (curbed at the Congress of Berlin in 1878), and, in the long term, his Triple Alliance of 1882 with Austria and Italy only served to create two hostile blocs in Europe, setting the scene for two world wars and, for many years, the division of the state he had worked so hard to create. Nor were his reactionary policies at home any more successful. His ruthless attacks upon the political power of the Roman Catholic Church and his severe restrictions upon the activities of the socialists and liberals eventually backfired, and he was obliged to make concessions.
xxxxxIn general, Bismarck showed very little interest in affairs outside of Europe. As we shall see, he did preside over the Congress of Berlin in 1884 (Vc), summoned to settle a number of colonial disputes, but his main concern at this international meeting was to support the French in their quest for overseas territories in the hope that this would placate them for the loss of Alsace-
xxxxxWhen Wilhelm II (1859-
xxxxxIncidentally, Bismarck was noted for his laconic statements. Here are just a few: …… When you want to fool the world tell the truth. …… A conquering army on the border will not be stopped by eloquence. …… Not by speeches and votes of the majority are the great questions of the time decided, but by blood and iron. …… Your map of Africa is really quite nice. But my map of Africa lies in Europe. Here is Russia and here is France, and we are in the middle. That’s my map of Africa.
xxxxxPrussia’s military prowess was substantially aided by the Krupp Works. Friedrich Krupp (1787-
xxxxxThe armaments produced by the Krupp Works -
The Krupp Works