The Otto von Bismarck was born in the year of waterloo. He served for many years as a diplomatic envoy in various Courts. In 1862 Friedrich Wilhelm IV, King of Prussia appointed him as the Prime Minister of the Prussia. Bismarck began to make his influence in Prussia. Within a week of his becoming Prime Minister he said in the course of a speech:
The great questions of the time will be decided, not by speeches and resolutions of majorities, but by iron and blood.
Bismarck: Economic Policies
He came to the power with clear ideas as to what he was to do and a carefully worked-out plan. Bismarck wanted to make Germany. Through Germany, Prussia he wanted to dominant in Europe. He came with some economic reforms:
- Established modern financial institution like Imperial Banks to strengthen the currency system.
- Emphasised to promote trade and commerce.
- Infrastructural Developments.
- Promotion of industrialisation in which production was controlled by the states.
He turned Prussia into an economic power and quietly perfected his military machine.
Bismarck: Policy of Blood and Iron
Blood and Iron! Bismarck hated democracy. He treated Parliaments and General Assemblies with least courtesy. He was so able and influential that he made people bend according to his will. The Germany of philosophers and scientists retired into the background. The new Germany of blood and iron, of military efficiency, began to dominate the European continent.
A prominent German of his day said:
Bismarck makes Germany great and the Germans small.
His policies of making Germany great pleased the Germans. The glamour of a growing national prestige made them put up with all manner of repression from him. Bismarck played with the all European powers. When Napoleon-III attacked and defeated Austria, Garibaldi’s campaign in south Italy resulted in the freedom of Italy. All this suited Bismarck and he played with the European powers according to his wish.
War with Denmark
By the London agreement of 1852, Schleswig-Holstine, the territories of conflict between Denmark and Duke of Augusten Berg kept under the protection of Denmark. After some time, Denmark violated the agreement and incorporated Schleswig-Holstine in Denmark.
In this response, combined forces of Austria and Prussia attacked Denmark. In this war, Austria and Prussia defeated Denmark. This led to Gaustein Agreement of 1865. By this agreement, Schleswig came under the protection of Austria and Holstine under the protection of Prussia. This war proved beneficial for Bismarck.
After defeating Denmark, he soon turned on Austria, having taken care to obtain the support of France and Italy. He treated Austria with great generosity. The way was now clear for the creation of a North German Federation under the leadership of Prussia.
Relationship with European Powers
The war with Denmark proved beneficial for Bismarck because in this war Bismarck understood the weakness and strength of Austrian army. After this, he started alienating Austria from European allies. A national revolt occurred in Russian Poland. He offered his help to the Tsar to shoot down the Poles if necessary. Though this was a disgraceful offer but it served its purpose. He actually wanted to gain the goodwill of the Tsar in any future complications in Europe. He did commitments to Italians to help them in their unification and humbled France.
War with Austria
As Bismarck was well doing with his plans to isolate Austria from rest of the Europe so Prussia violated Gaustein agreement. This led to war between Austria and Prussia. In the Battle of Sadowa, 1866 he defeated Austria. Austria then lost the support of eastern German States. This defeat incorporated all the eastern states in Prussian Federation. Bismarck became the Federal Chancellor.
He dictated the new constitution for the German Federation in five hours. And this with few alterations continued to be the German constitution for fifty years. This completed the first phase of German Unification.
War with France
France was under the leadership of Napoleon-III. Britain was the historical rival of France because it faced a hard time when France was under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte. So Britain looked with great suspicion on Napoleon-III’s ambitious schemes. Bismarck followed the principal of enemy’s enemy is a friend. So Bismarck was quite sure to have the goodwill of Britain in any struggle against France.
When he was fully prepared for war against France, he played his Master card. It was Napoleon-III who actually declared war on Prussia in 1870. The Prussian Government seemed to Europe the innocent victim of aggressive France. Bismarck trained his army so well that French army crumpled up under the Prussian army. This was the battle of Sedan. Within a few weeks, at Sedan, the Emperor Napoleon-III and his army were made prisoners by the Germans.
Results of Battle of Sedan
So ended the second Napoleonic age in France. A republican government was immediately established in Paris. The new republican government of France offered peace to Prussia, but Bismarck set up very humiliating terms for France. So instead of moving out with peace republican government accepted the hardship of war. There was a long siege of Paris with the German armies at Versailles and all round the city.
At last Paris yielded and new Republic accepted defeat and hard terms of Bismarck. Finally, Bismarck took a huge war booty from France. The provinces of Alsace and Lorraine had to be given up to Germany. France recovered from the German war of 1870-71 and paid the huge indemnity, but in the heart of her people was anger. At the humiliation, they had been made to suffer.
In Germany Bismarck was now the all-powerful Imperial Chancellor. The policy of blood and iron had succeeded for the time being. The then Germany accepted it and liberal ideas were at a discount. Bismarck’s skill in diplomacy did not leave him to the end. He played a great game in the international politics of his day.
Bismarck made a new alliance with Austria and Italy, Triple Alliance. As now he was beginning to fear the revenge of the French. In 1888 a young man became the German Kaiser or Emperor Wilhelm-II. He fell out with Bismarck. And he dismissed Bismarck from his office. In the old age of Bismarck he said to a friend:
I took up office equipped with a great fund of royalist sentiments and veneration for the king; to my sorrow, I find that thus fund is ever more and more depleted!… I have seen three kings naked, and the sight was not always a pleasant one!
In this way irrespective of all odds, Bismarck succeeded in unifying Germany and because of this, he deserves the important place in the history of Germany.
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