Read the complete biography of Bismarck!
Bismarck was one of the most fascinating personalities in the history of modem Europe.
It is true that there were other factors which contributed to the unification of Germany during the 19th century, but the main credit for uniting it must go to Bismarck.
In the words of Prof Fyffe, Bismarck led a reluctant nation to a goal which he had himself fixed for it. There is no doubt that but for him, German unity might have remained only a dream for a long time to come.
- Rise of Bismarck
- Internal Policy of Bismarck
- Bismarck and Kulturkampf
- Bismarck and Socialism
- Bismarck and Social Legislation
- Bismarck and Policy of Protection
- Bismarck and Imperialism
- Bismarck Policy towards Poles, Danes and Guelfs
- Foreign Policy of Bismarck
- The Three Emperors’ League
- Austro-German Alliance
- Triple Alliance
- Fall of Bismarck
- Estimate of Bismarck
1. Rise of Bismarck:
Bismarck was one of the most fascinating personalities in the history of modem Europe. It is true that there were other factors which contributed to the unification of Germany during the 19th century, but the main credit for uniting it must go to Bismarck. In the words of Prof Fyffe, Bismarck led a reluctant nation to a goal which he had himself fixed for it. There is no doubt that but for him, German unity might have remained only a dream for a long time to come.
Bismarck was born on 1 April 1815. His father was a Junker and he got his good physique from him. His mother was the daughter of a distinguished civil servant and the grand-daughter of a professor and it is stated that he got his brain from his mother. Prince Bismarck was educated at Berlin and Gottingen. He was trained for a diplomatic career.
He travelled a lot in France and England. He became a member of the Provincial Diet of Pomerania in 1845. He entered the Imperial Diet of Berlin in 1847. In 1849, he was elected a member of the lower chamber of Prussia. In 1851, he was appointed the envoy of Prussia in the Federal Diet at Frankfurt and he remained there for eight years. His stay at Frankfurt profoundly influenced his views on politics.
He wrote thus in 1859 about his experience of Frankfurt. “I have brought away as the result of my experience from the eight years of my official life at Frankfurt the conviction that the present arrangements of the Bund form for Prussia an oppressive and at critical times a perilous tie….I see in our connection in the Bund an infirmity which we shall have to repair sooner or later. Ferro et egni, if we do not apply timely remedies to it at a favourable season of the year.” During his stay at Frankfurt, Bismarck tried to win over the rulers of the minor States of Germany.
He tried to strengthen the economic ties of Prussia with them. He opposed the intervention of Prussia against Russia in the Crimean War. To quote him, “Prussia must never let Russia’s friendship wax cold.” Again, “We had absolutely no interest in the Eastern Question that could possibly justify a war with Russia….we should without provocation be attacking our hitherto friend either out of fear of France or for the beaux yeux of England and Austria.”
In 1859, Bismarck was appointed Prussian Ambassador in Russia and be stayed there for three years. During his stay there, he tried to win over Russia to the side of Prussia. In 1862, he was appointed the Prussian Ambassador in France, but he had hardly occupied that position for a few months when he was summoned in September 1862 to Berlin to become the Minister-President.
He had to tackle a very difficult situation which had risen on account of the determination of William I, King of Prussia, to increase the Prussian Army and the refusal of the Land-tag to vote supplies for the same. It is stated that when his appointment was made in 1862, even King William I was not impressed. He referred to him as a thoroughbred reactionary who smelled of blood.
He was given the titles of “a swaggering junker”, “a borrow braggart”, “a Napoleon-worshipper” and “a town up-rooter,” However, it was this unimpressive person who performed the Herculean job of German unification. Speaking in the Budget Committee only a few days after his succession to power, Bismarck summed up his policy in these world, “It is not by speechifying and majorities that the great questions of the time will have to be decided—that was the mistake in 1848 and 1849, but by blood and iron.”
It has already been pointed out that Bismarck brought about the unification of Germany by fighting the Danish War of 1864, the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. He was opposed at the beginning and he had to follow arbitrary methods. However, when his position was vindicated after the defeat of Austria in 1866, the opposition ended and he came to be recognized as a great leader. By 1871, Bismarck could say that Germany was “a saturated State” and his policy after that became one of maintaining peace and avoiding war.”
2. Internal Policy of Bismarck:
Between 1871 and 1890, Bismarck was the chief figure in the domestic politics of his country and in the international field. During the first few years, he was able to pass a large number of laws for the purpose of welding together the States and the people of Germany. The legal system of Germany was transformed.
Instead of the different systems of laws for the different States, a uniform code of law for the entire German Empire was adopted. Likewise, a uniform coinage replaced the different currency systems of the various States. An imperial railway bureau was set up in 1873 with a view to unify the different railway systems in the various States. The railways were also linked up with the military, postal and telegraphic organisation of the Empire.
The control over banking in the country was put in the hands of the Bundesrat by the Bank Act of 1875. In 1876, the Reichsbank or the Imperial Bank was established.’ Compulsory military service was enforced all over Germany. The peace strength of the German army was fixed at 4 lakhs. Bismarck’s view was that the expenses for the maintenance of the standing army should be made a permanent charge on the revenues of the State, but the Reichsbank refused to oblige him.
Ultimately, a compromise was made by which appropriations for the army were made for 7 years at the beginning and for 5 years afterwards. However, Bismarck was clever enough to get the money for the army by creating a kind of war-scare.
It is true that Bismarck enjoyed the backing of the majority of the legislature consisting of the National Liberal Party and the Free Conservatives, but there were certain elements which were opposed to him. The Progressives were a thorn in Bismarck’s side. They were not satisfied with the German Constitution of 1871 and demanded drastic changes in the same on the lines of the British parliamentary system. They were also opposed to the policy of blood and iron of Bismarck.
They teased Bismarck by their lengthy speeches in the legislature. A few socialists who were the followers of Karl Marx or of Ferdinand Lassalle, were also opposed to him. The deputies from Hanover known as the “Guells” and led by Ludwig Windthorst, were also opposed to him. They demanded autonomy for their State. One or two Danes from Schleswig were also opposed to him and demanded the giving back of northern Schleswig to Denmark.
There were a few Poles from Posen and West Prussia who opposed the anti-Polish policy of Bismarck. The 15 deputies from Alsace-Lorraine consistently opposed Bismarck. Even on the occasion of their first appearance in the Reichstag in 1874 they protested against the incorporation of Alsace-Lorraine into the German Empire. There were certain other groups who stood for the rights of the States and as such were opposed to the centralising tendencies of the Bismarckian regime.
3. Bismarck and Kulturkampf (“Battle for Civilization”):
Bismarck took action against the Roman Catholic Church in Germany and that was named by Virchow as the Kulturkampf Bismarck had his old enmity with the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholics were the supporters of Austria and the opponents of the Protestant dynasty of Prussia. The Pope had openly prayed for the victory of Austria against Prussia in 1866. The Roman Catholic Church was opposed to the new German Empire.
The authority of the Pope within Germany was very great and his influence over the lay people was also extensive. The Catholic party was anti-national and opposed to the politics of Bismarck. It was creating difficulties between Germany and the Kingdom of Italy. It was a State within a State. Pope Pius IX issued the “Syllabus of Errors” in 1864. In 1870 was propounded the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.
It was solemnly proclaimed as “a dogma divinely willed that His Church should be endowed for defending faith or morals and that therefore such definitions of the Roman pontiff are per se immutable and independent of the consent of the Church.” According to this doctrine, the Catholics were bound to obey more the Pope than the State and that could not be tolerated by any ruler. To quote Bismarck, “It is the infallibility of the Pope which threatens the State. He arrogates to himself whatever secular rights he pleases….declares our laws null and void, levies taxes….in a word, no one in Prussia is so powerful as this foreigner.”
Again, “The struggle is purely political and not one between a Protestant dynasty and the Catholic church; it is not one between faith and unbelief; it is only the re-appearance of the conflict—older than the advent of Redeemer of the world, as old as the human race itself, the same contest for power as Agamemnon waged with his seers at Aulis and which cost him his daughter, while preventing the Greeks from selling sail for Troy; the conflict that raged all through the Middle Ages between the Pope and the Kaisers.” Bismarck was backed by many sections of the German population.
The old Catholics under Doctor Dollinger contested the new Papal claim to infallibility and supported Bismarck. The German Liberals condemned the Papal Syllabus of 1864 and supported Bismarck. Virchow, the atheist scientist, also supported Bismarck. The Progressives also supported Bismarck.
In 1872, the Jesuits were expelled from Germany and diplomatic relations between Prussia and the Vatican was cut off. In May 1873 and in May 1874 laws were passed by the Prussian Land tag against the Roman Catholics. These laws came to be known as the “May laws” as they were passed in the month of May. They were also called the “Falk laws” after the name of the Prussian Minister of Education.
These laws required that every official of the Catholic Church in Prussia, whether he was a bishop or a priest, was to be a German citizen, a graduate of a German public school and German university. He was also required to be duly certified and “authorized” by the government. All the schools run by the Roman Catholic Church were to be under the control of the State. All Catholic preparatory schools for the clergy were banned.
All religious education was to be given in the German language and not in any other language. When the Catholics of Prussia protested against the laws and refused to obey them, more drastic legislation was enacted. The “authorized” persons were forbidden from performing the religious functions.
The rebellious clergymen were liable to lose citizenship of the country and also could be imprisoned or exiled. The financial aid to the church was liable to be suspended in any diocese whose bishop was rebellious. Provision was made for compulsory civil marriage in every case. Public excommunications were forbidden. Provision was made for taking up of appeal against ecclesiastical punishments. The State was to have authority in the appointment and dismissal of the priests. In 1875, all religious orders were dissolved.
The Pope declared the May laws as null and void and asked the Roman Catholics to defy them. Bismarck was also adamant in his attitude. He categorically declared thus. “We shall not go to Canossa, either in body or in spirit,” This refers to the incident of 1077 when a quarrel took place between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV. The latter had to go to the Italian town of Canossa and make a humiliating surrender before the Pope. What Bismarck wanted to say was that he would not surrender before the Pope.
It is pointed out that the laws against the Catholic Church were enforced so strictly that in one year, six Catholic bishops were put in prison and Catholic worship was stopped in 1,300 parishes. By 1877, every German bishop and hundreds of priests were either in prison or in exile. Catholic laymen were also removed from the service of the State.
Catholics of Germany were not discouraged in their opposition to the State by the severity of the legislation against them. Under the leadership of Windthorst, a strong Catholic Party known as the Centre Party, was set up to oppose the government and get the anti-Catholic legislation repealed. Within a short time, the Centre Party gained in strength.
In the general elections of 1874, its representation in the Reichstag increased from 60 to 90. Windthorst was able to align himself with all the elements opposed to Bismarck and thereby give a lot of trouble to the government. Ultimately, a section of the Conservatives who were otherwise supporters of Bismarck, began to cooperate with Windthorst. When that happened, Bismarck decided to call a halt to his policy against the Catholic Church.
He also found another danger from the Socialists which he considered to be more serious than that of the Catholics. They were anti-monarchical, anti-militarist and men without a country. They were the enemies of family-life and the Empire. Bismarck decided to take action against the Socialists and under the circumstances it was desirable to come to a compromise with the Catholic Church. His work was facilitated by the death of Pope Pius IX and the succession of Pope Leo XIII.
The latter was diplomatic and willing to compromise. The new Pope was able to find out grounds of agreement without giving up his theoretical claims. The result was that in 1880, the Prussian Landtag empowered the government to use its discretion in the enforcement of the May laws. ‘Diplomatic relations with the Vatican were restored.
In 1886, the most oppressive laws against the Catholic Church were repealed. Bismarck had to admit that Kulturkampf was a failure. Although he did not go to Canossa, yet there is no denying the fact that he had to admit defeat in his conflict with the Church. The only result of the struggle was the strengthening of the Catholic Party in Germany.
4. Bismarck and Socialism:
As a result of the Industrial Revolution in Germany, the Socialist propaganda began to spread among the working classes in the country. In the elections of 1874, the Socialists got nine seats in the Reichstag. In 1875, the Social Democratic Party was founded. In the elections of 1877, the number of Socialist deputies increased to 12. Bismarck regarded the Socialist principles as the enemy of the State, the family and civilization. No wonder, he decided to take action against them.
His work was facilitated by the unsuccessful attempt made on the life of the Emperor William I in 1878. Bismarck held the Socialists responsible for the murderous attempt. A new legislature was elected to which were returned a majority of the supporters of Bismarck. A law was passed by which the circulation of Socialist books, pamphlets and newspapers was forbidden.
The police was given the power to break up the meetings of the Socialists and also suppress their publications. The trial and punishment of the Socialist offenders was removed from the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts to those of the palace. The laws against the Socialists were passed for four years at the beginning but they were re-enacted later on. As a matter of fact, when Bismarck resigned in 1890, the laws against the Socialists were still in force.
However, the more the Socialists were oppressed by the government, the stronger they became. Their popularity went on growing as they were considered to be martyrs. Their representation in the Reichstag also went on increasing. It is pointed out that the Social Democratic Party won 12 seats in 1881, 24 in 1884, 11 in 1887 and 35 in 1890. The laws against the Socialists were withdrawn after 1890 and after that they won 44 seats in 1893, 56 in 1898, 81 in 1903, 43 in 1907 and 110 in 1912.
5. Bismarck and Social Legislation:
According to Prof. Hayes, Bismarck was the pioneer among the European statesmen to take action on behalf of the workers. His object was two-fold. He wanted to remove the grievances of the workers and thereby weaken the socialist propaganda. Secondly, he wanted strong recruits for the army and that was possible only if the Government paid attention to the condition of the workers.
In 1883, a bill was passed which ensured the workers against sickness. In 1884, the employers were forced to insure their employees against accidents. In 1887, laws were passed which limited the labour of women and children, fixed the minimum number of working hours for employees in various industries and provided for the regulation and supervision of factories and mines by the Government. Sunday was declared a holiday.
In 1889, provision was made for the insurance of workers against invalidity and old age. The premium was to be paid partly by the State, partly by the employer and partly by the employee. It is rightly pointed out that this socialist legislation went a long way in making Germany one of the leading countries of the world in the industrial field.
6. Bismarck and Policy of Protection:
Bismarck was probably the first important statesman of the 19th century who set aside the principle of free trade and followed a policy of protection. With this object in view, Bismarck gave up his alliance with the National Liberals and joined the Centre Party. By an Act of 1879, a wall of high tariffs was created against foreign imports to protect the German farm- products and domestic manufactures. High duties were also levied on tobacco and sugar with a view to remove the complaint of the agrarian classes that the Act of 1879 was very much favourable to the urban industries.
The result of the policy of protection was that the infant industries of Germany were protected and after the lapse of sometime were able not only to stand on their own legs but also compete in every nook and comer of the world. The Government was also to get a lot of money. A great impetus was given to the industrial development of the country. Moreover, the tariffs strengthened the Government and unified the Empire.
7. Bismarck and Imperialism:
At the beginning, Bismarck was opposed to the policy of acquiring colonies and developing the German navy. That was due to the fact that he did not want to come in competition with England. His view was that there could be no war between the two countries so long as Germany remained a land rat and Great Britain a water rat.
That was one of the reasons why Bismarck did not accept the French offer in 1871 to take some French colony instead of Alsace and Lorraine. However, he had to change his policy later on. The merchants of Bremen and Hamburg wanted new markets for the surplus goods and a source of supply of raw materials. Missionaries wanted colonies to convert people to Christianity. The patriots demanded colonies to add to the glory of their country. There was also the problem of surplus population of Germany which was migrating to the U.S.A.
It was felt that Germany must acquire colonies to find homes for the surplus population of Germany which was otherwise being lost to the nation on account of their migration to independent States. The pressure of these factors was so very great that Bismarck had to adopt the policy of colonial expansion. Merchants and missionaries led the way.
In 1879, a German trading company got some privileges in the Island of Samoa. In 1882, the German Colonial Union was formed. Within a very short time, the commercial companies of Hamburg, Bremen and Lubeck got some concessions and established their trading stations in South West Africa, Togoland, Cameroon, East Africa, the Marshall Islands, a part of New Guinea and the islands named the Bismarck Archipelago.
In 1884-85, laws were passed by which protectorates were established over these commercial outposts. In 1886, the Government gave subsidies to the German steamers which were plying between Germany and the protectorates. Before his retirement in 1890, Bismarck took steps to transform the protectorates into Crown colonies. These colonies were administered by the German officials and policed by German troops.
About the colonial policy of Bismarck, Taylor says that although domestic needs pushed Bismarck towards colonial ambitions, it is not correct to say that they were imposed upon him by public opinion. It is true that they were in Germany romantic historians who wanted the Reich to be an empire, trading houses who wanted imperial backing for their African trade and adventurers who wanted to be known as the founders of an empire, but these forces could not affect the rulers of Germany because such a thing was possible only in a parliamentary Government and Germany was a managed autocracy and not a parliamentary state.
Bismarck took up the colonial impulses in 1884 and exploited them but threw them over without difficulty the moment they had served his turn and after 1885, colonial considerations did not play any important part in his policy. If it is absurd to suppose that Bismarck allowed a few colonial enthusiasts to divert and injure his foreign policy, it is even more absurd to believe that he himself succumbed to ambitions overseas. Bismarck was never distracted by colonial issues.
His colonial gains of 1884 were a move in his European policy. Bismarck thought stolely in continental terms and he is stated to have put his position in these words, “My map of Africa lies in Europe. Here lies Russia and here lies France and we are in the middle. That is my map of Africa.”
8. Bismarck Policy towards Poles, Danes and Guelfs:
Bismarck hated the Poles on account of their Catholic religion. He tried to force upon them the use of the German language. Laws were passed to crush nationalism among them. He also transferred the farms of the Poles to the Germans. A similar action was taken against the Danes of Schleswig. He also took action against the Guelfs of Hanover. He was not prepared to allow the people of Hanover to have their autonomy. A secret fund known as the “reptile fund” was set up to crush conspiracies among the Germans of Hanover and also to harass them.
A similar policy was followed by Bismarck in Alsace-Lorrane. He did all that he could to Germanise that territory. He allowed a large number of Germans to migrate to Alsace and Lorraine and settle there. A lot of money was given to the University of Strassburg with a view to make it the centre of German intellectual life and cultural influence. Bismarck failed in his object as the people of Alsace-Lorraine were not reconciled to the German rule. They always followed a policy of non- co-operation. The Government pressure merely added to their fanaticism and their determination to become independent.
9. Foreign Policy of Bismarck:
By 1870, Bismarck had won for his country national unity by his policy of blood and iron. Germany was a satiated country and Bismarck did not stand for any further extension of its territory. However, he was determined to maintain the status quo in Europe.
There were certain difficulties in the way of his following such a policy. Unlike his generous policy towards Austria in 1866, Bismarck’s attitude towards France was rather stiff. After the French defeat at Seddan in 1870, Bismarck refused to give easy terms to France and after a long siege of Paris, he imposed a very humiliating treaty on France.
France was not only forced to pay a huge war-indemnity amounting to five milliard francs, but she was also made to give up Alsace and a part of Lorraine. The annexation of Lorraine was an error of the first magnitude. Lorraine was French in blood, speech and sentiments. Metz could only be held by the bayonet and in the effort to hold it Europe was transformed into an armed camp.
It has rightly been pointed out that after Sedan, the Battle of Marne (1914) lay in the logic of history. The people of France were determined to get back Alsace and Lorraine. The German annexation of those territories was described as the snatching away of children from the breast of the mother, and no wonder the people of France stood for a war of Revanche to get back those territories. Bismarck knew full well the sentiments of the Frenchmen and did his utmost to provide against the French danger. No wonder, he tried to quarantine France or put her in cold storage.
The main object of Bismarck’s Foreign Policy was to isolate France diplomatically so that she may not be able to get an ally with whose help she may try to get back Alsace and Lorraine. For that purpose, Bismarck maintained good relations with Austria, Russia, Italy and England. Bismarck described his own policy in these words. “The Foreign Policy of the German Empire since 1871 has been the maintenance of peace and the prevention of anti-German coalitions, and the pivot of this policy is Russia.” He also explained his philosophy of alliance to the Russian ambassador in these words. “You forget the importance of being a party of three on the European chess-board….Nobody wishes to be in a minority. All politics reduce themselves to this formula: try to be a trois in a world governed by five powers.”
According to Brandenburg, “In spite of the efforts to isolate France, Bismarck’s policy towards the latter was in no sense hostile. He wished to prevent France from disturbing the peace and from undoing the terms of the Treaty of Frankfurt, and he endeavored to establish as friendly relations as possible between Berlin and Paris. He went so far as to assure France of Germany’s active support in all questions where their mutual interests did not conflict and to consent to her conquest of Annam and Tonquin. He encouraged France in her occupation of Tunis and repeatedly drew her attention to Morocco as a suitable field for her colonial activity. He hoped that a successful colonial policy would in some measure satisfy the French love of prestige, and that the new colonial empire would in time provide compensation for Alsace-Lorraine, so that possibly in the course of a few decades the thought of revenge might die out. He himself well knew that this was but a slender hope. Nevertheless he intended to leave nothing undone that could tranquillise and conciliate.”
10. The Three Emperors’ League:
In 1873, Bismarck set up the Three Emperors’ League. By means of this, he was able to bring together Austria, Russia and Germany. It was not a treaty of alliance but it indicated the cordial relations between the three Great Powers. It emphasized the common interests of the three Emperors. It also implied that Austria had forgotten her humiliation in the Battle of Sadowa and was prepared to accept expulsion from Germany.
The Three Emperors’ League was a great achievement of Bismarck but it was difficult to maintain the same. During the war-scare of 1875, Russia told Germany frankly that she should not depend upon her neutrality in the event of a German attack on France. That showed that Bismarck could not depend upon Russia and no wonder he decided to cultivate intimate relations with Austria.
11. Austro-German Alliance:
The Three Emperors’ League completely broke down in 1878 after the Congress of Berlin. According to Dr. Gooch, “The outstanding result of the Congress of Berlin in the realm of the high politics was the estrangement of Russia from Germany.” The Russian press condemned Bismarck and there was an open demand for an attack on Germany. The sentiments of the Russian people can be judged from the following statement of a Russian.
“The Congress (of Berlin) is a conspiracy against the Russian people in which the Russian representatives have taken part. The diplomacy of St. Petersburg is more dangerous than Nihilism. It is a disgraceful treachery to the historic mission of Russia and has lost forever the respect and affection of the Slavs. Russia has been crucified by her own statesmen. A fool’s cap and bells have been set upon her head.”
Bismarck did not like his criticism in the Russian press and decided to enter into an alliance with Austria, whom he had obliged in 1866. Bismarck had to meet a lot of opposition from William I, the German Emperor, but ultimately he succeeded in entering into an alliance with Austria. The famous Austro- German Alliance was signed in 1879 and the secret alliance brought the two countries together in their common opposition to Russia. The alliance was renewed again and again and was still in existence in 1914 when the World War I started.
It cannot be maintained that Bismarck’s choice of Austria in preference to Russia in 1879 was final and the wire between Berlin and St. Petersburg was permanently broken. Bismarck was never a man of one line of argument. Although “the public telegraph between Berlin and St. Petersburg might be broken”, the “private wire” could be restored and no wonder he was able in 1881 to restore the Dreikaiserbund or the Three Emperors’ League.
According to Prof. Taylor, “The new League had little in common with the League of 1873. That had been a last gesture of conservative resistance. But Metternichian fear of upheaval was no longer enough to bring rulers together. After all, it was ninety years since the execution of Louis XVI, more than sixty since the defeat of Napoleon. The memories of 1848 were fading—they counted for something with William I and Fracis Joseph, for nothing with Alexander III.
Even Marx’s International, fear of which had played some part in the League of 1873, was dissolved. There was social and political unrest in plenty; but its consequences were different. Both Napoleon III and Bismarck had used foreign war to distract attention from domestic opposition. Formerly only a strong government could risk war; soon there would come a time when only a secure government could remain resolutely at peace. Bismarck regarded the League of the Three Emperors as a triumph for conservatism, but he was alone in this view; for the Russians and Austrians alike it was a move in foreign policy. Metternich had been able to tide over the differences between Austria and Russia for more than thirty years merely by playing on the fear of revolution; Bismarck had to offer them both concrete advantages.
The treaty of 1881 was therefore a practical agreement about the Near East, without even a monarchical flourish. Its only general principle was a pact of neutrality if one of the three empires was involved in war with a fourth Power.
Since there was no immediate likelihood of a war between Germany and France, this was straight gain for Russia; it was a promise that Germany and still more, Austria-Hungary, would not join England. The only limitation was in regard to Turkey: there neutrality would apply only if there had been agreement beforehand. This was an unnecessary precaution the Russians had no intention of going to war with Turkey.
Further, the three Powers recognized the European and mutually obligatory character of the rule of the Straits and would insist that Turkey enforce it. This was the essential security against a British expedition to the Black Sea which the Russians had been seeking all along: it was the one thing that mattered to them. Since a Russian garrison at the Straits was impossible, this was the next best thing. The Russians gained still more.
The Austrians promised not to oppose the union of the two Bulgarias and thus cut themselves off from England, for whom division of Bulgaria had been the essential achievement of 1887. In return the Russians recognized Austria-Hungary’s right to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina, a concession that they had been ready to make ever since 1876.
The League was a victory for the Russians and perhaps for Bismarck. Germany was freed from having to choose between Russia and Austria-Hungary in the Balkans. Russia got security in the Black Sea in exchange for a promise of peaceful behaviour which her internal weakness compelled her to keep in any case. It was not so easy to see the advantage for Austria-Hungary, as Haymerle insisted. By supporting the Russian interpretation of the rule of the Straits, she committed herself to an eventual breach with England; yet she owed her Balkan position to the co-operation with England in 1878.
She got in exchange merely Russian promises which she regarded as worthless. Andrassy and Haymerle had made the alliance with Bismarck in order to secure German backing against the Russians; instead Bismarck had used the alliance to force Haymerle into an unwelcome agreement with them. He was indeed hard put to it to discover practical arguments with which to persuade Haymerle; and a curious result followed. To justify the League, Bismarck had to invent Italy as a Great Power; and then had to take his own pretense seriously. In February 1880 when Haymerle had argued that England should be brought into the Austro-German alliance in order to keep Italy quiet, Bismarck had answered that Italy was of no importance.
A year later he was arguing that the great use of the League of the Three Emperors was to prevent an alliance between Italy and Russia. When the League had been made, Haymerle continued to press for greater security against Russia; Bismarck would not give this. As a substitute, he had to offer Austria-Hungary security on her Italian frontier; this theoretically would free Austrian troops for the defence of Galicia. Thus, the League of the Three Emperors, which was a pact of friendship with Russia, led in a roundabout way to the Triple Alliance, which was implicitly a pact against her.
Again, “The League of the Three Emperors, like the Holy Alliance before it, was a fair-weather system. Though designed to prevent an Austro-Russian conflict in the Balkans, in fact it worked only so long as there was no conflict. It gave Europe an impressive semblance of stability between 1881 and 1885; and was perhaps open of some real use to Russia during the dispute with Great Britain over Penjdeh. But it could not survive the strain of new Balkan troubles.
The League broke down during the Bulgarian crisis when the interests of Austria and Russia clashed. On the occasion of that crisis, Bismarck declared, “In Bulgaria, I am Russian,” He took up the cause of Russia and refused to support Prince Alexander of Bulgaria.
In 1887, he made the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia. According to this treaty, if one Power found itself at war with a fourth Power, the others were to observe benevolent neutrality and try to localise the war. In agreement with Germany, Russia declared her firm resolution to respect the interests of Austria arising out of the Treaty of Berlin. Any modification in the territorial status quo of Turkey in Europe was to be accomplished, only by virtue of a common agreement. It has rightly been pointed out that “the new friendship of a Germany and Russia prevented an Austro-Russian was and a Franco-Russian coalition.”
13. Triple Alliance:
In 1882, Bismarck entered into the Triple Alliance with Italy and Austria. The formation of the Triple Alliance is usually attributed to Bismarck. It is pointed out that Bismarck encouraged France to capture Tunis which was desired by Italy. The object was to create one more enemy for France and also to win over Italy. When France established her protectorate over Tunis in 1881, Italy decided to join the Austro-German alliance. However, this view is not accepted by Prof Fay.
According to him, Bismarck encouraged France to “pluck the ripe Tunisian fruit” and also encouraged her in other colonial adventures with a view to win over her friendship and also to help her to forget the defeat of 1871. According to Dr. G.P. Gooch, the Triple Alliance originated with Italy. Earlier in 1882, Italy asked for a treaty of alliance with Austria. She wanted to strengthen her position and gain support for future ambitions. Bismarck was not very eager about an alliance with Italy as she was an untrustworthy ally and her resources were also not large.
However, Bismarck gradually agreed to admit Italy into an alliance on account of certain advantages. The danger of Italy joining France would be avoided. There will be no necessity for Austria to maintain troops on the Italian frontier in the event of a war with Russia. France would be forced to keep her troops on the Italian frontier in the event of war with Germany. In May 1882, the Triple Alliance Treaty was signed.
This treaty was to last for five years and certain changes were made in 1887. However, it was renewed many a time after 1887 and the Triple Alliance existed even in 1914 although by that time Italy had practically gone to the opposite camp. The Triple Alliance was essentially defensive in character and was primarily intended to preserve the peace of Europe.
In 1883, King Carol of Rumania visited Germany. Bismarck sounded Austria “whether it would be desirable and possible to extended our League or peace with Italy to the East and thereby leads in firm paths the policy of Rumania and eventually also that of Serbia and the Porte.” Austria agreed to the proposal and in October 1883 was signed a purely defensive treaty of alliance with Rumania. The treaty was to be secret and last for five years with an automatic extension for three years if not denounced by any of the parties.
Bismarck maintained friendly relations with England. A cardinal principle of his foreign policy was to “Endeavour to avoid losing England’s goodwill.” England, like Germany, desired the maintenance of peace and was prepared to collaborate not only with Germany but also with other Powers. Bismarck rightly pointed out that there was no reason for a war between “a land rat and a water rat.”
He stated in 1885 that he could not see any reason for a war between the two countries “unless a Cabinet of inconceivable character should be in power in England, a Cabinet which neither exists nor which is ever likely to exist, and which criminally attacks us.” Such a government never came to power in England.
Bismarck appointed his son as German Ambassador in London and offered twice to enter into an alliance with England, but the offer was not accepted. With a view to avoid any conflict with England, Bismarck discouraged the growth of the German Navy and German Colonies.
Bismarck was an exceptionally skillful fisherman in troubled waters Anglo-Russian and Anglo- French rivalry often gave him weeks of excellent and profitable sport. At times, he poked up the over-shouldering embers of Anglo-Russian rivalry in Asia, but he did not allow the same to burst into a blaze as a war between England and Russia was bound to effect the other Powers and there was every likelihood of Germany and her allies being involved in the same.
His system of alliances and counter-alliances might have collapsed under the strain. Consequently, he did not take the things to extremes. He also wanted the Anglo-French rivalry to continue and not to end in an entente cordiale. He was determined to maintain the balance of power. An alliance between England, France and Russia was bound to create a serious rival for the Triple Alliance.
In 1888, Bismarck declared, “We Germans fear God and nothing else in the world.” However, that was not true. Bismarck himself admitted that he was haunted by the spectre of coalitions although he himself was responsible for the same. He had humiliated a high-spirited nation like France and with a view to check her from having her revenge he transformed Europe into an armed camp.
He ought to have known that force alone could not guarantee a settlement which was passionately resented by the people. It is true that Bismarck succeeded temporarily in isolating France but he neither conciliated her nor disarmed her. As a matter of fact, he built up a combination against her and that forced her to look for allies. The Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894 was the natural outcome of that policy.
The German-Austro-Russian triangle created by Bismarck was full of contradictions. The relations between Austria and Russia could never be cordial. That was particularly so after the Congress of Berlin which gave to Austria Bosnia, Herzegovina and the Sanjak of Novibazar and thus introduced her into the Balkans. Austro-Russian rivalry in the Balkans became intensified during the 1880’s and reached its height on the occasion of the Bulgarian crisis. Bismarck had to face a very difficult situation on account of the differences between Austria and Russia on the question of Bulgaria.
It is true that he backed Russia on the question of Bulgaria and thereby averted a clash between Austria and Russia, but the difficulty of reconciling Russia and Austria must have become evident to Bismarck. In 1888, Bismarck was forced to publish the Austria-German Treaty of 1879 which pledged Germany to help Austria against Russia.
Thus it was that Russia came to know that she had been tricked by Bismarck and there is no doubt that even before 1890 when Bismarck resigned, Russia had already begun to drift towards France. A genius like Bismarck could make black look like white for some time, but not for ever. Austro-Russian collaboration was impossible and even a juggler like Bismarck could not make the two countries work together.
It is rightly pointed out that the foundations of the Triple Alliance were weak. There was no place in it for Great Britain. It is true that when Bismarck retired in 1890, the relations between England and Germany were cordial but England had already started feeling that it was dangerous to remain alone.
Critics point out that although Bismarck “had secured Russian neutrality in case of Austrian attack upon Germany, Austrian neutrality in case of Russian attack, Italian support against a French attack and Austro-Italian assistance against a combined Russian and French attack,” yet the system was so very complicated that only Bismarck could work it out. He alone could throw five balls in the air and manage them skillfully. No wonder the system created by him collapsed after his disappearance from the scene. That was the tragedy of his foreign policy.
Critics point out that Bismarck was responsible for the war of 1914. He set the ball rolling and the process was completed in 1914. He created an alliance with Austria in 1879 and the same was transformed into the Triple Alliance in 1882 when Italy joined it. His alliances were bound to result in counter-alliances and ultimately that led to the division of Europe into two armed camps which was one of the important causes of the war of 1914.
Moreover, by humiliating France in 1870-71 Bismarck also sowed the seeds of the war of 1914. The French were determined to get back Alsace and Lorraine and no wonder after Sedan, the Battle of Marne lay in the logic of history. Bismarck’s policy of blood and iron was bound to result in a race for armaments among the European nations and militarism was one of the important causes of the war of 1914.
About the foreign policy of Bismarck, Taylor says that Bismarck’s “system” was something of a conjuring trick, a piece of conscious virtuosity. Once started on the path of alliances, Bismarck treated them as the solution for every problem. He scattered promises so as not to carry them out. He promised to fight on the side of Austria-Hungary in order to make her friendly to Russia.
He also promised to fight on the side of Italy in order to secure her neutrality. Perhaps the only promise he took seriously was that of diplomatic support for Russia against England at the Straits. His two great creations, the League of the Three Emperors’ and the Triple Alliance were in direct contradiction. The League was based on Austro-Russian co-operation and the Alliance was in preparation for an Austro-Russian war.
The League was an anti-British combination, its most practical clause designed to close the Straits against the British by common diplomatic action. The Alliance was specifically not directed against Great Britain and both Austria-Hungary and Italy hoped for her support in the long run. So far as the sympathies of Bismarck were concerned, the League was an affair of the heart and the Alliance was one of calculation. His deepest attachment was to the old Russo-Prussian friendship.
He disliked the Austrians from his days at Frankfurt until his death. His view was that the British were concerned only “to get others to pull their chestnuts out of the fire.” He preferred the sensible politicians of the French Republic such as Gambetta and Ferry to the restless and scheming Italians. His diplomacy was insurance against the subversive forces in Russia and France and not against their official Governments. He is said to have observed thus about Russia, “The Emperor is himself well-intentioned….his ministers are prudent and inclined to a conservative policy. But will they have the strength to resist the pressure of popular passions if they are once unchained? The party of war is stronger in Russia than elsewhere.” Bismarck claimed to be the apostle of stability and presented his system as “a League of peace.” In fact, by the Triple Alliance, he associated Germany with the restless Powers and implicitly against the conservative ones.
The choice of Austria-Hungary and Italy against Russia and France by Bismarck was, in large part, the repetition of the choice that he had made earlier in German affairs. He made foreign alliances in order to take his allies prisoner. He controlled his allies and did not co-operate with them. In international affairs, as in domestic policies, Bismarck disliked equals and sought for satellites. The system of Bismarck was a tyranny. It did not console others that it was a tyranny imposed for their good in favour of peace and social order.
16. Fall of Bismarck:
From 1871 to 1890, Bismarck was supreme in the affairs of the State. The relations between Bismarck and William I was cordial throughout except on the question of an alliance between Germany and Austria in 1879. Bismarck took pride in the fact that he was the most faithful servant of William I. After the death of William I in March 1888, Emperor Frederick succeeded him. However, his reign did not last for more than three months and he was succeeded by William II the same year. Soon after his accession to the throne, the conflict between the Emperor and the Iron Chancellor started and resulted ultimately in the resignation of Bismarck in March 1890.
Many reasons have been given for the resignation of Bismarck. The new Emperor was a young man and was determined to do everything himself He was not prepared to play second fiddle to anybody. Under the circumstances, he could not tolerate the complete control of Bismarck over the affairs of the State.
To quote him, “I discovered that my ministers regarded themselves as Bismarck’s officials.” If this was the attitude of William II, Bismarck felt that he had the monopoly of power in the State and was not prepared to share the same with anybody.
He considered himself the maker of Germany and felt insulted when William II tried to share the secrets of the State with the Chancellor. Bismarck had trained his son, Herbert Bismarck, in the affairs of State and the latter was working as Foreign Secretary since 1886. Bismarck himself thought that he would be succeeded by his son.
Herbert Bismarck had capacity and considerable power of work and he tried to prove that he was not only a chip of the old block, but the old block itself. He tried to copy the brutality, coarseness and dictatorial insolence of his father. His manners were insufferable. People were prepared to put up with Bismarck but not with his son who had yet nothing to his credit. All that created bitterness.
During 1888 and 1889, Bismarck was away from Berlin for most of the time. He spent his time at the country-house and most of the business of the State was transacted from there. His absence from the capital was not due to his old age alone. His view was that his work could be carried on by his son as Foreign Secretary under his supervision and direction.
Bismarck failed to realize the fact that it was absolutely essential to be near the young Emperor and that there was every possibility of differences arising between them on account of his absence. Bismarck lost touch with the personalities, ministers and the forces of politics and thereby was put at the great disadvantage. Criticism against the Chancellor began to grow and there was a demand for a change.
Before William II, the German Emperors left everything into the hands of Bismarck and they were prepared to hear from him whatever he considered fit to communicate to them. Beyond that, they did not bother themselves. However, William II was determined to play a different role. Instead of getting lessons from the Iron Chancellor, he was determined to see and learn everything for himself.
He not only saw every part of Germany but also visited St. Petersburg, Vienna, London, Athens and Constantinople. His personal contact with foreign statesmen enabled him to think independently about the foreign policy of Germany. Bismarck resented the journeys of William II and expressed his disapproval of them. When William II came to know of it, he himself got bitter against him.
Bismarck had made many enemies during the tenure of his office. The Clericals, the Liberals, the Lu heran Conservatives, the industrialists, the anti-Semites and the soldiers “Demigods” were opposed to him. Waldersee, Moltke’s successor as Chief of the General Staff, intrigued against him in high places. No wonder, Bismarck’s opponents enjoyed his conflict with the young Emperor.
The real cause of the conflict between Bismarck and William II was that while the former was determined to maintain his control over the affairs of the State, the latter was determined to snatch away the same. According to the Grandduke of Baden. “The real question was whether Bismarck or the Hohenzollern dynasty should reign.” To quote William II himself, “There is only one master in this country and I am he. I shall suffer no other beside me.” Again, “I see in the people and the land which has descended to me a talent entrusted to me by God, which is my duty to increase. Those who will help me I heartily welcome; those who oppose me I shall dash to pieces.”
Bismarck was pressed again and again to resign and ultimately he submitted his resignation on 20 March 1890. William II accepted with profound regret the request of the Iron Chancellor to be relieved of his offices. He referred to his “imperishable services” and conferred upon him the title of Duke of Lauenburg and Colonel-General with the rank of Field-Marshal in the army. The Punch summed up the matter in these words: “The Pilot who had steered the ship through so many storms and so many shoals was dropped.”
17. Estimate of Bismarck:
According to G.B. Smith, “As a statesman, Bismarck is one of the greatest figures in German history. Though imperious, he was yet prudent and he was accustomed to boast that he had opened up a new era in diplomacy by always telling the truth. He had great faults, however, being jealous towards rivals and vindictive and unscrupulous towards his foes.
He was not an orator in the sense usually understood, but when the occasion was great, he could wield the mother tongue with vigour. By establishing the independence of Germany, he brought to maturity the fruits of the wars of liberation. The Chancellor wielded a personal power in Europe which was without precedent in the nineteenth century.
In him was typified the Prussian race at its highest and strongest. In private life, he was a man of warm affection, his wife and children being always to him objects of tenderest devotion. His letters to his wife prove it….Without him his country would have been a second-rate Power.”
According to Prof A. Phillips, “Bismarck was a statesman of the school of Machiavelli, sharing to the full his contempt for those brain-spun fogs of fancy which are apt to obscure the path of practical politics. Yet there is in his character none of the Italian suppleness. Its main trait was in fact rather brutal forthrightness, as though he could afford to be frank, his goal being so clear, and his power to reach it beyond dispute. And this impression he was able to produce, because he knew so well how to calculate the means to his end, to gauge the obstacles in his path; above all, when to keep silence and when to speak.
Apart from Bismarck’s character and his general sympathy with the King’s ambitions for Prussia, his whole recent training had marked him out for the position he was now called upon to fill…. Bismarck had none of Metternich’s shallow contempt for public opinion as a factor in politics. It was a blind and easily gullible monster, but strong and serviceable, if properly bridled and dangerous if unduly irritated. Nothing but ‘urgent necessity’ should make him flout German public opinion.”
According to Sir J.A.R. Marriott, “In the history of the nineteenth century, Bismarck will always claim a foremost place; in the sphere of diplomacy no one except Cavour could dispute his claim to the first place. That he was a great patriot will be denied only by those to whom patriotism is an exploded superstition….Germany must be made not by the merging of Prussia in Germany, but by the merging of Germany in Prussia. That was Bismarck’s supreme aim, and that was his remarkable achievement. The end was reached by methods which no plain man can approve, by diplomacy which was the masterpiece of bluff and duplicity and by overwhelming force unscrupulously applied.”
According to Sarolea, “Bismarck was realistic and materialistic. He did not indulge like Talleyrand in visions of a distant future in dreams of a German Oceana….Bismarck’s ambition was to control the continent, to establish a Napoleonic Empire in Europe.”
About Bismarck, David Thomson says that he ranks among the greatest heroes of German history and the most important statesman of the modem world. He was a massive man of stiff military bearing. He had a quick and sensitive mind. He possessed great personal charm, acute intelligence and indomitable will power. He was a man of action.
According to Seaman, “In considering Bismarck’s aims and methods in Germany it has long been customary to compare with him Cavour; and it is certainly instructive to realize that they both sought to limit the Nationalism they claim to be fulfilling. Yet it is perhaps even more illuminating to compare him with Napoleon III. The constitution of the German Empire was much the same sort of transparent confidence trick as the constitution of the Second ‘Empire’ in 1852. There was first the lie involved in the word ‘Empire’. Both France after 1852 and Germany after 1871 were called Empires to disguise the fact that they were not Empires. The Second Empire did not give France back her control of all Western Europe and the Bismarckian Empire did not give William I an Empire over all the Germans. The Second French Empire was nothing like the First French Empire.
It was very little bigger than the French kingdom under the Bourbons or under Louis Philippe. In the same way to describe as ‘the German Empire’ a region which excluded of deliberate purpose all the Germans of Austria and Bohemia was just the sort of falsehood that Hitler might have had in mind when he said that the bigger a lie was the more likely people were to believe it. From 1871 to 1914 all the world’s atlases solemnly described as ‘The German Empire’ what was in reality a Prussian Empire; and all the world’s history books have gone on gravely describing as the ‘unification’ of Germany what was in reality the division of it.
“The unification of Germany was the one thing Bismarck was determined to prevent, because his whole purpose was the preservation of Prussian power against the rising tide of Liberalism and Radicalism. The demand for real German unity had been made clearly enough in 1848; but by the revolutionaries, and that in itself was enough to damn it. Bismarck was, therefore, fighting both Liberals and Radicals in Germany between 1862 and 1871, just as Napoleon III fought the same forces in France between 1848 and 1851. From 1862 till just after Sadowa the Liberals were opposed to him because he was acting in defiance of the Prussian Constitution. But just as, beneath the surface, the Liberals in the Second Republic wanted Louis Napoleon as their ally against the Reds, so in Prussia the Liberals wanted Bismarck as their ally against the rest of Germany Many French Liberals forgave Louis Napoleon the coup d’etat in the interests of internal security Most Prussian Liberals forgave Bismarck his illegal collection of taxes from 1862 to 1866 because he had created the North German Confederation, and won a decisive military victory for Prussia…
“In the final assessment, Bismarck’s outstanding achievement is to have imposed his personality on half a century of history. The State he created, and the means he devised, for preserving it thereafter, was of his own unaided making. He had not collaborators; only agents, and willing and unwilling accessories.
He had no spiritual or moral roots in the Europe in which he worked and triumphed. He destroyed the past, but feared the future which he built on its ruins; and for the deeper aspirations of his contemporaries he had nothing but contempt. This is perhaps most strikingly illustrated in his suggestion in 1890 that the Empire he had created should be dissolved and reconstituted without consulting anybody but the princes; and solely because he thought he could then govern it more autocratically than he was doing already He stood, therefore, for no principles.
His whole political existence was devoted to the task of putting Prussia into a position of predominance and of keeping it there, preserved inviolate against the possibility either of decline or advance. He created a Great Power and willed it not to behave like one because it would create problems he did not want to have to deal with. To give Prussia the mastery of Germany was in the end to make Prussia the agent of Germany as a power with world-wide ambitions yet he held those ambitions in check throughout his career.
Never before had the Germans possessed a State-machine capable of action against their hereditary Slav enemies. Bismarck gave them such a machine, and tried with inexhaustible ingenuity to prevent their using it for that purpose. In much the same way he created a Great Power and supposed it would not wish to assert itself by demanding oversea colonies, he yielded to the demand as if to the importunities of silly children.”
About Bismarck, Ketelbey says that he was the greatest man of the nineteenth century. He was the greatest in the political manifestations of his powers and in the influence which his achievements have exercised on the history of the world. To the Prussian state, he gave an empire and colonies.
To the Germans who “sailed the sea like pirates without a national flag,” he gave an ensign which came to be as much respected as that of England or France. He shifted the political capital of Europe from Vienna or Paris to Berlin. He created the German Empire which was the most remarkable phenomenon of modem times.