Otto Von Bismarck
1815 - 1898
Prussia's "Iron Chancellor" who unified Germanyby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
When looking at the political history of Europe, two German names loom large. A political genius, Otto Von Bismarck, paved the way for the rise of the modern german state. The second name, painted in bloody red, is Adolf Hitler, the most successful murderer in history.
Born on April 1, 1815 in Schonhausen to noble parents, Bismarck went on to study law at Gottingen and Berlin. Bismarck gained his Bar status in 1835 and then became a lieutenant of the “Life Guards.” After serving as a lieutenant, he took up residence of his families estate in Schonhausen and there he gained an interest in governmental affairs. In 1847 he was elected to the Prussian Diet.
Bismarck was very conservative in his political views. “King and Country” were his watchwords. Odd that such a man would become so successful in politics in this time period, coming hot on the heels of the American and French revolution. Political discontent and democratic liberalism were spreading through the parliaments and streets of Europe, and a man like Bismarck, staunchly opposed to democratic liberalism, would have to work very hard to stay afloat. He did it by being a pragmatist instead of an idealist. While many conservatives and liberals spoke strongly for the theoretical strength of their movement, of both “divine right” and the “rights of the people.” Bismarck was successful primarily because of his interest in political reality, what was happening in the here and now, than what the starry eyed dreamers thought the future would look like. Bismarck himself puts his views best: “Beware of sentimental alliances where the consciousness of good deeds is the only compensation for noble sacrifices.”1
While he remained a political conservative, Bismarck believed that Prussia could lead the unification of Germany. This was considered a distinctly liberal goal at the time, largely because of the noted rise of nationalism based around language and culture which followed the revolutions of America and France. However, Bismarck maintained that his goal was political and geographical, not linguistic and cultural. Bismarck supported the rights of aristocrats based on his belief that class distinctions were the only way to maintain the stability within the state.
Bismarck knew that war could accomplish his goals. He once remarked that
things should be settled by “blood and iron”2.
Thus he achieved a unified Germany by starting wars. He took Schleswig
and Holstein (germain provinces) from Denmark. With a peace treaty signed
on October 30, 1864 in Vienna, these are still part of Germany today.
How Bismarck dealt with Austria shows his commitment to maintaining boundaries
based on political and territorial lines. Prussia was pressuring Austria
about the northern provinces of Hannover, Hesse-Kassel, Nassau and Frankfurt.
In 1866, at the Battle of Koniggratz, the Austrians where soundly trounced
and the “Northern Confederation” was formed.
This Northern Confederation proved to be a catalyst in finally uniting all of Germany. The Northern Confederation, led by Bismarck, provoked France into the 1870 Franco-Prussian war. The southern states of Germany believed that France was the aggressor and so joined the Northern Confederation, serving France a resounding defeat. This brought both the southern and northern German states together, resulting in a modern German state, excluding Austria.
A hero to his people, having been instrumental in the creation of the what was then the German empire, Bismarck was named Chancellor. Using his diplomatic authority, he made important and progressive decisions at home and worked to keep peace abroad.
Bismarck had surprising vision is see Germany’s central location geographically as a potentially fatal position. Bismarck believed that if war erupted throughout Europe, Germany would be caught in the middle of maurding armies and be destroyed, which was very close to what happened in World War I. Thus, Bismarck spent much time trying to maintain peace and creating alliances among the major powers of Europe. Unfortunately, many of these alliances made would create the powder keg which would start the Great War of WWI.
Internally, Bismarck continued to fight political liberalism. Some of his methods resulted in very democratic and humanitarian laws, such as “guaranteeing accident and health insurance as well as old-age pensions.” At the same time, Bismarck was having serious trouble with the Social Democrats and the Catholic Centre Party. Here is where, in part, Bismarck earns the nickname, “Iron Chancellor.” He engaged in a “Kulter Kampf” or a culture war on the Catholics, which proved unsuccessful. He outlawed the Social Democrats, which also proved fruitless. In 1890, the Social Democrats made significant gains in the elections and Kaiser Willhelm II insisted that Bismarck resign his post as Chancellor. Bismarck left his political career, organized his notes and memoirs, and died in 1898.
Bismarck's life is a portrait of a successful politician who valued practical goals. All of his achievement did not prevent Germany from being at the center of the two most devastating wars this world had ever seen.
Bismarck set the stage for a powerful, militarized German state to become entangled in alliances that set in motion World War I. The subsequent devastations allowed for Nazi Germany to strive for domination of Europe in WWII. By blaming Roman Catholics, he set a precedent for blaming Jews.
Which is the correct order of events that led to the unification of Germany under Bismarck?
a. Rome fell, Germanic tribes were Christianized, Hitler blamed Jews for German failures.
b. Bismarck took land from Denmark, entered the 1870 Franco-Prussian war, adding the Southern States to his confederation
c. Bismarck is named Chancellor of Germany, Prime Minister of Germany, then King of Germany
d. Spain needed a leader, France attack Germany, the Von Trap Family fled Austria
1Otto von Bismarck, Bismarck and the German Empire by Erich Eyck
2World Book, 1981