1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bismarck, Otto Eduard Leopold von
BISMARCK, OTTO EDUARD LEOPOLD VON, Prince, duke of Lauenburg (1815–1898), German statesman, was born on the 1st of April 1815, at the manor-house of Schönhausen, his father’s seat in the mark of Brandenburg. The family has, since the 14th century, belonged to the landed gentry, and many members had held high office in the kingdom of Prussia. His father (d. 1845), of whom he always spoke with much affection, was a quiet, unassuming man, who retired from the army in early life with the rank of captain of cavalry (Rittmeister). His mother, a daughter of Mencken, cabinet secretary to the king, was a woman of strong character and ability, who had been brought up at Berlin under the “Aufklärung.” Her ambition was centred in her sons, but Bismarck in his recollections of his childhood missed the influences of maternal tenderness. There were several children of the marriage, which took place in 1806, but all died in childhood except Bernhard (1810–1893), Otto, and one sister, Malvina (b. 1827), who married in 1845 Oscar von Arnim. Young Bismarck was educated in Berlin, first at a private school, then at the gymnasium of the Graue Kloster (Grey Friars). At the age of seventeen he went to the university of Göttingen, where he spent a little over a year; he joined the corps of the Hannoverana and took a leading part in the social life of the students. He completed his studies at Berlin, and in 1835 passed the examinations which admitted him to the public service. He was intended for the diplomatic service, but spent some months at Aix-la-Chapelle in administrative work, and then was transferred to Potsdam and the judicial side. He soon retired from the public service; he conceived a great distaste for it, and had shown himself defective in discipline and regularity. In 1839, after his mother’s death, he undertook, with his brother, the management of the family estates in Pomerania; at this time most of the estate attached to Schönhausen had to be sold. In 1844, after the marriage of his sister, he went to live with his father at Schönhausen. He and his brother took an active part in local affairs, and in 1846 he was appointed Deichhauptmann, an office in which he was responsible for the care of the dykes by which the country, in the neighbourhood of the Elbe, was preserved from inundation. During these years he travelled in England, France and Switzerland. The influence of his mother, and his own wide reading and critical character, made him at one time inclined to hold liberal opinions on government and religion, but he was strongly affected by the religious revival of the early years of the reign of Frederick William IV.; his opinions underwent a great change, and under the influence of the neighbouring country gentlemen he acquired those strong principles in favour of monarchical government as the expression of the Christian state, of which he was to become the most celebrated exponent. His religious convictions were strengthened by his marriage to Johanna von Puttkamer, which took place in 1847.
In the same year he entered public life, being chosen as substitute for the representative of the lower nobility of his district in the estates-general, which were in that year summoned to Berlin. He took his seat with Parlia-
mentary career.the extreme right, and distinguished himself by the vigour and originality with which he defended the rights of the king and the Christian monarchy against the Liberals. When the revolution broke out in the following year he offered to bring the peasants of Schönhausen to Berlin in order to defend the king against the revolutionary party, and in the last meeting of the estates voted in a minority of two against the address thanking the king for granting a constitution. He did not sit in any of the assemblies summoned during the revolutionary year, but took a very active part in the formation of a union of the Conservative party, and was one of the founders of the Kreuzzeitung, which has since then been the organ of the Monarchical party in Prussia. In the new parliament which was elected at the beginning of 1849, he sat for Brandenburg, and was one of the most frequent and most incisive speakers of what was called the Junker party. He took a prominent part in the discussions on the new Prussian constitution, always defending the power of the king. His speeches of this period show great debating skill, combined with strong originality and imagination. His constant theme was, that the party disputes were a struggle for power between the forces of revolution, which derived their strength from the fighters on the barricades, and the Christian monarchy, and that between these opposed principles no compromise was possible. He took also a considerable part in the debates on the foreign policy of the Prussian government; he defended the government for not accepting the Frankfort constitution, and opposed the policy of Radowitz, on the ground that the Prussian king would be subjected to the control of a non-Prussian parliament. The only thing, he said, that had come out of the revolutionary year unharmed, and had saved Prussia from dissolution and Germany from anarchy, was the Prussian army and the Prussian civil service; and in the debates on foreign policy he opposed the numerous plans for bringing about the union of Germany, by subjecting the crown and Prussia to a common German parliament. He had a seat in the parliament of Erfurt, but only went there in order to oppose the constitution which the parliament had framed. He foresaw that the policy of the government would lead it into a position when it would have to fight against Austria on behalf of a constitution by which Prussia itself would be dissolved, and he was, therefore, one of the few prominent politicians who defended the complete change of front which followed the surrender of Olmütz.
It was probably his speeches on German policy which induced the king to appoint him Prussian representative at the restored diet of Frankfort in 1851. The appointment was a bold one, as he was entirely without diplomatic experience, Diplomatic career.but he justified the confidence placed in him. During the eight years he spent at Frankfort he acquired an unrivalled knowledge of German politics. He was often used for important missions, as in 1852, when he was sent to Vienna. He was entrusted with the negotiations by which the duke of Augustenburg was persuaded to assent to the arrangements by which he resigned his claims to Schleswig and Holstein. The period he spent at Frankfort, however, was of most importance because of the change it brought about in his own political opinions. When he went to Frankfort he was still under the influence of the extreme Prussian Conservatives, men like the Gerlachs, who regarded the maintenance of the principle of the Christian monarchy against the revolution as the chief duty of the Prussian government. He was prepared on this ground for a close alliance with Austria. He found, however, a deliberate intention on the part of Austria to humble Prussia, and to degrade her from the position of an equal power, and also great jealousy of Prussia among the smaller German princes, many of whom owed their thrones to the Prussian soldiers, who, as in Saxony and Baden, had crushed the insurgents. He therefore came to the conclusion that if Prussia was to regain the position she had lost she must be prepared for the opposition of Austria, and must strengthen herself by alliances with other powers. The solidarity of Conservative interests appeared to him now a dangerous fiction. At the time of the Crimean War he advocated alliance with Russia, and it was to a great extent owing to his advice that Prussia did not join the western powers. Afterwards he urged a good understanding with Napoleon, but his advice was met by the insuperable objection of King Frederick William IV. to any alliance with a ruler of revolutionary origin.
The change of ministry which followed the establishment of a regency in 1857 made it desirable to appoint a new envoy at Frankfort, and in 1858 Bismarck was appointed ambassador at St Petersburg, where he remained for four years. During this period he acquired some knowledge of Russian, and gained the warm regard of the tsar, as well as of the dowager-empress, herself a Prussian princess. During the first two years he had little influence on the Prussian government; the Liberal ministers distrusted his known opinions on parliamentary government, and the monarchical feeling of the prince regent was offended by Bismarck’s avowed readiness for alliance with the Italians and his disregard of the rights of other princes. The failure of the ministry, and the estrangement between King William and the Liberal party, opened to him the way to power. Roon, who was appointed minister of war in 1861, was an old friend of his, and through him Bismarck was thenceforward kept closely informed of the condition of affairs in Berlin. On several occasions the prospect of entering the ministry was open to him, but nothing came of it, apparently because he required a free hand in foreign affairs, and this the king was not prepared to give him. When an acute crisis arose out of the refusal of parliament, in 1862, to vote the money required for the reorganization of the army, which the king and Roon had carried through, he was summoned to Berlin; but the king was still unable to make up his mind to appoint him, although he felt that Bismarck was the only man who had the courage and capacity for conducting the struggle with parliament. He was, therefore, in June, made ambassador at Paris as a temporary expedient. There he had the opportunity for renewing the good understanding with Napoleon which had been begun in 1857. He also paid a short visit to England, but it does not appear that this had any political results. In September the parliament, by a large majority, threw out the budget, and the king, having nowhere else to turn for help, at Roon’s advice summoned Bismarck to Berlin and appointed him minister-president and foreign minister.
Bismarck’s duty as minister was to carry on the government against the wishes of the Lower House, so as to enable the king to complete and maintain the reorganized army. The opposition of the House was supported by the country Ministry.and by a large party at court, including the queen and crown prince. The indignation which his appointment caused was intense; he was known only by the reputation which in his early years he had won as a violent ultra-Conservative, and the apprehensions were increased by his first speech, in which he said that the German question could not be settled by speeches and parliamentary decrees, but only by blood and iron. His early fall was predicted, and it was feared that he might bring down the monarchy with him. Standing almost alone he succeeded in the task he had undertaken. For four years he ruled without a budget, taking advantage of an omission in the constitution which did not specify what was to happen in case the crown and the two Houses could not agree on a budget. The conflict of the ministers and the House assumed at times the form of bitter personal hostility; in 1863 the ministers refused any longer to attend the sittings, and Bismarck challenged Virchow, one of his strongest opponents, to a duel, which, however, did not take place. In 1852 he had fought a duel with pistols against Georg von Vindre, a political opponent. In June 1863, as soon as parliament had risen, Bismarck published ordinances controlling the liberty of the press, which, though in accordance with the letter, seemed opposed to the intentions of the constitution, and it was on this occasion that the crown prince, hitherto a silent opponent, publicly dissociated himself from the policy of his father’s ministers. Bismarck depended for his position solely on the confidence of the king, and the necessity for defending himself against the attempts to destroy this confidence added greatly to the suspiciousness of his nature. He was, however, really indispensable, for his resignation must be followed by a Liberal ministry, parliamentary control over the army, and probably the abdication of the king. Not only, therefore, was he secure in the continuance of the king’s support, but he had also the complete control of foreign affairs. Thus he could afford to ignore the criticism of the House, and the king was obliged to acquiesce in the policy of a minister to whom he owed so much.
He soon gave to the policy of the monarchy a resolution which had long been wanting. When the emperor of Austria summoned a meeting of the German princes at Frankfort to discuss a reform of the confederation, Bismarck Foreign policy.insisted that the king of Prussia must not attend. He remained away, and his absence in itself made the congress unavailing. There can be no doubt that from the time he entered on office Bismarck was determined to bring to an issue the long struggle for supremacy in Germany between the house of Habsburg and the house of Hohenzollern. Before he was able to complete his preparations for this, two unforeseen occurrences completely altered the European situation, and caused the conflict to be postponed for three years. The first was the outbreak of rebellion in Poland. Bismarck, an inheritor of the older Prussian traditions, and recollecting how much of the greatness of Prussia had been gained at the expense of the Poles, offered his help to the tsar. By this he placed himself in opposition to the universal feeling of western Europe; no act of his life added so much to the repulsion with which at this time he was regarded as an enemy of liberty and right. He won, however, the gratitude of the tsar and the support of Russia, which in the next years was to be of vital service to him. Even more serious were the difficulties arising in Denmark. On the death of King Frederick VII. in 1863, Prince Frederick of Augustenburg came forward as claimant to the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, which had hitherto been joined to the crown of Denmark. He was strongly supported by the whole German nation and by many of its princes. Bismarck, however, once more was obliged to oppose the current of national feeling, which imperiously demanded that the German duchies should be rescued from a foreign yoke. Prussia was bound by the treaty of London of 1852, which guaranteed the integrity of the Danish monarchy; to have disregarded this would have been to bring about a coalition against Germany similar to that of 1851. Moreover, he held that it would be of no advantage to Prussia to create a new German state; if Denmark were to lose the duchies, he desired that Prussia should acquire them, and to recognize the Augustenburg claims would make this impossible. His resistance to the national desire made him appear a traitor to his country. To check the agitation he turned for help to Austria; and an alliance of the two powers, so lately at variance, was formed. He then falsified all the predictions of the opposition by going to war with Denmark, not, as they had required, in support of Augustenburg, but on the ground that the king of Denmark had violated his promise not to oppress his German subjects. Austria continued to act with Prussia, and, after the defeat of the Danes, at the peace of Vienna the sovereignty of the duchies was surrendered to the two allies—the first step towards annexation by Prussia. There is no part of Bismarck’s diplomatic work which deserves such careful study as these events. Watched as he was by countless enemies at home and abroad, a single false step would have brought ruin and disgrace on himself; the growing national excitement would have burst through all restraint, and again, as fifteen years before, Germany divided and unorganized would have had to capitulate to the orders of foreign powers (see Schleswig-Holstein Question).
The peace of Vienna left him once more free to return to his older policy. For the next eighteen months he was occupied in preparing for war with Austria. For this war he was alone responsible; he undertook it deliberately War with Austria.as the only means of securing Prussian ascendancy in Germany. The actual cause of dispute was the disposition of the conquered duchies, for Austria now wished to put Augustenburg in as duke, a plan to which Bismarck would not assent. In 1865 a provisional arrangement was made by the treaty of Gastein, for Bismarck was not yet ready. He would not risk a war unless he was certain of success, and for this he required the alliance of Italy and French support; both he secured during the next year. In October 1865 he visited Napoleon at Biarritz and Paris. No formal treaty was made, but Napoleon promised to regard favourably an extension of Prussian power in Germany; while Bismarck led the emperor to believe that Prussia would help him in extending the frontier of France. A treaty of alliance with Italy was arranged in the spring of 1866; and Bismarck then with much difficulty overcame the reluctance of the king to embark in a war with his old ally. The results of the war entirely justified his calculations. Prussia, though opposed by all the German states except a few principalities in the north, completely defeated all her enemies, and at the end of a few weeks the whole of Germany lay at her feet.
The war of 1866 is more than that of 1870 the crisis of modern German history. It finally settled the controversy which had begun more than a hundred years before, and left Prussia the dominant power in Germany. It determined Settlement of 1866.that the unity of Germany should be brought about not by revolutionary means as in 1848, not as in 1849 had been attempted by voluntary agreement of the princes, not by Austria, but by the sword of Prussia. This was the great work of Bismarck’s life; he had completed the programme foreshadowed in his early speeches, and finished the work of Frederick the Great. It is also the turning-point in Bismarck’s own life. Having secured the dominance of the crown in Prussia and of Prussia in Germany, he could afford to make a reconciliation with the parties which had been his chief opponents, and turn to them for help in building up a new Germany. The settlement of 1866 was peculiarly his work. We must notice, first, how in arranging the terms of peace he opposed the king and the military party who wished to advance on Vienna and annex part of Austrian Silesia; with greater foresight he looked to renewing the old friendship with Austria, and insisted (even with the threat of resignation) that no territory should be demanded. The southern states he treated with equal moderation, and thereby was able to arrange an offensive and defensive alliance with them. On the other hand, in order to secure the complete control of North Germany, which was his immediate object, he required that the whole of Hanover, Hesse-Cassel, Hesse-Nassau and the city of Frankfort, as well as the Elbe duchies, should be absorbed in Prussia. He then formed a separate confederation of the North German states, but did not attempt to unite the whole of Germany, partly because of the internal difficulties which this would have produced, partly because it would have brought about a war with France. In the new confederation he became sole responsible minister, with the title Bundes-Kanzler; this position he held till 1890, in addition to his former post of premier minister. In 1871 the title was altered to Reichs-Kanzler.
The reconciliation with the Prussian parliament he effected by bringing in a bill of indemnity for the money which had been spent without leave of parliament. The Radicals still continued their opposition, but he thereby made possible the formation of a large party of moderate Liberals, who thenceforward supported him in his new Nationalist policy. He also, in the constitution for the new confederation, introduced a parliament (Bundestag) elected by universal suffrage. This was the chief demand of the revolutionists in 1848; it was one to which in his early life he had been strongly opposed. His experience at Frankfort had diminished his dislike of popular representation, and it was probably to the advice of Lassalle that his adoption of universal suffrage was due. He first publicly proposed it just before the war; by carrying it out, notwithstanding the apprehensions of many Liberal politicians, he placed the new constitution on a firmer base than would otherwise have been possible.
Up to 1866 he had always appeared to be an opponent of the National party in Germany, now he became their leader. His next task was to complete the work which was half-finished, and it was this which brought about the second of the great wars which he undertook.
The relations with Napoleon III. form one of the most interesting but obscurest episodes in Bismarck’s career. We have seen that he did not share the common prejudice against co-operation with France. He found Napoleon Bismarck and France.willing to aid Prussia as he had aided Piedmont, and was ready to accept his assistance. There was this difference, that he asked only for neutrality, not armed assistance, and it is improbable that he ever intended to alienate any German territory; he showed himself, however, on more than one occasion, ready to discuss plans for extending French territory, on the side of Belgium and Switzerland. Napoleon, who had not anticipated the rapid success of Prussia, after the battle of Königgrätz at the request of Austria came forward as mediator, and there were a few days during which it was probable that Prussia would have to meet a French attempt to dictate terms of peace. Bismarck in this crisis by deferring to the emperor in appearance avoided the danger, but he knew that he had been deceived, and the cordial understanding was never renewed. Immediately after an armistice had been arranged, Benedetti, at the orders of the French government, demanded as recompense a large tract of German territory on the left bank of the Rhine. This Bismarck peremptorily refused, declaring that he would rather have war. Benedetti then made another proposal, submitting a draft treaty by which France was to support Prussia in adding the South German states to the new confederation, and Germany was to support France in the annexation of Luxemburg and Belgium. Bismarck discussed, but did not conclude the treaty; he kept, however, a copy of the draft in Benedetti’s handwriting, and published it in The Times in the summer of 1870 so as to injure the credit of Napoleon in England. The failure of the scheme made a contest with France inevitable, at least unless the Germans were willing to forgo the purpose of completing the work of German unity, and during the next four years the two nations were each preparing for the struggle, and each watching to take the other at a disadvantage.
It is necessary, then, to keep in mind the general situation in considering Bismarck’s conduct in the months immediately preceding the war of 1870. In 1867 there was a dispute regarding the right to garrison Luxemburg. Bismarck then produced the secret treaties with the southern states, an act which was, as it were, a challenge to France by the whole of Germany. During the next three years the Ultramontane party hoped to bring about an anti-Prussian revolution, and Napoleon was working for an alliance with Austria, where Beust, an old opponent of Bismarck’s, was chancellor. Bismarck was doubtless well informed as to the progress of the negotiations, for he had established intimate relations with the Hungarians. The pressure at home for completing the work of German unity was so strong that he could with difficulty resist it, and in 1870 he was much embarrassed by a request from Baden to be admitted to the confederation, which he had to refuse. It is therefore not surprising that he eagerly welcomed the opportunity of gaining the goodwill of Spain, and supported by all the means in his power the offer made by Marshal Prim that Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern should be chosen king of that country. It was only by his urgent and repeated representations that the prince was persuaded against his will to accept. The negotiations were carried out with the greatest secrecy, but as soon as the acceptance was made known the French government intervened and declared that the project was inadmissible. Bismarck was away at Varzin, but on his instructions the Prussian foreign office in answer to inquiries denied all knowledge or responsibility. This was necessary, because it would have caused a bad impression in Germany had he gone to war with France in support of the prince’s candidature. The king, by receiving Benedetti at Ems, departed from the policy of reserve Bismarck himself adopted, and Bismarck (who had now gone to Berlin) found himself in a position of such difficulty that he contemplated resignation. The French, however, by changing and extending their demands enabled him to find a cause of war of such nature that the The Ems telegram.whole of Germany would be united against French aggression. France asked for a letter of apology, and Benedetti personally requested from the king a promise that he would never allow the candidature to be resumed. Bismarck published the telegram in which this information and the refusal of the king were conveyed, but by omitting part of the telegram made it appear that the request and refusal had both been conveyed in a more abrupt form than had really been the case. But even apart from this, the publication of the French demand, which could not be complied with, must have brought about a war.
In the campaign of 1870–71 Bismarck accompanied the headquarters of the army, as he had done in 1866. He was present at the battle of Gravelotte and at the surrender of Sedan, and it was on the morning of the 2nd of September that he had his famous meeting with Napoleon after the surrender of the emperor. He accompanied the king to Paris, and spent many months at Versailles. Here he was occupied chiefly with the arrangements for admitting the southern states to the confederation, and the establishment of the empire. He also underwent much anxiety lest the efforts of Thiers to bring about an interference by the neutral powers might be successful. He had to carry on the negotiations with the French preliminary to the surrender of Paris, and to enforce upon them the German terms of peace.
For Bismarck’s political career after 1870 we must refer to the article Germany, for he was thenceforward entirely absorbed in the affairs of his country. The foreign policy he controlled absolutely. As chancellor he was responsible After 1870.for the whole internal policy of the empire, and his influence is to be seen in every department of state, especially, however, in the great change of policy after 1878. During the earlier period the estrangement from the Conservatives, which had begun in 1866, became very marked, and brought about a violent quarrel with many of his old friends, which culminated in the celebrated Arnim trial. He incurred much criticism during the struggle with the Roman Catholic Church, and in 1873 he was shot at and slightly wounded by a youth called Rullmann, who professed to be an adherent of the Clerical party. Once before, in 1866, just before the outbreak of war, his life had been attempted by a young man called Cohen, a native of Württemberg, who wished to save Germany from a fratricidal war. In 1872 he retired from the presidency of the Prussian ministry, but returned after a few months. On several occasions he offered to retire, but the emperor always refused his consent, on the last time with the word “Never.” In 1877 he took a long leave of absence for ten months. His health at this time was very bad. In 1878 he presided over the congress of Berlin. The following years were chiefly occupied, besides foreign affairs, which were always his first care, with important commercial reforms, and he held at this time also the office of Prussian minister of trade in addition to his other posts. During this period his relations with the Reichstag were often very unsatisfactory, and at no time did he resort so freely to prosecutions in the law-courts in order to injure his opponents, so that the expression Bismarck-Beleidigung was invented. He was engaged at this time in a great struggle with the Social-Democrats, whom he tried to crush by exceptional penal laws. The death of the emperor William in 1888 made a serious difference in his position. He had been bound to him by a long term of loyal service, which had been rewarded with equal loyalty. For his relations to the emperors Frederick and William II., and for the events connected with his dismissal from office in March 1890, we must refer to the articles under those names.
After his retirement he resided at Friedrichsruh, near Hamburg, a house on his Lauenburg estates. His criticisms of the government, given sometimes in conversation, sometimes in the columns of the Hamburger Nachrichten, caused an open breach between him and the emperor; and the new chancellor, Count Caprivi, in a circular despatch which was afterwards published, warned all German envoys that no real importance must be attached to what he said. When he visited Vienna for his son’s wedding the German ambassador, Prince Reuss, was forbidden to take any notice of him. A reconciliation was effected in 1893. In 1895 his eightieth birthday was celebrated with great enthusiasm: the Reichstag alone, owing to the opposition of the Clericals and the Socialists, refused to vote an address. In 1891 he had been elected a member of the Reichstag, but he never took his seat. He died at Friedrichsruh on the 31st of July 1898.
Bismarck was made a count in 1865; in 1871 he received the rank of Fürst (prince). On his retirement the emperor created him duke of Lauenburg, but he never used the title, which was not inherited by his son. In 1866 he received £60,000 as his share of the donation voted by the Reichstag for the victorious generals. With this he purchased the estate of Varzin in Pomerania, which henceforth he used as a country residence in preference to Schönhausen. In 1871 the emperor presented him with a large part of the domains of the duchy of Lauenburg. On his seventieth birthday a large sum of money (£270,000) was raised by public subscription, of which half was devoted to repurchasing the estate of Schönhausen for him, and the rest was used by him to establish a fund for the assistance of schoolmasters. As a young man he was an officer in the Landwehr and militia, and in addition to his civil honours he was eventually raised to the rank of general. Among the numerous orders he received we may mention that he was the first Protestant on whom the pope bestowed the order of Christ; this was done after the cessation of the Kulturkampf and the reference of the dispute with Spain concerning the Caroline Islands to the arbitration of the pope.
Bismarck’s wife died in 1894. He left one daughter and two sons. Herbert (1840–1904), the elder, was wounded at Mars-le-Tour, afterwards entered the foreign office, and acted as private secretary to his father (1871–1881). In 1882 he became councillor to the embassy at London, in 1884 was transferred to St Petersburg, and in 1885 became under-secretary of state for foreign affairs. In 1884 he had been elected to the Reichstag, but had to resign his seat when, in 1886, he was made secretary of state for foreign affairs and Prussian minister. He conducted many of the negotiations with Great Britain on colonial affairs. He retired in 1890 at the same time as his father, and in 1893 was again elected to the Reichstag. He married Countess Margarete Hoyos in 1892, and died on the 18th of September 1904. He left two daughters and three sons, of whom the eldest, Otto Christian Archibald (b. 1897), succeeded to the princely title. The second son, Wilhelm, who was president of the province of Prussia, died in 1901. By his wife, Sybilla von Arnim-Kröchlendorff, he left three daughters and a son, Count Nikolaus (b. 1896).
- It was not till many years later that our knowledge of these events (which is still incomplete) was established; in 1894 the publication of the memoirs of the king of Rumania showed, what had hitherto been denied, that Bismarck had taken a leading part in urging the election of the prince of Hohenzollern. It was in 1892 that the language used by Bismarck himself made it necessary for the German government to publish the form of the Ems telegram.