The New International Encyclopædia/Bismarck-Schönhausen, Karl Otto Eduard Leopold von
BISMARCK-SCHÖNHAUSEN, Karl Otto Eduard Leopold von, Prince (1815-98). First Chancellor of the German Empire. He was born April 1, 1815, at the family manor of Schönhausen, in the District of Magdeburg, Prussia. He was one of the six children of Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand von Bismarck, a captain in the Royal Body Guard of Prussia. His mother was the daughter of Herr Menken, a high official in the Prussian civil service. The family traced its lineage back directly for five centuries, and many of its members had held high positions in the military service of Brandenburg and Prussia and at court. In 1832-33 Bismarck studied jurisprudence and political science at Göttingen, where he made the acquaintance of John Lothrop-Motley, the American historian, an acquaintanceship which ripened into the strong friendship of later years. He studied for three semesters in Berlin, was admitted to the bar in 1835, and was referendary in Aix-la-Chapelle and Potsdam in 1836-37. In the latter city and in Greifswald he served his term in the army as lieutenant in the Life Guards. In Greifswald, too, he familiarized himself with the science of agriculture. On July 28, 1847, he married Johanna von Putkamer, and in the same year entered the first General Diet of Prussia, where he became known as an able and aggressive champion of ultra-conservative measures. In 1849 he was elected to the Second Chamber of the Prussian Diet, called into existence by the revolutionary outbreak of 1848, and as a member of that body and of the Erfurt Parliament (1850) he advocated an increase in the powers of the monarchy and the consolidation of the German people through the joint action of Prussia and Austria. At the same time he combated the Erfurt and Frankfort plans of union. In this early part of his career Bismarck gave little indication, except in his strenuous advocacy of Prussia's leadership, of the aims toward which his later activity was to be directed.
After holding the position of Prussian sectary of legation at Frankfort-on-the-Main, Bismarck was appointed, in 1851, Prussian Ambassador to the Germanic Diet at Frankfort. He had now apparently become convinced of the need of constitutional concessions in order to unite the German people, and of the inherent antagonism between the interests of Austria and the cause of German unity; for he adopted a more liberal programme and assumed that attitude of hostility to Austrian pretensions which he maintained so consistently and successfully. He was so outspoken in his opposition to Austria that it was deemed prudent, in 1859, on the eve of the Franco-Italian War against Austria, to transfer him to Saint Petersburg. There he labored effectively to strengthen the friendly relations between Russia and Prussia, and gained the highest esteem of Alexander II. When, on the death of Frederick William IV., January 2, 1861, William I. succeeded to the Prussian throne. Bismarck was transferred from Saint Petersburg to Paris, and in September, 1862, was called to the post of head of the Prussian Cabinet and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The King was then faced by a Diet which was in stubborn opposition to an army bill, but he found in Bismarck a minister daring enough to govern without a budget and without Parliamentary majority. In this manner began the lifelong alliance between King William and his great minister. Bismarck now entered upon his life-work, the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership, and the placing of the new Germany in the forefront of European nations. In pursuance of this object he developed a thoroughly consistent and often ruthless policy, and carried it out without hesitation. Speaking to the Budget Commission of the Prussian Diet, September 30, 1862, he said:
“Our blood is too hot; we are fond of bearing an armor too large for our small body. Germany does not look to Prussia for liberalism, but for power. Let Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, indulge in liberal ideas; no one will assign them the role destined for Prussia. Prussia must consolidate its might and nurse it for the favorable moment. Prussia's boundaries as determined by the Congress of Vienna are not conducive to its welfare as a sovereign State. Not by speeches and resolutions of majorities are the mighty problems of the age to be solved — that was the mistake of 1848 and 1849 — but by blood and iron.”
This much misunderstood statement, so characteristic of Bismarck, concisely summarizes the subsequent development of German history. Its full significance is elucidated by Bismarck in his Autobiography. Bismarck disliked war, but he saw no way of bringing the jealous German States together except through war. He regarded it as indispensable to drive Austria, as an essentially non-German and anti-national State, out of the Confederation, and he utilized the Schleswig-Holstein affair (see Schleswig-Holstein) to antagonize Austria and finally to force an issue between that power and Prussia. At the same time he made Prussia the champion of the demand for a national German Parliament based on popular suffrage. This seemed so at variance with his earlier political course that Germany found it difficult to believe in his sincerity. Nevertheless, it was entirely consistent with the development of his character and opinions. He gained Austria over to his views in the Schleswig-Holstein matter, and with her co-operation entered upon the war against Denmark (1864). He won the confidence of Italy, formed an alliance between that State and Prussia, and when the Schleswig-Holstein controversy came to a crisis in the Germanic Diet, Prussia was ready for action. On June 1, 1866, Austria referred the settlement of the question to the Diet, and on June 10 Bismarck addressed to the German courts a letter setting forth Prussia's national policy. The following day Austria moved in the Diet for federal execution against Prussia, and the tie vote was decided in the affirmative, whereupon the representative of Prussia presented his Government's plan for a new national organization, declared the Confederation dissolved by its own action, and withdrew. Prussia at once invaded the German States that adhered to Austria, while the main Prussian army was pushed into Austrian territory. The brief and brilliant campaign (see Germany and Seven Weeks' War) secured the first object in Bismarck's programme. The Peace of Prague excluded Austria from the German Confederation, which was reorganized under a permanent Prussian presidency as the North German Confederation. It was still necessary to bring the South German States into the Union, to prick the bubble of Napoleon III.'s self-assumed leadership in European affairs, and to establish a more satisfactory western boundary for Germany by making the Rhine a truly German river. Bismarck forced an issue with France with the same relentlessness and the same certainty of result that had characterized the contest with Austria. The mistakes of the French diplomacy (see Benedetti) were utilized to the full, and France was goaded into a war to which she was wholly unequal. (See Franco-German War) Throughout the war Bismarck was at the side of his sovereign, evincing in the course of the peace negotiations extraordinary determination and executive capacity. When on the 18th of January, 1871, King William of Prussia at Versailles accepted the title of Emperor of the new German Empire, Bismarck's policy had been vindicated. Before this his triumph had been won by constant contention against the centrifugal tendencies of the old Germany and in spite of the steadfast hostility of a large section of the German people. Now he became a popular idol. On April 16 the text of the Imperial Constitution was promulgated, and Bismarck, now created a prince, became the first chancellor of the new Empire. His next task was that of organizing the internal affairs of Germany upon the new basis, and of developing an Imperial policy worthy of a power of the first rank.
OTTO VON BISMARCK
FROM A PAINTING BY FRANZ VON LENBACH
There is no ministerial responsibility under the Imperial Constitution of Germany, nor is the parliamentary opposition organized as it is in the United States and England. Bismarck never came to believe in the wisdom of popular majorities or control by a partisan Parliament. He saw the necessity of a popular basis for a strong government, but he believed above all in a strong executive. And the necessity of German unity was always uppermost in his mind. The promulgation of the doctrine of Papal infallibility by the Vatican Council of 1870 was odious to him as tending to weaken the loyalty of the German Catholics. In no sense intolerant of religions as such, he was opposed to any political religious organizations within the State, and he maintained this position both as Prussian Minister and as Imperial Chancellor. In January, 1873, he caused the introduction into the Prussian Diet of certain laws to regulate the relations of Church and State. Thus was brought on the six-years' struggle with the Clericals, known as the Kulturkampf (q.v.), in which Bismarck made the great mistake of his career, carrying his measures so far that in the inevitable reaction he was forced to acknowledge a virtual defeat. Bismarck's position seems to have been simply that of defending the authority of the State against outside interference. In 1874, replying to a Catholic attack in the Prussian Diet, Bismarck stated his principles clearly, acknowledging his duty to respect the dogmas of the Catholic Church merely as dogmas, and adding: “If the doctrine of infallibility be so interpreted as to lead to the establishment of an ecclesiastical imperium in imperio; if it lead to the nullification of the laws of this country because unapproved by the Vatican, I am naturally driven to assert the legitimate supremacy of the State. We Protestants are under the conviction that the kingdom of Prussia ought not to be ruled by the Pope, and we demand that you, the Ultramontane section of the Roman Catholics, respect our convictions as we do yours.” The controversy led to an attempt upon Bismarck's life by a mechanic named Kullmann, in 1874. Finally, however, Ultramontane resistance drove Bismarck into an attitude of intolerance which proved untenable. Personally he had passed through four stages in his religious views, having arrived through rationalism, skepticism, and conventional Christianity at a profound religious conviction, with a firm faith in God and immortality. He was tolerant because he cared little for creeds and outward forms.
An equally difficult problem confronted Bismarck in the growing power of the Socialists. Two attempts on the life of the Emperor in 1878, by avowed Socialists, enabled the Chancellor to overcome the scruples of the Liberals in the Reichstag, and to secure the passage of special laws for the suppression of socialistic agitation. The Kulturkampf had brought Bismarck into alliance with the National Liberals; his conservative tendencies broke this alliance, and he came to an understanding with the Conservatives and Catholics. Now that he had suppressed the political activity of the Socialists for the time being, Bismarck very characteristically gave his attention to checking the movement by making many features of the Socialist programme his own, and he initiated a policy of paternalism, which was considered not far removed from State Socialism in some of its aspects. The most notable of the laws passed to placate the working classes were the sickness, accident, and old-age insurance acts of 1883-1889.
With the industrial and commercial development of the Empire, the time seemed ripe for expansion beyond the seas, and in 1884 Bismarck entered upon his colonial policy, at first half-heartedly. In a speech before the Reichstag, June 26, 1884, he declared his opposition to forced colonization, and his willingness to support only such a colonial policy as grew out of the need of protecting German subjects in foreign lands. He favored leaving the management of affairs largely to chartered trading companies, and added: “It is not our intention to found provinces, but to foster commercial enterprise.” To stimulate industry and thereby to check the continuous emigration from Germany, Bismarck advocated a protective tariff. To settle the African question, as raised by the work of the International African Association, he arranged a conference at Berlin in 1884-85, which secured the recognition of the Congo Free State and laid down the lines upon which the partition of Africa has been effected. Bismarck was the author of the policy of subsidizing steamship lines from Germany to Asia, Africa, and Australasia. He never changed the conservative views on colonization that he had expressed in 1884, although circumstances forced him into action hardly consistent with those views. As early as 1865 he had advocated the Baltic and North Sea Canal, which was constructed after his retirement.
The genius of Bismarck was always most conspicuous in international affairs. He deliberately brought on three wars — with Denmark, Austria, and France — in order to further the great consummation of German unity. The German Empire once established, the great Chancellor's policy became one of peace. He avoided entangling Germany in the Eastern Question; but when the rivals of Russia were aroused by the Treaty of San Stefano, in 1878, he asserted Germany's leadership in Europe by inviting an international congress to meet at Berlin. (See Berlin, Congress of.) He formed the Triple Alliance to secure Germany against both France and Russia, but at the same time maintained the most friendly relations with Russia. France he did not regard as a serious competitor of Germany after 1871. His matured convictions in regard to Germany's position are set forth in his autobiography. In that work, after some observations on Russia's relations to the Eastern Question, he observed that if Russia failed to receive assurance of German neutrality, the old coalition of the Seven Years' War — the alliance, that is, of Austria, Russia, and France against Prussia — might be revived. “If Germany possesses the advantage,” he said, “of having no direct interests at stake in the East, she labors on the other hand under the disadvantage of an exposed position in the heart of Europe, with an extended frontier, which has to be defended on every side, and surrounded by enemies ready to enter into alliance against her. At the same time, Germany is, perhaps, the only great Power in Europe which is not tempted by objects unattainable except through war. It is our interest to maintain peace, while our Continental neighbors, without exception, foster ambitions, either secret or officially avowed, which can be realized only by war. We must direct our policy in accordance with these facts — that is, we must do our best to prevent war, or at least to restrict it.” Bismarck's largeness of view and freedom from petty enmity is shown by his efforts, as soon as Austria had been beaten at Sadowa, to establish friendly relations between that Power and Germany. A man of strong passions, he allowed no prejudice to blind him to the requirements of sound national policy.
His attachment to Emperor William I. was in every way creditable to him. After the death of the Emperor in 1888, Bismarck remained in office during the brief reign of his successor, the Emperor Frederick.
William II. had learned his statecraft in the school of Bismarck, but it was inevitable that the autocratic young Emperor should come into collision with the strong-willed minister who had been so long accustomed to the personal direction of Prussian and German affairs. Numerous quarrels finally led to the resignation of Bismarck, which occurred on March 20, 1890. He retired to Friedrichsruh. On leaving office the title of Duke of Lauenburg was bestowed upon him by the Emperor, together with one of the highest military ranks (Generaloberst of cavalry). The open estrangement between the two continued until after Bismarck's severe illness in 1893, when the Emperor made advances toward a reconciliation, which took place in form at least. Bismarck's eightieth birthday (April 1, 1895) was made the occasion of a great demonstration throughout Germany, He was visited by the Emperor and by thousands of military and political associates, and a Bismarck Museum was founded in Berlin.
So positive a force in the life of his day necessarily aroused both intense admiration and bitter hostility. He was, beyond question, the greatest European statesman of the century, and one of the greatest statesmen of all time. His genius was of the rare constructive type, and he is justly included in the trio of creators of modern Germany, together with the Great Elector Frederick William and Frederick the Great. He had set himself a great end, the realization of a united Germany and the fullest development of the German nation; he pursued it relentlessly, and he achieved it by methods at least as unimpugnable as those applied to any similar task in history. Against his critics he could set up the worldly but weighty defense of success. He found Germany a group of jealous kingdoms and principalities, the shuttlecock of Austria and France. He left it a united nation, one of the world's great Powers, and the dominant force on the Continent of Europe. In his Gedanken und Erinnerungen, the work of his years of retirement, commonly though somewhat inaccurately called, in its English translation, “Bismarck's Autobiography,” he has left a valuable epitome of his views on many points of European policy. In this and in his collected speeches, letters, and papers must be sought his Apologia. In private life Bismarck was a kind husband and father, a genial friend, and a considerate landlord. Physically and mentally, he was a man of surpassing power and endurance, and his capacity for work, creative or absorptive, was tremendous. Though not a scholar in the strict sense of the word, he was a man of wide information, always accessible to his ready memory. While not a finished orator, the pungency of his speech and the aptness of his quotations from history and literature always held his audience in the Reichstag. He died July 30, 1898. For his own epitaph he wrote simply, after his name and the dates of his birth and death, “a faithful German servant of the Emperor William I.” He had three children — Countess Marie, born August 28, 1848; Prince Herbert, born December 28, 1849; and Count Wilhelm, born August 1, 1852, and died in 1901.
Bibliography. Bismarck, the Man and the Statesman: being the reflections and reminiscences of Otto, Prince von Bismarck, written and dictated by himself after his retirement from office, 2 vols., translated by Butler, popularly known as Bismarck's Autobiography (New York, 1899); Busch, Bismarck: Some Secret Pages of His History, 2 vols. (New York, 1899); Bismarck, Gesammelte Werke, 5 vols. (Berlin, 1892); and id. Politische Reden, ed. von Kohl, 9 vols. (Stuttgart, 1892-94); Blum, Das deutsche Reich zur Zeit Bismarcks (Leipzig and Vienna, 1893); Sybel, The Founding of the German Empire, 7 vols. trans. (New York, 1898); Tuttle, Brief Biographies: German Political Leaders (New York, 1876); Lowe, Prince Bismarck (London, 1885); Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism (London, 1890); Munroe-Smith, Bismarck and German Unity (New York, 1898); Klaczko, The Two Chancellors — Gortchakoff and Bismarck (London, 1876); Oneken, Das Zeitalter Wilhelms I. (Berlin, 1890).