Introduction
  Benjamin, Walter
  Bismarck, Otto v.
  Brecht, Bertolt
  Celan, Paul
  Döblin, Alfred
  Fontane, Theodor
  Grosz, George
  Grünbein, Durs
  Heartfield, John
  Honigmann, Barbara
  Isherwood, Christopher
  Johnson, Uwe
  Kleist, Heinrich v.
  Kollwitz, Käthe
  Kracauer, Siegfried
  Lang, Fritz
  Lasker-Schüler, Else
  Liebermann, Max
  Liebknecht, Karl
  Luxemburg, Rosa
  Marc, Franz
  Ossietzky, Carl v.
  Riefenstahl, Leni
  Ruttmann, Walther
  Schinkel, Karl Friedrich
  Speer, Albert
  Tieck, Ludwig
  Tucholsky, Kurt
  Ury, Lesser
  Varnhagen, Rahel
  Wenders, Wim

 

 
Bismarck, Otto von

Early Years Early Career Prime Minister German Unification Foreign Policy Domestic Policy Political Assessment

Prime Minister

In 1859 Bismarck was sent to Russia as Prussian ambassador, and not long thereafter (May 1862) he moved to Paris as ambassador to the court of Napoleon III. Thus he had 11 years of experience in foreign affairs before he became prime minister and foreign minster of Prussia in September 1862. He had come to know personally the architects of French, Russian, and Austrian foreign policy. Ironically, Bismarck was called back by King William I (1861-88) to the reigns of power at a critical juncture in Prussia's internal development.

For more than two years William had been locked in a battle with the Chamber of Deputies over military reform. Having been in the army much of his adult life, the monarch (similar to earlier Prussian kings) considered it entirely within his prerogative to increase the size of the military and the years of service. When the liberal majority did not approve the revenue for these reforms, William refused to negotiate or compromise with liberal politicians over the fundamental issue of sovereignty. He prorogued Parliament twice, and each time the liberal majority increased.

The appointment of Bismarck was the monarch's last desperate effort to avoid parliamentary sovereignty over the military. The Chamber of Deputies interpreted it as an act of defiance--a throwing down of the gauntlet. But the Bismarck who returned to Berlin from Paris was not the backwoods conservative of 1848. Having lived in Frankfurt and Paris, he had come to appreciate the growing importance of the propertied and educated middle class. And in France he had experienced the Bonapartist regime of Napoleon III, which relied on the combination of success in foreign policy and plebiscites at home to shore up the emperor's authoritarian regime. Bismarck had changed to such a degree that he actually returned with the idea of seeking a compromise over the military issue. But William I rejected a sensible proposal offered by Bismarck, leaving him no alternative but a policy of confrontation. Bismarck then announced that there was a "hole" in the constitution. If the king and the members of the Upper Chamber and the Chamber of Deputies, who together were responsible for the budget, failed to come to an agreement, the government in the interim had to proceed without it. Taxes were to be collected (and spent) on the basis of the old budget because civil servants had to be paid and the government had to continue functioning. This tactic, applied from 1863 to 1866, allowed him to implement the military reforms without the sanction of Parliament. Bismarck did, indeed, appear to be the reactionary, confrontational aristocrat out of tune with his time.

But there were hints that this was more appearance than reality. Bismarck said that "Prussia must collect and keep its strength for the right moment, which has been missed several times already; Prussia's frontiers as laid down by the Vienna treaties are not conducive to a healthy national life; it is not by means of speeches and majority resolutions that the great issues of the day will be decided--that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849--but by blood and iron." He was giving the opposition evidence that he intended to use Prussia's military might not for internal suppression but for the liberal goal of achieving national unification. The liberal opposition, however, chose to ignore these hints, and on May 22, 1863, by a vote of 239 to 61, they informed William I that they would not deal with his prime minister any further. After eight months in office, Bismarck had failed to achieve any agreement with the parliamentary opposition.

Bismarck now turned to foreign policy in the hope that success on this front would weaken the electorate's clear desire for political reform. Trouble had been brewing since 1848 between the Danes and the German population of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. (Both duchies were in union with Denmark; Schleswig, however, had a large German population, and Holstein was a member of the German Confederation.) When the Danish king acted rashly, Bismarck made sure that it was Prussia and Austria rather than the German Confederation which represented German interests. Liberal leaders like Rudolf Virchow still saw Bismarck as an unrepentant reactionary who was "no longer the man who joined us with feeling that he was going to accomplish something with an energetic foreign policy."

A quick successful war against Denmark left the fate of Schleswig and Holstein up to Bismarck and the Austrians. After much haggling, the Convention of Gastein was signed on Aug. 20, 1865; it provided for Schleswig to be administered by Prussia and Holstein by Austria. Liberals remained unappeased by Prussian military prowess and once again defeated the army bill in January 1865.

Source

"Bismarck, Otto von" Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
<http://www.eb.com:180/bol/topic?eu=108652&sctn=3>

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