German unification occupies a significant place in the history of this great European power. Otto Von Bismarck, once the prime minister of Prussia, is responsible for single-handedly engineering this unification through clever strategies and creative tactics. The paper sheds light on the role of this German Chancellor in the unification of Germany.
ROLE OF BISMARCK IN GERMAN UNIFICATION
Germany has seen and experienced more than its fair share of troubles, wars and turbulence. The country has been divided and unified twice and on both occasions, German population made huge sacrifices. But compared to reunification of 1989, the first unification was a gory affair because it was largely sponsored and supported by German military. Whenever military gets involved in any event, possibility of bloodshed looms large and that is exactly what happened in Germany in the decade of 1860-1870. It was the time when Otto Von Bismarck had come to power and was acting as the president of Prussia under the orders of King Wilhelm I. Bismarck was a highly controversial figure and to this day, people are unable to classify him as either a true statesman or a rigid dictator (Pflanze 1987). He was one of those leaders who led Germany to glory but at the same time displayed some cruel traits, which many believe gave birth to the likes of Adolf Hitler (Fn 1). Bismarck will however be remembered as the man who engineered the unification of his country and was fearless and courageous in many respects.
The three signs of great men are -- generosity in the design, humanity in the execution, moderation in success."- Bismarck
1. See Pflanze's book's Bismarck: the man and the statesman, which sheds light on various achievements and blunders of Bismarck's regime
ANNE MCELVOY (1998) writes, "Bismarck is too contradictory and complex a figure to be elevated as a model of statesmanship, or caricatured as the force of pure conservative reaction. He was the fiercest opponent of the Liberals, yet produced the most innovative welfare and insurance schemes in Europe; he was an arch- Prussian who founded the German nation state, and a foe to democracy who introduced the first universal male suffrage. But the system he left was inherently unstable. It functioned during his lifetime, but no one else could run it without him." (4)
Whether we admire or despise this leader, one thing cannot change: he was the man solely responsible for first unification of Germany. Very few leaders have been able to attach such glorious victories and achievements to their name. He almost single-handedly devised a clever plan to crush his enemies in two vital wars, which resulted in unification of Northern and Southern German states and turned Germany into a mighty force. Though Bismarck certainly led to the unification of Germany, he cannot be considered a perfect ruler as he believed immensely in the powers of aristocracy and monarchy and thus wanted to rule Germany with an iron hand. While people still see him as a major force behind the unification of Germany, we must ignore the fact that he never made use of diplomatic means or channels for his end. He believed that the only way Germany could be unified under one confederation was through iron and blood policies, which would certainly involve the military. He was the man behind major conflicts that surfaced during his reign. This was because once he came to power; he never consulted the parliament that led to bitterness among Liberals.
Stephan Gallagher (1981) writes, "In 1862 the Prussian King William (Wilhelm) I chose Otto von Bismarck as his prime minister. Of Junker ancestry, Bismarck favored absolutism less than he championed aristocratic hegemony; he was particularly fond of the Junker-dominated Prussian army. Bismarck had been elected to the new Prussian parliament in 1848 and from 1851 served as Prussian delegate to the German Confederation's diet (composed of monarchical representatives). As Prussian prime minister his main task became that of resolving the conflict between crown and parliament on the issue of military reform. Bismarck's solution consisted of a synthesis of Hohenzollern authoritarianism and the liberal program of national unification as the means to win liberal support in parliament. Bismarck's method was the "politics of power." (1)
Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable... The art of the next best."-Bismarck
That Bismarck wanted German unification more than anything was clear from his various actions that he took during that important decade, but to say that he was interested in unification because of nationalism would be completely false. This is because while he did think that united Germany would pose a greater threat to other countries than scattered German states operating in isolation, he still was anything but nationalist at core. He was more interested in the preservation of military's might and aristocratic power. He was himself a member of German aristocracy and thus did not actually believed in equal powers for all social classes. This was the reason why he was chosen to represent Prussia when King Wilhelm I lost support for his army program in the parliament. In 1861, Bismarck took over and till 1866, he continued ruling the country and imposing his military reforms without the approval of the parliament. This was the sign of a true dictator and thus he posed a great threat to Austria, which was a part of Southern Germany. Austria was the biggest enemy of Prussia and Bismarck was of the view that in order to gain more powers, Austria had to be either annexed from German affairs or it must be conquered. The latter appeared to be a better solution and one that could easily increase Bismarck's powers. He then cleverly devised a long list of actions which provoked Austria and lead to the famous Seven-Week war between Prussia and Austria. (FN 1)
Never believe in anything until it has been officially denied."
Otto von Bismarck
The Columbia Encyclopedia 2002 edition writes, "To expel Austria from the German Confederation now became Bismarck's chief aim. The disposition of Schleswig-Holstein, former Danish territory annexed by Austria and Prussia after their defeat of the Danes in 1864, provided the necessary pretext. By the Gastein Convention of 1865 the two countries agreed to rule jointly -- Austria was to administer Holstein and Prussia was to administer Schleswig; but friction soon developed. Bismarck accused Austria of violating the Gastein treaty and thus precipitated the Austro-Prussian War (1866), which ended after seven weeks with the defeat of Austria. By the treaty signed at the end of the war, Germany was reorganized under Prussian leadership in the North German Confederation, from which Austria was excluded." "I want to play the tune the way it sounds to me or not at all...my pride bids me command rather than obey" - Otto von Bismarck
1. See Taylor's book Bismarck and German Empire, which contains valuable information on Seven Weeks war.
Exclusion of Austria had been attained very skillfully. It was not like he declared war on Austria without any planning. It was because of careful planning which lasted several years that he was able to conquer this country without much resistance. Bismarck was a highly intelligent dictator who knew the possible consequences of declaring war on Austria. But at the same time, he wanted to engage in a war to exclude its enemy from German affairs. Therefore the best strategy was to find some way of tricking Austria into war with Prussia and this way the latter could get an opportunity to gain victory over its biggest rival. For this reason, Bismarck first moved his troops to the Austrian-occupied Holstein and waited for some response from the Austrian quarters. None came as Austria only kept a watchful eye on these activities without actually taking any measure to put an end to it. But Bismarck knew that Austria would not ignore such obvious threats and thus started diplomatic negotiations with other major powers. This was done to ensure that in case Austria declared war, no great powers such as Italy, France, Russia or Britain would come to its aid. He also received a letter from French authorities that they would want one Southern State in exchange of their support. Bismarck was clever enough not to actually put his signature on that agreement. After he won the war, he meted out extremely just and fair treatment to Austrian because he had bigger plans for unification. He knew that once he defeated France, his dream of unification would finally materialize in complete form. This was because there were still some southern states which were out of the North German confederation and the only way they could concede to Confederation was if they found a common enemy. This common enemy appeared in the form of the French whose letter was shown to the Southern states to shed light on the evil plans of France. This worked out exactly the way Bismarck had envisioned and led to the famous Franco-Prussian war. France did not only encounter defeat,…