The architects of German Unification – Bismarck (left) with General Albrecht von Roon (centre) and Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke (right).
Born in Schönhausen in Brandenburg, the son of a Pomeranian Junker. Educated at Göttingen University. 1836: Entered the Prussian civil service. 1839: Retired from the civil service to manage the family estates. 1849: Elected as an ultra-conservative member of the Prussian Landtag. 1851: Joined the Prussian diplomatic corps, serving as Prussian representative to the Federal Diet and then ambassador to Russia and France. 1862: Appointed Prussian Minister- President. 1867: Became Chancellor of the North German Confederation. 1871-90: Chancellor of the German Empire.
“We are not in this world in order to be happy or to enjoy ourselves, but rather to fulfill our duty.” (1851, in a latter to his wife Johanna) “Politics is the art of the possible” (1867)
The ‘mad Junker’? Junker – a corruption of Junger Herr (Young Sir): the title given to Prussian landowners east of the River Elbe. Closely associated with Conservative politics in the 19 th century. The ‘White Revolutionary’? Realpolitik – ‘a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations.’ (OED). German Nationalist or Prussian Patriot? The ‘Bismarck Myth’
Reich Government The Chancellor (Reichskanzler) The ‘highest official in the Reich’ Also Minister-President of Prussia Responsible to the Emperor, not parliament Chairman of the Bundesrat Appointed government ministers Could ignore resolutions passed by the Reichstag The Emperor (Kaiser) Always the King of Prussia Could appoint/dismiss the Chancellor Could dissolve the Reichstag Could make treaties/declare war Commander-in-Chief of the army Had to approve all federal laws Possessed the right to interpret the constitution Bundesrat (upper house) The Federal Council Made up of 58 members nominated by states Not directly elected Consent required in passing new laws 14 votes needed to veto legislation Prussia had 17 of the 58 seats Bavaria had 6, the other states had 1 each Reichstag (lower house) The National parliament Elected by all males over 25 Limited powers to initiate new legislation Government ministers could not be members Members were not paid Could approve or reject the federal budget Elections normally held every 5 years Federal Centralised government with specific Responsibilities for the Reich as a whole (foreign policy, defence, customs etc.) State Regional government with responsibilities For individual states (education, direct Taxation, health, local justice etc.)
Even after unification many Germans had difficulty in identifying with the new state: Liberals – increasingly conscious that Bismarck’s Empire was not the united Germany they had desired for so long. Conservatives – who remained un-reconciled to the idea of a united Germany. Workers’ Movement felt that unification had done little to improve their lot and that the system had been deliberately designed to prevent them achieving their goals.
The Niederwald ‘Germania’ Monument (1885) The Teutoburger Wald Monument (1875)
Statue of Bismarck in the Großer Stern in Berlin (1901)
Poles Danes Alsatians Other Germans (Bavarians/Hanovarians) Jews
1870: The doctrine of Papal Infallibility published. 1872: Catholic schools brought under state control. The Jesuit Order banned from Germany. 1873: The ‘May Laws’ Only candidates for ordination who had been trained in Germany and passed a state approved examination could become priests. All religious appointments had to be approved by the state. 1874: Civil marriage introduced. 1875: All religious orders except nursing orders banned. 1878-80: End of the Kulturkampf – Dr Falk dismissed and some of the anti-Catholic laws repealed.
1869: August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht form the Marxist Social Democratic Workers’ Party. 1875: This merges with Ferdinand Lassale’s General German Workers’ Association to form the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) at a ‘Unity Conference’ in Gotha. The party’s ‘Gotha Programme’ called for “universal, direct, equal suffrage, with secret ballot and obligatory voting for all citizens over 20 years of age” freedom of press, association and assembly the abolition of child & female labour a shorter working week free, universal primary education While the SPD was an avowedly Marxist party, pledged to overthrow the established bourgeois order, they were committed to doing so through legal means.
1883: Sickness Insurance Act Provided medical treatment and up to 13 weeks sick pay for 3 million low-paid workers. 1884: Accident Insurance Act Provided protection for workers permanently disabled or sick for more than 13 weeks. 1889: Old Age & Disability Act Provided old age and disability pensions for people over 70 and those permanently disabled.
Bismarck was fundamentally opposed to Socialism – they represented a threat to the very fabric of the society he sought to preserve. 1876: Legislation banning the publication of Socialist propaganda defeated in the Reichstag. 1878: Two failed assassination attempts on Wilhelm I provide an opportunity to introduce anti-Socialist legislation. Oct 1878: The Anti-Socialist Law passed by the Reichstag. This Banned socialist organizations (including trade unions) Gave the police powers to break up socialist meetings Outlawed the publication and distribution of socialist literature
Wilhelm I (1861-88) Friedrich III (1888) Wilhelm II (1888-1918)
“I shall let the old man shuffle on for six months... then I shall rule myself.” Wilhelm II
Bismarck and Wilhelm disagreed over the need to retain close links with Russia. They clashed over social policy and the Anti-Socialist Law. In March 1890 Bismarck and Wilhelm quarrelled over ministers access to the monarch. Wilhelm gave Bismarck an ultimatum: resign or be dismissed. The next day Bismarck resigned.
Bismarck’s admirers He maintained peace between 1871 and 1890 His policies helped Germany’s economic development He pioneered state socialism In the 1870s he worked closely with the National Liberals and implemented many liberal policies He was not a dictator – his powers were limited and he worked with the parties in the Reichstag His long tenure in power points to his political skill Bismarck’s critics He was responsible for France remaining isolated and embittered His influence has been exaggerated “Negative integration” – using attacks on minorities to whip up patriotism The Kulturkampf was a major miscalculation His anti-socialist policies were unsuccessful He was unable to delegate and jealous of perceived rivals A flawed legacy – Bismarck’s rule led to Wilhemine & Nazi Germany