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Bismarck and German unification

Bismarck was elected a member of the joint Prussian Diet and got an opportunity becoming a member of the National Assembly and the Constitutional Assembly. In 1851,the Emperor appointed Bismarck as a representative of Prussia for the Frankfurt assembly where he represented Prussia for eight years. He got awakened to the reality that the cooperation of Prussia and Austria was not possible, as Austria did not place Prussia on an equal footing. He learnt from his experience that Prussia could not become the sound foundation of Germany without defeating Austria. In 1859, Bismarck was sent to St. Petersburg as an ambassador. Bismarck wanted only specific kind of German unification under the leadership of Prussia by expelling Austria from the German Federation. He ensured that Prussia did not lose its entity on the altar of Germany’s unification. He was not prepared to sacrifice Prussia but desires to merge Germany into Prussia. After becoming the chancellor of Prussia, Bismarck carried forward his scheme of military reforms ruthlessly. He was convinced that the powers of Europe would never tolerate Germany’s unification because a powerful unified Germany might prove dangerous for the balance of power in Europe. Therefore he planned to increase the military strength of Prussia. When the liberal parliament did not pass the necessary legislations for implementing the reforms, he got the budget approved by the Upper House only and arranged the required money to execute the reforms. From 1862-1866 he got the budget approved by the upper house only. He gave top priority to the cause of the state even at the cost of neglecting the prevailing law. Refuting the ideals of liberalists, Bismarck said that Germany was looking towards the power of Prussia rather than her liberalism. The military reforms introduced by Bismarck transformed Prussian army into one of the most powerful armies of Europe. Bismarck used his diplomacy to isolate Austria and to ensure the neutrality of other major powers of Europe.

The creation of the German Empire by Bismarck’s blood and iron method, its autocratic constitution despite the establishment of universal male suffrage and its strong handed leadership first by the Iron Chancellor and then by Kaiser Wilhelm II guaranteed that the German Empire would be an enlarged Prussia. The German Empire possessed powerful army, a large energetic and disciplined population and rapidly growing industrial sector, a fervent and restless national spirit. Bismarck ruled over his creation as chancellor for almost 20 years. His first concern after the defeat of France and the declaration of the empire in 1870-71 was to complete the consolidation and nationalization of the German states and people. The law codes, the currencies and the military forces of the 25 lessor states were brought into conformity with those of Prussia. Banking and railroads were placed under control of the national government. The empire’s industry was protected against British competition by a high tariff. The French in Alsace-Lorraine, the Danes in Schleswig and more than 3 million poles in the eastern districts were pressured to give up their language and tradition.

Two other groups in Germany excited Bismarck’s suspicion and wrath were the Roman Catholics and socialists. Any German who had a foreign loyalty was intolerable to Bismarck. From 1872-1878 Bismarck waged a political power struggle with the Roman Catholics that came to be called the Kulturkampf (battle for civilization). The Jesuits were expelled, civil marriage was made compulsory and all education including that of Roman Catholic priests was brought under state control and largely secularized. When the Roman Catholic clergy and most of the laity that constituted approx. one third of the total German population resisted and rallied to the pope, hundreds of priests and six bishops were arrested. The Roman Catholic Centre party in the Reichstag became stronger and by 1878 Bismarck wanted its support for struggle against greater enemy Socialists. In 1878 upon the succession of more conciliatory pope, Leo XIII, Bismarck went to Canossa and had the most severe of the anti-Catholic legislation repealed. In the same year he began 12-year crusade against the internationally acclaimed socialists. He outlawed their publications, their organizations and meetings and drove them underground. In 1880s Bismarck sought to undercut the socialists appeal to the working class by setting up a comprehensive system of social insurance. His measures gave impetus to a trend toward state responsibility for social security. Bismarck’s foreign policy after 1871 was one of security and retrenchment. He maintained close military alliance with Austria- Hungary and cordial relations with Russia and Great Britain. In 1873 Bismarck formed the Three Emperor’s League among Germany, Austria- Hungary and Russia. When the interests of Austria- Hungary and Russia proved to be incompatible this league was replaced in 1879-82 by the Triple Alliance among Germany, Austria- Hungary and Italy. A separate reinsurance treaty of friendship and neutrality was made with Russia.