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Bismarck and the Foundation of the German Empire by James Wycliffe Headlam

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"London is quieter; but for the climate and the children's
health, I would prefer to stay here. Berne is an old idea of
mine; dull places with pretty neighbourhoods suit old people;
only there is no sport there, as I do not like climbing after

The decision depended on the events at home; the position of the
Government was becoming untenable. The elections had been most
unfavourable; the Radicals had ceased to efface themselves, the old
leaders of 1848 had appeared again; they had formed a new party of
"Progressives," and had won over a hundred seats at the expense of the
Conservatives and the moderate Liberals; they were pledged not to carry
out the military reforms and to insist on the two years' service. They
intended to make the difference of opinion on this point the occasion of
a decisive struggle to secure and extend the control of the House over
the administration, and for this purpose to bring into prominence
constitutional questions which both Crown and Parliament had hitherto
avoided. From the day the session opened it was clear that there was now
no chance of the money being voted for the army. Before the decisive
debate came on, the majority had taken the offensive and passed what was
a direct vote of want of confidence in the Ministry. On this the
Ministry handed in their resignations to the King; their place was taken
by members of the Conservative party and Parliament again dissolved
after sitting only six weeks. It was the end of the _new era_.

It was doubtful whether the new Ministers would have the skill and
resolution to meet the crisis; they still were without a leader; Prince
von Hohenlohe, a member of the Protestant branch of the family to which
the present Chancellor of the Empire belongs, was appointed provisional
President. The opinions of the country was clear enough; the elections
resulted in the complete defeat not only of the Conservatives but of the
moderate Liberals; not a single one of the Ministers was returned. There
was, therefore, no doubt that the King would either have to give in on
the question of the army or to govern against the will of the majority
of the Chamber. The struggle was no longer confined to the question of
the army; it was a formal conflict for power between the House and the
Crown. The attempt to introduce a Parliamentary government which had
been thwarted ten years before was now revived. Who could say what the
end would be? All precedent seemed to shew that in a struggle between
Crown and Parliament sooner or later the King must be beaten, unless,
indeed, he was prepared to adopt the means which Napoleon used. The King
would not give in; he believed that the army reform was necessary to the
safety of his country; on the other hand, he was a man of too loyal a
character to have recourse to violence and a breach of the Constitution.
If, however, the Constitution proved to be of such a kind that it made
it impossible for him to govern the country, he was prepared to retire
from his post; the position would indeed be untenable if on his
shoulders lay the responsibility of guiding the policy and defending the
interests of Prussia, and at the same time the country refused to grant
him the means of doing so.

The elections had taken place on May 6th; four days later Bismarck
arrived in Berlin; he had at last received his recall. As soon as he was
seen in Berlin his appointment as Minister-President was expected; all
those who wished to maintain the authority of the Crown, looked on him
as the only man who could face the danger. Roon was active, as usual, on
his side and was now supported by some of his colleagues, but
Schleinitz, who had the support of the Queen, wished to be President
himself; there were long meetings of the Council and audiences of the
King; but the old influences were still at work; Bismarck did not wish
to enter the Ministry except as Foreign Minister, and the King still
feared and distrusted him. An incident which occurred during these
critical days will explain to some extent the apprehensions which
Bismarck so easily awoke. The chronic difficulties with the Elector of
Hesse had culminated in an act of great discourtesy; the King of Prussia
had sent an autograph letter to the Elector by General Willisen; the
Elector on receiving it threw it unopened on the table; as the letter
contained the final demands of Prussia, the only answer was to put some
of the neighbouring regiments on a war footing. Bernstorff took the
opportunity of Bismarck's presence in Berlin to ask his advice; the
answer was: "The circumstance that the Elector has thrown a royal letter
on the table is not a clever _casus belli_; if you want war, make me
your Under Secretary; I will engage to provide you a German civil war of
the best quality in a few weeks." The King might naturally fear that if
he appointed Bismarck, not Under Secretary, but Minister, he would in a
few weeks, whether he liked it or not, find himself involved in a German
civil war of the best quality. He wanted a man who would defend the
Government before the Chambers with courage and ability; Bismarck, who
had gained his reputation as a debater, was the only man for the post.
He could have had the post of Minister of the Interior; he was offered
that of Minister-President without a Portfolio; but if he did not
actually refuse, he strongly disapproved of the plan; he would not be
able to get on with Bernstorff, and Schleinitz would probably interfere.
"I have no confidence in Bernstorff's eye for political matters; he
probably has none in mine." Bernstorff was "too stiff," "his collars
were too high." During these long discussions he wrote to his wife:

"Our future is obscure as in Petersburg. Berlin is now to the
front; I do nothing one way or another; as soon as I have my
credentials for Paris in my pocket I will dance and sing. At
present there is no talk of London, but all may change again. I
scarcely get free of the discussions all day long; I do not find
the Ministers more united than their predecessors were."

Disgusted with the long waiting and uncertainty he pressed for a
decision; after a fortnight's delay he was appointed Minister at Paris,
but this was in reality only a fresh postponement; nothing had really
been decided; the King expressly told him not to establish himself
there. To his wife he wrote from Berlin:

"I am very much pleased, but the shadow remains in the
background. I was already as good as caught for the Ministry.
Perhaps when I am out of their sight they will discover another
Minister-President. I expect to start for Paris to-morrow;
whether for long, God knows; perhaps only for a few months or
even weeks. They are all conspired together that I should stay
here. I have had to be very firm to get away from this hotel life
even for a time."

He did not really expect to be away more than ten days or a fortnight.
At a farewell audience just before he started, the King seems to have
led him to expect that he would in a very few days be appointed as he
wished, Foreign Minister.

He arrived in Paris on the 30th, to take up his quarters in the empty
Embassy. He did not wait even to see his wife before starting and he
wrote to her that she was not to take any steps towards joining him.

"It is not decided that I am to stay here; I am in the middle of
Paris lonelier than you are in Reinfeld and sit here like a rat
in a deserted house. How long it will last God knows. Probably in
eight or ten days I shall receive a telegraphic summons to Berlin
and then game and dance is over. If my enemies knew what a
benefit they would confer on me by their victory and how
sincerely I wish it for them, Schleinitz out of pure malice would
probably do his best to bring me to Berlin."

Day after day, however, went by and the summons did not come; on the
contrary Bernstorff wrote as though he were proposing to stay on; he did
not however, suggest giving up his post in London, Roon wrote that he
had raised the question in conversation with the King; that he had found
the old leaning towards Bismarck, and the old irresolution. The Chamber
had met, but the first few weeks of the session passed off with
unexpected quiet and it was not till the autumn that the question of the
Budget would come up. Bismarck wrote to Bernstorff to try and find out
what was to happen to him, but the King, before whom the letter was
laid, was quite unable to come to any decision.

Bismarck therefore determined to use his enforced leisure in order to go
across to London for a few days. He had only visited England once as a
young man, and, expecting as he did soon to be responsible for the
conduct of foreign affairs, it was desirable that he should make the
personal acquaintance of the leading English statesmen. Undoubtedly, one
of the reasons why he had been sent to Paris was that he might renew his
acquaintance with the Emperor. There was also a second International
Exhibition and everyone was going to London. We have, unfortunately, no
letters written from England; after his return he writes to Roon:

"I have just come back from London; people there are much better
informed about China and Turkey than about Prussia. Loftus must
write more nonsense to his Ministers than I thought."

The only event of which we have any information was his meeting with Mr.
Disraeli, who at that time was leader of the Opposition in the House of
Commons; it took place at a dinner given by the Russian Ambassador to
the Grand Duchess of Saxe-Weimar. Among the guests was Count Vitzthum,
Saxon Envoy; he saw Bismarck and Disraeli engaged in a long conversation
after dinner; afterwards the English statesman told him the substance of
it. Bismarck had spoken as follows:

"I shall soon be compelled to undertake the leadership of the
Prussian Government. My first care will be, with or without the
help of Parliament, to reorganise the army. The King has rightly
set himself this task; he cannot however carry it through with
his present councillors. When the army has been brought to such a
state as to command respect, then I will take the first
opportunity to declare war with Austria, burst asunder the German
Confederation, bring the middle and smaller States into
subjection, and give Germany a national union under the
leadership of Prussia. I have come here to tell this to the
Queen's Ministers."

Disraeli added to Vitzthum, who, of course, as Saxon Envoy was much
interested: "Take care of that man; he means what he says." It does not
appear that Bismarck had an opportunity of explaining his project either
to Lord Palmerston or to Lord Russell.

All through July he remained in Paris, to which he was called back in
order to receive some despatches which after all never arrived; the same
uncertainty continued; there was no work to be done there, Emperor and
Ministers were going away; he was still all alone in the Embassy without
servants, or furniture. As he wrote to his wife, he did not know what
to have for dinner or what to eat it on. He therefore applied for leave;
he was himself of opinion that as the King would not immediately give
him the Foreign Office it was not yet time for him to enter the
Ministry. Writing to Roon he advised that the Government should prolong
the conflict, draw the Chamber into disputes on small matters which
would weary the country; then when they were getting worn out and hoped
that the Government would meet them half-way so as to end the conflict,
then would be the time to summon him,

"as a sign that we are far from giving up the battle. The
appearance of a new battalion in the Ministerial array would then
perhaps make an impression that would be wanting now, especially
if beforehand a commotion was created by expressions about a
_coup d'etat_ and a new Constitution; then my own reputation for
careless violence would help me and people would think, 'now it
is coming!' Then, all the half-hearted would be inclined to
negotiation. I am astonished at the political incapacity of our
Chambers and yet we are an educated country. Undoubtedly too much
so; others are not cleverer but they have not the childish
self-confidence with which our political leaders publish their
incapacity in its complete nakedness as a model and pattern. How
have we Germans got the reputation of retiring modesty? There is
not a single one of us who does not think that he understands
everything, from strategy to picking the fleas off a dog, better
than professionals who have devoted their lives to it."

It was only with difficulty he could even get leave of absence, for the
King was as irresolute as ever; as to the cause of the difficulty we get
some hint in Roon's letters. There was a party which was pushing
Schleinitz, the only member of the Liberal Ministry who remained in
office; he had very influential support.

"Her Majesty the Queen returns to Babelsburg on Sunday; she is
much agitated, there will be scenes; the temperature towards the
Ministry will fall to zero or below."

He eventually got away at the end of July with six weeks' leave of
absence; he travelled down to Bordeaux and Bayonne and across the
Pyrenees to San Sebastian; he was away from all news of the world; for
weeks he scarcely saw even a German paper.

On the 14th of September he was at Toulouse; the sea-bathing, the
mountain air, the freedom from work and anxiety, and the warmth had
completely restored his health; for the first time since he went to St.
Petersburg he had recovered his old spirit, his decision, and directness
of action. He wrote that he must have some definite decision; otherwise
he would send in his resignation. "My furniture is at St. Petersburg and
will be frozen up, my carriages are at Stettin, my horses at Berlin, my
family in Pomerania, and I on the highroad." He was prepared to be his
Majesty's Envoy at Paris but he was also ready at once to enter the
Ministry. "Only get me certainty, one way or another," he writes to
Roon, "and I will paint angels' wings on your photograph." Two days
later, just as a year before, he received a telegram from Roon telling
him to come at once. On the 17th he was in Paris and on the morning of
the 20th he arrived in Berlin.

The long-delayed crisis had at last come; the debates on the Budget and
the vote for the army reform began on September 11th; it was continued
for five days, and at the end the House, by a majority of 273 to 62,
refused the money required for the increased establishment. The result
of this vote would be that if the wishes of the House were carried out,
the whole of the expenditure which had already been made for eight
months of the current year was illegal; moreover, the regiments which
had already existed for two years must be disbanded. It was a vote which
could not possibly be carried into effect, as the money had already been
spent. At a meeting of the Ministry which was held the next morning, the
majority, including this time even Roon, seemed to have been inclined to
attempt a compromise. The King alone remained firm. When he had heard
the opinion of all the Ministers, he rose and said that in that case it
would be impossible for him to carry on the Government any longer; it
would only remain for him to summon the Crown Prince. As he said this he
put his hand on the bell to call a messenger. The Ministers all sprang
from their chairs and assured him that he might depend upon them, and
they would support him to the end. Such were the circumstances in which
Roon summoned Bismarck. None the less the influence of the Queen and the
Crown Prince were so strong that the King still doubted whether he
ought to continue the struggle; on one thing he was determined, that if
he had to give way he would abdicate. Two days later he again asked Roon
his advice. "Appoint Bismarck Minister-President," was the answer. "But
he is not here, he will not accept," objected the King, referring
doubtless to the difficulties which Bismarck had raised formerly. "He is
in Berlin at this moment," said Roon. The King ordered him to come to
Potsdam. When Bismarck arrived there he found the King sitting at his
table, and in front of him the act of abdication, already signed. The
King asked him whether he was willing to undertake the Government, even
against the majority of the Parliament and without a Budget. Bismarck
said he would do so. It was one last chance, and the King tore up the
act of abdication. Two days later Bismarck was appointed provisional
Minister-President, and, at the beginning of October, received his
definite appointment as President and Foreign Minister.




The circumstances under which Bismarck accepted office were such as to
try the nerves of the strongest man. The King had not appealed to him so
long as there was anyone else who would carry on the Government; he was
the last resource, and had taken up a burden from which all others
shrunk. He had pledged himself to support the King in a conflict against
the whole nation; with the exception of the Upper House he had no
friends or supporters. The opinion in Europe was as decisively against
him as that in Prussia; he was scarcely looked on as a serious
politician; everyone believed that in a few weeks he would have to
retire, and the King to give up the useless conflict on which he was
staking his throne. Bismarck was under no illusion as to his position;
he had been summoned by the King, he depended for his office entirely on
the King, but would the King have the strength of will and courage to
resist? Only a few days after his appointment, the King had gone to
Baden-Baden for a week, where he met the Queen. When he came back, he
was completely disheartened. Bismarck, who had travelled part of the way
to meet him, got into the train at a small roadside station. He found
that the King, who was sitting alone in an ordinary first-class
carriage, was prepared to surrender. "What will come of it?" he said.
"Already I see the place before my castle on which your head will fall,
and then mine will fall too." "Well, as far as I am concerned," answered
Bismarck, "I cannot think of a finer death than one on the field of
battle or the scaffold. I would fall like Lord Strafford; and your
Majesty, not as Louis XVI., but as Charles I. That is a quite
respectable historical figure."

For the moment the centre of interest lay in the House. The new Minister
began by what he intended as an attempt at reconciliation: he announced
that the Budget for 1863 would be withdrawn; the object of this was to
limit as much as possible the immediate scope of difference; a fresh
Budget for the next year would be laid before them as soon as possible.
There would remain only the settlement of the Budget for the current
year. This announcement was badly received; the House was distrustful,
and they interpreted it as an attempt to return to the old practice of
deferring consideration of the Budget until the beginning of the year to
which it applied. The first discussion in which Bismarck took part was
not in the House itself, but in the Budget Committee. The Committee
proposed a resolution requiring the Government at once to lay before the
House the Budget for 1863, and declaring that it was unconstitutional
to spend any money which had been expressly and definitely refused by
the House of Representatives. On this there took place a long
discussion, in which Bismarck spoke repeatedly; for the discussions in
Committee, which consisted only of about thirty members, were
conversational in their nature. There was no verbatim report, but the
room was crowded with members who had come to hear the new Minister.
They were not disappointed. He spoke with a wit, incisiveness, and
versatility to which, as one observer remarked, they were not accustomed
from Prussian Ministers. He warned them not to exaggerate their powers.
The Prussian Constitution did not give the House of Representatives the
sole power of settling the Budget; it must be settled by arrangement
with the other House and the Crown. There was a difference of opinion in
the interpretation of the Constitution; all constitutional government
required compromise; a constitution was not something dead, it must be
enlivened; it was interpreted by custom and practice; it would be wiser
not to hasten this practice too quickly; then the question of law might
easily become one of power. It was not the fault of the Government that
they had got into this position; people took the situation too
tragically, especially in the press; they spoke as though the end of all
things was come; "but," he added, "a constitutional struggle is not a
disgrace, it is rather an honour; after all we are all children of the
same country." A true note, but one which he was not always able to
maintain in the struggle of the coming years. Then he expounded the
view of the German character which we have learnt from his letters: it
was customary to speak of the sobriety of the Prussian people; yes, but
the great independence of the individual made it difficult in Prussia to
govern with the Constitution; in France it was different; there this
individual independence was wanting; "we are perhaps too educated to
endure a constitution; we are too critical"; the capacity for judging
measures of the Government and acts of the Representatives was too
universal; there were in the country too many Catilinarian existences,
which had an interest in revolutions. He reminded them that Germany did
not care for the Liberalism of Prussia, but for its power; Bavaria,
Wurtemberg, Baden, might indulge in Liberalism; Prussia must concentrate
its power and hold itself ready for the favourable moment which had
already been passed over more than once; Prussia's boundaries, as fixed
by the Congress of Vienna, were not favourable to a sound political
life; "not by speeches and majority votes are the great questions of the
time decided--that was the great blunder of 1848 and 1849--but by blood
and iron." He appealed for confidence: "Do not force a quarrel; we are
honest people and you can trust us."

The effect of these speeches was very unfavourable; the very quickness
of thought and originality of expression produced a bad impression; even
the free indulgence in long foreign words offended patriotic
journalists. They seemed to his audience reckless; what was this
reference to the Treaties of Vienna but an imitation of Napoleonic
statesmanship? They had the consciousness that they were making history,
that they were involved in a great and tragic conflict, and they
expected the Minister to play his part seriously and solemnly; instead
of that they had listened to a series of epigrams with no apparent
logical connection. We know how dangerous it is, even in England, for a
responsible statesman to allow himself to be epigrammatic in dealing
with serious affairs. Much more was it in Germany, where the Ministers
were nearly always officials by training. Bismarck had the dangerous
gift of framing pregnant and pithy sentences which would give a ready
handle to his opponents: _Macht geht vor Recht_; he had not said these
words, but he had said something very much like them, and they
undoubtedly represented what seemed to his audience the pith of his
speeches. And then these words, _blood and iron_. He has told us in
later years what he really meant:

"Put the strongest possible military power, in other words, as
much blood and iron as you can, into the hands of the King of
Prussia, then he will be able to carry out the policy you wish;
it cannot be done with speeches and celebrations and songs, it
can only be done by blood and iron." [7]

What everyone thought he meant was that blood must be shed and iron
used; and perhaps they were not so far wrong.

The attempt at conciliation failed; the report of the Committee was
adopted, and an amendment proposed by Vincke, which Bismarck was
prepared to accept, was rejected. Bismarck warned the House not to push
the conflict too far; the time would come when the prospect of a
peaceful solution would have disappeared; then the Government too would
be prepared to oppose theory to theory and interpretation to

He showed to the President of the House a twig of olive. "I gathered
this in Avignon to bring it to the House; it does not seem to be time

The Budget was sent up to the House of Lords in the amended form in
which the House of Representatives had passed it; the Lords unanimously
threw it out, as they were legally justified in doing; not content with
that, they altered it to the original form in which it had been proposed
by the Government and sent it down again to the Lower House. This was
clearly illegal. Their action, however, was most useful to the
Government. A conflict had now arisen between the two Houses, and
technically the responsibility for the failure to bring the conciliation
about was taken away from the Government; they could entrench themselves
behind the impregnable position that the law required the Budget to be
passed by both Houses; until this was done they could do nothing. The
Houses would not agree; the Government was helpless. The House of
Representatives at once passed a motion declaring the vote of the Upper
House for altering the Budget null and void, as indeed it was; in the
middle of the discussion a message was brought down by the President
announcing that the House was to be prorogued that afternoon; they had
just time to pass the resolution and to send it in a cab which was
waiting at the door to the Upper House, where it was read out amidst the
boisterous laughter of the Peers; then both Chambers were summoned to
the Palace, and the session closed. The first round in the conflict was

The recess was short; the next session was by the Constitution obliged
to begin not later than January 15th; there were many who expected that
the Constitution would be ignored and the Parliament not summoned. This
was not Bismarck's plan; he fulfilled all the technical requirements in
the strictest way; he carefully abstained from any action which he could
not justify by an appeal to the letter of the Constitution; the
government of the country was carried on with vigour and success; he
allowed no loophole by which his opponents might injure his influence
with the King. It is true that they were spending money which had not
been voted, but then, as he explained, that was not his fault; the
provisions of the law were quite clear.

It was the duty of the Government to submit the Budget to the Lower
House, who could amend it; it had then to be passed in the form of a
law, and for this the assent of both Houses of Parliament and of the
Crown was required. The Upper House had not the right of proposing
amendments, but they had the right of rejecting them. In this case they
had made use of their right; no law had been passed the two Houses had
not agreed. What was to happen? The Constitution gave no help; there was
a gap in it. The Government therefore had to act as best they could.
They could not be expected to close the Government offices, cease to pay
the troops, and let the government of the country come to an end; they
must go on as best they could, taking all the responsibility until they
could come to some agreement.

As soon as the House met it began to vote an address to the King. They
adopted the obvious fiction, which, in fact, they could not well avoid,
that he was being misled by his Ministers, and the attitude of the
country misrepresented to him; even had they known as well as we do that
the Ministers were only carrying out the orders of the King, they could
not well have said so. Bismarck, however, did not attempt to conceal the
truth; the address, he said, touched the King; the acts complained of
were done in the name of the King; they were setting themselves against
him. The contest was, who was to rule in Prussia, the House of
Hohenzollern or the House of Parliament. He was at once accused of
disloyalty; he was, they said, protecting himself behind the person of
the sovereign, but, of course, it was impossible for him not to do so.
The whole justification for his action was that he was carrying out the
King's orders. What was at the root of the conflict but the question,
whether in the last resort the will of the King or the majority of the
House should prevail? To have adopted the English practice, to have
refrained from mentioning the King's name, would have been to adopt the
very theory of the Constitution for which the House was contending, the
English theory that the sovereign has neither the right of deciding nor
responsibility; it would have been to undermine the monarchical side of
the Constitution which Bismarck was expressly defending. The King
himself never attempted to avoid the responsibility; in a public speech
he had already said that the army organisation was his own work: "It is
my own and I am proud of it; I will hold firmly to it and carry it
through with all my energy." In his answer to the address from the
House, both on this and on later occasions, he expressly withdrew the
assumption that he was not well informed or that he did not approve of
his Ministers' action.

The address was carried by a majority of 255 to 68; the King refused to
receive it in person. The House then proceeded to throw out a Bill for
military reorganisation which was laid before them; they adopted a
resolution that they reserved for later discussion the question, for
what part of the money illegally spent in 1862 they would hold the
Ministry personally responsible. They then proceeded to the Budget of
1863, and again rejected the army estimates; they refused the money
asked for raising the salaries of the ambassadors (Bismarck himself,
while at St. Petersburg, had suffered much owing to the insufficiency of
his salary, and he wished to spare his successors a similar
inconvenience); and they brought in Bills for the responsibility of
Ministers. The public attention, however was soon directed from these
internal matters to even more serious questions of foreign policy.

At the beginning of February the Poles had once more risen in revolt
against the Russian Government. Much sympathy was felt for them in
Western Europe. England, France, and Austria joined in representations
and remonstrances to the Czar; they expected that Prussia would join

Nothing could have been more inconvenient to Bismarck; he was at the
time fully occupied in negotiations about German affairs, and he was
probably anxious to bring to a speedy issue the questions between
Prussia and Austria; it was therefore most important to him to be on
good terms with France and England, for he would not challenge Austria
unless he was sure that Austria would have no allies; now he must
quarrel with either Russia or with France. An insurrection in Poland
was, however, a danger to which everything else must be postponed; on
this his opinion never varied, here there could be no compromise. He was
perfectly open: "The Polish question is to us a question of life and
death," he said to Sir Andrew Buchanan. There were two parties among the
Poles; the one, the extreme Republican, wished for the institution of an
independent republic; the other would be content with self-government
and national institutions under the Russian Crown; they were supported
by a considerable party in Russia itself. Either party if successful
would not be content with Russian Poland; they would demand Posen, they
would never rest until they had gained again the coast of the Baltic and
deprived Prussia of her eastern provinces. The danger to Prussia would
be greatest, as Bismarck well knew, if the Poles became reconciled to
the Russians; an independent republic on their eastern frontier would
have been dangerous, but Polish aspirations supported by the Panslavonic
party and the Russian army would have been fatal. Russia and Poland
might be reconciled, Prussia and Poland never can be. Prussia therefore
was obliged to separate itself from the other Powers; instead of sending
remonstrances to the Czar, the King wrote an autograph letter proposing
that the two Governments should take common steps to meet the common
danger; General von Alvensleben, who took the letter, at once concluded
a convention in which it was agreed that Prussian and Russian troops
should be allowed to cross the frontier in pursuit of the insurgents; at
the same time two of the Prussian army corps were mobilised and drawn up
along the Polish frontier.

The convention soon became known and it is easy to imagine the
indignation with which the Prussian people and the House of
Representatives heard of what their Government had done. The feeling was
akin to that which would have prevailed in America had the President
offered his help to the Spanish Government to suppress the insurrection
in Cuba. The answers to questions were unsatisfactory, and on February
26th Heinrich von Sybel rose to move that the interests of Prussia
required absolute neutrality. It was indeed evident that Bismarck's
action had completely isolated Prussia; except the Czar, she had now
not a single friend in Europe and scarcely a friend in Germany. Bismarck
began his answer by the taunt that the tendency to enthusiasm for
foreign nationalities, even when their objects could only be realised at
the cost of one's own country, was a political disease unfortunately
limited to Germany. It was, however, an unjust taunt, for no one had
done more than Sybel himself in his historical work to point out the
necessity, though he recognised the injustice, of the part Prussia had
taken in the partition of Poland; nobody had painted so convincingly as
he had, the political and social demoralisation of Poland. Bismarck then
dwelt on the want of patriotism in the House, which in the middle of
complicated negotiations did not scruple to embarrass their own
Government. "No English House of Commons," he said, "would have acted as
they did," a statement to which we cannot assent; an English Opposition
would have acted exactly as the majority of the Prussian Parliament did.
When a Minister is in agreement with the House on the general principles
of policy, then indeed there rests on them the obligation not to
embarrass the Government by constant interpolation with regard to each
diplomatic step; self-restraint must be exercised, confidence shewn.
This was not the case here; the House had every reason to believe that
the objects of Bismarck were completely opposed to what they wished;
they could not be expected to repose confidence in him. They used this,
as every other opportunity, to attempt to get rid of him.

The question of Poland is one on which Bismarck never altered his
attitude. His first public expression of opinion on foreign affairs was
an attack on the Polish policy of the Prussian Government in 1848.

"No one then," he wrote, "could doubt that an independent Poland
would be the irreconcilable enemy of Prussia and would remain so
till they had conquered the mouth of the Vistula and every
Polish-speaking village in West and East Prussia, Pomerania, and

Forty years later one of the last of his great speeches in the Reichstag
was devoted to attacking the Polish sympathies of the Catholic party in
Prussia. He was never tired of laughing at the characteristic German
romanticism which was so enthusiastic for the welfare of other nations.
He recalled the memories of his boyhood when, after the rebellion of
1831, Polish refugees were received in every German town with honours
and enthusiasm greater than those paid to the men who had fought for
Germany, when German children would sing Polish national airs as though
they were their own.

Nothing shews the change which he has been able to bring about in German
thought better than the attitude of the nation towards Poland. In the
old days the Germans recollected only that the partition of Poland had
been a great crime; it was their hope and determination that they might
be able to make amends for it. In those days the Poles were to be found
in every country in Europe, foremost in fighting on the barricades; they
helped the Germans to fight for their liberty, and the Germans were to
help them to recover independence. In 1848, Mieroslawski had been
carried like a triumphant hero through the streets of Berlin; the Baden
rebels put themselves under the leadership of a Pole, and it was a Pole
who commanded the Viennese in their resistance to the Austrian army; a
Pole led the Italians to disaster on the field of Novara. At a time when
poets still were political leaders, and the memory and influence of
Byron had not been effaced, there was scarcely a German poet, Platen,
Uhland, Heine, who had not stirred up the enthusiasm for Poland. It was
against this attitude of mind that Bismarck had to struggle and he has
done so successfully. He has taught that it is the duty of Germany to
use all the power of the State for crushing and destroying the Polish
language and nationality; the Poles in Prussia are to become Prussian,
as those in Russia have to become Russian. A hundred years ago the
Polish State was destroyed; now the language and the nation must cease
to exist.

It is a natural result of the predominance of Prussia in Germany. The
enthusiasm for Poland was not unnatural when the centre of gravity of
Germany was still far towards the West. Germany could be great,
prosperous, and happy, even if a revived Poland spread to the shores of
the Baltic, but Prussia would then cease to exist and Bismarck has
taught the Germans to feel as Prussians.

The danger during these weeks was real; Napoleon proposed that Austria,
England, and France should present identical notes to Prussia
remonstrating with and threatening her. Lord Russell refused; it was, as
Bismarck said in later years, only the friendly disposition of Lord
Russell to Germany which saved Prussia from this danger. Bismarck's own
position was very insecure; but he withstood this attack as he did all
others, though few knew at what expense to his nerves and health; he
used to attribute the frequent illnesses of his later years to the
constant anxiety of these months; he had a very nervous temperament,
self-control was difficult to him, and we must remember that all the
time when he was defending the King's Government against this public
criticism he had to maintain himself against those who at Court were
attempting to undermine his influence with the King.

He had, however, secured the firm friendship of Russia. When he was in
St. Petersburg he had gained the regard of the Czar; now to this
personal feeling was added a great debt of gratitude. What a contrast
between the action of Austria and Prussia! The late Czar had saved
Austria from dissolution, and what had been the reward? Opposition in
the East, and now Austria in the Polish affair was again supporting the
Western Powers. On the other hand Prussia, and Prussia alone, it was
which had saved Russia from the active intervention of France and
England. Napoleon had proposed that a landing should he made in
Lithuania in order to effect a junction with the Poles; Bismarck had
immediately declared that if this were done he should regard it as a
declaration of war against Prussia. So deep was the indignation of
Alexander that he wrote himself to the King of Prussia, proposing an
alliance and a joint attack on France and Austria. It must have been a
great temptation to Bismarck, but he now shewed the prudence which was
his great characteristic as a diplomatist; he feared that in a war of
this kind the brunt would fall upon Prussia, and that when peace was
made the control of negotiations would be with the Czar. He wished for
war with Austria, but he was determined that when war came he should
have the arrangement of the terms of peace. On his advice the King
refused the offer.

The bitterness of the feeling created by these debates on Poland
threatened to make it impossible for Ministers any longer to attend in
the House; Bismarck did his part in increasing it.

"You ask me," he said, "why, if we disagree with you, we do not
dissolve; it is that we wish the country to have an opportunity
of becoming thoroughly acquainted with you."

He was tired and angry when during one of these sittings he writes to

"I am obliged to listen to particularly tasteless speeches out of
the mouths of uncommonly childish and excited politicians, and I
have therefore a moment of unwilling leisure which I cannot use
better than in giving you news of my welfare. I never thought
that in my riper years I should be obliged to carry on such an
unworthy trade as that of a Parliamentary Minister. As envoy,
although an official, I still had the feeling of being a
gentleman; as [Parliamentary] Minister one is a helot. I have
come down in the world, and hardly know how.

"April 18th. I wrote as far as this yesterday, then the sitting
came to an end; five hours' Chamber until three o'clock; one
hour's report to his Majesty; three hours at an incredibly dull
dinner, old important Whigs; then two hours' work; finally, a
supper with a colleague, who would have been hurt if I had
slighted his fish. This morning, I had hardly breakfasted, before
Karolyi was sitting opposite to me; he was followed without
interruption by Denmark, England, Portugal, Russia, France, whose
Ambassador I was obliged to remind at one o'clock that it was
time for me to go to the House of phrases. I am sitting again in
the latter; hear people talk nonsense, and end my letter. All
these people have agreed to approve our treaties with Belgium, in
spite of which twenty speakers scold each other with the greatest
vehemence, as if each wished to make an end of the other; they
are not agreed about the motives which make them unanimous,
hence, alas! a regular German squabble about the Emperor's beard;
_querelle d'Allemand_. You Anglo-Saxon Yankees have something of
the same kind also.... Your battles are bloody; ours wordy; these
chatterers really cannot govern Prussia. I must bring some
opposition to bear against them; they have too little wit and too
much self-complacency--stupid and audacious. Stupid, in all its
meanings, is not the right word; considered individually, these
people are sometimes very clever, generally educated--the
regulation German university culture; but of politics, beyond the
interests of their own church tower, they know as little as we
knew as students, and even less; as far as external politics go,
they are also, taken separately, like children. In all other
questions they become childish as soon as they stand together _in
corpore_. In the mass stupid, individually intelligent."

Recalling these days, Bismarck said in later years:

"I shall never forget how I had every morning to receive the
visit of Sir Andrew Buchanan, the English Ambassador, and
Talleyrand, the representative of France, who made hell hot for
me over the inexcusable leanings of Prussian policy towards
Russia, and held threatening language towards us, and then at
midday I had the pleasure of hearing in the Prussian Parliament
pretty much the same arguments and attacks which in the morning
the foreign Ambassadors had made against me."

Of course the language used in the House weakened his influence abroad,
and the foreign Governments shewed more insistence when they found out
that the Prussian Parliament supported their demands. It was noticed
with satisfaction in the English Parliament that the nation had
dissociated itself from the mean and disgraceful policy of the

At last personal friction reached such a point that the session had to
be closed. In order to understand the cause of this we must remember
that in Prussia the Ministers are not necessarily members of either
House; they enjoy, however, by the Constitution, the right of attending
the debates and may at any time demand to be heard; they do not sit in
the House among the other members, but on a raised bench to the right of
the President, facing the members. They have not, therefore, any feeling
of _esprit de corps_ as members of the assembly; Bismarck and his
colleagues when they addressed the House spoke not as members, not as
the representatives of even a small minority, but as strangers, as the
representatives of a rival and hostile authority; it is this which
alone explains the almost unanimous opposition to him; he was the
opponent not of one party in the House but of the Parliament itself and
of every other Parliament. In the course of a debate he came into
conflict with the Chair; the President pointed out that some of his
remarks had nothing to do with the subject; Bismarck at once protested:
"I cannot allow the President the right to a disciplinary interruption
in my speech. I have not the honour of being a member of this assembly;
I have not helped to vote your standing orders; I have not joined in
electing the President; I am not subject to the disciplinary power of
the Chamber. The authority of the President ends at this barrier. I have
one superior only, his Majesty the King." This led to a sharp passage
with the President, who maintained that his power extended as far as the
four walls; he could not indeed withdraw the right of speech from a
Minister, but could interrupt him. Bismarck at once repeated word for
word the obnoxious passage of his speech. The President threatened, if
he did so again, to close the sitting; Bismarck practically gave way; "I
cannot," he said, "prevent the President adjourning the House; what I
have said twice I need not repeat a third time"; and the debate
continued without further interruption. A few weeks later a similar
scene occurred, but this time it was not Bismarck but Roon, and Roon had
not the same quick feeling for Parliamentary form; Bismarck had defied
the President up to the extreme point where his legal powers went, Roon
passed beyond them. The President wished to interrupt the Minister;
Roon refused to stop speaking; the President rang his bell. "When I
interrupt the Minister," he said, "he must be silent. For that purpose I
use my bell, and, if the Minister does not obey, I must have my hat
brought me." When the Chairman put on his hat the House would be
adjourned. Roon answered, "I do not mind if the President has his hat
brought; according to the Constitution I can speak if I wish, and no one
has the right to interrupt me." After a few more angry words on either
side, as Roon continued to dispute the right of the President, the
latter rose from his seat and asked for his hat, which he placed on his
head. All the members rose and the House was adjourned. Unfortunately
the hat handed to him was not his own; it was much too large and
completely covered his head and face, so that the strain of the
situation was relieved by loud laughter. After this the Ministers
refused to attend the House unless they received an assurance that the
President no longer claimed disciplinary authority over them; a series
of memoranda were exchanged between the House and the Ministry; the
actual point in dispute was really a very small one; it is not even
clear that there was _any_ difference of opinion; everyone acknowledged
that the Ministers might make as many speeches as they liked, and that
the Chairman could not require them to stop speaking. The only question
was whether he might interrupt them in order to make any remarks
himself; but neither side was prepared to come to an understanding. The
King, to whom the House appealed, supported the Ministry, and a few
days later the House was prorogued. The second session was over.

Three days later, by Royal proclamation, a series of ordinances was
published creating very stringent regulations for the control of the
Press; they gave the police the right of forbidding a newspaper to
appear for no other reason except disapproval of its general tendency.
It was a power more extreme than in the worst days of the Carlsbad
decrees had ever been claimed by any German Government. The ordinances
were based on a clause in the Constitution which gave the Government at
times of crisis, if Parliament were not sitting, the power of making
special regulations for the government of the Press. The reference to
the Constitution seemed almost an insult; the kind of crisis which was
meant was obviously a period of civil war or invasion; it seemed as
though the Government had taken the first pretext for proroguing
Parliament to be able to avail themselves of this clause. The ordinances
reminded men of those of Charles X.; surely, they said, this was the
beginning of a reign of violence.

The struggle was now no longer confined to Parliament. Parliament indeed
was clearly impotent; all that could be done by speeches and votes and
addresses had been done and had failed; the King still supported the
Ministry. It was now the time for the people at large; the natural
leaders were the corporations of the large towns; the Liberal policy of
the Prussian Government had given them considerable independence; they
were elected by the people, and in nearly every town there was a large
majority opposed to the Government. Headed by the capital, they began a
series of addresses to the King; public meetings were organised; at
Cologne a great festival was arranged to welcome Sybel and the other
representatives from the Rhine. It was more serious that in so
monarchical a country the discontent with the personal action of the
King found public expression. The Crown Prince was at this time on a
tour of military inspection in East Prussia; town after town refused the
ordinary loyal addresses; they would not welcome him or take part in the
usual ceremonies; the ordinary loyal addresses to the King and other
members of the Royal Family were refused. It was no longer a conflict
between the Ministry and the Parliament, but between the King and the

Suddenly the country learned that the Crown Prince himself, the Heir
Apparent to the throne, was on their side. He had always disliked
Bismarck; he was offended by the brusqueness of his manner. He disliked
the genial and careless _bonhommie_ with which Bismarck, who hated
affectation, discussed the most serious subjects; he had opposed his
appointment, and he now held a position towards his father's Government
similar to that which ten years before his father had held towards his
own brother. He was much influenced by his English relations, and the
opinion of the English Court was strongly unfavourable to Bismarck.
Hitherto the Crown Prince had refrained from any public active
opposition; he had, however, not been asked his opinion concerning the
Press ordinances, nor had he even received an invitation to the council
at which they were passed. Bitterly offended at this slight upon
himself, seriously alarmed lest the action of the Government might even
endanger the dynasty, on his entry into Danzig he took occasion to
dissociate himself from the action of the Government. He had not, he
said, been asked; he had known nothing about it; he was not responsible.
The words were few and they were moderate, but they served to shew the
whole of Germany what hitherto only those about the Court had known,
that the Crown Prince was to be counted among the opponents of the

An incident followed a few days later which could only serve to increase
the breach. After his speech at Danzig, the Crown Prince had offered to
surrender all his official positions; the King had not required this of
him, but had strictly ordered him not again to come into opposition to
his Government. The Crown Prince had promised obedience, but continued
his private protests against "these rude and insolent Ministers." The
letters on both sides had been affectionate and dignified. A few days
later, however, the Berlin correspondent of the _Times_ was enabled to
publish the contents of them. It is not known who was to blame for this
very serious breach of confidence; but the publication must have been
brought about by someone very closely connected with the Crown Prince;
suspicion was naturally directed towards the Court of Coburg. It was not
the last time that the confidence of the Crown Prince was to be abused
in a similar manner.

The event naturally much increased Bismarck's dislike to the entourage
of the Prince. There was indeed a considerable number of men, half men
of letters, half politicians, who were glad to play a part by attaching
themselves to a Liberal Prince; they did not scruple to call in the help
of the Press of the foreign countries, especially of England, and use
its influence for the decision of Prussian affairs. Unfortunately their
connections were largely with England; they had a great admiration for
English liberty, and they were often known as the English party. This
want of discretion, which afterwards caused a strong prejudice against
them in Germany, was used to create a prejudice also against England.
People in Germany confused with the English nation, which was supremely
indifferent to Continental affairs, the opinions of a few writers who
were nearly always German. For many years after this, the relations
between Bismarck and the Crown Prince were very distant, and the breach
was to be increased by the very decided line which the Crown Prince
afterwards took with regard to the Schleswig-Holstein affair.

The event shewed that Bismarck knew well the country with which he was
dealing; the Press ordinances were not actually illegal, they were
strictly enforced; many papers were warned, others were suppressed; the
majority at once changed their tone and moderated their expression of
hostility to the Government. In England, under similar circumstances, a
host of scurrilous pamphlets have always appeared; the Prussian police
were too prompt for this to be possible. The King refused to receive the
addresses; an order from the Home Office forbade town councils to
discuss political matters; a Buergermeister who disregarded the order was
suspended from his office; public meetings were suppressed. These
measures were successful; the discontent remained and increased, but
there was no disorder and there were no riots. Great courage was
required to defy public opinion, but with courage it could be defied
with as much impunity as that of the Parliament. Englishmen at the time
asked why the people did not refuse to pay the taxes; the answer is
easy: there would have been no legal justification for this, for though,
until the estimates had been passed, the Ministers were not legally
enabled to spend a farthing of public money, the taxes could still be
levied; they were not voted annually; once imposed, they continued until
a law was passed withdrawing them. The situation, in fact, was this,
that the Ministry were obliged to collect the money though they were not
authorised in spending it. To this we must add that the country was very
prosperous; the revenue was constantly increasing; there was no
distress. The socialist agitation which was just beginning was directed
not against the Government but against society; Lassalle found more
sympathy in Bismarck than he did with the Liberal leaders. He publicly
exhorted his followers to support the Monarchy against these miserable
Bourgeois, as he called the Liberals. Except on the one ground of the
constitutional conflict, the country was well governed; there was no
other interference with liberty of thought or action.

Moreover, there was a general feeling that things could not last long;
the Liberals believed that the future was with them; time itself would
bring revenge. At the worst they would wait till the death of the King;
he was already nearly seventy years of age; the political difficulties
had much injured his health. When he was gone, then with the Crown
Prince the constitutional cause would triumph.

How different was the future to be! Year after year the conflict
continued. Each year the House was summoned and the Budget laid before
it; each year the House rejected the Budget; they threw out Government
measures, they refused the loans, and they addressed the King to dismiss
his Ministers. The sessions, however, were very short; that of 1864
lasted only a few weeks.

Each year Bismarck's open contempt for the Parliament and their
unqualified hatred of him increased. The people still continued to
support their representatives. The cities still continued to withhold
their loyal addresses to the King. With each year, however, the
Government gained confidence. It was easy to see that the final result
would depend on the success of the Government in external affairs. To
these we must now turn.

English opinion at that time was unanimously opposed to the King; it is
difficult even now to judge the issue. It was natural for Englishmen to
sympathise with those who wished to imitate them. Their pride was
pleased when they found the ablest Parliamentary leaders, the most
learned historians and keenest jurists desirous to assimilate the
institutions of Prussia to those which existed in England. It is just
this which ought to make us pause. What do we think of politicians who
try to introduce among us the institutions and the faults of foreign
countries? "Why will not the King of Prussia be content with the
position which the Queen of England holds, or the King of the
Belgians,--then all his unpopularity would be gone?" was a question
asked at the time by an English writer. We may ask, on the other hand,
why should the King of Prussia sacrifice his power and prerogative? The
question is really as absurd as it would be to ask, why is not an
English Parliament content with the power enjoyed by the Prussian
Parliament? It was a commonplace of the time, that the continued
conflict shewed a want of statesmanship; so it did, if it is
statesmanship always to court popularity and always to surrender one's
cause when one believes it to be right, even at the risk of ruining
one's country. It must be remembered that through all these years the
existence of Prussia was at stake. If the Prussian Government insisted
on the necessity for a large and efficient army, they were accused of
reckless militarism. People forgot that the Prussian Monarchy could no
more maintain itself without a large army than the British Empire could
without a large navy. In all the secret diplomatic negotiations of the
time, the dismemberment of Prussia was a policy to be considered. France
wished to acquire part of the left bank of the Rhine, Austria had never
quite given up hope of regaining part of Silesia; it was not fifty years
since Prussia had acquired half the kingdom of Saxony; might not a
hostile coalition restore this territory? And then the philanthropy of
England and the intrigues of France were still considering the
possibility of a revived Poland, but in Poland would have to be included
part of the territory which Prussia had acquired.

It is often said that from this conflict must be dated the great growth
of militarism in Europe; it is to the victory of the King and Bismarck
that we are to attribute the wars which followed and the immense
armaments which since then have been built up in Europe. To a certain
extent, of course, this is true, though it is not clear that the
presence of these immense armies is an unmixed evil. It is, however,
only half the truth; the Prussian Government was not solely responsible.
It was not they who began arming, it was not they who first broke the
peace which had been maintained in Europe since 1815. Their fault seems
to have been, not that they armed first, but that when they put their
hand to the work, they did it better than other nations. If they are
exposed to any criticism in the matter, it must rather be this, that the
Government of the late King had unduly neglected the army; they began to
prepare not too soon but almost too late. It was in Austria in 1848 that
the new military dominion began; Austria was supported by Russia and
imitated by France; Prussia, surrounded by these empires, each at least
double herself in population, was compelled to arm in self-defence. By
not doing so sooner she had incurred the disgrace of Olmuetz; her whole
policy had been weak and vacillating, because the Government was
frightened at stirring up a conflict in which they would almost
certainly be defeated.

There is one other matter with regard to the conflict so far as regards
Bismarck personally. We must always remember that he was not responsible
for it. It had originated at a time when he was absent from Germany, and
had very little influence on the conduct of affairs. Had he been
Minister two years before, there probably would have been no conflict at
all. The responsibility for it lies partly with the leaders of the
Liberal party, who, as we know from memoirs that have since been
published, were acting against their own convictions, in opposing the
military demands of the Government, for they feared that otherwise the
party would not follow them. Much of the responsibility also rests with
the Ministry of the _new era_; they had mismanaged affairs; the
mismanagement arose from the want of union among them, for the Liberal
majority were in many matters opposed to the King and the throne. It was
this want of cordial co-operation in the Ministry which led to the great
blunder by which the Minister of War acted in a way which seemed to be,
and in fact was, a breach of an engagement made by the Minister of
Finance. Had Bismarck been in authority at the time, we can hardly doubt
that he would have found some way of effecting a compromise between the
Government and the leaders of the Moderate Liberal party. At least no
blame attached to him for what had happened. Still less can we afford
him anything but the highest commendation, that, when the King had got
into an absolutely untenable position, he came forward, and at the risk
of his reputation, his future, perhaps his life, stood by his side.




We have seen that the result of the conflict would eventually depend
upon the management of foreign affairs. Bismarck before his appointment
had always said that the Government could only gain freedom at home by a
more vigorous policy abroad. He was now in a position to follow the
policy he desired. The conflict made him indispensable to the King; if
he retired, the King would have to surrender to the House. This was
always present to his mind and enabled him to keep his influence against
all his enemies, who throughout the spring had used every effort to
undermine his authority with the King.

There were many who thought that he deliberately maintained the friction
in order to make himself indispensable, and in truth his relations to
the Parliament had this advantage, that there was no use in attempting
to take into consideration their wishes. Had he been supported by a
friendly House he would have had to justify his policy, perhaps to
modify it; as it was, since they were sure to refuse supplies whatever
he did, one or two more votes of censure were a matter of indifference
to him, and he went on his own way directing the diplomacy of the
country with as sure and firm a hand as though no Parliament existed.

In the autumn he had the first opportunity for shewing how great his
influence already was. During the summer holidays, he was in almost
constant attendance on the King, who as usual had gone to Gastein for a
cure. Perhaps he did not venture to leave the King, but he often
complained of the new conditions in which his life was passed; he wished
to be back with his wife and children in Pomerania. He writes to his
wife from Baden: "I wish that some intrigue would necessitate another
Ministry, so that I might honourably turn my back on this basin of ink
and live quietly in the country. The restlessness of this life is
unbearable; for ten weeks I have been doing clerk's work at an inn--it
is no life for an honest country gentleman."

At the end of July, a proposal came from the Emperor of Austria which,
but for Bismarck's firmness, might have had very far-reaching results.
The Emperor had visited the King and discussed with him proposals for
the reform of the Confederation. He explained an Austrian plan for the
reform which was so much needed, and asked the King if he would join in
an assembly of all the German Princes to discuss the plan. The King for
many reasons refused; nevertheless two days afterwards formal
invitations were sent out to all the Princes and to the Burgomasters of
the free cities, inviting them to a Congress which was to meet at
Frankfort. All the other Princes accepted, and the Congress met on the
15th of August. The Emperor presided in person, and he hoped to be able
to persuade them to adopt his proposals, which would be very favourable
for Austria. It was, however, apparent that without the presence of the
King of Prussia the Congress would come to no result; it was therefore
determined to send a special deputation to invite him to reconsider his
refusal. The King had the day before moved from Karlsbad to Baden and
was therefore in the immediate neighbourhood of Frankfort. It was very
difficult for him not to accept this special invitation. "How can I
refuse," he said, "when thirty Princes invite me and they send the
message by a King!"

Personally he wished to go, though he agreed with Bismarck that it would
be wiser to stay away; all his relations pressed him to go. It would
have been pleasant for once to meet in friendly conclave all his fellow
Princes. Bismarck, however, was determined that it should not be. He
also had gone to Baden-Baden; the King consulted him before sending the
answer. After a long and exhausting struggle, Bismarck gained his point
and a refusal was sent. He had threatened to resign if his advice were
not taken. As soon as the letter was sealed and despatched, Bismarck
turned to a tray with glasses which stood on the table and smashed them
in pieces. "Are you ill?" asked a friend who was in the room. "No," was
the answer; "I was, but I am better now. I felt I must break something."
So much were his nerves affected by the struggle.

The Congress went on without the representative of Prussia. The Kings
and Princes discussed the proposals in secret session. They enjoyed this
unaccustomed freedom; for the first time they had been able to discuss
the affairs of their own country without the intervention of their
Ministers. The Ministers had, of course, come to Frankfort, but they
found themselves excluded from all participation in affairs. With what
admiration and jealousy must they have looked on Bismarck, but there was
none of them who had done for his Prince what Bismarck had for the King
of Prussia.

Perhaps it was his intention at once to press forward the struggle with
Austria for supremacy in Germany. If so, he was to be disappointed. A
new difficulty was now appearing in the diplomatic world: the
Schleswig-Holstein question, which had been so long slumbering, broke
out into open fire, and nearly three years were to pass before Bismarck
was able to resume the policy on which he had determined. Men often
speak as though he were responsible for the outbreak of this difficulty
and the war which followed; that was far from being the case; it
interrupted his plans as much as did the Polish question. We shall have
to see with what ingenuity he gained for his country an advantage from
what appeared at first to be a most inconvenient situation.

We must shortly explain the origin of this question, the most
complicated that has ever occupied European diplomacy.

The Duchy of Holstein had been part of the German Empire; for many
hundreds of years the Duke of Holstein had also been King of Denmark;
the connection at first had been a purely personal union; it was,
however, complicated by the existence of the Duchy of Schleswig.
Schleswig was outside the Confederation, as it had been outside the
German Empire, and had in old days been a fief of the Kingdom of
Denmark. The nobles of Holstein had, however, gradually succeeded in
extending German influence and the German language into Schleswig, so
that this Duchy had become more than half German. Schleswig and Holstein
were also joined together by very old customs, which were, it is said,
founded on charters given by the Kings of Denmark; it was claimed that
the two Duchies were always to be ruled by the same man, and also that
they were to be kept quite distinct from the Kingdom of Denmark. These
charters are not undisputed, but in this case, as so often happens in
politics, the popular belief in the existence of a right was to be more
important than the legal question whether the right really existed.

The trouble began about 1830. There was a double question, the question
of constitution and the question of inheritance. The Danes, desirous to
consolidate the Monarchy, had neglected the rights of the old local
Estates in the Duchies; this led to an agitation and a conflict. It was
a struggle for the maintenance of local privileges against the Monarchy
in Copenhagen. Moreover, a vigorous democratic party had arisen in
Denmark; their object was to incorporate the whole of Schleswig in the
Danish Monarchy; they did not care what happened to Holstein. This party
were called the Eider Danes, for they wished Denmark to be extended to
the Eider. Against this proposed separation of the two Duchies violent
protests were raised, and in 1848 a rebellion broke out. This was the
rebellion which had been supported in that year by Prussia, and it had
the universal sympathy of everyone in Germany, Princes and people alike.

The question of constitution was complicated by one of succession. The
male line of the Royal House which ruled in Denmark was dying out;
according to a law introduced in 1660, descendants of the female branch
might succeed in the Kingdom. This law had probably never been legally
enacted for the Duchies; in Schleswig and Holstein the old Salic law
prevailed. In the ordinary course of things, on the death of Frederick
VII., who had succeeded in 1847, the long connection between Holstein
and Denmark would cease. Would, however, Schleswig go with Holstein or
with Denmark? Every Schleswig-Holsteiner and every German declared that
the two Duchies must remain for ever "unvertheilt"; the majority of the
Danes determined, whatever the law might be, that they would keep
Schleswig, which had once been Danish. The King took a different line;
he wished to maintain all the possessions in his House, and that the
same man should succeed both in the Kingdom and the Duchies. There was
no authority qualified to decide the legal question; and therefore the
question of right was sure to become one of power. At first, strange as
it may seem, the power was on the side of the Danes. Germany was weak
and disunited, the Prussian troops who had been sent to help the
rebellion were withdrawn, and the surrender of Olmuetz was fatal to the
inhabitants of the Duchies. The whole question was brought before a
European Congress which met at London. The integrity of the Danish
Monarchy was declared to be a European interest; and the Congress of the
Powers presumed to determine who should succeed to the ducal and royal
power. They chose Christian of Glucksburg, and all the Powers pledged
themselves to recognise him as ruler over all the dominions of the King
of Denmark.

Prussia and Austria were among the Powers who signed the Treaty of
London, but the Diet of Frankfort was not bound by it. At the same time,
Denmark had entered into certain engagements pledging itself to preserve
the separation between Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark, and also not to
oppress the German people in Schleswig. The Danes did not keep their
engagement; despising the Germans, they renewed the old policy,
attempted to drive back the German language, and introduced new laws
which were inconsistent with the local privileges of Holstein and
Schleswig. The Holstein Estates appealed for protection to the Diet. The
Germans protested, but the Danes were obstinate. As years went on, the
excitement of the Germans grew; they believed, and justly believed, that
it was a matter of honour to defend the rights of the Duchies.
Schleswig-Holstein was the symbol of German weakness and disgrace, and
in defence of them the national enthusiasm was again roused.

With this popular enthusiasm Bismarck had no sympathy; and he had no
interest for the cause of Schleswig-Holstein. He had originally
considered the inhabitants merely as rebels against their lawful
sovereign. He had learnt at Frankfort sufficient to make this
indifferent to him, but he still regarded them as foreigners and looked
on their claims merely from the point of view of Prussian interests.
Both his sympathy and his reason led him in fact rather to take the
Danish side. "The maintenance of Denmark is in our interest," he wrote
in 1857, but Denmark could only continue to exist if it were ruled, more
or less arbitrarily, with provincial Estates as it has been for the last
hundred years; and in another letter: "We have no reason to desire that
the Holsteiners should live very happily under their Duke, for if they
do they will no longer be interested in Prussia, and under certain
circumstances their interest may be very useful to us. It is important
that, however just their cause may be, Prussia should act with great
prudence." He recognised that if the complaints of the Duchies led again
to a war between Germany and Denmark all the loss would fall on Prussia;
the coast of Prussia was exposed to the attacks of the Danish fleet. If
the war was successful, the result would be to strengthen the Diet and
the Federal Constitution; and, as we know, that was the last thing which
Bismarck desired; if it failed, the disgrace and the blame would fall
upon Prussia.

The only thing which would have induced him warmly to take up the cause
was the prospect of winning the Duchies for Prussia, but of that there
seemed little hope.

So long, therefore, as he remained at Frankfort, he had endeavoured to
keep the peace, and he continued this policy after he became Minister.
The greater number of the German States wished to carry out a Federal
execution in Holstein; he tried to avert this and warmly gave his
support to Lord Russell in his attempt to settle the question by English
mediation. His efforts, however, were unavailing, for the Danish
Government, presuming on the weakness of Germany, continued their
provocative action. On March 30, 1863, a new Constitution was
proclaimed, completely severing Holstein from the rest of the Monarchy.
The Holstein Estates had not been consulted and appealed to the Diet for
protection; the law of the Federation enabled the Diet in a case like
this to occupy the territory of the offending sovereign in order to
compel him to rule according to the Constitution. The national German
party wished to go farther, to confuse the questions of Schleswig and of
Holstein, and so bring about a war with Denmark. Bismarck wrote to the
Duke of Oldenburg to explain his objections to this: it would make the
worst impression in England; and he insisted that they should attempt
nothing more than Federal execution in Holstein. As Holstein belonged to
the Federation, this would be a purely German affair and no ground
would be given for interfering to England or France. In consequence, the
simple execution in Holstein was voted. Even now, however, Bismarck did
not give up hopes of keeping peace. He brought pressure to bear on the
Danes and was supported by England. If only they would withdraw the
proclamation of March 30th, and accept English mediation for Schleswig,
he promised them that he would use all his influence to prevent the
execution and would probably be successful.

His moderation, which received the warm approval of Lord Russell, of
course only added to his unpopularity in Germany. The Danish Government,
however, refused to accept Bismarck's proposal; they brought in still
another Constitution by which the complete incorporation of Schleswig
with the Monarchy was decreed. This was an overt breach of their treaty
engagements and a declaration of war with Germany. At the beginning of
November, it was carried through the Rigsrad by the required majority of
two-thirds, and was sent up to the King to receive his signature. Before
he had time to sign it the King died.

It was expected that the death of the King would make little difference
in the situation, for it had been agreed that Christian of Glucksburg
should succeed to all the provinces of the Monarchy. The first act he
had to perform was the signature of the new Constitution; it is said
that he hesitated, but was told by the Ministers that if he refused they
would answer neither for his crown nor his head. On November 23d he

Before this had happened the situation had received an unexpected
change. A new claimant appeared to dispute his title to the Duchies. The
day after the death of the King, Frederick, eldest son of the Duke of
Augustenburg, published a proclamation announcing his succession to the
Duchy under the title of Frederick VIII. No one seems to have foreseen
this step; it was supposed that after the agreement of 1853 the question
of succession had been finally settled. The whole of the German nation,
however, received with enthusiasm the news that it was again to be

They believed that the Prince was the lawful heir; they saw in his claim
the possibility of permanently separating the Duchies from Denmark.
Nothing seemed to stand between this and accomplishment except the
Treaty of London. Surely the rights of the Duchies, and the claim of
Augustenburg, supported by united Germany, would be strong enough to
bear down this treaty which was so unjust.

The question will be asked, was the claim of Augustenburg valid? No
positive answer can be given, for it has never been tried by a competent
court of law. It may, however, I think, be said that although there were
objections, which might invalidate his right to at least a part of the
Duchies, it is almost certain that a quite impartial tribunal would have
decided that he had at least a better claim than any of his rivals. This
at least would have been true fifteen years before. When, however, the
Treaty of London was arranged it was necessary to procure the
renunciation of all the different claimants. That of the Emperor of
Russia, the Duke of Oldenburg, and others was obtained without much
difficulty; the Duke of Augustenburg long refused. In order to compel
him to renounce, the Danish Government refused to restore to him his
private property, which had been confiscated owing to the part he had
taken in the late rebellion. He had been enormously wealthy, but was now
living in exile and deprived of his revenues. By this means they had at
last induced him to sign a document, in which he promised, for himself
and his successors, not to make any attempt to enforce his claims to the
succession. The document was curiously worded; there was no actual
renunciation, only a promise to abstain from action. In return for this
a sum of money, not equal, however, to that which he had lost, was
handed over to him. Now it was Bismarck who, while envoy at Frankfort,
had carried on the negotiations; he had taken much trouble about the
matter, and earned the warm gratitude both of the King of Denmark and of
the Duke. There is, I think, no doubt that he believed that the
agreement was a _bona fide_ one and would be maintained. Since then the
Duke had renounced all his claims in favour of his eldest son; Prince
Frederick had not signed the contract and maintained that he was not
bound by it. Of course Bismarck could not admit this, and his whole
attitude towards the Prince must from the beginning be hostile.

It is only fair to point out that there was no reason whatever why the
Augustenburgs should do anything more than that to which they were bound
by the strict letter of the agreement; they had no ties of gratitude
towards Denmark; they had not, as is often said, sold their rights, for
they had received only a portion of their own possessions. However this
may be, his claim was supported, not only by the people and Parliaments,
but by leaders of the German Governments, headed by the King of Bavaria.

Bismarck was now asked to denounce the Treaty of London to which Prussia
had given her assent; to support the claims of Augustenburg; to carry
out the policy of the Diet, and if necessary to allow the Prussian army
to be used in fighting for Prince Frederick against the King of Denmark.
This he had not the slightest intention of doing. He had to consider
first of all that Prussia was bound by treaties. As he said: "We may
regret that we signed, but the signature took place. Honour as well as
wisdom allows us to leave no doubt as to our loyalty to our
engagements." He had moreover to consider that if he acted as the
Germans wished he would find himself opposed, not only by Denmark, but
also by Russia and England, and in military operations on the narrow
peninsula the power of the English fleet would easily outbalance the
superiority of the Prussian army. Moreover, and this was the point which
affected him most, what good would come to Prussia even if she were
successful in this war? "I cannot regard it as a Prussian interest to
wage war in order in the most favourable result to establish a new Grand
Duke in Schleswig-Holstein, who out of fear of Prussian aggression would
vote against us at the Diet."

His policy, therefore, was clearly marked out for him: he must refuse
to recognise the claims of Augustenburg; he must refuse to break the
Treaty of London. This, however, would not prevent him from bringing
pressure to bear on the new King of Denmark, as he had done on his
predecessor, to induce him to abide by his treaty engagements, and, if
he did not do so, from declaring war against him.

There was even at this time in his mind another thought. He had the hope
that in some way or other he might be able to gain a direct increase of
territory for Prussia. If they recognised the Augustenburg claims this
would be always impossible, for then either the Duchies would remain
under the King of Denmark or, if the Danes were defeated, they would
have to be given to the Prince.

In this policy he was supported by Austria. The Austrian Government was
also bound by the Treaty of London; they were much annoyed at the
violent and almost revolutionary agitation which had broken out in
Germany; it was with much relief that they learned that Prussia, instead
of heading the movement as in 1849, was ready to oppose it. The two
great Powers so lately in opposition now acted in close union.

Issue was joined at the Diet between the two parties. The Prince brought
his claim before it, and those who supported him proposed that, as the
succession to the Duchies was in dispute, they should be occupied by a
Federal army until the true ruler had been determined. Against this
Austria and Prussia proposed that the Federal execution in Holstein,
which had before been resolved on, should be at once carried out. If the
execution were voted it would be an indirect recognition of Christian as
ruler, for it would be carried out as against his Government; on this
point, execution or occupation, the votes were taken.

Bismarck was, however, greatly embarrassed by the strong influence which
the Prince of Augustenburg had in the Prussian Royal Family; he was an
intimate friend of the Crown Princess, and the Crown Princess and the
King himself regarded his claims with favour. Directly after his
proclamation the pretender came to Berlin; he had a very friendly
reception from the King, who expressed his deep regret that he was tied
by the London Convention, but clearly shewed that he hoped this
difficulty might be overcome. Bismarck took another line; he said that
he was trying to induce the new King not to sign the Constitution; the
Prince, to Bismarck's obvious annoyance, explained that that would be no
use; he should maintain his claims just the same.

The King disliked the Treaty of London as much as everyone else did; he
had to agree to Bismarck's arguments that it would not be safe to
denounce it, but he would have been quite willing, supposing Prussia was
outvoted in the Diet, to accept the vote and obey the decision of the
majority; he even hoped that this would be the result. Bismarck would
have regarded an adverse vote as a sufficient reason for retiring from
the Federation altogether. Were Prussia outvoted, it would be forced
into a European war, which he wished to avoid, and made to fight as a
single member of the German Confederation. Rather than do this he would
prefer to fight on the other side; "Denmark is a better ally than the
German States," he said. The two parties were contending as keenly at
the Prussian Court as at Frankfort; Vincke wrote a long and pressing
letter to the King; Schleinitz appeared again, supported as of old by
the Queen; the Crown Prince was still in England, but he and his wife
were enthusiastic on the Prince's side.

How much Bismarck was hampered by adverse influences at Court we see
from a letter to Roon:

"I am far removed from any hasty or selfish resolution, but I
have a feeling that the cause of the King against the Revolution
is lost; his heart is in the other camp and he has more
confidence in his opponents than his friends. For us it will be
indifferent, one year or thirty years hence, but not for our
children. The King has ordered me to come to him before the
sitting to discuss what is to be said; I shall not say much,
partly because I have not closed my eyes all night and am
wretched, and then I really do not know what to say. They will
certainly reject the loan, and his Majesty at the risk of
breaking with Europe and experiencing a second Olmuetz will at
last join the Democracy, and work with it in order to set up
Augustenburg and found a new State. What is the good of making
speeches and scolding? Without some miracle of God the game is
lost. Now and with posterity the blame will be laid upon us. As
God will. He will know how long Prussia has to exist. But God
knows I shall be sorry when it ceases."

The only ally that Bismarck had was Austria. Their combined influence
was sufficiently strong by a majority of one to carry through the Diet
execution instead of occupation; though there was appended to the motion
a rider that the question of succession was not thereby prejudiced.

The execution took place. During the month of December the Hanoverians
and Saxons occupied Holstein; the Danes did not resist but retreated
across the Eider. At the end of the year the occupation was complete. In
the rear of the German troops had come also the Prince of Augustenburg,
who had settled himself in the land of which he claimed to be ruler.

What was now to be done? The Augustenburg party wished at once to press
forward with the question of the succession; let the Diet decide this
immediately; then hand over Holstein to the new Duke and immediately
seize Schleswig also and vindicate it from Christian, the alien usurper.
Bismarck would not hear of this; he still maintained his policy that
Prussia should not denounce the London Convention, should recognise the
sovereignty of Christian, and should demand from him as lawful ruler of
all the Danish possessions the repeal of the obnoxious November
Constitution. In this he was still supported by Austria; if the Danes
did not acquiesce in these very moderate demands, the Germans should
enter Schleswig and seize it as a security. Then he would be able when
he wished to free himself from the Treaty of London, for war dissolves
all treaties.

The advantage of this plan was that it entirely deprived England of any
grounds for interference; Prussia alone was now defending the London
Convention; Prussia was preventing the Diet from a breach of treaty; the
claim of Denmark was one in regard to which the Danes were absolutely
wrong. Bismarck had therefore on his side Austria, Russia, probably
France, and averted the hostility of England. Against him was German
public opinion, the German Diet, and the Prussian Parliament; everyone,
that is, whom he neither feared nor regarded. So long as the King was
firm he could look with confidence to the future, even though he did not
know what it would bring forth.

With the Parliament indeed nothing was to be done; they, of course,
strongly supported Augustenburg. They refused to look at the question
from a Prussian point of view. "On your side," Bismarck said, "no one
dares honestly to say that he acts for the interests of Prussia and as a
Prussian." They feared that he proposed to hand back the Duchies to
Denmark; they refused to consider him seriously as Foreign Minister;
they spoke of him as a rash amateur. It was to attack him on his most
sensitive point. Here, at least, he felt on completely secure ground;
diplomacy was his profession; what did the professors and talkers in the
Chamber know of it? They were trying to control the policy of the State,
but, he said, "in these days an Assembly of 350 members cannot in the
last instance direct the policy of a great Power." The Government asked
for a loan for military operations; he appealed to their patriotism, but
it was in vain; the House voted an address to the King, remonstrating
against the conduct of foreign affairs, and threw out the loan by a
majority of 275 to 51. "If you do not vote the money, we shall take it
where we can get it," Bismarck had warned them. The House was
immediately prorogued after a session of only two months, not to meet
again till January, 1865.

This policy of Bismarck was proposed by Austria and Prussia at the Diet;
the other States refused to adopt it, as they wished to raise the
question of succession; on a division Prussia was outvoted. The two
great Powers therefore entered into a separate agreement in which, while
still recognising the integrity of the Danish Monarchy, they undertook
to force the King to withdraw the obnoxious Constitution, and, if he did
not consent to do so, they agreed to occupy Schleswig.

The Prussian House, in its address to the King, had declared that the
only result of this policy would be to give back the Duchies to Denmark.
Was there no fear of this? What would have happened had Denmark after
all given in, as England strongly pressed her to do? Had she withdrawn
the obnoxious Constitution, and granted all that Bismarck asked, why
then Prussia and Austria would have been bound to support the integrity
of Denmark, and, if necessary, by force of arms to eject the Federal
troops from Holstein. Bismarck had considered this contingency, and
guarded himself against it. Many years later Beust put the question to
him. "Oh, I was all right," he answered; "I had assured myself that the
Danes would not give in. I had led them to think that England would
support them, though I knew this was not the case." He had, however,
even a surer guarantee than this; the ultimatum presented to Denmark was
couched in such a form that even if he would the King could not comply
with it. The requirement was that the Constitution should be revoked
before the 1st of January. By the Constitution the King could not do
this of his own prerogative; he must have the assent of the Rigsrad.
This assent could not be obtained for the following reasons: the Rigsrad
of the old Constitution had been dissolved and had no longer a legal
existence; a new assembly could not be summoned before the 1st of
January--there was not time. If an assembly were summoned after that
date, it must be of course summoned according to the new Constitution.
To do this, however, would be to bring the obnoxious Constitution
actually into force, and would mean, so to speak, a declaration of war
against Prussia. If the King wished to give in he must have time; he
must be allowed to summon the new assembly, lay before it the German
demands, and require it to declare its own revocation. The English
Government, still anxious to keep the peace, represented to Bismarck the
dilemma in which he had placed the Danes. Lord Wodehouse, who was in
Berlin in December, requested that at least more time should be allowed.
Bismarck refused to listen to the request.

"These constitutional questions," he said, "had nothing to do
with him; the Danes had put off the Germans for years; they could
not wait any longer. The King could always make a _coup d'etat_;
he would have to do so sooner or later. Germany and Denmark could
never be at peace so long as the Democratic party had the

Denmark did not give way; the help from England, on which they had
reckoned, was not forthcoming; the fatal day passed; the Austrians and
Prussians entered Holstein, marched across that Duchy, and in the early
part of February began the invasion of Schleswig. The relations of the
Allied troops to the Federal army of occupation were very remarkable.
Both were opposed to the Danes, but they were equally opposed to one
another; had they dared to do so, the Saxons would have opposed the
Prussian advance. As it was they sullenly watched the Prussian and
Austrian columns marching north to the invasion of Denmark.

It was the first time that the remodelled Prussian army had been tested
on the field of battle; Bismarck had brought it about that they were
fighting for the cause of Germany and in alliance with Austria. As soon
as war began, his own position improved. The King and the army were, of
course, all the more confident in a Minister who had given them so good
a cause of war and allowed them to take the field side by side with
their old ally. Their superiority in number and discipline ensured
success in the military operations; the Danes evacuated their first
position at the Dannewirk; the German troops occupied the whole of
Schleswig, then after some further delay advanced into Jutland, and
finally began the siege of the strong fortification of the Dueppel. The
taking of this was a difficult piece of work, which, after some delay,
was successfully carried out at the beginning of April.

Meanwhile the diplomatic difficulties had continued. There had now come
from England the proposal of a Conference. This Bismarck, always wishing
to preserve the appearance of moderation, accepted. Before doing so, he
knew that he had gained a very important ally. Napoleon was displeased
with the English Government; he it was who suggested to Bismarck that
the best solution of the difficulty would be the annexation of the
Duchies to Prussia. It was just what Bismarck himself desired. Would he
be able to bring it about? This was what was in his mind when he had to
consider the attitude he should adopt at the Conference.

He could not, of course, propose it openly; he might be able to arrange
affairs so that in the universal confusion this solution should be
welcomed. He first of all began to change his attitude towards the
German agitation for Augustenburg; hitherto he had opposed and
discouraged it; now he let it have free course. He wrote:

"The present situation is such that it seems to me desirable to
let loose the whole pack against the Danes at the Congress; the
joint noise will work in the direction of making the subjugation
of the Duchies to Denmark appear impossible to foreigners; they
will have to consider programmes which the Prussian Government
cannot lay before them."

What this means is that England and Russia were to be convinced that
Denmark could not regain the Duchies; then they would have to consider
who should have them. Bismarck believed that Austria was irrevocably
opposed to Augustenburg. "She would rather see the Duchies in our hands
than in those of the Prince," he wrote. Austria and Russia would,
therefore, oppose this solution; if both Denmark and Augustenburg were
impossible, then would be the time for France to ask why should they not
be given to Prussia, and to join this proposal with another one for the
division of the Duchies according to nationality.

Napoleon, in accordance with his principles, wished entirely to
disregard the question of law; he was equally indifferent to the Treaty
of London, the hereditary rights of Augustenburg, or the chartered
privileges of the Duchies. He wished to consult the inhabitants and
allow each village to vote whether it wished to be German or Danish;
thus, districts in the north where Danish was spoken would then be
incorporated in Denmark; the whole of Holstein and the south of
Schleswig would be permanently united to Germany, and by preference to
Prussia. These revolutionary principles of Napoleon were in the eyes of
the Austrian statesmen criminal, for if applied consistently not only
would Austria be deprived of Venetia, but the whole Empire would be
dissolved. It required all Bismarck's ingenuity to maintain the alliance
with Austria, which was still necessary to him, and at the same time to
keep Napoleon's friendship by giving his assent to doctrines that would
be so convenient to Prussia.

In considering Bismarck's diplomatic work we must not suppose that he
ever deceived himself into thinking that he would be able clearly to
foresee all that would happen; he knew too well the uncertain nature of
the pieces with which he had to deal: no one could quite foretell, for
instance, the result of the struggle which was going on in the English
Ministry or the votes of the House of Commons; equally impossible was it
to build on the assurances of Napoleon.

"The longer I work at politics," he said, "the smaller is my
belief in human calculation. I look at the affair according to my
human understanding, but gratitude for God's assistance so far,
raises in me the confidence that the Lord is able to turn our
errors to our own good; that I experience daily to my wholesome

This time he had been mistaken in his forecast. In a despatch of May 23d
to Austria he suggested two solutions,--the Augustenburg succession, and
annexation by Prussia; he inclined towards the former, though, as he
said, if the Prince was to be recognised,

"it would be imperatively necessary to obtain guarantees for a
Conservative administration, and some security that the Duchies
should not become the home of democratic agitations."

As he said elsewhere, "Kiel must not become a second Gotha." He no doubt
anticipated that Austria would refuse this first alternative; then the
annexation by Prussia would naturally arise for discussion. Had Austria
been consistent, all would have been well, but a change had taken place
there; the Government was not disinclined to win the popularity that
would accrue to them if they took up the Augustenburg cause; after all,
Austria would be rather strengthened than weakened by the establishment
of a new Federal State, which, as all the other smaller Princes, would
probably be inclined to take the Austrian side. In answer, therefore, to
this despatch the Austrians, throwing aside all attempt at consistency,
proposed vigorously to press the Augustenburg claim. "It is just what we
were going to suggest ourselves," they said. Bismarck therefore was
compelled now, as best he could, to get out of the difficulty, and, as
Austria had not rejected it, he begins to withdraw the proposal he had
himself made. To Bernstorff, his envoy at the Congress, he writes:

"Austria is endeavouring to establish irrevocably the candidacy
of Augustenburg in order by this means to render it difficult for
Prussia to impose special conditions. We cannot consent to this.
The dynastic questions must be discussed with special
consideration for Prussian interests, and, consequently, other
possibilities cannot be ruled out, until we have negotiated with
Augustenburg and ascertained in what relation to Prussia he
intends to place himself and his country. If the person of
Augustenburg meets with more opposition in the Conference than
the project of a division, then let the former drop."

The proposal, however, had to be made; for once, all the German Powers
appeared in agreement when they demanded from the neutrals the
recognition of Augustenburg; but Bismarck proposed it in such words as
to avoid pledging himself to the legality. Of course the proposal was
rejected by the Danes and Russians and it was allowed to fall to the
ground. For Bismarck the interest is for the moment diverted from London
to Berlin.

The time had come when Bismarck should definitely decide on the attitude
he was to adopt toward Augustenburg. Hitherto he had avoided committing
himself irrevocably; it was still open to him either to adopt him as the
Prussian candidate on such conditions as might seem desirable, or to
refuse to have any dealings with him. He had, in fact, kept both plans
open, for it was characteristic of his diplomatic work that he would
generally keep in his mind, and, to some extent, carry out in action,
several different plans at the same time. If one failed him he could
take up another. In this case he intended, if possible, to get the
Duchies for Prussia; it was always to be foreseen that the difficulties
might be insurmountable; he had therefore to consider the next best
alternative. This would be the creation of a new State, but one which
was bound to Prussia by a special and separate treaty. There were many
demands, some of them legitimate, which Prussia was prepared to make.
Bismarck attributed great importance to the acquisition of Kiel, because
he wanted to found a Prussian navy. Then he was very anxious to have a
canal made across Holstein so that Prussian vessels could reach the
North Sea without passing the Sound; and of course he had to consider
the military protection on the north. It would therefore be a condition
that, whoever was made Duke, certain military and other privileges
should be granted to Prussia. On this, all through the summer,
negotiations were carried on unofficially between the Prince of
Augustenburg and the Prussian authorities. We cannot here discuss them
in detail, but the Prince seems to have been quite willing to acquiesce
in these naval and military requirements. He made several suggestions
and objections in detail, and he also pointed out that constitutionally
he could not enter into a valid treaty until after he had been made Duke
and received the assent of the Estates. I think, however, that no one
can doubt that he was quite loyal to Prussia and really wished to bring
the matter to a satisfactory issue. As might be expected, he was very
cautious in his negotiations with Bismarck, but his letters to the King
are more open. Had Bismarck wished he could at any time have come to an
agreement with the Prince, but he never gave the opportunity for a
serious and careful discussion on the detailed wording of the
conditions. He did not wish to be bound by them, but he kept the
negotiations open in case events occurred which might compel him to
accept this solution.

In his treatment of the question he was, to some extent, influenced by
the personal dislike he always felt for the Prince.

What was the cause of this enmity? There was nothing in the Prince's
character to justify it; he was a modest, honourable, and educated man;
though deficient in practical ability, he had at a very critical time
announced his claims to a decision and maintained them with resolution.
Bismarck, who in private life was always able to do justice to his
enemies, recognised this: "I should have acted in just the same way
myself had I been in your place," he said. He always himself said that
his distrust of the Prince was caused by his dislike of the men whom the
latter relied upon for advice. He was too closely connected with the
Progressive party. He had surrounded himself with a kind of ministry,
consisting chiefly of men who, though by birth inhabitants of the
Duchies, had for some years been living at Gotha under the protection of
the Duke of Coburg. They were strong Liberals and belonged to that party
in Germany of which the Court of Coburg was the centre, who maintained a
close connection with the Crown Prince, and who undoubtedly were looking
forward to the time when the Crown Prince would become King of Prussia,
Bismarck would be dismissed, and their party would come into office.
This is probably quite sufficient reason to explain Bismarck's personal
dislike of Augustenburg, though it is probable that he laid more stress
on this aspect of the matter than he otherwise would have done, for he
hoped thereby to prejudice the King against the Prince; as long as the
King recognised Augustenburg's claims, his own hands would be tied in
the attempt to win the Duchies for Prussia.

He had, as we have seen, had a short interview with the Prince at the
end of the previous year now a new meeting was arranged, avowedly to
discuss the conditions which Prussia would require if she supported the
Prince. The Crown Prince, who was very anxious to help his friend,
persuaded him to go to Berlin and if possible come to some clear
understanding with the King and Bismarck. Augustenburg was reluctant to
take this step. Loyal as he was to Prussia he much distrusted Bismarck.
He feared that if he unreservedly placed his cause in Prussia's hands,
Bismarck would in some way betray him. The position he took up was
perfectly consistent. He was, by hereditary right, reigning Duke; he
only wished to be left alone with the Duchies; he knew that if he was,
they would at once recognise him and he would enter into government. In
order to win his dominions, he had required the help of Germany; it was
comparatively indifferent to him whether the help came from Prussia,
Austria, or the Federation. But he quite understood that Prussia must
have some recompense for the help it had given. What he had to fear was
that, if he entered into any separate and secret engagements with
Prussia, he would thereby lose the support he enjoyed in the rest of
Germany, and that then Bismarck would find some excuse not to carry out
his promises, so that at the end he would be left entirely without
support. We know that his suspicions were unfounded, for Bismarck was
not the man in this way to desert anyone who had entered into an
agreement with him, but Augustenburg could not know this and had every
reason for distrusting Bismarck, who was his avowed enemy.

On the 30th of May, the Prince, with many misgivings, came to Berlin.
The evening of the next day he had a long interview with Bismarck; it
began about nine o'clock and lasted till after midnight. There is no
doubt that this interview was decisive against his chances. From that
time Bismarck was determined that under no circumstances should he
succeed, and we shall see that when Bismarck wished for anything he
usually attained it. We would gladly, therefore, know exactly what
happened; both Bismarck and the Prince have given accounts of what took
place, but unfortunately they differ on very important points, and no
one else was present at the interview. It is clear that the Prince
throughout, for the reasons we have named, observed great reserve. It
would undoubtedly have been wiser of him openly to place himself
entirely in Bismarck's hands, to throw himself on the generosity of
Prussia, and to agree to the terms which Bismarck offered. Why he did
not do this we have explained. The conversation chiefly turned on the
Prussian demands for the harbour of Kiel and certain other concessions;
the Prince expressed himself quite willing to grant most of what was
required, but he could not enter into any formal treaty without the
consent of the Estates of the Duchies. When he left the room he seems to
have been fairly satisfied with what had been said. If so he deceived
himself grievously. Scarcely had he gone (it was already midnight) when
Bismarck sent off despatches to St. Petersburg, Paris, and London,
explaining that he was not inclined to support Augustenburg any longer,
and instructing the Ambassadors to act accordingly. Not content with
this he at once brought forward an alternative candidate. Among the many
claimants to the Duchies had been the Duke of Oldenburg and the Czar,
who both belonged to the same branch of the family. The Czar had, at the
end of May, transferred his claims to the Duke, and Bismarck now wrote
to St. Petersburg that he would also be prepared to support him. We must
not suppose that in doing this he had the slightest intention of
allowing the Duke to be successful. He gained, however, a double
advantage. First of all he pleased the Czar and prevented any
difficulties from Russia; secondly, the very fact of a rival candidate
coming forward would indefinitely postpone any settlement. So long as
Augustenburg was the only German candidate there was always the danger,
as at the Congress of London, that he might suddenly be installed and
Bismarck be unable to prevent it. If, however, the Duke of Oldenburg
came forward, Bismarck would at once take up the position that, as there
were rival claimants, a proper legal verdict must be obtained and that
Prussia could not act so unjustly as to prejudice the decision by
extending her support to either. It was not necessary for anyone to know
that he himself had induced the Duke of Oldenburg to revive his claim.

At the same time he took other steps to frustrate Augustenburg's hopes;
he caused the statement to be published in the Prussian papers that
during the conversation of May 31st the Prince had said that he had
never asked the Prussians for help, and that he could have got on very
well without them. It was just the sort of thing which would strongly
prejudice the King against him, and Bismarck was very anxious to destroy
the influence which the Prince still had with the King and with many
other Prussians. At that time, and always later, the Prince denied that
he had said anything of the kind. Even if, in the course of a long
conversation, he had said anything which might have been interpreted to
mean this, it was a great breach of confidence to publish these words
from a private discussion taken out of their context. The Prussian Press
received the word, and for years to come did not cease to pour out its
venom against the Prince. This action of Bismarck's seemed quite to
justify the apprehension with which the Prince had gone to Berlin.

It is not necessary to look for any far-fetched explanation of
Bismarck's action; the simplest is the most probable. He had not
arranged the interview with any intention of entrapping Augustenburg; he
had really been doubtful whether, after all, it might not be wiser to
accept the Prince and make a separate treaty with him. All depended on
his personal character and the attitude he adopted towards Prussia.
Bismarck, who had great confidence in his own judgment of mankind,
regarded a personal interview as the best means of coming to a
conclusion; the result of it was that he felt it impossible to rely on
the Prince, who, instead of being open, positive, and ready to do
business, was reserved, hesitating, distrustful, and critical. Bismarck
had given him his chance; he had failed to seize it. Instead of being a
grateful client he was a mere obstacle in the road of Prussian
greatness, and had to be swept away. Against him all the resources of
diplomacy were now directed. His influence must be destroyed, but not by
force, for his strength came from his very weakness; the task was to
undermine the regard which the German people had for him and their
enthusiasm for his cause--work to be properly assigned to the Prussian

The Conference in London separated at the end of June without coming to
any conclusion; it had, however, enabled Bismarck formally to dissociate
himself from the former Treaty of London, and henceforward he had a free
hand in his dealings with Denmark.

Another brilliant feat of arms, the transference of the Prussian troops
across the sea to the island of Alsen, completed the war. Denmark had to
capitulate, and the terms of peace, which were ultimately decided at
Vienna, were that Schleswig, Holstein, and also Lauenburg should be
given up. Christian transferred to the Emperor of Austria and the King
of Prussia all the rights which he possessed. As to Lauenburg the matter
was simple--the authority of the King of Denmark over this Duchy was
undisputed; as to Schleswig-Holstein all the old questions still
continued; the King had transferred his rights, but what were his
rights? He could only grant that which belonged to him; if the Prince of
Augustenburg was Duke, then the King of Denmark could not confer another
man's throne. There was, however, this difference: hitherto the question
had been a European one, but since the London Congress no other State
had any claim to interfere. The disputed succession of the Duchies must
be settled between Austria and Prussia. It was a special clause in the
terms of peace that it should be decided by agreement between them and
not referred to the Diet.




Bismarck always looked back with peculiar pleasure on the negotiations
which were concluded by the Peace of Vienna. His conduct of the affair
had in fact been masterly; he had succeeded in permanently severing the
Duchies from Denmark; he had done this without allowing foreign nations
the opportunity for interfering; he had maintained a close alliance with
Austria; he had pleased and flattered the Emperors of Russia and France.
What perhaps gave him most satisfaction was that, though the result had
been what the whole of the German nation desired, he had brought it
about by means which were universally condemned, and the rescue of the
Duchies had been a severe defeat to the Democratic and National party.

With the Peace a new stage begins; the Duchies had been transferred to
the Allied Powers; how were they now to be disposed of? We have seen
that Bismarck desired to acquire them for Prussia; if it were absolutely
necessary, he would accept an arrangement which would leave them to be
ruled by another Prince, provided very extensive rights were given to
Prussia. He would acquiesce in this arrangement if annexation would
involve a war with one of the European Powers. If, however, a Duke of
Schleswig-Holstein was to be created he was determined that it should
not be the Prince of Augustenburg, whom he distrusted and disliked. The
real object of his diplomacy must be to get the Duchies offered to
Prussia; it was, however, very improbable, as the Czar once said to him,
that this would happen.

He wished for annexation, but he wished to have it peacefully; he had
not forgotten his own resolution to have a war with Austria, but he did
not wish to make the Duchies the occasion of a war. Austria, however,
refused to assent to annexation unless the King of Prussia would give
her a corresponding increase of territory; this the King positively
refused. It was an unchangeable principle with him that he would not
surrender a single village from the Prussian Monarchy; his pride
revolted from the idea of bartering old provinces for new. If Austria
would not offer the Duchies to Prussia, neither would the Diet; the
majority remained loyal to Augustenburg. The people of the Duchies were
equally determined in their opposition to the scheme; attempts were made
by Bismarck's friends and agents to get up a petition to incorporate
them with Prussia, but they always failed. Even the Prussian people were
not really very anxious for this acquisition, and it required two years
of constant writing in the inspired Press to bring them into such a
state of mind that they would believe that it was, I will not say the
most honourable, but the most desirable solution. The King himself
hesitated. It was true that ever since the taking of the Dueppel the lust
of conquest had been aroused in his mind; he had visited the place where
so many Prussian soldiers had laid down their lives; and it was a
natural feeling if he wished that the country they had conquered should
belong to their own State. On the other hand, he still felt that the
rights of Augustenburg could not be neglected; when he discussed the
matter with the Emperor of Austria and the subject of annexation was
raised, he remained silent and was ill at ease.

If Bismarck was to get his way, he must first of all convince the King;
this done, an opportunity might be found. There was one man who was
prepared to offer him the Duchies, and that man was Napoleon. It is
instructive to notice that as soon as the negotiations at Vienna had
been concluded, Bismarck went to spend a few weeks at his old holiday
resort of Biarritz. He took the opportunity of having some conversation
with both the Emperor and his Ministers.

He required rest and change after the prolonged anxieties of the two
years; at no place did he find it so well as in the south of France:

"It seems like a dream to be here again," he writes to his wife.
"I am already quite well, and would be quite cheerful if I only
knew that all was well with you. The life I lead at Berlin is a
kind of penal servitude, when I think of my independent life
abroad." Seabathing, expeditions across the frontier, and sport
passed three weeks. "I have not for a long time found myself in
such comfortable conditions, and yet the evil habit of work has
rooted itself so deeply in my nature, that I feel some disquiet
of conscience at my laziness. I almost long for the
Wilhelmstrasse, at least if my dear ones were there."

On the 25th he left "dear Biarritz" for Paris, where he found plenty of
politics awaiting him; here he had another of those interviews with
Napoleon and his Ministers on which so much depended, and then he went
back to his labours at Berlin.

At that time he was not prepared to break with Austria, and he still
hoped that some peaceful means of acquisition might be found, as he
wrote some months later to Goltz, "We have not got all the good we can
from the Austrian alliance." Prussia had the distinct advantage that she
was more truly in possession of the Duchies than Austria. This
possession would more and more guarantee its own continuance; it was
improbable that any Power would undertake an offensive war to expel her.
On the whole, therefore, Bismarck seems to have wished for the present
to leave things as they were; gradually to increase the hold of Prussia
on the Duchies, and wait until they fell of themselves into his hands.
In pursuit of this policy it was necessary, however, to expel all other
claimants, and this could not be done without the consent of Austria;
this produced a cause of friction between the two great Powers which
made it impossible to maintain the co-dominium.

There were in Holstein the Confederate troops who had gone there a year
ago and had never been withdrawn; Augustenburg was still living at Kiel
with his phantom Court; and then there were the Austrian soldiers,
Prussia's own allies. One after another they had to be removed. Bismarck
dealt first with the Confederate troops.

He had, as indeed he always was careful to have, the strict letter of
the law on his side; he pointed out that as the execution had been
directed against the government of Christian, and Christian had ceased
to have any authority, the execution itself must _ipso facto_ cease; he
therefore wrote asking Austria to join in a demand to Saxony and
Hanover; he was prepared, if the States refused, to expel their troops
by force. Hanover--for the King strongly disliked Augustenburg--at once
acquiesced; Saxony refused. Bismarck began to make military
preparations; the Saxons began to arm; the Crown treasures were taken
from Dresden to Koenigstein. Would Austria support Saxony or Prussia? For
some days the question was in debate; at last Austria determined to
support a motion at the Diet declaring the execution ended. It was
carried by eight votes to seven, and the Saxons had to obey. The troops
on their return home refused to march across Prussian territory; and
from this time Beust and the King of Saxony must be reckoned among the
determined and irreconcilable enemies of Bismarck.

The first of the rivals was removed; there remained Austria and the

Just at this time a change of Ministry had taken place in Austria;
Rechberg, who had kept up the alliance, was removed, and the
anti-Prussian party came to the front. It was, therefore, no longer so
easy to deal with the Prince, for he had a new and vigorous ally in
Austria. Mensdorf, the new Minister, proposed in a series of lengthy
despatches his solution of the question; it was that the rights of the
two Powers should be transferred to Augustenburg, and that
Schleswig-Holstein should be established as an independent Confederate
State. The Austrian position was from this time clearly defined, and it
was in favour of that policy to which Bismarck would never consent. It
remained for him to propose an alternative. Prussia, he said, could only
allow the new State to be created on condition that large rights were
given to Prussia; what these were would require consideration; he must
consult the different departments. This took time, and every month's
delay was so much gain for Prussia; it was not till February, 1865, that
Bismarck was able to present his demands, which were, that Kiel should
be a Prussian port, Rendsburg a Prussian fortress; that the canal was to
be made by Prussia and belong to Prussia, the management of the post and
telegraph service to be Prussian and also the railways; the army was to
be not only organised on the Prussian system but actually incorporated
with the Prussian army, so that the soldiers would take the oath of
allegiance not to their own Duke but to the King of Prussia. The Duchies
were to join the Prussian Customs' Union and assimilate their system of
finance with that of Prussia. The proposals were so drawn up that it
would be impossible for Austria to support, or for the Prince of
Augustenburg to accept them. They were, in fact, as Bismarck himself
told the Crown Prince, not meant to be accepted. "I would rather dig
potatoes than be a reigning Prince under such conditions," said one of
the Austrian Ministers. When they were officially presented, Karolyi was
instructed to meet them with an unhesitating negative, and all
discussion on them ceased.

Prussia and Austria had both proposed their solution; each State even
refused to consider the suggestion made by the other. Meanwhile, since
the departure of the Confederate troops the administration of the
Duchies was in their hands; each Power attempted so to manage affairs as
to prepare the way for the final settlement it desired, Prussia for
annexation, Austria for Augustenburg. Prince Frederick was still living
at Kiel. His position was very anomalous: he assumed the style and title
of a reigning Prince, he was attended by something like a Court and by
Ministers; throughout Holstein, almost without exception, and to a great
extent also in Schleswig, he was looked upon and treated by the

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