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

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population as their lawful sovereign; his birthday was celebrated as a
public holiday; he was often prayed for in church. All this the
Austrians regarded with equanimity and indirectly supported; Bismarck
wished to expel him from the country, but could not do so without the
consent of Austria. At the end of March the matter again came up in the
Diet; Bavaria and Saxony brought in a motion that they expected that
Austria and Prussia would transfer the administration to Frederick. The
Prussian Envoy rose and explained that they might expect it, but that
Prussia would not fulfil their expectations; he moved that the claims of
all candidates should be considered by the Diet, not only those of
Augustenburg and of the Duke of Oldenburg, but also of Brandenburg.

The claims of Brandenburg were a new weapon of which Bismarck was glad
to avail himself. No one supposed that they had really any foundation;
they were not seriously put forward; but if the motion was carried, the
Diet would be involved in the solution of a very complicated and
necessarily very lengthy legal discussion. What the result was would be
known from the beginning, but the Diet and its committees always worked
slowly, and Bismarck could with much force maintain that, until they had
come to a decision, there was no reason for handing over the
administration to Augustenburg; it was at least decent not to do this
till the claims of the rivals had been duly weighed. In the months that
must elapse many things might happen. In the meantime the Diet would be
helpless. When it had come to a decision he would then be able to point
out, as he had already done, that they had no legal power for
determining who was the ruler of any State, and that their decision
therefore was quite valueless, and everything would have been again
exactly as it was before. Austria supported the motion of Saxony, which
was carried by nine votes to six. Prussia answered by sending her fleet
from Danzig to Kiel, and occupying the harbour; the Government asked
for a vote for the erection of fortifications and docks and for the
building of a fleet; the Chamber refused the money, but Roon declared
publicly in the House that Prussia would retain Kiel,--they had gone
there and did not intend to leave. The occupation of Kiel was an open
defiance to Austria; that it was intended to be so is shewn by the fact
that a few days later Bismarck wrote to Usedom, the Prussian Minister at
Florence, instructing him to sound the Italian Government as to whether
they would be willing to join Prussia in war against Austria. At the
same time he wrote to Goltz to find out in Paris whether there was any
alliance between Austria and France. It would be some time before
foreign relations could be sufficiently cleared up for him to determine
whether or not war would be safe. He occupied the intervening period by
continuing the negotiations as to the principles on which the joint
administration should be conducted. He came forward with a new proposal
and one which was extremely surprising, that the Estates of the Duchies
should be summoned, and negotiations entered into with them. It is one
of the most obscure of all his actions; he did it contrary to the advice
of those on the spot. Everyone warned him that if the Estates were
summoned their first action would be to proclaim Augustenburg as Duke.
Some suppose that the King insisted on his taking this step; that is,
however, very improbable; others that he proposed it in order that it
might be rejected by Austria, so that Austria might lose the great
influence which by her support of Augustenburg she was gaining in
Germany. Austria, however, accepted the proposal, and then negotiations
began as to the form in which the Estates should be called together;
what should be the relations to them of the two Powers? This gave rise
to a minute controversy, which could not be settled, and no doubt
Bismarck did not wish that it should be settled. One of his conditions,
however, was that, before the Estates were summoned, Augustenburg should
be compelled to leave Holstein. Of course the Prince refused, for he
well knew that, if he once went away, he would never be allowed to
return. The Duke of Oldenburg, who was always ready to come forward when
Bismarck wished it, himself demanded the expulsion of the Prince. The
King of Prussia wrote a severe letter to Augustenburg, intimating his
displeasure at his conduct and warning him to leave the country. The
Prince answered, as he always did to the King, expressing his gratitude
and his constant loyalty to Prussia, but refused, and his refusal was
published in the papers. It was still impossible to remove him except by
force, but before he ventured on that Bismarck had to make secure the
position of Prussia.

At the beginning of July events began to move towards a crisis. Bismarck
had appointed a commission of Prussian lawyers to report on the legal
claim of the different candidates for the Ducal throne; their report was
now published. They came to the conclusion, as we might anticipate that
they would, that Augustenburg had absolutely no claim, and that legally
the full authority was possessed by the two Powers who had the _de
facto_ government. Their opinion did not carry much weight even in
Prussia itself, but they seem to have succeeded in convincing the King.
Hitherto he had always been haunted by the fear lest, in dispossessing
Augustenburg, he would be keeping a German Prince from the throne which
was his right, and that to him was a very serious consideration. Now his
conscience was set at rest. From this time the last support which
Augustenburg had in Prussia was taken from him, for the Crown Prince,
who always remained faithful to him, was almost without influence.
Bismarck was henceforward able to move more rapidly. On the 5th of July
the Prince's birthday was celebrated throughout the Duchy with great
enthusiasm; this gave bitter offence to the King; shortly afterwards
Bismarck left Berlin and joined the King, who was taking his annual cure
at Carlsbad, and for July 28th a Council of State was summoned to meet
at Regensburg. Probably this is the only instance of a King coming to so
important a decision outside his own territories. The Council was
attended not only by the Ministers, but also by some of the generals and
by Goltz, who was summoned from Paris for the purpose. It was determined
to send an ultimatum to Austria; the chief demand was that Austria
should withdraw all support from Augustenburg, and agree immediately to
eject him from the Duchies. If Austria refused to agree, Prussia would
do so herself; he was to be seized, put on board a ship, and carried off
to East Prussia. To shew that they were in earnest, a beginning was made
by seizing in Holstein Prussian subjects who had written in the
newspapers in a sense opposed to the wishes of the Prussian Government,
and carrying them off to be tried at Berlin. In order to be prepared for
all possibilities, an official request was sent to Italy to ask for her
assistance in case of an outbreak of war. After these decisions were
arrived at, the King continued his journey to Gastein to complete his
cure; there, on Austrian territory in company with Bismarck, he awaited
the answer.

In Austria opinions were divided; the feeling of annoyance with Prussia
had been steadily growing during the last year. The military party was
gaining ground; many would have been only too glad to take up the
challenge. It would indeed have been their wisest plan to do so--openly
to support the claim of Augustenburg, to demand that the Estates of
Holstein should be at once summoned, and if Bismarck carried out his
threats, to put herself at the head of Germany and in the name of the
outraged right of a German Prince and a German State to take up the
Prussian challenge.

There were, however, serious reasons against this. The Emperor was very
reluctant to go to war, and, as so often, the personal feelings of the
rulers had much to do with the policy of the Government. Then the
internal condition of Austria both politically and financially was very
unsatisfactory; it would have been necessary to raise a loan and this
could not be easily done. There was also the constant danger from Italy,
for Austria knew that, even if there were no alliance, as soon as she
was attacked on one side by Prussia, the Italians on the other side
would invade Venetia. Count Metternich was instructed to ask Napoleon,
but received as an answer that they could not hope for a French
alliance; the Austrians feared that he might already be engaged on the
side of Prussia. For all these reasons it was determined to attempt to
bring about a compromise. A change of Ministry took place, and Count
Blome, one of the new Ministers, was sent to Gastein. He found both the
King and Bismarck not disinclined to some compromise. The reports both
from Florence and Paris did not seem to Bismarck to be entirely
satisfactory: he did not find such readiness as he had hoped for; he
feared that some secret understanding might be arrived at between
Austria and Napoleon; and then, as we have seen, he was really anxious
to avoid war for the sake of the Duchies; he had not given up his
intention of war with Austria some day, but it would be impossible to
find a less agreeable excuse for it.

"Halbuber and Augustenburg are acting so that we shall soon have
to apply force; this will cause bad blood in Vienna; it is not
what I wish, but Austria gives us no choice,"

he had written a few days before. After a few days of indecision a
compromise therefore was agreed upon. The joint administration of the
Duchies was to be given up; Austria was to administer Holstein, Prussia,
Schleswig; they both undertook not to bring the question before the
Diet; the Duchy of Lauenburg was to be handed over absolutely to the
King of Prussia, the Emperor of Austria receiving two million thalers
for his share. Lauenburg was the first new possession which Bismarck
was able to offer to the King; the grateful monarch conferred on him the
title of Count, and in later years presented to him large estates out of
the very valuable royal domains. It was from Lauenburg that in later
years the young German Emperor took the title which he wished to confer
on the retiring Chancellor.





The arrangement made at Gastein could not be permanent; it was only a
temporary expedient to put off the conflict which henceforward was
inevitable--inevitable, that is, if the Emperor of Austria still refused
to sell Holstein to Prussia. It was, however, so far as it went, a great
gain to Prussia, because it deprived Austria of the esteem of the other
German States. Her strength had hitherto lain in her strict adhesion to
popular feeling and to what the majority of the Germans, Princes and
people alike, believed was justice; by coming to a separate agreement
with Prussia, she had shaken their confidence. Bavaria especially was
much annoyed by this change of front, and it seemed probable that the
most important of the southern States would soon be ranged on the side
of Prussia. This was a consummation which Bismarck ardently desired, and
to which he addressed himself with much energy.

The attitude of France was more important than that of the German
States, and in the autumn Bismarck made a fresh visit to that country.
Just as he had done the year before, he went to take the sea-baths at
Biarritz. This step was the more remarkable because Napoleon had
received the news of the Treaty of Gastein with marked displeasure, and
had given public expression to his opinions. Bismarck saw Drouyn de
Lhuys at Paris and then went on to Biarritz where the Emperor was; for
ten days he lived there in constant association with the Imperial
family. The personal impression which he made was very favourable: "A
really great man," wrote Merimee, "free from feeling and full of
_esprit_." He saw Napoleon again on his return through Paris; the two
succeeded in coming to an understanding. Napoleon assured him that he
might depend on the absolute neutrality of France, in case of a war
between Prussia and Austria; it was agreed also that the annexation of
the Duchies to Prussia would not be an increase of territory which would
cause any uneasiness at Paris; Napoleon would view it with favour.
Bismarck went farther than this; he opened the subject of a complete
reform of the German Constitution on the lines that Prussia was to have
a free hand in the north of Germany; he pointed out

"that the acquisition of the Duchies would only be an earnest for
the fulfilment of the pledge which history had laid upon the
State of Prussia; for the future prosecution of it we need the
most friendly relations with France. It seems to me in the
interest of France to encourage Prussia in the ambitious
fulfilment of her national duty."

The Emperor acquiesced; as we know, the division of Europe into large
national States was what he meant by Napoleonic ideas; he was willing
enough to help in Germany a change such as that he had brought about in
Italy. It was agreed that events should be allowed to develop
themselves; when the time came it would be easy enough to come to some
definite agreement.

This however was not all; it was not to be expected that Napoleon should
render Prussia so valuable a service without receiving something in
exchange; we know Bismarck's opinion of a statesman who, out of sympathy
for another country, would sacrifice the interests of his own. The
creation of a strong consolidated State in the north of Germany could
not be in the interests of France; the power of France had always been
founded on the weakness of Germany. Even if Napoleon himself, with his
generous and cosmopolitan sympathies, was willing to make the sacrifice,
France was not; Napoleon knew, and Bismarck knew, that Napoleon could
not disregard the feeling of the country; his power was based on
universal suffrage and the popularity of his name; he could not, as a
King of Prussia could, brave the displeasure of the people. France must
then have some compensation. What was it to be? What were to be the
terms of the more intimate and special understanding? We do not know
exactly what was said; we do know that Bismarck led both the Emperor and
his Ministers to believe that Prussia would support them in an extension
of the frontier. He clearly stated that the King would not be willing
to surrender a single _Prussian_ village; he probably said that they
would not acquiesce in the restoration to France of any _German_
territory. France therefore must seek her reward in a French-speaking
people. It was perhaps an exaggeration if Drouyn de Lhuys said "he
offered us all kinds of things which did not belong to him," but
Napoleon also in later years repeated that Bismarck had promised him all
kinds of recompenses. No written agreement was made; that was reserved
for later negotiations, but there was a verbal understanding, which both
parties felt was binding. This was the pendant to the interview of
Plombieres. But Bismarck had improved on Cavour's example; he did not
want so much, he asked only for neutrality: the King of Prussia would
not be called upon, like Victor Emmanuel, to surrender the old
possessions of his House.

Bismarck returned to Berlin with his health invigorated by the Atlantic
winds and his spirits raised by success. The first step now was to
secure the help of Italy; he had seen Nigra, the Italian Minister, at
Paris, and told him that war was inevitable; he hoped he could reckon on
Italian alliance, but there was still, however, much ground for anxiety
that Austria might succeed in arranging affairs with Italy.

The relations of the four Powers at this time were very remarkable. All
turned on Venetia. The new Kingdom of Italy would not rest until it had
secured this province. Napoleon also was bound by honour to complete his
promise and "free Italy to the Adriatic"; neither his throne nor that
of his son would be secure if he failed to do so. A war between Austria
and Prussia would obviously afford the best opportunity, and his whole
efforts were therefore directed to preventing a reconciliation between
the two German Powers. His great fear was that Austria should come to
terms with Prussia, and surrender the Duchies on condition that Prussia
should guarantee her Italian possessions. When Bismarck visited Napoleon
at Biarritz, the first question of the Emperor was, "Have you guaranteed
Venetia to Austria?" It was the fear of this which caused his anger at
the Treaty of Gastein. On the other hand, Bismarck had his reasons for
anxiety. It was always possible that Austria, instead of coming to terms
with Prussia, might choose the other side; she might surrender Venetia
in order to obtain French and Italian support in a German war. The
situation indeed was this: Austria was liable at any moment to be
attacked by both Italy and Prussia; it would probably be beyond her
strength to resist both assailants at the same time. A wise statesman
would probably have made terms with one or the other. He would have
either surrendered Venetia, which was really a source of weakness, to
Italy, or agreed with Prussia over the Duchies and the German problem,
thereby gaining Prussian support against Italy. The honourable pride of
Mensdorf and the military party in Austria refused to surrender anything
till it was too late.

None the less, the constant fear lest Austria should make terms with one
of her enemies for a long time prevented an alliance between Prussia
and Italy. The Italians did not trust Bismarck; they feared that if they
made a treaty with him, he would allow them to get entangled in war, and
then, as at Gastein, make up his quarrel with Austria. Bismarck did not
trust the Italians; he feared that they and Napoleon would even at the
last moment take Venetia as a present, and, as very nearly happened,
offer Austria one of the Prussian provinces instead. It was impossible
to have any reliance on Napoleon's promises, for he was constantly being
pulled two ways; his own policy and sympathies would lead him to an
alliance with Prussia; the clerical party, which was yearly growing
stronger and had the support of the Empress, wished him to side with the
Catholic power. In consequence, even after his return from France,
Bismarck could not pass a day with full security that he might not find
himself opposed by a coalition of Austria, France, and Italy; the
Austrians felt that they were to be made the victims of a similar
coalition between Prussia, France, and Italy; France always feared a
national union between the two great German Powers.

Bismarck began by completing and bringing to a conclusion the
arrangements for a commercial treaty with Italy; at the beginning of
January the King of Prussia sent Victor Emmanuel the order of the Black
Eagle; Bismarck also used his influence to induce Bavaria to join in the
commercial treaty and to recognise the Kingdom of Italy. Then on January
13th he wrote to Usedom that the eventual decision in Germany would be
influenced by the action of Italy; if they could not depend on the
support of Italy, he hinted that peace would be maintained; in this way
he hoped to force the Italians to join him.

Affairs in the Duchies gave Bismarck the opportunity for adopting with
good grounds a hostile attitude towards Austria; Gablenz, the new
Governor of Holstein, continued to favour the Augustenburg agitation.
Many had expected that Austria would govern Holstein as a part of the
Empire; instead of doing so, with marked design the country was
administered as though it were held in trust for the Prince; no taxes
were levied, full freedom was allowed to the Press, and while the
Prussians daily became more unpopular in Schleswig the Austrians by
their leniency won the affection of Holstein. At the end of January,
they even allowed a mass meeting, which was attended by over 4000 men,
to be held at Altona. This made a very unfavourable impression on the
King, and any action of Austria that offended the King was most useful
to Bismarck. "Bismarck is using all his activity to inspire the King
with his own views and feelings," wrote Benedetti, the French
Ambassador, at this time. At the end of January he felt sufficiently
secure to protest seriously against the Austrian action in Holstein.
"Why," he asked, "had they left the alliance against our common enemy,
the Revolution?" Austria, in return, refused peremptorily to allow
Bismarck any voice in the administration of Holstein. Bismarck, when the
despatch was read to him, answered curtly that he must consider that
henceforth the relations of the two Powers had lost their intimate
character; "we are as we were before the Danish war, neither worse nor
better." He sent no answer to the Austrian despatch and ceased to
discuss with them the affairs of the Duchies.

This was a fair warning to Austria and it was understood; they took it
as an intimation that hostilities were intended, and from this day began
quietly to make their preparations. As soon as they did this, they were
given into Bismarck's hands; the Prussians, owing to the admirable
organisation of the army, could prepare for war in a fortnight or three
weeks' time less than the Austrians would require; Austria to be secure
must therefore begin to arm first; as soon as she did so the Prussian
Government would be able, with full protestation of innocence, to point
to the fact that they had not moved a man, and then to begin their own
mobilisation, not apparently for offence but, as it were, to protect
themselves from an unprovoked attack. In a minute of February 22d Moltke
writes that it would be better for political reasons not to mobilise
yet; then they would appear to put Austria in the wrong; Austria had now
100,000 men in Bohemia and it would be impossible to undertake any
offensive movement against Prussia with less than 150,000 or 200,000; to
collect these at least six weeks would be required, and the preparations
could not be concealed. Six days later a great council was held in
Berlin. "A war with Austria must come sooner or later; it is wiser to
undertake it now, under these most favourable circumstances, than to
leave it to Austria to choose the most auspicious moment for herself,"
said Bismarck. The rupture, he explained, had already really been
effected; that had been completed at his last interview with Karolyi.
Bismarck was supported by most of the Ministers; the King said that the
Duchies were worth a war, but he still hoped that peace would be kept.
The arrangement of the foreign alliances was now pushed on. The King
wrote an autograph letter to Napoleon saying that the time for the
special understanding had come; Goltz discussed with him at length the
terms of French compensation. Napoleon did not ask for any definite
promise, but suggested the annexation of some German territory to
France; it was explained to him that Prussia would not surrender any
German territory, but that, if France took part of Belgium, the Prussian
frontier must be extended to the Maas, that is, must include the
north-east of Belgium.

Again no definite agreement was made, but Napoleon's favouring
neutrality seemed secure. There was more difficulty with Italy, for here
an active alliance was required, and the Italians still feared they
would be tricked. It was decided to send Moltke to Florence to arrange
affairs there; this, however, was unnecessary, for Victor Emmanuel sent
one of his generals, Govone, nominally to gain some information about
the new military inventions; for the next three weeks, Govone and
Barrel, the Italian Minister, were engaged in constant discussions as to
the terms of the treaty. Of course the Austrians were not entirely
ignorant of what was going on. The negotiations with Italy roused among
them intense bitterness; without actually mobilising they slowly and
cautiously made all preliminary arrangements; a despatch was sent to
Berlin accusing the Prussians of the intention of breaking the Treaty of
Gastein, and another despatch to the German Courts asking for their
assistance. Karolyi waited on Bismarck, assured him that their military
preparations, were purely defensive, and asked point-blank whether
Prussia proposed to violate the treaty. The answer, of course, was a
simple "No," but according to the gossip of Berlin, Bismarck added, "You
do not think I should tell you if I did intend to do so." On March 24th
a despatch was sent to the envoys at all the German Courts drawing their
attention to the Austrian preparations, for which it was said there was
no cause; in view of this obvious aggression Prussia must begin to arm.
That this was a mere pretext is shewn by a confidential note of Moltke
of this same date; in it he states that all the Austrian preparations up
to this time were purely defensive; there was as yet no sign of an
attempt to take the offensive. Two days later, a meeting of the Prussian
Council was held and the orders for a partial mobilisation of the army
were given, though some time elapsed before they were actually carried

Under the constant excitement of these weeks Bismarck's health again
began to break down; except himself, there was in fact scarcely a single
man who desired the war; the King still seized every opportunity of
preserving the peace; England, as so often, was beginning to make
proposals for mediation; all the Prussian diplomatists, he complained,
were working against his warlike projects. He made it clear to the
Italians that the result would depend on them; if they would not sign a
treaty there would be no war. The great difficulty in arranging the
terms of the treaty was to determine who should begin. The old suspicion
was still there: each side expected that if they began they would be
deserted by their ally. The suspicion was unjust, for on both sides
there were honourable men. The treaty was eventually signed on April
9th; it was to the effect that if Prussia went to war with Austria
within the next three months, Italy would also at once declare war;
neither country was to make a separate peace; Prussia would continue the
war till Venetia was surrendered. On the very day that this treaty was
signed, Bismarck, in answer to an Austrian despatch, wrote insisting
that he had no intention of entering on an offensive war against
Austria. In private conversation he was more open; to Benedetti he said:
"I have at last succeeded in determining a King of Prussia to break the
intimate relations of his House with that of Austria, to conclude a
treaty of alliance with Italy, to accept arrangements with Imperial
France; I am proud of the result."

Suddenly a fresh impediment appeared: the Austrians, on April 18th,
wrote proposing a disarming on both sides; the Prussian answer was
delayed for many days; it was said in Berlin that there was a difference
of opinion between Bismarck and the King; Bismarck complained to
Benedetti that he was wavering: when at last the answer was sent it was
to accept the principle, but Bismarck boasted that he had accepted it
under such conditions that it could hardly be carried out. The
reluctance of the King to go to war caused him much difficulty; all his
influence was required; it is curious to read the following words which
he wrote at this time:

"It is opposed to my feelings, I may say to my faith, to attempt
to use influence or pressure on your paternal feelings with
regard to the decision on peace or war; this is a sphere in
which, trusting to God alone, I leave it to your Majesty's heart
to steer for the good of the Fatherland; my part is prayer,
rather than counsel";

and then he again lays before the King the insuperable arguments in
favour of war.

Let us not suppose that this letter was but a cunning device to win the
consent of the King. In these words more than in anything else we see
his deepest feelings and his truest character. Bismarck was no Napoleon;
he had determined that war was necessary, but he did not go to the
terrible arbitrament with a light heart. He was not a man who from
personal ambition would order thousands of men to go to their death or
bring his country to ruin. It was his strength that he never forgot that
he was working, not for himself, but for others. Behind the far-sighted
plotter and the keen intriguer there always remained the primitive
honesty of his younger years. He may at times have complained of the
difficulties which arose from the reluctance of the King to follow his
advice, but he himself felt that it was a source of strength to him that
he had to explain, justify, and recommend his policy to the King.

All anxiety was, however, removed by news which came the next day. A
report was spread throughout the papers that Italy had begun to
mobilise, and that a band of Garibaldians had crossed the frontier. The
report seems to have been untrue. How it originated we know not; when
Roon heard of it he exclaimed, "Now the Italians are arming, the
Austrians cannot disarm." He was right. The Austrian Government sent a
message to Berlin that they would withdraw part of their northern army
from Bohemia, but must at once put the whole of their southern army on a
war footing. Prussia refused to accept this plea, and the order for the
mobilisation of the Prussian army went out.

As soon as Austria had begun to mobilise, war was inevitable; the state
of the finances of the Empire would not permit them to maintain their
army on a war footing for any time. None the less, another six weeks
were to elapse before hostilities began.

We have seen how throughout these complications Bismarck had desired, if
he fought Austria, to fight, not for the sake of the Duchies, but for a
reform of the German Confederation.

In March he had said to the Italians that the Holstein question was not
enough to warrant a declaration of war. Prussia intended to bring
forward the reform of the Confederation. This would take several months.
He hoped that among other advantages, he would have at least Bavaria on
his side; for the kind of proposal he had in his mind, though at this
time he seems to have had no clear plan, was some arrangement by which
the whole of the north of Germany should be closely united to Prussia,
and the southern States formed in a separate union with Bavaria at the
head. He had always pointed out, even when he was at Frankfort, that
Bavaria was a natural ally of Prussia. In a great war the considerable
army of Bavaria would not be unimportant.

At the beginning of April Bismarck instructed Savigny, his envoy at the
Diet, to propose the consideration of a reform in the Constitution. The
proposal he made was quite unexpected. No details were mentioned as to
changes in the relations of the Princes, but a Parliament elected by
universal suffrage and direct elections was to be chosen, to help in the
management of common German affairs. It is impossible to exaggerate the
bewilderment and astonishment with which this proposal was greeted. Here
was the man who had risen into power as the champion of monarchical
government, as the enemy of Parliaments and Democracy, voluntarily
taking up the extreme demand of the German Radicals. It must be
remembered that universal suffrage was at this time regarded not as a
mere scheme of voting,--it was a principle; it was the cardinal
principle of the Revolution; it meant the sovereignty of the people. It
was the basis of the French Republic of 1848, it had been incorporated
in the German Constitution of 1849, and this was one of the reasons why
the King of Prussia had refused then to accept that Constitution. The
proposal was universally condemned. Bismarck had perhaps hoped to win
the Liberals; if so, he was disappointed; their confidence could not be
gained by this sudden and amazing change--they distrusted him all the
more; "a Government that, despising the laws of its own country, comes
forward with plans for Confederate reform, cannot have the confidence of
the German people," was the verdict of the National party. The Moderate
Liberals, men like Sybel, had always been opposed to universal suffrage;
even the English statesmen were alarmed; it was two years before
Disraeli made his leap in the dark, and here was the Prussian statesman
making a far bolder leap in a country not yet accustomed to the natural
working of representative institutions. He did not gain the adhesion of
the Liberals, and he lost the confidence of his old friends. Napoleon
alone expressed his pleasure that the institutions of the two countries
should become so like one another.

There was, indeed, ample reason for distrust; universal suffrage meant
not only Democracy,--it was the foundation on which Napoleon had built
his Empire; he had shewn that the voice of the people might become the
instrument of despotism. All the old suspicions were aroused; people
began to see fresh meaning in these constant visits to France; Napoleon
had found an apt pupil not only in foreign but in internal matters. It
could mean nothing more than the institution of a democratic monarchy;
this was Bonapartism; it seemed to be the achievement of that change
which, years ago, Gerlach had foreboded. No wonder the King of Hanover
began to feel his crown less steady on his head.

What was the truth in the matter? What were the motives which influenced
Bismarck? The explanation he gave was probably the true one: by
universal suffrage he hoped to attain a Conservative and monarchical
assembly; he appealed from the educated and Liberal middle classes to
the peasants and artisans. We remember how often he had told the
Prussian House of Commons that they were not the true representatives of
the people.

"Direct election and universal suffrage I consider to be greater
guarantees of Conservative action than any artificial electoral
law; the artificial system of indirect election and elections by
classes is a much more dangerous one in a country of monarchical
traditions and loyal patriotism. Universal suffrage, doing away
as it does with the influence of the Liberal bourgeoisie, leads
to monarchical elections."

There was in his mind a vague ideal, the ideal of a king, the father of
his country, supported by the masses of the people. He had a genuine
interest in the welfare of the poorest; he thought he would find in them
more gratitude and confidence than in the middle classes. We know that
he was wrong; universal suffrage in Germany was to make possible the
Social Democrats and Ultramontanes; it was to give the Parliamentary
power into the hands of an opponent far more dangerous than the Liberals
of the Prussian Assembly. Probably no one had more responsibility for
this measure than the brilliant founder of the Socialist party. Bismarck
had watched with interest the career of Lassalle; he had seen with
admiration his power of organisation; he felt that here was a man who in
internal affairs and in the management of the people had something of
the skill and courage which he himself had in foreign affairs. He was a
great demagogue, and Bismarck had already learnt that a man who aimed at
being not only a diplomatist, but a statesman and a ruler, must have
something of the demagogic art. From Lassalle he could learn much. We
have letters written two years before this in which Lassalle, obviously
referring to some previous conversation, says: "Above all, I accuse
myself of having forgotten yesterday to impress upon you that the right
of being elected must be given to all Germans. This is an immense means
of power; the moral conquest of Germany." Obviously there had been a
long discussion, in which Lassalle had persuaded the Minister to adopt
universal suffrage. The letters continue with reference to the machinery
of the elections, and means of preventing abstention from the poll, for
which Lassalle professes to have found a magic charm.

One other remark we must make: this measure, as later events were to
prove, was in some ways characteristic of all Bismarck's internal
policy. Roon once complained of his strokes of genius, his unforeseen
decisions. In foreign policy, bold and decisive as he could be, he
was also cautious and prudent; to this he owes his success; he could
strike when the time came, but he never did so unless he had tested
the situation in every way; he never began a war unless he was sure
to win, and he left nothing to chance or good fortune. In internal
affairs he was less prudent; he did not know his ground so well, and
he exaggerated his own influence. Moreover, in giving up the simpler
Conservative policy of his younger years, he became an opportunist; he
would introduce important measures in order to secure the support of a
party, even though he might thereby be sacrificing the interests of his
country to a temporary emergency. He really applied to home affairs the
habits he had learned in diplomacy; there every alliance is temporary;
when the occasion of it has passed by, it ceases, and leaves no
permanent effect. He tried to govern Germany by a series of political
alliances; but the alliance of the Government with a party can never be
barren; the laws to which it gives birth remain. Bismarck sometimes
thought more of the advantage of the alliance than of the permanent
effect of the laws.

Even after this there was still delay; there were the usual abortive
attempts at a congress, which, as in 1859, broke down through the
refusal of Austria to give way. There were dark intrigues of Napoleon,
who even at the last moment attempted to divert the Italians from their
Prussian alliance. In Germany there was extreme indignation against the
man who was forcing his country into a fratricidal war. Bismarck had
often received threatening letters; now an attempt was made on his life;
as he was walking along _Unter den Linden_ a young man approached and
fired several shots at him. He was seized by Bismarck, and that night
put an end to his own life in prison. He was a South German who wished
to save his country from the horrors of civil war. Moltke, now that all
was prepared, was anxious to begin. Bismarck still hesitated; he was so
cautious that he would not take the first step. At last the final
provocation came, as he hoped it would, from Austria. He knew that if he
waited long enough they would take the initiative. They proposed to
summon the Estates of Holstein, and at the same time brought the
question of the Duchies before the Diet. Bismarck declared that this was
a breach of the Treaty of Gastein, and that that agreement was therefore
void; Prussian troops were ordered to enter Holstein. Austria appealed
for protection to the Diet, and moved that the Federal forces should be
mobilised. The motion was carried by nine votes to seven. The Prussian
Envoy then rose and declared that this was a breach of the Federal law;
Prussia withdrew from the Federation and declared war on all those
States which had supported Austria. Hanover and Hesse had to the end
attempted to maintain neutrality, but this Bismarck would not allow;
they were given the alternative of alliance with Prussia or disarmament.
The result was that, when war began, the whole of Germany, except the
small northern States, was opposed to Prussia. "I have no ally but the
Duke of Mecklenburg and Mazzini," said the King.






Bismarck had no part in the management of the army. This the King always
kept in his own hands. He was himself Commander-in-Chief, and on all
military questions he took the advice of his Minister of War and the
chief of the staff. When his power and influence in the State were
greatest, Bismarck's authority always ceased as soon as technical and
military matters arose for consideration. He often chafed at this
limitation and even in a campaign was eager to offer his advice; there
was soldier's blood in his veins, and he would have liked himself to
bear arms in the war. At least he was able to be present on the field of
battle with the King and witness part of the campaign.

With the King he left Berlin on June 30th to join the army in Bohemia.
Already the news had come of the capitulation of the Hanoverians; the
whole of North-West Germany had been conquered in a week and the
Prussian flank was secure. The effect of these victories was soon seen:
his unpopularity was wiped out in blood. Night by night as the
bulletins arrived, crowds collected to cheer and applaud the Minister.

The King and his suite reached the army on July 1st; they were just in
time to be present at the decisive battle. At midnight on July 2d it was
known that the Austrians were preparing to give battle near Koeniggraetz
with the Elbe in their rear. Early the next morning the King with
Bismarck, Roon, and Moltke rode out and took up their positions on the
hill of Dub, whence they could view what was to be the decisive battle
in the history of Germany. Here, after the lapse of more than a hundred
years, they were completing the work which Frederick the Great had
begun. The battle was long and doubtful. The army of Prince Frederick
Charles attacked the Austrian division under the eyes of the King, but
could make no advance against their powerful artillery. They had to wait
till the Crown Prince, who was many miles away, could come up and attack
the right flank of the Austrians. Hour after hour went by and the Crown
Prince did not come; if he delayed longer the attack would fail and the
Prussians be defeated. We can easily imagine what must have been
Bismarck's thoughts during this crisis. On the result depended his
position, his reputation, perhaps his life; into those few hours was
concentrated the struggle to which he had devoted so much of his
lifetime, and yet he was quite helpless. Success or failure did not
depend on him. It is the crudest trial to the statesman that he must see
his best plans undone by the mistakes of the generals. Bismarck often
looked with anxiety at Moltke's face to see whether he could read in it
the result of the battle. The King, too, was getting nervous. Bismarck
at last could stand it no longer; he rode up to Moltke, took out a cigar
case, and offered it to the General; Moltke looked at the cigars
carefully and took the best; "then I knew we were all right," said
Bismarck in telling this story. It was after two when at last the cannon
of the Crown Prince's army came into action, and the Austrian army,
attacked on two sides, was overthrown.

"This time the brave grenadiers have saved us," said Roon. It was true;
but for the army which he and the King had made, all the genius of
Moltke and Bismarck would have been unavailing.

"Our men deserve to be kissed," wrote Bismarck to his wife.
"Every man is brave to the death, quiet, obedient; with empty
stomachs, wet clothes, little sleep, the soles of their boots
falling off, they are friendly towards everyone; there is no
plundering and burning; they pay what they are able, though they
have mouldy bread to eat. There must exist a depth of piety in
our common soldier or all this could not be."

Bismarck might well be proud of this practical illustration which was
given of that which he so often in older days maintained. This was a
true comment on the pictures of the loyalty of the Prussian people and
the simple faith of the German peasants, which from his place in
Parliament he had opposed to the new sceptical teaching of the Liberals.
As soon as he was able he went about among the wounded; as he once
said, the King of Prussia was accustomed to look into the eyes of
wounded men on the field of battle and therefore would never venture on
an unjust or unnecessary war, and in this Bismarck felt as the King. He
writes home for cigars for distributing among the wounded. Personally he
endured something of the hardships of campaigning, for in the miserable
Bohemian villages there was little food and shelter to be had. He
composed himself to sleep, as best he could, on a dung-heap by the
roadside, until he was roused by the Prince of Mecklenburg, who had
found more acceptable quarters.

It was not for long that this life, which was to him almost a welcome
reminiscence of his sporting days, could continue. Diplomatic cares soon
fell upon him.

Not two days had passed since the great battle, when a telegram from
Napoleon was placed in the King's hands informing him that Austria had
requested France's mediation, that Venetia had been surrendered to
France, and inviting the King to conclude an armistice. Immediately
afterwards came the news that the surrender of Venetia to France had
been published in the _Moniteur_.

If this meant anything, it meant that Napoleon intended to stop the
further progress of the Prussian army, to rescue Austria, and to dictate
the terms of peace; it could not be doubted that he would be prepared to
support his mediation by arms, and in a few days they might expect to
hear that the French corps were being stationed on the frontier. What
was to be done? Bismarck neither doubted nor hesitated; it was
impossible to refuse French mediation. West Germany was almost
undefended, the whole of the southern States were still unconquered;
however imperfect the French military preparations might be, it was
impossible to run such a risk. At his advice the King at once sent a
courteous answer accepting the French proposal. He was more disposed to
this because in doing so he really bound himself to nothing. He accepted
the principle of French mediation; but he was still free to discuss and
refuse the special terms which might be offered. He said that he was
willing to accept an armistice, but it was only on condition that the
preliminaries of peace were settled before hostilities ceased, and to
them the King could not agree except after consultation with the King of
Italy. It was a friendly answer, which cost nothing, and meanwhile the
army continued to advance. An Austrian request for an armistice was
refused; Vienna was now the goal; Napoleon, if he wished to stop them,
must take the next move, must explain the terms of peace he wished to
secure, and shew by what measures he was prepared to enforce them.

By his prompt action, Bismarck, who knew Napoleon well, hoped to escape
the threatened danger. We shall see with what address he used the
situation, so that the vacillation of France became to him more useful
than even her faithful friendship would have been, for now he felt
himself free from all ties of gratitude. Whatever services France might
do to Prussia she could henceforth look to him for no voluntary
recompense. Napoleon had deceived him; he would henceforward have no
scruples in deceiving Napoleon. He had entered on the war relying on the
friendship and neutrality of France; at the first crisis this had failed
him; he never forgot and he never forgave; years later, when the news of
Napoleon's death was brought to him, this was the first incident in
their long connection which came into his mind.

Intercourse with Paris was slow and uncertain; the telegraph wires were
often cut by the Bohemian peasants; some time must elapse before an
answer came. In the meanwhile, as the army steadily advanced towards the
Austrian capital, Bismarck had to consider the terms of peace he would
be willing to accept. He had to think not only of what he would wish,
but of what it was possible to acquire. He wrote to his wife at this

"We are getting on well. If we are not extreme in our claims and
do not imagine that we have conquered the world, we shall obtain
a peace that is worth having. But we are as easily intoxicated as
we are discouraged, and I have the thankless task of pouring
water into the foaming wine and of pointing out that we are not
alone in Europe, but have three neighbours."

Of the three neighbours there was little to fear from England. With the
death of Lord Palmerston, English policy had entered on a new phase; the
traditions of Pitt and Canning were forgotten; England no longer aimed
at being the arbitress of Europe; the leaders of both parties agreed
that unless her own interests were immediately affected, England would
not interfere in Continental matters. The internal organisation of
Germany did not appear to concern her; she was the first to recognise
the new principle that the relations of the German States to one another
were to be settled by the Germans themselves, and to extend to Germany
that doctrine of non-intervention which she had applied to Spain and

Neither France nor Russia would be so accommodating; France, we have
already seen, had begun to interfere, Russia would probably do so; if
they came to some agreement they would demand a congress; and, as a
matter of fact, a few days later the Czar proposed a congress, both in
Paris and in London. Of all issues this was the one which Bismarck
dreaded most. A war with France he would have disliked, but at the worst
he was not afraid of it. But he did not wish that the terms of peace he
proposed to dictate should be subjected to the criticism and revision of
the European Powers, nor to undergo the fate which fell on Russia twelve
years later. Had the congress, however, been supported by Russia and
France he must have accepted it. It is for this reason that he was so
ready to meet the wishes of France, for if Napoleon once entered into
separate and private negotiations, then whatever the result of them
might be, he could not join with the other Powers in common action.

With regard to the terms of peace, it was obvious that
Schleswig-Holstein would now be Prussian; it could scarcely be doubted
that there must be a reform in the Confederation, which would be
reorganised under the hegemony of Prussia, and that Austria would be
excluded from all participation in German affairs. It might, in fact, be
anticipated that the very great successes of Prussia would enable her to
carry out the programme of 1849, and to unite the whole of Germany in a
close union. This, however, was not what Bismarck intended; for him the
unity of Germany was a matter of secondary importance; what he desired
was complete control over the north. In this he was going back to the
sound and true principles of Prussian policy; he, as nearly all other
Prussian statesmen, looked on the line of the Main as a real division.
He, therefore, on the 9th of July, wrote to Goltz, explaining the ideas
he had of the terms on which peace might be concluded.

"The essential thing," he said, was that they should get control over
North Germany in some form or other.

"I use the term _North German Confederation_ without any
hesitation, because I consider that if the necessary
consolidation of the Federation is to be made certain it will be
at present impossible to include South Germany in it. The present
moment is very favourable for giving our new creation just that
delimitation which will secure it a firm union."

The question remained, what form the Union should take. On this he
writes: "Your Excellency must have the same impression as myself, that
public opinion in our country demands the incorporation of Hanover,
Saxony, and Schleswig." He adds that this would undoubtedly be the best
solution of the matter for all concerned, if it could be effected
without the cession of other Prussian territory, but he did not himself
consider the difference between a satisfactory system of reform and the
acquisition of these territories sufficient to justify him in risking
the fate of the whole monarchy. It was the same alternative which had
presented itself to him about Schleswig-Holstein; now, as then,
annexation was what he aimed at, and he was not the man easily to
reconcile himself to a less favourable solution. At the same time that
he wrote this letter he sent orders that Falkenstein should quickly
occupy all the territory north of the Main.

It is important to notice the date at which this letter was sent. It
shews us that these proposals were Bismarck's own. Attempts have often
been made since to suggest that the policy of annexation was not his,
but was forced on him by the King, or by the military powers, or by the
nation. This was not the case. He appeals indeed to public opinion, but
public opinion, had it been asked, would really have demanded, not the
dethronement of the Kings of Hanover and Saxony, but the unity of all
Germany; and we know that Bismarck would never pursue what he thought a
dangerous policy simply because public opinion demanded it. It has also
been said that the dethronement of the King of Hanover was the natural
result of the obstinacy of himself and his advisers, and his folly in
going to Vienna to appeal there to the help of the Austrian Emperor.

This also is not true. We find that Bismarck has determined on this
policy some days before the King had left Thuringia. This, like all he
did, was the deliberate result of the consideration: What would tend
most to the growth of Prussian power? He had to consider three
alternatives: that these States should be compelled to come into a union
with Prussia on the terms that the Princes should hand over the command
of their forces to the Prussian King, but he knew that the King of
Hanover would never consent to this, and probably the King of Saxony
would also refuse; he might also require the reigning Kings to abdicate
in place of their sons; or he might leave them with considerable
freedom, but cripple their power by taking away part of their territory.
These solutions seemed to him undesirable because they would leave
dynasties, who would naturally be hostile, jealous, and suspicious, with
the control of large powers of government. Surely it would be better,
safer, and wiser to sweep them away altogether. It may be objected that
there was no ground in justice for so doing. This is true, and Bismarck
has never pretended that there was. He has left it to the writers of the
Prussian Press to justify an action which was based purely on policy, by
the pretence that it was the due recompense of the crimes of the rival

Sybel says that Bismarck determined on these terms because they were
those which would be most acceptable to France; that he would have
preferred at once to secure the unity of the whole of Germany, but that
from his knowledge of French thought and French character he foresaw
that this would be possible only after another war, and he did not wish
to risk the whole. So far as our information goes, it is against this
hypothesis; it is rather true to say that he used the danger of French
interference as a means of persuading the King to adopt a policy which
was naturally repugnant to him. It is true that these terms would be
agreeable to Napoleon. It would appear in France and in Europe as if it
was French power which had persuaded Prussia to stop at the Main and to
spare Austria; Bismarck did not mind that, because what was pleasant to
France was convenient to him. He knew also that the proposal to annex
the conquered territories would be very agreeable to Napoleon; the
dethronement of old-established dynasties might be regarded as a
delicate compliment to the principles he had always maintained and to
the traditional policy of his house. If, however, we wish to find
Bismarck's own motives, we must remember that before the war broke out
he had in his mind some such division of Germany; he knew that it would
be impossible at once to unite the whole in a firm union. If Bavaria
were to be included in the new Confederation they would lose in harmony
what they gained in extent. As he said in his drastic way:

"We cannot use these Ultramontanes, and we must not swallow more
than we can digest. We will not fall into the blunder of
Piedmont, which has been more weakened than strengthened by the
annexation of Naples."

Of course he could not express this openly, and even now German writers
obscure the thought, for in Germany, as in Italy, the desire for unity
was so powerful that it was difficult to pardon any statesman who did
not take the most immediate path to this result. It was fortunate for
Germany that Bismarck was strong enough not to do so, for the
Confederation of the north could be founded and confirmed before the
Catholic and hostile south was included. The prize was in his hands; he
deliberately refused to pick it up.

Supposing, however, that, after all, France would not accept the terms
he suggested--during the anxious days which passed, this contingency was
often before him. It was not till the 14th that Goltz was able to send
him any decisive information, for the very good reason that Napoleon had
not until then made up his own mind. Bismarck's anxiety was increased by
the arrival of Benedetti. He had received instructions to follow the
King, and, after undergoing the discomfort of a hasty journey in the
rear of the Prussian army, reached headquarters on the 10th at Zwittau.
He was taken straight to Bismarck's room although it was far on into the
night. He found him sitting in a deserted house, writing, with a large
revolver by his side; for as Roon complains, even during the campaign
Bismarck would not give up his old custom of working all night and
sleeping till midday or later. Bismarck received the French Ambassador
with his wonted cordiality and the conversation was prolonged till three
or four o'clock in the morning, and continued on the following days.
Bismarck hoped that he had come with full powers to treat, or at least
with full information on the intentions of his Government; that was not
the case; he had no instructions except to use his influence to persuade
Prussia to moderation; Napoleon was far too much divided in his own mind
to be able to tell him anything further. Bismarck with his usual
frankness explained what he wished, laying much stress on the
annexations in North Germany; Benedetti, so little did he follow
Napoleon's thought, protested warmly against this. "We are not," he
said, "in the times of Frederick the Great." Bismarck then tried to
probe him on other matters; as before, he assumed that Napoleon's
support and good-will were not to be had for nothing. He took it as a
matter of course that if France was friendly to Prussia, she would
require some recompense. He had already instructed Goltz to enquire what
non-German compensation would be asked; he was much disturbed when
Benedetti met his overtures with silence; he feared that Napoleon had
some other plan. Benedetti in his report writes:

"Without any encouragement on my part, he attempted to prove to me that
the defeat of Austria permitted France and Prussia to modify their
territorial limits and to solve the greater part of the difficulties
which continued to menace the peace of Europe. I reminded him that there
were treaties and that the war which he desired to prevent would be the
first result of a policy of this kind. M. de Bismarck answered that I
misunderstood him, that France and Prussia united and resolved to
rectify their respective countries, binding themselves by solemn
engagements henceforth to regulate together these questions, need not
fear any armed resistance either from England or from Russia."

What was Bismarck's motive in making these suggestions and enquiries?
German writers generally take the view that he was not serious in his
proposal, that he was deliberately playing with Napoleon, that he wished
to secure from him some compromising document which he might then be
able, as, in fact, was to happen, to use against him. They seem to find
some pleasure in admiring him in the part of _Agent provocateur_.
Perhaps we may interpret his thought rather differently. We have often
seen that it was not his practice to lay down a clear and definite
course of action, but he met each crisis as it occurred. The immediate
necessity was to secure the friendship of France; believing, as he did,
that in politics no one acted simply on principle or out of friendship,
he assumed that Napoleon, who had control of the situation, would not
give his support unless he had the promise of some important recompense.
The natural thing for him, as he always preferred plain dealing, was to
ask straight out what the Emperor wanted. When the answer came, then
fresh questions would arise; if it was of such a kind that Bismarck
would be able to accept it, a formal treaty between the two States might
be made; if it was more than Bismarck was willing to grant, then there
would be an opportunity for prolonging negotiations with France, and
haggling over smaller points, and he would be able to come to some
agreement with Austria quickly. If he could not come to any agreement
with France, and war were to break out, he would always have this
advantage, that he would be able to make it appear that the cause of war
arose not in the want of moderation of Prussia, but in the illegitimate
claims of France. Finally he had this to consider, that so long as
France was discussing terms with him, there was no danger of their
accepting the Russian proposal for a congress. Probably the one
contingency which did not occur to him was that which, in fact, was
nearest to the truth, namely, that Napoleon did not care much for any
recompense, and that he had not seriously considered what he ought to

He was, however, prepared for the case that France should not be
accommodating. He determined to enter on separate negotiations with
Austria. As he could not do this directly, he let it be known at Vienna
by way of St. Petersburg that he was willing to negotiate terms of
peace. At Brunn, where he was living, he opened up a new channel of
intercourse. An Austrian nobleman, who was well disposed towards
Prussia, undertook an unofficial mission, and announced to the Emperor
the terms on which Prussia would make peace. They were extraordinarily
lenient, namely, that, with the exception of Venetia, the territory of
Austria should remain intact, that no war indemnity should be expected,
that the Main should form the boundary of Prussian ambition, that South
Germany should be left free, and might enter into close connection with
Austria if it chose; the only condition was that no intervention or
mediation of France should be allowed. If the negotiations with France
were successful, then the French and Prussian armies united would bid
defiance to the world. If those with France failed, then he hoped to
bring about an understanding with Austria; the two great Powers would
divide Germany between them, but present a united front to all
outsiders. If both negotiations broke down, he would be reduced to a
third and more terrible alternative: against a union of France and of
Austria he would put himself at the head of the German national
movement; he would adopt the programme of 1849; he would appeal to the
Revolution; he would stir up rebellion in Hungary; he would encourage
the Italians to deliver a thrust into the very heart of the Austrian
Monarchy; and, while Austria was destroyed by internal dissensions, he
would meet the French invasion at the head of a united army of the other
German States.

After all, however, Napoleon withdrew his opposition. It was represented
to him that he had not the military force to carry out his new
programme; Italy refused to desert Prussia or even to receive Venetia
from the hands of France; Prince Napoleon warned his cousin against
undoing the work of his lifetime. The Emperor himself, broken in health
and racked by pain, confessed that his action of July 5th had been a
mistake; he apologised to Goltz for his proclamation; he asked only that
Prussia should be moderate in her demands; the one thing was that the
unity of Germany should be avoided, if only in appearance. This, we have
seen, was Bismarck's own view. Napoleon accepted the terms which Goltz
proposed, but asked only that the Kingdom of Saxony should be spared;
if this was done, he would not only adopt, he would recommend them. An
agreement was quickly come to. Benedetti went on to Vienna; he and
Gramont had little difficulty in persuading the Emperor to agree to
terms of peace by which the whole loss of the war would fall not upon
him, not even upon his only active and faithful ally, the King of
Saxony, but on those other States who had refused to join themselves to
either party. What a triumph was it of Bismarck's skill that the
addition of 4,000,000 subjects to the Prussian Crown and complete
dominion over Northern Germany should appear, not as the demand which,
as a ruthless conqueror, he enforced on his helpless enemies, but as the
solution of all difficulties which was recommended to him in reward for
his moderation by the ruler of France!

On the 23d of July an armistice was agreed on, and a conference was held
at Nikolsburg to arrange the preliminaries of peace. There was no delay.
In olden days Bismarck had shewn how he was able to prolong negotiations
year after year when it was convenient to him that they should come to
no conclusion; now he hurried through in three days the discussion by
which the whole future of Germany and Europe were to be determined. When
all were agreed on the main points, difficulties on details were easily
overcome. It remained only to procure the assent of the King. Here
again, as so often before, Bismarck met with most serious resistance. He
drew up a careful memorandum which he presented to the monarch, pressing
on him in the very strongest terms the acceptance of these conditions,
Up to the last moment, however, there seems to have been a great
reluctance; Sybel represents the difficulties as rising from the
immoderate demands of the military party at Court; they were not
prepared, after so great a victory, to leave Austria with undiminished
territory; they wished at least to have part of Austrian Silesia. This
account seems misleading. It was not that the King wanted more than
Bismarck had desired; he wanted his acquisition of territory to come in
a different way. He was not reconciled to the dethronement of the King
of Hanover; he wished to take part of Hanover, part of Saxony, part of
Bavaria, and something from Darmstadt; to his simple and honest mind it
seemed unjust that those who had been his bitterest enemies should be
treated with the greatest consideration. It was the old difficulty which
Bismarck had met with in dealing with Schleswig-Holstein: the King had
much regard for the rights of other Princes. This time, however,
Bismarck, we are surprised to learn, had the influential support of the
Crown Prince; the scruples which he had felt as regards
Schleswig-Holstein did not apply to Hanover. He was sent in to his
father; the interview lasted two hours; what passed we do not know; he
came out exhausted and wearied with the long struggle, but the King had
given in, and the policy of Bismarck triumphed. The preliminaries of
Nikolsburg were signed, and two days afterwards were ratified, for
Bismarck pressed on the arrangements with feverish impetuosity.

He had good reason to do so; he had just received intelligence that the
Emperor of Russia was making an official demand for a congress and fresh
news had come from France. On the 25th Benedetti had again come to him
and had sounded him with regard to the recompense which France might
receive. On the 26th, just as Bismarck was going to the final sitting of
the Conference, the French Ambassador again called on him, this time to
lay before him a despatch in which Drouyn de Lhuys stated that he had
not wished to impede the negotiations with Austria, but would now
observe that the French sanction to the Prussian annexations presupposed
a fair indemnification to France, and that the Emperor would confer with
Prussia concerning this as soon as his role of mediator was at an end.
What madness this was! As soon as the role of mediator was at an end, as
soon as peace was arranged with Austria, the one means which France had
for compelling the acquiescence of Prussia was lost.

What had happened was this: Napoleon had, in conversation with Goltz,
refused to consider the question of compensation: it was not worth
while, he said; the gain of a few square miles of territory would not be
of any use. He therefore, when he still might have procured them, made
no conditions. Drouyn de Lhuys, however, who had disapproved of the
whole of the Emperor's policy, still remained in office; he still
wished, as he well might wish, to strengthen France in view of the great
increase of Prussian power. He, therefore, on the 21st again approached
Napoleon and laid before him a despatch in which he brought up the
question of compensation. He was encouraged to this course by the
reports which Benedetti had sent of his conversations with Bismarck; it
was clear that Bismarck expected some demand; he had almost asked that
it should be made. "We wish to avoid any injury to the balance of
power," Goltz had said; "we will either moderate our demands or discuss
those of France." It appeared absurd not to accept this offer. Napoleon
was still reluctant to do so, but he was in a paroxysm of pain. "Leave
me in peace," was his only answer to his Minister's request, and the
Minister took it as an assent.

Bismarck, when Benedetti informed him of the demand that was to be made,
at once answered that he was quite ready to consider the proposal.
Benedetti then suggested that it would probably concern certain strips
of territory on the left bank of the Rhine; on this, Bismarck stopped
him: "Do not make any official announcements of that kind to me to-day."
He went away, the Conference was concluded, the preliminaries were
signed and ratified. France had been too late, and when the demand was
renewed Bismarck was able to adopt a very different tone.

Let us complete the history of these celebrated negotiations.

The discussion which had been broken off so suddenly at Nikolsburg was
continued at Berlin; during the interval the matter had been further
discussed in Paris, and it had been determined firmly to demand
compensation. Benedetti had warned the Government that Bismarck would
not surrender any German territory; it was no good even asking for this,
unless the demand was supported by urgent and threatening language. The
result of the considerations was that he was instructed categorically to
require the surrender to France of the Palatinate and Mayence. Benedetti
undertook the task with some reluctance; in order to avoid being present
at the explosion of anger which he might expect, he addressed the demand
to Bismarck on August 5th, by letter. Two days he waited for an answer,
but received none; on the evening of the 7th, he himself called on the
Count, and a long discussion took place. Bismarck adopted a tone of
indignation: "The whole affair makes us doubt Napoleon and threatens to
destroy our confidence." The pith of it was contained in the last words:
"Do you ask this from us under threat of war?" said Bismarck. "Yes,"
said Benedetti. "Then it will be war." Benedetti asked to have an
interview with the King; it was granted, and he received the same
answer. This was the result he had anticipated, and the next evening he
returned to Paris to consider with the Government what was to be done.
Bismarck meanwhile had taken care that some information as to these
secret negotiations should become known; with characteristic cleverness
he caused it to be published in a French paper, _Le Siecle_, that France
had asked for the Rhine country and been refused. Of course, the German
Press took up the matter; with patriotic fervour they supported the King
and Minister. Napoleon found himself confronted by the danger of a
union of all Germany in opposition to French usurpation, and his own
diplomatic defeat had become known in a most inconvenient form; he at
once travelled to Paris, consulted Benedetti, returned to his former
policy, and asked that the demand of August 5th might be forgotten; it
was withdrawn, and things were to be as if it had never been made.

Were they, however, still to give up all hope of some increase of French
territory? The demand for German soil had been refused; it was not at
all clear that Bismarck would not support the acquisition of at least
part of Belgium. In conversation with Benedetti, on August 7th, he had
said: "Perhaps we will find other means of satisfying you." Goltz was
still very sympathetic; he regarded the French desire as quite
legitimate in principle. It was determined, therefore, now to act on
these hints and suggestions which had been repeated so often during the
last twelve months; Benedetti was instructed to return with a draft
treaty; the French demands were put in three forms; first of all he was
to ask for the Saar Valley, Landau, Luxemburg, and Belgium; if this was
too much, he was to be content with Belgium and Luxemburg, and if it
seemed desirable he should offer that Antwerp be made a free city; by
this perhaps the extreme hostility of England would be averted. With
this demand, on August 20th, he again appeared before Bismarck. Of
course, the Minister, as soon as Saarbrueck and Landau were mentioned,
drew himself up to his full height, adopted an angry air, and reminded
Benedetti of his repeated declaration that they were not going to give
up a single German village. Benedetti, therefore, in accordance with his
instructions, withdrew this clause. The rest of the treaty he and
Bismarck discussed together carefully; they took it line by line and
clause by clause, Bismarck dealing with the matter in a serious and
practical manner. After this had been finished a revised draft was
written out by Benedetti, Bismarck dictating to him the alterations
which had been made. This revised draft consisted of five articles: (1)
The Emperor recognised the recent acquisitions of Prussia; (2) the King
of Prussia should bind himself to assist France in acquiring Luxemburg
from the King of Holland by purchase or exchange; (3) the Emperor bound
himself not to oppose a union of the North German Federation with the
South German States and the establishment of a common Parliament; (4) if
the Emperor at any time wished to acquire Belgium, the King of Prussia
was to support him and give him military assistance against the
interference of any other Power; (5) a general treaty of alliance.

It will be seen that this treaty consists of two parts. The first refers
to what has already taken place,--the Emperor of the French in return
for past assistance is to have Luxemburg; this part would naturally come
into operation immediately. The next two clauses referred to the future;
the union of all Germany would in the natural course of events not be
long delayed; this would seriously alter the balance of power and weaken
France. Napoleon would naturally in the future use all his efforts to
prevent it, as he had done during this year, and by an alliance with
Austria he would probably be able to do so. He would, however, withdraw
his opposition if he was allowed to gain a similar increase of territory
for France. After all, the acquisition of at least part of Belgium by
France might be justified by the same arguments by which the
dethronement of the King of Hanover was defended. Many of the Belgians
were French; there was no natural division between Belgium and France;
probably the people would offer no opposition.

Bismarck had to remember that he could not complete the union of Germany
without considering Napoleon; there were only two ways of doing the
work, (1) by war with France, (2) by an alliance. Need we be surprised
that he at least considered whether the latter would not be the safer,
the cheaper, and the more humane? Was it not better to complete the work
by the sacrifice of Belgian independence rather than by the loss of
300,000 lives?

Benedetti sent the revised draft to Paris; it was submitted to the
Emperor, accepted in principle, and returned with some small alterations
and suggestions. Benedetti sent in the revision to Bismarck and said he
would be ready at any time to meet the Minister and finish the
negotiations. He himself left Berlin for Carlsbad and there awaited the
summons. It never came. Week after week went by, Bismarck retired to his
Pomeranian estate; he did not return to Berlin till December and he
never renewed the negotiations. The revised draft in Benedetti's
handwriting was in his hands; four years later, when war had been
declared against France, he published it in order to destroy whatever
sympathy for Napoleon there might be in England.

Bismarck did not continue the negotiations, for he had found a better
way. Till August 23d his relations to Austria were still doubtful; he
always had to fear that there was some secret understanding between
France and Austria, that a coalition of the two States had been
completed, and that Prussia might suddenly find herself attacked on both
sides. He had, therefore, not wished to offend France. Moreover his
relations to Russia were not quite satisfactory. The Czar took a very
serious view of the annexations in North Germany: "I do not like it," he
said; "I do not like this dethronement of dynasties." It was necessary
to send General Manteuffel on a special mission to St. Petersburg; the
Czar did not alter his opinion, but Bismarck found it possible at least
to quiet him. We do not know all that passed, but he seems to have used
a threat and a promise. If the Czar attempted to interfere in Germany,
Bismarck hinted, as he had already done, that he might have to put
himself at the head of the Revolution, and proclaim the Constitution of
1849; then what would happen to the monarchical principles? He even
suggested that a Revolution which began in Germany might spread to
Poland. The Czar explained that he was discontented with many clauses in
the Treaty of Paris. There was an understanding, if there was no formal
compact, that Prussia would lend her support, when the time came for
the Czar to declare that he was no longer willing to observe this

By the end of August Bismarck had therefore removed the chief dangers
which threatened him. Russia was quieted, France was expectant, Austria
was pacified. He had, however, done more than this: he had already laid
the foundation for the union of the whole of Germany which Napoleon
thought he had prevented.

The four southern States had joined in the war against Prussia. In a
brilliant and interesting campaign a small Prussian army had defeated
the Federal forces and occupied the whole of South Germany. The conquest
of Germany by Prussia was complete. These States had applied at
Nikolsburg to be allowed to join in the negotiations. The request was
refused, and Bismarck at this time treated them with a deliberate and
obtrusive brutality. Baron von der Pfortden, the Bavarian Minister, had
himself travelled to Nikolsburg to ask for peace. He was greeted by
Bismarck with the words: "What are you doing here? You have no
safe-conduct. I should be justified in treating you as a prisoner of
war." He had to return without achieving anything. Frankfort had been
occupied by the Prussian army; the citizens were required to pay a war
indemnity of a million pounds; Manteuffel, who was in command,
threatened to plunder the town, and the full force of Prussian
displeasure was felt by the city where Bismarck had passed so many
years. It was arranged with Austria and France that the southern States
should participate in the suspension of hostilities; that they should
preserve their independence and should be allowed to enter into any kind
of Federal alliance with one another. The result of this would have been
that South Germany would be a weak, disunited confederation, which would
be under the control partly of France and partly of Austria. This would
have meant the perpetuation in its worst form of French influence over
South Germany. When this clause was agreed on, the terms of peace
between these States and Prussia had not yet been arranged. The King of
Prussia wished that they should surrender to him some parts of their
territory. Bismarck, however, opposed this. He was guided by the same
principles which had influenced him all along. Some States should be
entirely absorbed in Prussia, the others treated so leniently that the
events of this year should leave no feeling of hostility. If Bavaria had
to surrender Bayreuth and Anspach, he knew that the Bavarians would
naturally take part in the first coalition against Prussia. With much
trouble he persuaded the King to adopt this point of view. The wisdom of
it was soon shewn. At the beginning of August he still maintained a very
imperious attitude, and talked to the Bavarians of large annexations.
Pfortden in despair had cried, "Do not drive us too far; we shall have
to go for help to France." Then was Bismarck's turn. He told the
Bavarian Minister of Napoleon's suggestion, shewed him that it was
Prussia alone who had prevented Napoleon from annexing a large part of
Bavaria, and then appealed to him through his German patriotism: Would
not Bavaria join Prussia in an alliance? Pfortden was much moved, the
Count and the Baron embraced one another, and by the end of August
Bismarck had arranged with all the four southern States a secret
offensive and defensive alliance. By this they bound themselves to
support Prussia if she was attacked. Prussia guaranteed to them their
territory; in case of war they would put their army under the command of
the King of Prussia. He was now sure, therefore, of an alliance of all
Germany against France. He no longer required French assistance. The
unity of Germany, when it was made, would be achieved by the unaided
forces of the united German States. The draft treaty with Napoleon might
now be put aside.

These negotiations mark indeed a most important change in Bismarck's own
attitude. Hitherto he had thought and acted as a Prussian; he had
deliberately refused on all occasions to support or adopt the German
programme. He had done this because he did not wish Germany to be made
strong until the ascendancy of Prussia was secured. The battle of
Koeniggraetz had done that; North Germany was now Prussian; the time had
come when he could begin to think and act as a German, for the power of
Prussia was founded on a rock of bronze.

This change was not the only one which dates from the great victory. The
constitutional conflict had still to be settled. The Parliament had been
dissolved just before the war; the new elections had taken place on the
3d of July, after the news of the first victory was known. The result
was shewn in a great gain of seats to the Government and to the
Moderate Liberal party. The great question, however, was, how would
Bismarck use his victory over the House? for a victory it was. It was
the cannon of Koeniggraetz which decided the Parliamentary conflict. The
House had refused the money to reorganise the army, and it was this
reorganised army which had achieved so unexampled a triumph. Would the
Government now press their victory and use the enthusiasm of the moment
permanently to cripple the Constitution? This is what the Conservative
party, what Roon and the army wished to do. It was not Bismarck's
intention. He required the support of the patriotic Liberals for the
work he had to do; he proposed, therefore, that the Government should
come before the House and ask for an indemnity. They did not confess
that they had acted wrongly, they did not express regret, but they
recognised that in spending the money without a vote of the House there
had been an offence against the Constitution; this could now only be
made good if a Bill was brought in approving of what had happened. He
carried his opinion, not without difficulty; the Bill of indemnity was
introduced and passed. He immediately had his reward. The Liberal party,
which had hitherto opposed him, broke into two portions. The extreme
Radicals and Progressives still continued their opposition; the majority
of the party formed themselves into a new organisation, to which they
gave the name of National Liberals. They pledged themselves to support
the National and German policy of the Government, while they undertook,
so far as they were able, to maintain and strengthen the constitutional
rights of Parliament. By this Bismarck had a Parliamentary majority, and
he more and more depended upon them rather than his old friends, the
Conservatives. He required their support because henceforward he would
have to deal not with one Parliament, but two. The North German
Confederation was to have its Parliament elected by universal suffrage.
Bismarck foresaw that the principles he had upheld in the past could not
be applied in the same form to the whole of the Confederation. The
Prussian Conservative party was purely Prussian, it was Particularist;
had he continued to depend upon it, then all the members sent to the new
Reichstag, not only from Saxony, but also from the annexed States, would
have been thrown into opposition; the Liberal party had always been not
Prussian but German; now that he had to govern so large a portion of
Germany, that which had in the past been the great cause of difference
would be the strongest bond of union. The National Liberal party was
alone able to join him in the work of creating enthusiasm for the new
institutions and new loyalty. How often had he in the old days
complained of the Liberals that they thought not as Prussians, that they
were ashamed of Prussia, that they were not really loyal to Prussia. Now
he knew that just for this reason they would be most loyal to the North
German Confederation.

Bismarck's moderation in the hour of victory must not obscure the
importance of his triumph. The question had been tried which should
rule--the Crown or the Parliament; the Crown had won not only a
physical but a moral victory. Bismarck had maintained that the House of
Representatives could not govern Prussia; the foreign affairs of the
State, he had always said, must be carried on by a Minister who was
responsible, not to the House, but to the King. No one could doubt that
had the House been able to control him he would not have won these great
successes. From that time the confidence of the German people in
Parliamentary government was broken. Moreover, it was the first time in
the history of Europe in which one of these struggles had conclusively
ended in the defeat of Parliament. The result of it was to be shewn in
the history of every country in Europe during the next thirty years. It
is the most serious blow which the principle of representative
government has yet received.

By the end of August most of the labour was completed; there remained
only the arrangement of peace with Saxony; this he left to his
subordinates and retired to Pomerania for the long period of rest which
he so much required.

During his absence a motion was brought before Parliament for conferring
a donation on the victorious generals. At the instance of one of his
most consistent opponents Bismarck's name was included in the list on
account of his great services to his country; a protest was raised by
Virchow on the ground that no Minister while in office should receive a
present, and that of all men Bismarck least deserved one, but scarcely
fifty members could be found to oppose the vote. The donation of 40,000
thalers he used in purchasing the estate of Varzin, in Pomerania which
was to be his home for the next twenty years.




We have hitherto seen Bismarck in the character of party leader,
Parliamentary debater, a keen and accomplished diplomatist; now he comes
before us in a new role, that of creative statesman; he adopts it with
the same ease and complete mastery with which he had borne himself in
the earlier stages of his career. The Constitution of the North German
Confederation was his work, and it shews the same intellectual resource,
the originality, and practical sense which mark all he did.

By a treaty of August 18, 1866, all the North German States which had
survived entered into a treaty with one another and with Prussia; they
mutually guaranteed each other's possessions, engaged to place their
forces under the command of the King of Prussia, and promised to enter
into a new federation; for this purpose they were to send envoys to
Berlin who should agree on a Constitution, and they were to allow
elections to take place by universal suffrage for a North German
Parliament before which was to be laid the draft Constitution agreed
upon by the envoys of the States. These treaties did not actually create
the new federation; they only bound the separate States to enter into
negotiations, and, as they expired on August 30, 1867, it was necessary
that the new Constitution should be completed and ratified by that date.
The time was short, for in it had to be compressed both the negotiations
between the States and the debates in the assembly; but all past
experience had shewn that the shorter the time allowed for making a
Constitution the more probable was it that the work would be completed.
Bismarck did not intend to allow the precious months, when enthusiasm
was still high and new party factions had not seized hold of men's
minds, to be lost.

He had spent the autumn in Pomerania and did not return to Berlin till
the 21st of December; not a week remained before the representatives of
the North German States would assemble in the capital of Prussia. To the
astonishment and almost dismay of his friends, he had taken no steps for
preparing a draft. As soon as he arrived two drafts were laid before
him; he put them aside and the next day dictated the outlines of the new

This document has not been published, but it was the basis of the
discussion with the envoys; Bismarck allowed no prolonged debates; they
were kept for some weeks in Berlin, but only three formal meetings took
place. They made suggestions and criticisms, some of which were
accepted, but they were of course obliged to assent to everything on
which Bismarck insisted. The scheme as finally agreed upon by the
conference was then laid before the assembly which met in Berlin on
February 24th.

A full analysis of this Constitution, for which we have no space here,
would be very instructive; it must not be compared with those elaborate
constitutions drawn up by political theorists of which so many have been
introduced during this century. Bismarck's work was like that of
Augustus; he found most of the institutions of government to his hand,
but they were badly co-ordinated; what he had to do was to bring them
into better relations with each other, and to add to them where
necessary. Many men would have swept away everything which existed, made
a clear field, and begun to build up a new State from the foundations.
Bismarck was much too wise to attempt this, for he knew that the
foundations of political life cannot be securely laid by one man or in
one generation. He built on the foundations which others had laid, and
for this reason it is probable that his work will be as permanent as
that of the founder of the Roman Empire.

We find in the new State old and new mixed together in an inseparable
union, and we find a complete indifference to theory or symmetry; each
point is decided purely by reference to the political situation at the
moment. Take, for instance, the question of diplomatic representation;
Bismarck wished to give the real power to the King of Prussia, but at
the same time to preserve the external dignity and respect due to the
Allied Princes. He arranged that the King of Prussia as President of
the Confederation appointed envoys and ambassadors to foreign States;
from this time there ceased to be a Prussian diplomatic service, and, in
this matter, Prussia is entirely absorbed in Germany. It would have been
only natural that the smaller Allied States should also surrender their
right to enter into direct diplomatic relations with foreign Powers.
This Bismarck did not require. Saxony, for instance, continued to have
its own envoys; England and France, as in the old days, kept a Minister
in Dresden. Bismarck was much criticised for this, but he knew that
nothing would so much reconcile the King of Saxony to his new position,
and it was indeed no small thing that the Princes thus preserved in a
formal way a right which shewed to all the world that they were not
subjects but sovereign allies. When it was represented to Bismarck that
this right might be the source of intrigues with foreign States, he
answered characteristically that if Saxony wished to intrigue nothing
could prevent her doing so; it was not necessary to have a formal
embassy for this purpose. His confidence was absolutely justified. A few
months later Napoleon sent to the King of Saxony a special invitation to
a European congress; the King at once sent on the invitation to Berlin
and let it be known that he did not wish to be represented apart from
the North German Confederation. The same leniency was shewn in 1870.
Nothing is a better proof of Bismarck's immense superiority both in
practical wisdom and in judgment of character. The Liberal Press in
Germany had never ceased to revile the German dynasties; Bismarck knew
that their apparent disloyalty to Germany arose not from their wishes
but was a necessary result of the faults of the old Constitution. He
made their interests coincide with the interests of Germany, and from
this time they have been the most loyal supporters, first of the
Confederation, and afterwards of the Empire. This he was himself the
first to acknowledge; both before and after the foundation of the Empire
he has on many occasions expressed his sense of the great services
rendered to Germany by the dynasties. "They," he said once, "were the
true guardians of German unity, not the Reichstag and its parties."

The most important provisions of the Constitution were those by which
the military supremacy of Prussia was secured; in this chapter every
detail is arranged and provided for; the armies of all the various
States were henceforth to form one army, under the command of the King
of Prussia, with common organisation and similar uniform in every State;
in every State the Prussian military system was to be introduced, and
all the details of Prussian military law.

Now let us compare with this the navy: the army represented the old
Germany, the navy the new; the army was arranged and organised as
Prussian, Saxon, Mecklenburg; the navy, on the other hand, was German
and organised by the new Federal officials. There was a Federal Minister
of Marine, but no Federal Minister of War; the army continued the living
sign of Prussian supremacy among a group of sovereign States, the navy
was the first fruit of the united German institutions which were to be
built up by the united efforts of the whole people--a curious
resemblance to the manner in which Augustus also added an Imperial navy
to the older Republican army.

The very form in which the Constitution was presented is characteristic;
in the Parliamentary debates men complained that there was no preamble,
no introduction, no explanation. Bismarck answered that this was omitted
for two reasons: first, there had not been time to draw it up, and
secondly, it would be far more difficult to agree on the principles
which the Constitution was to represent than on the details themselves.
There is no attempt at laying down general principles, no definitions,
and no enumeration of fundamental rights; all these rocks, on which so
often in Germany, as in France, precious months had been wasted, were
entirely omitted.

And now let us turn to that which after the organisation of the army was
of most importance,--the arrangement of the administration and
legislation. Here it is that we see the greatest originality. German
writers have often explained that it is impossible to classify the new
State in any known category, and in following their attempts to find the
technical definition for the authority on which it rests, one is led
almost to doubt whether it really exists at all.

There are two agents of government, the Federal Council, or
_Bundesrath_, and the Parliament, or _Reichstag_. Here again we see the
blending of the old and new, for while the Parliament was now created
for the first time, the Council was really nothing but the old Federal
Diet. Even the old system of voting was retained; not that this was
better than any other system, but, as Bismarck explained, it was easier
to preserve the old than to agree on a new. Any system must have been
purely arbitrary, for had each State received a number of votes
proportionate to its population even the appearance of a federation
would have been lost, and Bismarck was very anxious not to establish an
absolute unity under Prussia.

It will be asked, why was Bismarck now so careful in his treatment of
the smaller States? The answer will be found in words which he had
written many years ago:

"I do not wish to see Germany substituted for Prussia on our
banner until we have brought about a closer and more practical
union with our fellow-countrymen."

Now the time had come, and now he was to be the first and most patriotic
of Germans as in old days he had been the strictest of Prussians. Do not
let us in welcoming the change condemn his earlier policy. It was only
his loyalty to Prussia which had made Germany possible; for it is indeed
true that he could never have ruled Germany had he not first conquered
it. The real and indisputable supremacy of Prussia was still preserved;
and Prussia was now so strong that she could afford to be generous. It
was wise to be generous, for the work was only half completed; the
southern States were still outside the union; he wished to bring them
into the fold, but to do so not by force of arms but of their own free
will; and they certainly would be more easily attracted if they saw that
the North German States were treated with good faith and kindness.

Side by side with the Council we have the Reichstag; this was, in
accordance with the proposal made in the spring of 1866, to be elected
by universal suffrage. And now we see that this proposal, which a few
months ago had appeared merely as a despairing bid for popularity by a
statesman who had sacrificed every other means of securing his policy,
had become a device convincing in its simplicity; at once all
possibility of discussion or opposition was prevented; not indeed that
there were not many warning voices raised, but as Bismarck, in defending
this measure, asked,--what was the alternative? Any other system would
have been purely arbitrary, and any arbitrary system would at once have
opened the gate to a prolonged discussion and political struggle on
questions of the franchise. In a modern European State, when all men can
read and write, and all men must serve in the army, there is no means of
limiting the franchise in a way which will command universal consent. In
Germany there was not any old historical practice to which men could
appeal or which could naturally be applied to the new Parliament;
universal suffrage at least gave something clear, comprehensible, final.
Men more easily believed in the permanence of the new State when every
German received for the first time the full privilege of citizenship. We
must notice, however, that Bismarck had always intended that voting
should be open; the Parliament in revising the Constitution introduced
the ballot. He gave his consent with much reluctance; voting seemed to
him to be a public duty, and to perform it in secret was to undermine
the roots of political life. He was a man who was constitutionally
unable to understand fear. We have then the Council and the Parliament,
and we must now enquire as to their duties. In nearly every modern State
the popular representative assembly holds the real power; before it,
everything else is humbled; the chief occupation of lawgivers is to find
some ingenious device by which it may at least be controlled and
moderated in the exercise of its power. It was not likely that Bismarck
would allow Germany to be governed by a democratic assembly; he was not
satisfied with creating an artificial Upper House which might, perhaps,
be able for one year or two to check the extravagances of a popular
House, or with allowing to the King a veto which could only be exercised
with fear and trembling. Generally the Lower House is the predominant
partner; it governs; the Upper House can only amend, criticise,
moderate. Bismarck completely reversed the situation: the true
government, the full authority in the State was given to the Council;
the Parliament had to content itself with a limited opportunity for
criticism, with the power to amend or veto Bills, and to refuse its
assent to new taxes. In England the government rests in the House of
Commons; in Germany it is in the Federal Council, and for the same
reason--that the Council has both executive and legislative power.
Constitutions have generally been made by men whose chief object was to
weaken the power of the Government, who believed that those rulers do
least harm who have least power, with whom suspicion is the first of
political virtues, and who would condemn to permanent inefficiency the
institutions they have invented. It was not likely Bismarck would do
this. The ordinary device is to separate the legislative and executive
power; to set up two rival and equal authorities which may check and
neutralise each other. Bismarck, deserting all the principles of the
books, united all the powers of government in the Council. The whole
administration was subjected to it; all laws were introduced in it. The
debates were secret; it was an assembly of the ablest statesmen in
Germany; the decisions at which it arrived were laid in their complete
form before the Reichstag. It was a substitute for a Second Chamber, but
it was also a Council of State; it united the duties of the Privy
Council and the House of Lords; it reminds us in its composition of the
American Senate, but it would be a Senate in which the President of the
Republic presided.

Bismarck never ceased to maintain the importance of the Federal Council;
he always looked on it as the key to the whole new Constitution. Shortly
after the war with France, when the Liberals made an attempt to
overthrow its authority, he warned them not to do so.

"I believe," he said, "that the Federal Council has a great
future. Great as Prussia is, we have been able to learn much from
the small, even from the smallest member of it; they on their
side have learnt much from us. From my own experience I can say
that I have made considerable advance in my political education
by taking part in the sittings of the Council and by the life
which comes from the friction of five and twenty German centres
with one another. I beg you do not interfere with the Council. I
consider it a kind of Palladium for our future, a great guarantee
for the future of Germany in its present form."

Now, from the peculiar character of the Council arose a very noticeable
omission; just as there was no Upper House (though the Prussian
Conservatives strongly desired to see one), so, also, there was no
Federal Ministry. In every modern State there is a Council formed of the
heads of different administrative departments; this was so universal
that it was supposed to be essential to a constitution. In the German
Empire we search for it in vain; there is only one responsible Minister,
and he is the Chancellor, the representative of Prussia and Chairman of
the Council. The Liberals could not reconcile themselves to this strange
device; they passed it with reluctance in the stress of the moment, but
they have never ceased to protest against it. Again and again, both in
public and in private, we hear the same demand: till we have a
responsible Ministry the Constitution will never work. Two years later a
motion was introduced and passed through the Reichstag demanding the
formation of a Federal Ministry; Bismarck opposed the motion and refused
to carry it out.

He had several reasons for omitting what was apparently almost a
necessary institution. The first was respect for the rights of the
Federal States. If a Ministry, responsible to Parliament, had existed,
the executive power would have been taken away from the Bundesrath, and
the Princes of the smaller States would really have been subjected to
the new organ; the Ministers must have been appointed by the President;
they would have looked to him and to the Reichstag for support, and
would soon have begun to carry out their policy, not by agreement with
the Governments arrived at by technical discussions across the table of
the Council-room, but by orders and decrees based on the will of the
Parliament. This would inevitably have aroused just what Bismarck wished
to avoid. It would have produced a struggle between the central and
local authorities; it would again have thrown the smaller Governments
into opposition to national unity; it would have frightened the southern

His other reasons for opposing the introduction of a Ministry were that
he did not wish to give more power to the Parliament, and above all he
disliked the system of collegiate responsibility.

"You wish," he said, "to make the Government responsible, and do
it by introducing a board. I say the responsibility will
disappear as soon as you do so; responsibility is only there when
there is a single man who can be brought to task for any
mistakes.... I consider that in and for itself a Constitution
which introduces joint ministerial responsibility is a political
blunder from which every State ought to free itself as soon as it
can. Anyone who has ever been a Minister and at the head of a
Ministry, and has been obliged to take resolutions upon his own
responsibility, ceases at last to fear this responsibility, but
he does shrink from the necessity of convincing seven people that
that which he wishes is really right. That is a very different
work from governing a State."

These reasons are very characteristic of him; the feeling became more
confirmed as he grew older. In 1875 he says:

"Under no circumstances could I any longer submit to the
thankless role of Minister-President of Prussia in a Ministry
with joint responsibility, if I were not accustomed, from my old
affection, to submit to the wishes of my King and Master. So
thankless, so powerless, and so little responsible is that
position; one can only be responsible for that which one does of
one's own will; a board is responsible for nothing."

He always said himself that he would be satisfied with the position of
an English Prime Minister. He was thinking, of course, of the
constitutional right which the Prime Minister has, to appoint and
dismiss his colleagues, which if he has strength of character will, of
course, give him the real control of affairs, and also of the right
which he enjoys of being the sole means by which the views of the
Ministers are represented to the sovereign. In Prussia the
Minister-President had not acquired by habit these privileges, and the
power of the different Ministers was much more equal. In the new
Federation he intended to have a single will directing the whole

The matter is of some interest because of the light it throws on one
side of his character. He was not a man with whom others found it easy
to work; he did not easily brook opposition, and he disliked having to
explain and justify his policy to anyone besides the King. He was not
able to keep a single one of his colleagues throughout his official
career. Even Roon found it often difficult to continue working with him;
he complained of the Hermit of Varzin, "who wishes to do everything
himself, and nevertheless issues the strictest prohibition that he is
never to be disturbed." What suited him best was the position of almost
absolute ruler, and he looked on his colleagues rather as subordinates
than as equals.

But, it will be objected, if there was to be a single will governing the
whole, the government could not be left to the Council; a board
comprising the representatives of twenty States could not really
administer, and in truth the Council was but the veil; behind it is the
all-pervading power of the King of Prussia--and his Minister. The ruler
of Germany was the Chancellor of the Federation; it was he alone that
united and inspired the whole. Let us enumerate his duties. He was sole
Minister to the President of the Confederation (after 1870 to the
Emperor). The President (who was King of Prussia) could declare peace
and war, sign treaties, and appointed all officials, but all his acts
required the signature of the Chancellor, who was thereby Foreign
Minister of the Confederation and had the whole of the patronage. More
than this, he was at the head of the whole internal administration; from
time to time different departments of State were created,--marine,
post-office, finance,--but the men who stood at the head of each
department were not co-ordinate with the Chancellor; they were not his
colleagues, but were subordinates to whom he delegated the work. They
were not immediately responsible to the Emperor, Council, or Reichstag,
but to him; he, whenever he wished, could undertake the immediate
control of each department, he could defend its actions, and was
technically responsible to the Council for any failure. Of course, as a
matter of fact, the different departments generally were left to work
alone, but if at any time it seemed desirable, the Chancellor could
always interfere and issue orders which must be obeyed; if the head of
the department did not agree, then he had nothing to do but resign, and
the Chancellor would appoint his successor.

The Chancellor was, then, the working head of the Government; but it
will be said that his power would be so limited by the interference of
the Emperor, the Council, the Parliament, that he would have no freedom.
The contrary is the truth. There were five different sources of
authority with which he had to deal: the President of the Federation
(the Emperor), who was King of Prussia, the Council, the Prussian
Parliament, the German Parliament, and the Prussian Ministry. Now in the
Council he presided, and also represented the will of Prussia, which
was almost irresistible, for if the Constitution was to work well there
must be harmony of intention between Prussia and the Federal Government;
here therefore he could generally carry out his policy: but in the
Prussian Ministry he spoke as sole Minister of the Federation and the
immense authority he thus enjoyed raised him at once to a position of
superiority to all his colleagues. More than this, he was now free from
the danger of Parliamentary control; it was easier to deal with one
Parliament than two; they had no _locus standi_ for constitutional
opposition to his policy. The double position he held enabled him to
elude all control. Policy was decided in the Council; when he voted
there he acted as representative of the King of Prussia and was bound by
the instructions he received from the Prussian Minister of Foreign
Affairs; the Reichstag had nothing to do with Prussian policy and had no
right to criticise the action of the Prussian Minister. It did not
matter that Bismarck himself was not only Chancellor of the Diet, but
also Minister-President of Prussia and Foreign Minister, and was really
acting in accordance with the instructions he had given to himself[8];
the principle remained,--each envoy to the Diet was responsible, not to
the Reichstag, but to the Government he represented. When, however, he
appeared in the Reichstag to explain and defend the policy adopted by
the Council, then he stood before them as representative not necessarily
of his own policy, but of that which had been decided on by a board in
which he had possibly been outvoted. The Reichstag could reject the
proposal if it were a law or a tax; they could criticise and debate, but
there was no ground on which they could constitutionally demand the
dismissal of the Minister.

Of course Bismarck did not attempt to evade the full moral
responsibility for the policy which he advocated, but he knew that so
long as he had the confidence of the King of Prussia and the majority of
the Allied States, all the power of Parliament could not injure him.

What probably not even he foresaw was that the new Constitution so
greatly added to the power of the Minister that even the authority of
the King began to pale before it. As before, there was only one
department of State where his authority ceased,--the army.

It will be easily understood that this Constitution, when it was laid
before the assembly, was not accepted without much discussion and many
objections. There were some--the representatives of conquered districts,
Poles, Hanoverians, and the deputies from Schleswig-Holstein--who wished
to overthrow the new Federation which was built up on the destruction of
the States to which they had belonged. Theirs was an enmity which was
open, honourable, and easy to meet. More insidious and dangerous was the
criticism of those men who, while they professed to desire the ends
which Bismarck had attained, refused to approve of the Constitution
because they would have to renounce some of the principles of the
parties to which they belonged.

There were some to whom it seemed that he gave too much freedom to the
individual States; they wished for a more complete unity, but now
Bismarck, for the first time, was strong enough to shew the essential
moderation of his character; he knew what the Liberals were ready to
forget, that moderation, while foolish in the moment of conflict, is the
proper adornment of the conqueror. When they asked him to take away many
of the privileges reserved to the smaller States, he reminded them that,
though Mecklenburg and the Saxon duchies were helpless before the
increased power of the Prussian Crown, they were protected by Prussian
promises, and that a King of Prussia, though he might strike down his
enemies, must always fulfil in spirit and in letter his obligations to
his friends. The basis of the new alliance must be the mutual confidence
of the allies; he had taught them to fear Prussia, now they must learn
to trust her.

The Prussian Conservatives feared that the power of the Prussian King
and the independence of the Prussian State would be affected; but
Bismarck's influence with them was sufficient to prevent any open
opposition. More dangerous were the Progressives, who apprehended that
the new Constitution would limit the influence of the Prussian
Parliament. On many points they refused to accept the proposals of the
Government; they feared for liberty. For them Bismarck had no sympathy
and no words but contempt, and he put curtly before them the question,
did they wish to sacrifice all he had attained to their principles of
Parliamentary government? They demanded, for instance, that, as the
Constitution of Prussia could not be altered without the consent of the
Prussian Parliament, the new Federal Constitution must be laid before
the Prussian Parliament for discussion and ratification. It is curious
to notice that this is exactly the same claim which Bismarck in 1852 had
supported as against Radowitz; he had, however, learned much since then;
he pointed out that the same claim which was made by the Prussian
Parliament might be made by the Parliament of each of the twenty-two
States. It was now his duty to defend the unification of Germany against
this new _Particularism_; in old days Particularism found its support in
the dynasties, "now it is," he said, "in the Parliaments.

"Do you really believe," he said, "that the great movement which
last year led the peoples to battle from the Belt to the Sicilian
Sea, from the Rhine to the Pruth and the Dniester, in the throw
of the iron dice when we played for the crowns of kings and
emperors, that the millions of German warriors who fought against
one another and bled on the battle-fields from the Rhine to the
Carpathians, that the thousands and ten thousands who were left
dead on the battle-field and struck down by pestilence, who by
their death have sealed the national decision,--that all this can
be pigeon-holed by a resolution of Parliament? Gentlemen, in this
case you really do not stand on the height of the situation.... I
should like to see the gentlemen who consider this possibility
answer an invalid from Koeniggraetz when he asks for the result of
this mighty effort. You would say to him: 'Yes, indeed, for the
German unity nothing is achieved, the occasion for that will
probably come, that we can have easily, we can come to an
understanding any day, but we have saved the Budget-right of the
Chamber of Deputies, we have saved the right of the Prussian
Parliament every year to put the existence of the Prussian army
in question,' ... and therewith the invalid must console himself
for the loss of his limbs and the widow as she buries her

It is interesting to compare this speech with the similar speech he made
after Olmuetz: how great is the similarity in thought and expression, how
changed is the position of the speaker! He had no sympathy with these
doubts and hesitations; why so much distrust of one another? His
Constitution might not be the best, it might not be perfect, but at
least let it be completed. "Gentlemen," he said, "let us work quickly,
let us put Germany in the saddle; it will soon learn to ride." He was
annoyed and irritated by the opposition he met.

"If one has struggled hard for five years to achieve that which
now lies before us, if one has spent one's time, the best years
of one's life, and sacrificed one's health for it, if one
remembers the trouble it has cost to decide quite a small
paragraph, even a question of punctuation, with two and twenty
Governments, if at last we have agreed on that as it here lies
before us, then gentlemen who have experienced little of all
these struggles, and know nothing of the official proceedings
which have gone before, come forward in a manner which I can only
compare to that of a man who throws a stone at my window without
knowing where I stand. He knows not where he hits me, he knows
not what business he impedes."

He compared himself with Hotspur when after the battle he met the
courtier who came to demand his prisoners, and when wounded and tired
from the fight had to hear a long lecture over instruments of slaughter
and internal wounds.

The debates were continued for two months with much spirit and ability;
again and again a majority of the Parliament voted amendments against
which Bismarck had spoken. When they had completed the revision of the
Constitution, these had again to be referred to the separate
Governments. Forty were adopted; on two only Bismarck informed the
Parliament that their proposals could not be accepted. One of these was
the arrangements for the army Budget; so soon did a fresh conflict on
this matter threaten. A compromise was agreed upon; in consideration of
the immediate danger (it was just the time when a war with France
regarding Luxemburg appeared imminent), the House voted the money
required for the army for the next four years; in 1871 a new arrangement
would have to be made, but for this time the Government was able to
maintain the army at the strength which they wished for. The other
matter was of less immediate importance: the majority of the House had
voted that members of the Parliament should receive payment for their
services. Bismarck had spoken strongly against this; now he made it a
question of confidence, and warned them that the Governments would not
accept it. The House had no alternative except to withdraw their vote.

The Constitution as finally agreed on exists to this day as that of the
German Empire. Notwithstanding the evil forebodings made at the time, it
has worked well for over thirty years.

From the moment that the new State had been created and the new
Constitution adopted, a great change took place in Bismarck's public
position. He was no longer merely the first and ablest servant of
the Prussian King; he was no longer one in the distinguished series
of Prussian Ministers. His position was--let us recognise it
clearly--greater than that of the King and Emperor, for he was truly the
Father of the State: it was his will which had created and his brain
which had devised it; he watched over it with the affection of a father
for his son; none quite understood it but himself; he alone could
authoritatively expound the laws of the Constitution. A criticism of it
was an attack upon himself; opposition to him was scarcely to be
distinguished from treason to the State. Is it not inevitable that as
years went on we should find an increasing intolerance of all rivals,
who wished to alter what he had made, or to take his place as captain of
his ship, and at the same time a most careful and strict regard for the
loyal fulfilment of the law and spirit of the Constitution? From this
time all other interests are laid aside, his whole life is absorbed in
the prosperity of Germany.

Of course Germany did not at once settle down to political rest; there
were many difficulties to be overcome on which we cannot enter here. The
most serious arose from the regulation of the affairs in the conquered
provinces, and especially in the Kingdom of Hanover. The annexation to
Prussia was very unpopular among all classes except the tradesmen and
middle classes of the towns. The Hanoverian deputies to both the
Prussian Parliament and the Parliament of the North German Confederation
on principle opposed all measures of the Government. The King himself,
though in exile, kept up a close connection with his former subjects.
There were long negotiations regarding his private property. At last it
was agreed that this should be paid over to him. The King, however, used
the money for organising a Legion to be used when the time came against
Prussia; it was therefore necessary to cease paying him funds which
could be used for this purpose. This is the origin of the notorious
_Welfenfond_. The money was to be appropriated for secret service and
especially for purposes of the Press. The party of the Guelphs, of
course, maintained a bitter feud against the Government in their papers.
Bismarck, who had had ample experience of this kind of warfare, met them
on their own ground.

He defended this proposal by drawing attention to one of the weaknesses
of Germany. What other country, he asked, was there where a defeated
party would look forward to the help of foreign armies? "There are
unfortunately," he said, "many Coriolani in Germany, only the Volsci are
wanting; if they found their Volsci they would soon be unmasked."
Everyone knew that the Volsci from over the Rhine would not be slow to
come when the occasion offered.

"It was," he said, "a melancholy result of the centuries of
disunion. There were traitors in the country; they did not hide
themselves; they carried their heads erect; they found public
defenders even in the walls of Parliament."

Then he continued:

"Everywhere where corruption is found there a form of life begins
which no one can touch with clean kid gloves. In view of these
facts you speak to me of espionage. In my nature I am not born to
be a spy, but I believe we deserve your thanks if we condescend
to follow malignant reptiles into their cave to observe their

This is the origin of the expression "the _reptile Press,"_ for the name
was given by the people not to those against whom the efforts of the
Government were directed, but to the paid organs to which, if report is
true, so large a portion of the Guelph fund was given.

But we must pass on to the events by which the work of 1866 was to be

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