Chapter XII. The Man of Blood and Iron
The people demand their rights—Bismarck, the chief prop of the Prussian monarchy—The question of the leadership of the German states—The wonderful Prussian army—The war on Denmark—Preparing to crush Austria—The battle of Sadowa—Easy terms to the defeated nation—Preparing to defeat France—A good example of a war caused by diplomats—Prussia's easy victory—The new German empire—Harsh terms of peace—The triumph of feudal government.
All of this time, the kings of Europe had been engaged in contests with their own people. The overthrow of the French king at the time of the revolution taught the people of the other countries of Europe that they too could obtain their liberties. You have already been told how the people of Austria drove out Prince Metternich, who was the leader of the party which refused any rights to the working classes.
That same year, 1848, had seen the last king driven out of France, had witnessed revolts in all parts of Italy, and had found many German princes in trouble with their subjects, who were demanding a share in the government, the right of free speech, free newspapers, and trial by jury. The empires of Austria and Russia had joined with the kingdom of Prussia in a combination which was known as the "Holy Alliance." This was meant to stop the further spread of republican ideas and to curb the growing power of the common people.
Not long after this, there came to the front in Prussia a remarkable man, who for the next forty years was perhaps the most prominent statesman in Europe. His full name was Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck-Schönausen, but we generally know him under the name of Bismarck. He was a Prussian nobleman, a believer in the divine right of kings, the man who more than anybody else is responsible for the establishing of the present empire of Germany. He once made a speech in the Prussian Diet or council in which he said that "blood and iron," not speeches and treaties, would unite Germany into a nation. His one object was a united Germany, which should be the strongest nation in Europe. He wanted Germany to be ruled by Prussia, Prussia to be ruled by its king, and the king of Prussia to be controlled by Bismarck. It is marvellous to see how near he came to carrying through his whole plan.
After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Prussia remained among the powers of Europe, but was not as great as Austria, Russia, England, or France. The German states, some 35 in number, had united in a loose alliance called the German Confederation. (This union was somewhat similar to the United States of America between 1776 and 1789.) Austria was the largest of these states, and was naturally looked upon as the leader of the whole group. Prussia was the second largest, while next after Prussia, and much smaller, came the kingdoms of Bavaria, Saxony, Hanover, and Wurtemburg. Bismarck, as prime minister of Prussia, built up a wonderfully strong army. He did this by means of a military system which at first made him very unpopular with the people. Every man in the nation, rich or poor, was obliged to serve a certain number of years in the army and be ready at a moment's notice to join a certain regiment if there came a call to war.
Having organized this army, and equipped it with every modern weapon, Bismarck was anxious to use it to accomplish his purpose. There were two counties named Schleswig (shlĕs′vig) and Holstein (hōl′stīn) which belonged to the king of Denmark and yet contained a great many German people. The inhabitants of Schleswig were perhaps half Danes, while those of Holstein were more than two-thirds Germans. These Germans had protested against certain actions of the Danish government, and were threatening to revolt. Taking advantage of this trouble, Prussia and Austria, as the leading states of the German Federation, declared war on little Denmark. The Danes fought valiantly, but were overwhelmed by the armies of their enemies. Schleswig and Holstein were torn away from Denmark and put under the joint protection of Austria and Prussia.
This sort of arrangement could not last. Sooner or later, there was bound to be a quarrel over the division of the plunder. Now Bismarck had a chance to show his crafty diplomacy. He made up his mind to crush Austria and put Prussia in her place as the leader of the German states. He first negotiated with Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, and made sure that this monarch would not interfere. Next he remembered that the provinces of Venetia, Trentino, and Istria still belonged to Austria, as the Italians had failed to gain them in the war of 1859. Accordingly, Bismarck induced Italy to declare war on Austria by promising her Venetia and the other provinces in return for her aid. Saxony, Bavaria, and Hanover were friendly to Austria, but Bismarck did not fear them. He knew that his army, under the leadership of its celebrated general, von Moltke, was more than a match for the Austrians, Bavarians, etc., combined.
When Bismarck was ready, Prussia and Italy struck. The Austrians were successful at first against the Italians, but at Sadowa in Bohemia, their armies were beaten in a tremendous battle by the Prussians. Austria was put down from her place as the leader of the German Confederation, and Prussia took the leadership. Hanover, whose king had sided with the Austrians, was annexed to Prussia. The king of Prussia and several of his generals were anxious to rob Austria of some of her territory, as had been the custom in the past whenever one nation defeated another in war. Bismarck, however, restrained them. In his program of making Prussia the leading military state in Europe, he saw that his next opponent would be France, and he did not propose, on attacking France, to find his army assailed in the rear by the revengeful Austrians. Accordingly, Bismarck compelled the king to let Austria off without any loss of territory except Venetia, which was given to the Italians. Austria was even allowed to retain Trentino and Istria, and was not required to pay a large indemnity to Prussia. (A custom which had come down from the middle ages, when cities which were captured had been obliged to pay great sums of money, in order to get rid of the conquering armies, was the payment of a war indemnity by the defeated nation. This was a sum of money as large as the conquerors thought they could safely force their victims to pay.) The Austrians, although they were angry over the manner in which Bismarck had provoked the war, nevertheless appreciated the fact that he was generous in not forcing harsh terms upon them, as he could have done had he wanted to.
The eyes of all Europe now turned toward the coming struggle between Prussia and France. It was plain that it was impossible for two men like Bismarck and Emperor Napoleon to continue in power very long without coming to blows. It was Bismarck's ambition, as was previously said, to make Prussia the leading military nation of Europe, and he knew that this meant a struggle with Napoleon. You will remember also that he planned a united Germany, led by Prussia, and he felt that the French war would bring this about. On the other hand, the French emperor was extremely jealous of the easy victory that Prussia and Italy had won over Austria. He had been proud of the French army, and wanted it to remain the greatest fighting force in Europe. He was just as anxious for an excuse to attack Prussia as Bismarck was for a pretext to attack him.
It should be kept in mind that all this time there was no ill-feeling between the French people and the Germans. In fact, the Germans of the Rhine country were very friendly to France, and during Napoleon's time had been given more liberties and had been governed better than under the rule of their former feudal lords. All the hostility and jealousy was between the military chiefs. Even Bismarck did not dislike the French. He had no feeling toward them at all. It was part of his program that their military power should be crushed and his program must be carried through. Europe, to his mind, was too small to contain more than one master military power.
The four years between 1866 and 1870 were used by Bismarck to gain friends for Prussia among other countries of Europe, and to make enemies for France. The kingdoms of south Germany (Bavaria, Baden, and Wurtemburg), which had sided with Austria during the late war, were friendly to France and hostile to Prussia. Napoleon III, however, made a proposal in writing to Bismarck that France should be given a slice of this south German territory in return for some other land which France was to allow Prussia to seize. Bismarck pretended to consider this proposal, but was careful to keep the original copy, in the French ambassador's own handwriting. (Each nation sends a man to represent her at the capital of each other nation. These men are called ambassadors. They are given power to sign agreements for their governments.) By showing this to the rulers of the little south German kingdoms, he was able to turn them against Napoleon and to make secret treaties with these states by which they bound themselves to fight on the side of Prussia in case a war broke out with France. In similar fashion, Bismarck made the Belgians angry against the French by letting it be known that Napoleon was trying to annex their country also.
Meanwhile, aided by General von Moltke and Count von Roon (rōn), Bismarck had built up a wonderful military power. Every man in Prussia had been trained a certain number of years in the army and was ready at a moment's notice to join his regiment. The whole campaign against France had been planned months in advance. In France on the other hand, the illness and irritability of Napoleon III had resulted in poor organization. Men who did not wish to serve their time in the army were allowed to pay money to the government instead. Yet their names were carried on the rolls. In this way, the French army had not half the strength in actual numbers that it had on paper. What is more, certain government officials had taken advantage of the emperor's weakness and lack of system and had put into their own pockets money that should have been spent in buying guns and ammunition.
When at last Bismarck was all ready for the war, it was not hard to find an excuse. Old Queen Isabella of Spain had been driven from her throne, and the Spanish army under General Prim offered the crown to Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern, a cousin of the king of Prussia. This alarmed Napoleon, who imagined that if Prussia attacked him on the east, this Prussian prince, as king of Spain, would lead the Spanish army over the Pyrenees against him on the south. France made so vigorous a protest that the prince asked the Spaniards not to think of him any longer. This was not enough for Napoleon, who now proceeded to make a fatal mistake. The incident was closed, but he persisted in reopening it. He sent his ambassador to see King William of Prussia to ask the latter to assure France that never again should Prince Leopold be considered for the position of king of Spain. The king answered that he could not guarantee this, for he was merely the head of the Hohenzollern family. Prince Leopold, whose lands lay outside of Prussia, was not even one of his subjects. The interview between the king and the French ambassador had been a friendly one. The ambassador had been very courteous to the king, and the king had been very polite to the ambassador. They had parted on good terms.
In the meanwhile, Bismarck had been hoping that an excuse for war would come from this incident. He was at dinner with General von Moltke and Count von Roon when a long telegram came from the king, telling of his interview with the French ambassador. In the story of his life written by himself, Bismarck tells how, as he read the telegram both Roon and Moltke groaned in disappointment. He says that Moltke seemed to have grown older in a minute. Both had earnestly hoped that war would come. Bismarck took the dispatch, sat down at a table, and began striking out the message polite words and the phrases that showed that the meeting had been a friendly one. He cut down the original telegram of two hundred words to one of twenty. When he had finished, the message sounded as if the French ambassador had bullied and threatened the king of Prussia, while the latter had snubbed and insulted the Frenchman. Bismarck read the altered telegram to Roon and Moltke. Instantly, they brightened up and felt better. "How is that?" he asked. "That will do it," they answered. "War is assured."
The telegram was given to the newspapers, and within twenty-four hours, the people of Paris and Berlin were shouting for war. Napoleon III hesitated, but he finally gave in to his generals and his wife who urged him to "avenge the insult to the French nation."
We give this story of the starting of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 just to show the tricks of European diplomats. What Bismarck did was no worse than what the Frenchman, Talleyrand, would have done, or the Austrian, Metternich, or several of the Turkish or Russian diplomats. It simply proves how helpless the people of European countries are, when the military class which rules them has decided, for its own power and glory, on war with some other nation.
The war was short. The forces of France were miserably unprepared. The first great defeat of the French army resulted in the capture of the emperor by the Prussians and the overthrowing of the government in Paris, where a third republic was started. One of the French generals turned traitor, thinking that if he surrendered his army and cut short the war the Prussians would force the French to take Napoleon III back as emperor. Paris was besieged for a long time. The people lived on mule meat and even on rats and mice rather than surrender to the Germans, but at last they were starved out, and peace was made.
In the meantime, another of Bismarck's plans had been successful. In January, 1871, while the siege of Paris was yet going on, he induced the kingdoms of Bavaria and Wurtemburg, together with Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, and all the other little German states to join Prussia in forming a new empire of Germany. The king of Prussia was to be "German Emperor," and the people of Germany were to elect representatives to the Reichstag or Imperial Congress. Although at the outset, the war was between the kingdom of Prussia and the empire of France, the treaty of peace was signed by the republic of France and the empire of Germany.
Bismarck was very harsh in his terms of peace. France was condemned to pay an indemnity of 5,000,000,000 francs (nearly one billion dollars) and certain parts of France were to be occupied by the German troops until this money was fully paid. Two counties of France, Alsace and Lorraine, were to be annexed to Germany. Alsace was inhabited largely by people of German descent, but there were many French mingled with them, and the whole province had belonged to France so long that its people felt themselves to be wholly French. Lorraine contained very few Germans, and was taken, contrary to Bismarck's best judgment, because it contained the important city of Metz, which was strongly fortified. Here the military chiefs overruled Bismarck. The desire among the French for revenge on Germany for taking this French-speaking province has proved that Bismarck was right. It was a blunder of the worst kind.
The policy of "blood and iron" had been successful. From a second rate power, Prussia had risen, under Bismarck's leadership, to become the strongest military force in Europe. Schleswig had been torn from Danish, Holstein from Austrian control. Hanover had been forcibly annexed, and Alsace and Lorraine wrested from France. The greater part of the inhabitants of these countries were bitterly unhappy at being placed under the Prussian military rule. Moreover, it must be remembered that a great deal of this growth in power had been at the expense of the liberty of the common people. The revolution of 1848 had demanded free speech, free newspapers, the right to vote, and the right to elect men to a congress or parliament, and while some of these rights had been granted, still the whole country was under the control of the war department. The emperor, as commander-in-chief of the army, could suppress any newspaper and dismiss the congress whenever he might think this proper. The Reichstag was, as it has been called, a big debating society, whose members had the right to talk, but were not allowed to pass any laws that were contrary to the wishes of the military leaders.
Questions for Review