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German Empire (1871-1914)

German Empire (1871-1914)


  • The Franco-Prussian War not only marked an epoch in the history of Germany but profoundly modified the aspect of European politics. The defeat of France and the consolidation of German unity under the headship of Prussia completely changed the balance of power which had been established in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna. With Austria beaten at Sadowa and France at Sedan, Germany stood forth as the strongest military power in Europe. As a matter of fact from 1871 down to the Great War, Germany was the dominant state of Europe. Berlin became the political capital of Europe and Bismarck’s policy became the pivot of the European system.
  • The constitution which Germany adopted in 1871 may be described as a Federal Empire. It was a federation of twenty-five states and one Imperial territory, Alsace Lorraine. The King of Prussia was always to be the Emperor. He was to be assisted by a Federal Chancellor appointed by him and responsible to him alone, the Emperor and the Chancellor formed the executive government of the new state. The legislative powers were vested in two houses, viz., the Bundesrat which represented the different states, and the Reichstag which was a national assembly representing the people of the whole Empire. These two houses embodied the double character of a federal state—its unity and diversity which are the common features of all federations. Beneath this Imperial constitution each state retained its full sovereignty in local matters and had its own government.
  • The constitution thus outlined was neither democratic nor responsible. The Bundesrat represented the princes of Germany and not the people. As such it was a monarchical institution, with a strong monarchical spirit. Its delegates were appointed by the rulers of the states and had to vote, not according to their will, but in accordance with the instructions given to them by their respective home governments. All the delegates of one state must give the same vote. Besides, the states were not equally represented in the Bundesrat, but according to a quota agreed upon. Thus out of fifty-eight members Prussia had seventeen, Bavaria six and so forth according to a descending scale proportionate to the size and importance of the states, the majority having only one vote apiece. Reichstag was indeed a democratic body being elected by manhood suffrage. But of real power it had very little. It could neither control the finances nor the ministers, and was overshadowed by the Bundesrat which by a simple majority could overthrow any measure passed by it. This majority Prussia easily commanded and so the constitution of the empire amounted to Prussia hegemony. The Chancellor was responsible not to the Reichstag but to the Emperor. There were indeed political parties in the Reichstag, but they could not bring about the fall of Chancellor or put men in whom they had confidence into office. German Empire (1871-1914)

Bismarck as Imperial Chancellor

  • In 1871 Bismarck, now created a prince of the Empire, was appointed the first Imperial Chancellor. For the next twenty years, he remained, as before, the central figure in German history. He held in his hands all the strings of government and managed all the affairs of the state almost as a dictator. It is true that at time he had to yield to the pressure of circumstances and to make concessions here and there (e.g., to the Catholics), but on the whole he remained a masterful autocrat, strong enough to hold his own against all sorts of attack, political and personal, and to formulate a policy which was essentially his own. He had one important circumstance in his favour, viz., the unstinted support of the Emperor.

Domestic Policy

  • In domestic affairs the chief aim of Bismarck was to consolidate the Empire of which he was the chief architect. The most pressing need of the Empire was for some further degree of union to bind the component states more firmly together. To achieve this object Bismarck began to build Imperial institutions so as to override the local separatism of the states, and to introduce uniform conditions in some of the important aspects of national life throughout the Empire. Common Imperial codes of law began to supersede the perplexing variety of local legal systems, and in course of time the legal procedure was also made uniform throughout Germany. An Imperial Bank was set up in 1^76 and a new common (Imperial) coinage was instituted. The railways, though mostly owned by the states, were put under the supervision of an Imperial board, and their relations to the military and postal organisation of the Empire were carefully regulated. The Prussian military system was extended to all the states. Militarism had been the potent weapon increasing the German Empire and in Bismarck’s opinion, it was the only safe bulwark for preserving it: Hence he wanted to fix the size of the army permanently. On this subject he met with a strong opposition from the Reichstag, and had to make a compromise. By it the size of the army and the financial grant necessary to maintain it, were fixed not in perpetuity as he desired, but for seven, years – the so-called “Septenante.”
  • One of the obstacles in the way of consolidating the Empire was the discontent of the non-German nationalities. On the fringes of the Empire were various conquered peoples who disliked the German rule which made them feel in numerous and galling ways the inferiority of their position. There were the Danes of Schleswig, the Poles of eastern Prussia and the people of Alsace-Lorraine. The policy of Bismarck and his successor was, in general, one of forced assimilation or Germanisation. But the sentiment of nationality was one of the potent forces of the nineteenth century and under its influence the subject peoples of Germany entertained a feeling of deep resentment against a Government which sought to denationalise them. The Danes demanded the retrocession of Schleswig to the King of Denmark, but they were too few in number to make any effective impression on the Government. The French speaking people of Alsace-Lorraine refused to accept the incorporation of their provinces as final, and steadily opposed the policy of compulsory Germanisation. Not even the grant in 1911 of a considerable measure of local autonomy served immediately to reconcile the majority of the people to the German Empire. But it was the poles who proved most difficult to manage. Bismarck sought to Germanise the Polish districts by enforcing the use of the German language in public schools and by colonising the Polish estates with German peasants. But the attempt failed as the Poles fought stubbornly for their language and land. German Empire (1871-1914)

Fight with the Catholic Church-Kulturkampf

  • One of the most serious difficulties which Bismarck had to encounter was a protracted struggle with the Roman Catholic Church. This conflict between the Church the State has been dignified by the name Kulturkamp or “Struggle for civilization”. The Catholics had organised themselves as a strong political party and were hostile to the new German Empire in which Protestant Prussia was supreme. Besides, they were very keen upon restoring the temporal power of the Papacy—the power of which the Pope had been deprived as the result of the completion of Italian unity. As the attitude of the Catholics was likely to weaken the solidarity of the newly-founded Empire and to embarrass its foreign relations by stirring up trouble between Italy and Germany, Bismarck came to look upon the Catholics as enemies of the Empire and was determined to crush them. The struggle was precipitated in 1870 when the Vatican council adopted the decree of Papal infallibility. Some of the German Catholics refused to accept this decree and they came to be known as the “Old Catholics”. Between them and those Catholics who supported the Papal decree there ensued a fierce struggle. The Pope denounced the; “Old Catholic” and called upon them to resign the posts in schools and universities which till now they held on condition of being Roman Catholics. In South Germany the Papal party generally gained ground but in Prussia Bismarck took up the cause of the “Old Catholics” and inaugurated the “Kulturkampf.  German Empire (1871-1914)
  • Bismarck looked upon the proclamation of Papal infallibility as an attempt on the part of the Church to encroach upon the jurisdiction of the state. It would, he thought, withdraw the allegiance of the Roman Catholics from the state and direction. Hence he was determined to subordinate the church to the state and embarked upon a vigorous anti-clerical policy. In 1872 the Jesuits and their affiliated orders were expelled, and diplomatic relations between Prussia and the Vatican broken off. Then came the famous “May Laws” of 1873 which enjoined compulsory civil marriage, established state control over the education of those who sought training for the priesthood, and declared that no bishop or priest might be appointed without a notification to the Government, which reserved the right to veto the appointment. The Pope (Pius IX), declared the laws null and void and the Catholics offered an obstinate resistance to this policy of persecution. Bismarck for a time remained inflexible, declaring that he “would not go to Canossa” i.e. recede from the position he had taken up by humiliating himself to the Pope. But the very severity of the laws defeated their object. The Catholics suffered like martyrs, improved their organisation and attracted the sympathy of the workingmen and even of some of the conservatives. The result was that the Catholics (the Centre party) largely increased their representation in the Reichstag, Bismarck found that Catholicism was too strong for him and feared the junction of the ‘centre’ party with the Socialists whom he regarded as a more serious menace to the new Empire than Catholicism. He needed the support of the Catholic to fight the growing menace of Socialism and so had to climb down. The reconciliation with the Papacy was made easier by the death of Pope Pius IX in 1878. The new Pope, Leo-XIII was more diplomatic and moderate and was inclined to meet Bismarck halfway. Bismarck allowed the obnoxious anti-Catholic laws to lapse, restored diplomatic relations with the Pope, and allowed the religious orders to return. Bismarck had to go to Canossa, though the journey was rendered somewhat smooth by the diplomacy and conciliatory’ attitude of Leo XIII.

Struggle with Socialism

  • As noticed before, it was in part the rise of Socialism (the ‘red’ international) that caused Bismarck make up his quarrel with the Catholics, the “black” international. Modern Socialism was largely of German origin, for it was a German exile, Karl Marx, who formulated its doctrines and chalked out its procedure. Mark’s views found eager disciples in Germany. But Socialist opinion in the country was, before long, sharply divided, since many disliked the revolutionary and international tendency of Marxism and began to follow the lead of another Socialist writer Ferdinand Lassalle who was not an internationalist and was less revolutionary. In 1875, however, the followers of Marx and those of Lassale joined hands to form the Social Democratic Party which in 1887 secured 12 seats in the Reichstag. This party advocated political democracy, revolutionary social legislation, and anti-militarism. Thus their principles were the very antitheses of what Bismarck stood for. In the Chancellor’s opinion the socialist principles were calculated to destroy the fabric of the Empire which he had built up and so he began a relentless war against them. Taking advantage of the public excitement caused by two unsuccessful attempts on the life of the Emperor in 1878, Bismarck forced through the Reichstag a number of exceptionally severe laws for the suppression of even kind of socialist organisation. The meetings of the Socialists were prohibited, their publications suppressed, their funds confiscated and their leaders arrested: Extensive powers were granted to the police to arrest, and deport any suspected person. These laws were vigorously enforced but repression could not kill Socialism but merely drove it underground. The Socialists worked in secret carried on propaganda from the neighbouring countries. In 1890-the Socialists nearly trebled their membership in the Reichstag and after Bismarck’s fall the laws against them were not renewed. German Empire (1871-1914)
  • In combating Socialism Bismarck never intended to rest content with merely repressive legislation. He wanted to convince the working classes that the Government was not unmindful of their grievances. He sought to wean them away from the Socialist Party by enacting laws calculated to improve their condition, thereby showing that the State was interested in their welfare. By slow and gradual degree he instituted a comprehensive scheme of insurance against the vicissitudes of life, such as compulsory insurance against accident, sickness and old age. The cost entailed by these reforms was divided among the employers, the workmen and the State. This policy is known as State Socialism and it was Bismarck’s chief contribution to the solution of the social questions of the time. In this respect he was a pioneer. His ideas have been widely studied, and his experiment became the model for the social legislation of England and France.

Fiscal Policy

  • Bismarck was the first European statesman to abandon the policy of Laissez-faire then fashionable in Europe, and to adopt the policy of protection based upon high tariff. His objects were two-fold. He wanted to protect the infant industries of Germany against foreign competition so as to make his country a great industrial state. Secondly, he wanted to increase the Imperial revenue and thereby to relieve the Imperial Government of the necessity of making unwelcome demands upon the purse of the individual states. Bismarck’s tariff policy had the effect of strengthening the central government and tightening the bonds of the Empire. It also gave a marked impetus to industrial development. His fiscal policy alienated the liberals on whose support he depended and so forced him to come to terms with the Catholics. German Empire (1871-1914)

Beginning of Colonial Empire

  • It was in the time of Bismarck that the foundation was laid of Germany’s colonial empire. But it should be noted that Bismarck did not at first believe in colonies. In 1871 he dismissed with a sneer the French offer to cede colonies in lieu of Alsace-Lorraine. He held that Germany should devote all her efforts to consolidating her position, and feared that colonial enterprises would involve the risk of hostility with other nations, and would especially wound Great Britain’s susceptibilities. But he had to revise his views after be adopted the system of protection as his fiscal policy. The need of colonies was felt for securing raw material for her expanding industries, and as outlets for her growing population. To these economic causes was added the patriotic desire to see Germany a great World Power, and so there was an irresistible national demand for overseas expansion. Merchants and missionaries led the way. Trading companies were formed, which secured concessions and established stations on the coasts of Africa— Togoland, Cameroons, etc., and in the South Seas. Bismarck had to swallow his earlier prejudices and had to follow the current of national opinion. He joined in the European scramble for the partition of Africa, in 1884 and established protectorates over Togoland, Gamerobns, and considerable portions of south-West Africa and East Africa.


  • The domestic policy of Bismarck aimed at consolidating the Empire and improving its economic prosperity. By building imperial institutions he introduced uniform conditions throughout the Empire in some of the most important aspects of national life. Imperial codes of law were formulated. Imperial coinage was instituted and Imperial Bank founded, which did much to ensure financial uniformity. He waged ruthless war against those forces which, he thought were likely to undermine the solidarity of the Empire. These were Catholicism and Socialism. He looked upon the Catholics as an anti-national body hostile to the Empire and so passed a series of coercive measures against them. The Catholics, however, were too well-organised to be cowed by persecuting laws. Bismarck perceived the inherent strength of the catholics and so came to a compromise with them. The struggle is known as the Kulture-Kampf. Close on the heels of this struggle came his war on Socialism. The Socialists were anti-monarchical, anti-militarist and radical in their views of social legislation. To Bismarck they were dangerous revolutionaries and so he passed against them a series of laws of exceptional severity. But Socialism like Catholicism proved too strong for him and the Social Democratic Party increased its strength in the Reichstag despite his persecution. Bismarck also sought to knock the bottom out of Socialism by passing laws meant to improve the condition of the artisan class, such as laws insuring the workingmen against sickness, old age and accident. In this respect he was a pioneer, but in spite of his paternal legislation, the Socialists remained as discontented as before. Repressive legislation shows only one aspect of Bismarck’s policy. There was another more fruitful. He inaugurated a economic policy (protection) which did much to promote the material prosperity of the whole German nation. The encouragement he gave to home industries led to enormous expansion of manufactures, and this convinced him of the necessity of having new markets for German products. Thus, though at first opposed to colonialism he had to adopt a vigorous colonial policy, supporting and expanding the work of the private merchants and travellers. German Empire (1871-1914)

Foreign Policy of Bismarck (1871-1890)

  • Bismarck had won for his country national unity and hegemony of Europe by a policy of “blood and iron”. But to him militarism was only a means to the attainment of a definite end. When that end had been attained his policy was directed towards the maintenance of peace and status quo. Germany, he declared, was a “satisfied” country. She had acquired a commanding position and should be satisfied with it. She should do nothing which might endanger it or threaten the internal consolidation of the German Empire, which was necessary to the development of her political unity. Knowing full well that he had mortally offended France and made her an irreconcilable enemy, he devoted his whole diplomatic skill towards providing safeguards against a possible renewal of French hostility. He realized France would never be reconciled to the loss of Alsace-Lorraine and would embrace the earliest opportunity to avenge national humiliation and to recover territorial loss. Hence Bismarck sought to make any war of vengeance on the part of France hopeless and impossible by completely isolating her. To isolate France diplomatically it was necessary for Germany to form a comprehensive system of alliances and conversely, to prevent the formation of counter-alliances against her. In pursuit of this object he showed the’same subtlety and audacity that had characterised his previous diplomatic career. German Empire (1871-1914)
  • The keystone of his foreign policy was a close alliance with Austria, and so immediately after Sedan he proceeded to court her friendship. This was a difficult as well as a delicate task, for Austria was a defeated enemy of recent standing. But Bismarck had already prepared way for rapprochement by the lenient treatment of Austria after Sadowa. The friendship of Austria alone was, however, not sufficient for Bismarck’s plan; other Powers had to be included in the diplomatic combination which he had in view. He fixed upon Russia with whom he had cultivated good relations in the past and sought to maintain them in future. As a matter of fact, a friendly understanding with Russia if not an alliance, was a cardinal principle of Bismarck’s policy. Russia was not difficult to manage as her interests did not conflict with those of Germany. Besides, she had the support of Bismarck’s when in 1870 he took advantage of the Franco-Prussian War to repudiate the Black Sea clauses of the Treaty of Paris. Out of these factors Bismarck succeeded in forming a Three Emperor’s League or Dreikaiserbund, comprising the Emperors of Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary. It was not a treaty of alliance but an announcement of the intimate and cordial relations between the three Powers. Ostensibly it was meant to emphasise the common interests of the three Emperors in strengthening the monarchical principle and arresting the progress of Socialism. But its political significance was important. It meant that Austria had forgiven Sadowa and accepted her exclusion from Germany and that she no longer meditated revenge. German Empire (1871-1914)
  • The League of the three Emperors was no doubt a great diplomatic achievement of Bismarck. But it proved difficult to maintain the pleasant harmony. It was ruffled in 1875 by the scare of war between Germany and France, in which the Czar intervened to prevent Germany from attacking France. Perceiving that Russia was an uncertain ally, Bismarck turned to a closer union with Austria. His opportunity came when troubles arose in the Balkans as the result of the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War. The interests of Austria and Russia in the Balkan affairs clashed too decisively to permit of any satisfactory agreement between them, and at the Congress of Berlin (1878) Bismarck was compelled to choose between his two imperial neighbours. He accepted the Austrian view on the Eastern question and supported the demand that the terms of the Treaty of San Stefano should be submitted for revision to a European Congress. This pro-Austrian attitude alienated the Czar who in bitterness of spirit withdrew from the Dreikaiserbund. It however, strengthened the friendship with Austria with the result that a strong Austro-German alliance was concluded in 1879. It provided for mutual military assistance in case either Power should be attacked by Russia or by another power, e.g., France aided by Russia. Thus the alliance was aimed directly against Russia, but to a lesser degree against France. German Empire (1871-1914)
  • Bismarck next drew Italy into the Austro-Prussian alliance. The Italians feared that France, where the influence of the clerical party was strong, might seek to restore the temporal power of the Papacy. Bismarck worked upon this fear and at the same time fomented Franco-Italian rivalry over Tunis in North Africa. He encouraged France to seize Tunis upon which Italy also had her wistful eyes. His object was to make one more enemy for France and to lure that enemy into the Austro-German alliance. His plan succeeded to a nicety. In 1881 France seized Tunis and thereby mortally wounded Italian sentiment. Italy at once showed her irritation by joining the dual alliance of Austria and Germany and thus was formed the famous Triple Alliance of 1882. It was, perhaps, the master stroke of Bismarck diplomacy. It was no mean achievement to wipe out bitter historical memories and to bring into the same fold two Powers who had been traditional enemies in the past and between whom there existed outstanding causes of friction. Having thus provided safeguards for Germany Bismarck wanted to ‘re-insure’ her safety by striving to arrest the alienation of Russia and to restore friendly relations with her. As he declared, he must keep the “private wire open to St. Petersburg” although the “public wire” had broken. For, an antagonised Russia might drift towards a French alliance. By humouring the susceptibilities of Russia he was successful in reviving the old League of the Three Emperors. In 1884 a secret treaty was signed by which each of the three Emperors promised benevolent neutrality in case one of them should become involved in war with a fourth Power. But good relations between Russia and Austria became impossible owing to the outbreak of troubles in the Balkans. Bismarck, not to be put off, concluded a separate treaty with Russia known as the Reinsurance Treaty of 1887. Thus did Bismarck isolate France and made Germany the arbiter of the international relations of Europe. The peace of Europe rested on the Bismarckian system.


To sum up, Bismarck’s foreign policy after the Franco-Prussian War had two main aims:

  • the maintenance of peace and status quo, in other words, to preserve what had been won for Germany; and
  • the diplomatic isolation of France. He sought to achieve his objects by a skilful balancing of alliances so as to leave France without an ally. He would keep the peace and also compel France to keep it, that is would prevent a French war of revenge. His first diplomatic achievement in this direction was to pacify Austria, a defeated enemy, and with her help to set up a League of the Three Emperors. But Austro-Russian rivalry in the Balkans made it difficult to maintain this league. At the Congress of Berlin, Bismarck had to make his choice between the two rivals. He chose Austria and thereby offended Russia. But he was rewarded for his pro-Austrian attitude by a dual alliance between Germany and Austria in 1879. He next drew Italy into this alliance which thus became the famous Triple Alliance of 1882. Yet in making this comprehensive system of alliances for the protection of Germany. Bismarck had no mind to antagonize Russia lest she should be drawn towards France. Hence he revived the League of the Three Emperors and followed it up by concluding a “Reinsurance” treaty with Russia which guaranteed Russian neutrality in case Germany should be attacked. Thus did Bismarck realise his ambitions: he had kept his gain and had allied Germany with Austria, Italy and Russia, France was completely isolated. Germany was supreme in, Europe and Bismarck controlled the international relations. German Empire (1871-1914)

Criticism of Bismarck’s Foreign Policy

  • Bismarck once said: “The idea of coalitions gives me nightmares.” But it was he who laid the foundation of such coalitions and thereby encouraged the very thing he wished to avoid. His system of alliances provoked counter-alliances and thus divided Europe into armed camps. Hence the peace which it was his policy to maintain was an armed peace founded upon sabre-rattling. This peace, as also the protection of Germany, he sought to ensure by a dexterous juggling of alliances. But his system was so delicate, so intricate, that to work it required master juggler like him. In unskilled hands it might lead to disaster. All went well so long as he himself piloted the ship of the state. His policy in its immediate results was successful. The status quo based upon Germany’s retention of the recent gains was maintained; the safety of the German Empire was ensured and France isolated. But when William II dropped the pilot he found it difficult to keep clear of shoals and rocks and eventually the ship foundered, “Genius can make black look like white for a time, but not forever,” Russia soon realised that the great diplomatic artist had tricked her. German Empire (1871-1914)
  • The fact is that Bismarck’s system had obvious defects which a little bungling would upset. He had chosen Austria and Italy as Germany’s yoke-fellows but this arrangement was fraught with risk and lacked cohesion. It not only alienated Russia but involved the risk of a war with her for Austria’s sake. Austria and Russia were keen rivals in the Balkans and any hostility that might break out there would entangle Germany in it. Italy’s alliance could never be solid. She had bitter memories of her old feud with Austria and had besides, existing causes of rivalry with her. She could not look with satisfaction upon an alliance which robbed her of all prospect of acquiring “unredeemed” Italy from Austria, and subordinated her interests in the Adriatic to those of Austria. Another flaw in Bismarck’s system was that he failed to mitigate the enmity of France. He could not reconcile France to the loss of Alsace-Lorraine as he had reconciled Austria to her exclusion from Germany. The result was that France remained unplacated. This coupled with the Balkan ambitions of Austria-Hungary led to the Great War of 1914 when the Triple Alliance reared by Bismarck fell to pieces. German Empire (1871-1914)

Bismarck—His Work and Statesmanship

  • In the list of those who changed the political arrangement of Europe in the nineteenth century Bismarck easily takes the first place. He has been described as “the greatest man the age produced, greatest in the political manifestation of his powers and in the influence which his achievements have exercised in the history of the world.” In nine years he brought about the political unity of a country which for centuries had presented the spectacle of division and discord. Not only that, in unifying Germany he raised her to a dominating position in Europe. When he assumed office he found Prussia an insignificant factor in European politics. Within Germany she was bullied by Austria, and in Europe she was treated with patronising condescension. To the Prussian state Bismarck gave an empire, and to the Germans national unity and solidarity of interests. He gave a new turn to the affairs of Europe. As long as he held the reins of office he maintained the international supremacy of Germany and made Berlin the political capital of Europe. In a word, he created a new adjustment of political forces of which the balance was held by Germany, and upon which depended the peace of Europe. The German Empire was the most remarkable phenomenon of the nineteenth century. In creating it Bismarck showed himself at his best both as a statesman and a diplomatist. He averted the opposition of Europe though his work involved the reversal of a settlement arrived at by the collective authority of European Powers. He gauged to a nicety the trend of opinion and events in Europe and displayed consummate skill in making friends and disarming enemies. He, no doubt, relied upon a policy “blood and iron” in achieving his object, but he never used force blindly. On the contrary-he used it with-the nicely calculated control of a giant steam-hammer, whose great weight is fully available when needed, but which can be checked and regulated exactly at the point desired. He used war as an instrument of policy and he was endowed with that higher quality of statesmanship which can translate military victories into wise and lasting political achievement. German Empire (1871-1914)
  • The quality which strikes one most in Bismarck is forcefulness. He had certain strong convictions and he acted up to them With a ruthless disregard of any consideration save those of force. First he believed in militarism as the best means of unifying Germany. Not by “speeches and majority resolution” were the great questions of the day to be decided, he declared but by “blood and iron”. Secondly, he was an autocrat and monarchist to the backbone. Hence he hated democracy and all manifestations of liberalism. Democracy he termed the “putrid yeast of South German anarchism”, and he would have nothing to do with it. He boldly declared that Germany was looking not to Prussia’s liberalism but to her power. On assuming office as Minister-President of the Prussian Diet he entered upon a prolonged conflict with the lower chamber over the question of the army. When he could not bend the popular Assembly (the House of Phrases as he called it) to his will, he overrode it and carried on his plan of army reorganisation in the face of all opposition. A bully and absolutist, he could not surrender his convictions by truckling to parliamentary opposition. Thirdly, he had an unlimited faith and pride in Prussia. “Prussians we are, and Prussians we will remain” was his creed. He denounced every movement which was likely to compromise Prussian leadership in Germany. That was why he felt relieved when the efforts at German unity at Frankfurt ended in failure. Because such a unity would merge Prussia in Germany while his policy was to merge Germany in Prussia. Unity he no doubt wanted; but it must be unity brought about by the Prussian king, with the help of the Prussian army and based upon the predominance of Prussia in Germany. German Empire (1871-1914)
  • It was, however, in diplomacy that Bismarck excelled. He possessed a penetrating insight into the trend of events in Europe, which enabled him to take advantage of very favourable circumstance that presented itself. In seizing opportunities he displayed rare skill, infinite resourcefulness and “that combination of unscrupulousness, opportunism and foresight which constituted his policy.” The daring and adroitness with which he exploited the Schleswig-Holstein question to bring about a war with Austria and the unscrupulous use he made of the Ems telegram to provoke France into war clearly marked him out as the master diplomat of his age. In both cases he managed to make it appear that he was on the defensive and his enemy was aggressor. In both cases he managed the business with such consummate skill that he had the goodwill of Europe while the enemy stood isolated both morally and diplomatically. He has rightly been described as an “artist in politics”, who selected and moulded his material to his designs with a nice calculation. His diplomacy was unscrupulous as it was successful. He not only unified Germany but made her the pivot of European politics. Having accomplished his great task he made it his principal business to isolate France, and this he did with remarkable success. To secure his object he “sowed dissensions, fostered hatred, insinuated suspicions and set the whole continent by the ears.” The range of his diplomacy included the whole of Europe and affected all the Great Powers. “He was the only man who could juggle with five balls of which at least two were in the air.” These balls were Austria, France, Italy, Russia and England. Two of them (Austria and Italy) he drew into his system of alliances, while with another (Russia) he maintained good relations. Regard being had to the past relations between Germany and Austria, and between Austria and- Italy, it was no easy task to bring them together into one comprehensive system of combination. France he failed to placate; but he distracted her. He encouraged her colonial ambitions so that she might he embroiled with other colonial powers, especially England. He fostered ill-feeling between France and England over the question of Egypt, so that the latter might not join the Continental ententes. Thus the Powers he could not directly control were kept isolated and distracted. As a matter of fact as long as he held the reins of his office he remained the undisputed arbiter of the fate of Europe. German Empire (1871-1914)

Death of William I

  • In 1888 William I died. His son and successor Frederick III was a man of liberal principles. Had he lived, he might have mitigated the rigour of the autocratic system of Germany and introduced a parliamentary government like that of England of whose constitution he was a admirer. This might have brought him into conflict with Bismarck’s policy; but he was fatally ill at the time of his accession, and died after a reign of three months. He was succeeded by his son William II. German Empire (1871-1914)

William II (1888-1918)

  • With the accession of Kaiser William II “Germany received a new master, and opened a new page of her history.” The new monarch had many fine qualities which go far to make a great ruler. He had an active mind a fertile imagination, versatile interests, capacity for hard work and a high sense of duty. But he was self-willed, impressionable and impulsive, convinced of his divine right and swayed by militarism. Egoism and self-conceit clouded his judgment of men and peoples, and often betrayed him into indiscreet utterance very disquieting to his ministers. His speeches were full of exaggerated ideas of his own importance and were intended to convey the impression that he would brook neither competition nor opposition. He was, indeed, by far the ablest of the Hohenzollerns since Frederick the Great, but he was quite unequal to the ambitious part he wanted to play, the part of the universal arbiter in all matters social, political and religious. German Empire (1871-1914)

Dropping the Pilot

  • It was not surprising that the young Emperor, so imperious and full of ideas of personal government, should fall out with the dictatorial old chancellor. Bismarck had preserved and strengthened the royal prerogative, and the weapon he had forged, was now turned against himself. Sharp differences between the young Emperor and the old minister quickly showed themselves. William II refused to sanction Bismarck’s proposals to renew the repressive legislation against the Socialists and held different views about Germany’s future policy in regard to foreign and colonial affairs. He would be the master of his own; he would govern, and not simply reign. He insisted on entering into direct relations with his ministers. Bismarck protested, pointing out an old custom that the premier was the channel of communication between Emperor and the ministers. The struggle was really one for Power and supremacy, for between two persons so self-willed and autocratic a compromise was not possible. The Emperor not willing to be overshadowed by the imposing personality of his great chancellor, demanded his resignation and the great minister was most unceremoniously hustled out of the palace. For some years the old giant remained in embarrassment to the new regime, and he kept up a constant criticism of the Government. But a formal, though hollow, reconciliation took place in 1894 between the Emperor and the fallen minister. In 1898 Bismarck died, undoubtedly as one of the greatest, but also one of the least attractive men of his century. German Empire (1871-1914)

Internal Politics

  • William II, having dropped the old pilot, enjoyed doing more of the guiding of the ship of state himself How far was he equal to the task of steering clear of the shoals and rocks upon which the ship might founder, the subsequent course of German history would show. Down to the outbreak of the Great War four chancellors succeeded in turn to Bismarck’s office. First, Caprivi (1890-94), an ex-army man rigidly militaristic in views, then Prince Hohenloe (1894-1900), a liberal Catholic who had been ambassador in Paris and Governor of Alsace-Lorraine, but who was too advanced in age to care for personal direction of affairs; next Prince Von Bulow, a dexterous diplomatist and supporter of an adventurous policy; lastly came Bethmann-Hollwegg (1909-1917), an experienced officer but without any knowledge of foreign affairs. But none of these ministers had such influence and independence of initiative as Bismarck. All took their cues from, and were dominated by the will and personality of the Emperor. William II was his own chancellor. One reason why he could act as he chose, was that the constitution of the German Empire had been so fashioned as to invest the Emperor with vast power. The opposition to the Government came mostly from the Socialists. The rise of the Social Democratic Party was an important phenomenon in the political life of Germany. The Social Democrats desired not merely a revolution in the economic sphere but a change in the autocratic system of government. They attracted votes from many middle class radicals, who though not enthusiastic about the economic doctrines of Socialism, felt that its growth was the most promising means of liberalising imperial institutions. Thus the Social Democratic Party was the party of reform and opposition, and it was popular because its views were less anti-nationalist than those of similar organisations in other Socialist countries. William II at first assumed a conciliatory attitude towards the Socialists. He allowed the anti-socialist laws to lapse, disregarding Bismarck’s wishes to renew them with increased stringency. He wanted to kill socialism with kindness. But his expectation was disappointed. The Socialists improved their organisation and increased their poll at every election. The Emperor watched their growth with dismay and realising the futility of palliative measures determined to revive coercion. But in 1895 the Reichstag rejected his proposed coercive measures and the Emperor had to be satisfied with oratorical denunciations of Socialism. The Socialists in their turn levelled their attack against the system of personal rule, and strongly denounced the constantly increasing expenditure upon army and navy. In 1913 they were strong enough to secure a vote of no confidence in the Imperial Government; and had not the stress of foreign complications, and then the Great War supervened, the clash between the Socialists and the Government would have come to a crisis, at least. German Empire (1871-1914)
  • The German Empire had been built up by the army and so militarism was one of the dominant features of the new regime. It was characteristic of the Emperor that his first proclamation was addressed to the army. During Caprive’s tenure of office the army was increased in 1890 and again in 1893. The latest law sanctioning a further increase was that of 1913. His administration was also famous for the acquisition of Heligoland and the modification of the protective tariff established by Bismarck. He concluded commercial treaties with Austria, Italy, Belgium, and Russia on the principle of reciprocity, by which the import duties on grain were lowered in return for favourable treatment of German exports. This arrangement was disliked by the German farmers, and the Agrarians (the extreme Prussian Conservatives) strongly denounced it specially the Russian treaty. They demanded the dismissal, of the minister and the Emperor complied. Bulow who became Chancellor in 1900 was a friend of the Agrarians, and so abandoned-the policy of commercial receipeity. In 1902 he introduced a new tariff law reimposing heavy protective duties on corn and meat. Bulow was at one with the Emperor in regard to his idea of Germany’s position as a world-power and so adopted a vigorous foreign and colonial policy. He displayed great skill in managing the Reichstag and got along for a time by a curious coalition — the famous ‘bloc’ of Conservatives and National Liberals. German Empire (1871-1914)

Economic Development

  • The most remarkable feature of the reign of William II was the phenomenal expansion of German industry and commerce. Germany had been a poor country, mainly agricultural, but was now transformed into an industrial state in which the whole economic life of the people was scientifically controlled and directed to the production of wealth. The economic development was greatly promoted by Bismarck’s policy of protection, but it was under William II that it attained its most signal triumphs. Modern industrialism is based mostly upon coal and iron, and Germany is fortunate in possessing an abundant supply of these two things. By developing the coal mines of Ruhr, Silesia and the Saar she became one of the great coal-producing countries of the world. The newly conquered territory of Lorraine placed at her disposal one of the richest iron deposits of the world and Germany utilised her advantages to the full. Her output of iron and steel increased so fast that, by 1910 it was far greater than that of England and by 1914, it was second only to that of the United States, the greatest iron-producing country in the world. The skill which the Germans displayed in applying technical and scientific knowledge to industry enabled them to develop new industries based upon the by-products of coal. The result was that various pharmaceutical productions such as saccharin and aspirin, flourished. But the most important of them all was the production of the aniline dyes in which, thanks to the discoveries of her chemists, she not only became the leader but practically the monopolist. As her manufactures grew, s6 did her foreign trade and merchant shipping so that Hamburg became one of the great ports of the world. The Hamburg-America line was individually the biggest in the world, bigger even than the P and O. In a word Germany under William II became one of the busiest workshops of the world. German Empire (1871-1914)
  • The economic progress of Germany led to an increase in the population. It rose from forty-one million in 1871 to sixty-five million in 1910, and most of the increase was in urban rather than rural areas. Her expanding industries were prosperous enough to take care of the growing number, and even to attract foreign labourers. From being a land of emigration, Germany became a land of immigration, drawing upon neighbouring countries for an additional labour supply. Agriculture also flourished, being protected by a tariff, and thus Germany remained to a considerable extent self-supporting in food. German Empire (1871-1914)

Foreign Policy

  • William II discarded Bismarck’s idea of Germany as a satiated country. He held that Germany, peopled as she was by a vigorous Teutonic race, was capable of infinite expansion. The successful issue of the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, followed by the founding of the Empire in 1871, gave her a new life and invested it with all the ardour and audacity of youth. She made astonishing strides in developing her trade and industries and began to look farther afield for expansion and dominion. William II identified himself with this new national temper and became its most impetuous spokesman. His grand idea was that the part which Germany should play in international affairs must be in keeping with her real importance among the nations of the world. Her standing was not to be merely European but worldwide. She must emphasise her role as a World Power and take a leading part in world politics (Weltpolitik). This attitude was symbolised in the Kaiser’s remark that “nothing must go on anywhere in the world in which Germany does not play a part.” To play this role Germany must have a navy and must acquire new colonies and spheres of influence. Thus “world politics, expansion, and the navy became the three dominant notes of the Kaiser’s foreign policy.” German Empire (1871-1914)
  • Such an ambitious policy involved the complete breakdown of Bismarck’s system of alliances and led to diplomatic developments highly prejudicial to Germany. As noticed before, the keynote of Bismarck’s policy, had been to isolate France and to keep Russia in good humour. But the Kaiser wanted to strengthen the alliance with Austria at the cost of Russian friendship. Heedless of the fact that Russia had a predominant interest in the Balkans, he committed Germany to the policy of furthering Austrian interest in the Near East, and himself entered into competition with the Czar for influence in Turkey. He allowed Bismarck’s “reinsurance treaties” with Russia to lapse on the supposed ground that they contained a threat against Austria. He thereby drove Russia into the arms of France. The result of this blundering policy was the conclusion of the famous Dual Alliance between France and Russia (1891-93). France was no longer isolated and Russia had been alienated. Another momentous departure from Bismarck’s policy was the zeal with winch the Emperor embarked upon a policy of naval and colonial expansion. Although Germany had begun to acquire colonies under Bismarck, that great statesman was primarily a continentalist. Besides, his diplomatic skill was quite equal to the task of allaying the irritation caused in England by the appearance of a new aspirant to the colonial empire. But the Kaiser was a zealous imperialist and his famous words “our future lies on the water,” touched Great Britain at her most tender point. His ambition was to do for the navy what his grandfather had done for the army. But in spite of this naval policy Great Britain was disposed to be friendly to Germany as she had many outstanding causes of friction with France and Russia and so was suspicious of the Dual Alliance. Hence she began to cultivate good relations with Germany. She agreed to the Kaiser’s proposal of ceding Heligoland to Germany in exchange for Zanzibar, encouraged German colonial enterprise in Central Africa and even proposed an Anglo-German alliance. But the Emperor sacrificed repeated opportunities of an alliance with Great Britain, and in the end definitely antagonised her. The first revelation of this antagonism was made during the Boer War when the Kaiser showed himself anti-British in his attitude. The development of the Baghdad Railway under German auspices was also looked upon with great apprehension by Great Britain as it involved a menace to British interest in the East. Italy also showed symptoms of a considerable weakening in her adherence to the Triple Alliance. Thus as the result of his mishandling of foreign affairs William II began to lose the safeguards which Bismarck had provided for the safely of the German Empire. German Empire (1871-1914)

Germany as a World Power

  • Having discarded Bismarck’s policy of cautious continentalism William II adopted a policy of aggressive imperialism. He began to assert Germany’s position as a world-power. In 1885 he joined France and Russia in putting pressure upon Japan to give up the conquests she made on the Chinese mainland. In 1897 he took advantage of the pretext afforded to him by the murder of two German missionaries to compel China to lease Kia-Chao to Germany. In 1900 German troops co-operated with those of the other Powers in suppressing the Boxer uprising in China and these Powers consented to place a German officer at the head of the international forces which marched to Peking. In 1899 she secured another foothold in the Pacific by the purchase of the Caroline Islands from Spain. In the Near East he strengthened Germany’s economic grip on Turkey and cultivated the goodwill of the Sultan by his professions of friendship at a time when all Europe was shocked by the atrocities of the Turks in Armenia. In 1898 he made a spectacular journey to Syria, posed as the defender of Islam throughout the world and secured concessions for a German company for building a railway from Constantinople to Baghdad and thence to the Persian Gulf. It opened the way to the commercial penetration and political dominion of Germany in the East, German influence began to supplant both British and Russia in Turkey. In 1908 he forced Russia to accept Austrian aggression in the Balkans, i.e., allowed Austria to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina which she was allowed only to occupy by the Treaty of Berlin. He tried to block French advance in Morocco. These aggressions, accompanied by the Emperor’s effusive utterance which were punctuated with martial metaphors, like “mailed first” and the “shining armour”, appeared like a menacing attempt on the part of Germany to establish a militaristic hegemony over Europe, Such an attitude evoked lively feelings of apprehensions in Russia, France and Great Britain and led to the formation of diplomatic groups (Triple Entente, and the Anglo-Russian Convention) which greatly neutralised the importance of the Triple Alliance on which Bismarck had relied for German’s security. German Empire (1871-1914)

Vigorous Colonial Policy

  • Although it was under Bismarck that Germany began to acquire colonies, Bismarck was primarily a continentalist. He had only a limited enthusiasm for colonial enterprises. But William II with his ideas of world politics and world-traffic, embarked upon a vigorous colonial policy. He began to develop the colonial empire built by Bismarck. One of his first acquisitions was Heligoland in the North Sea which was secured from England in exchange for Zanzibar. In the Far East Kia-chao was acquired from China in 1897 as compensation for the murder of two German missionaries. In 1899 the Caroline Islands (in the Western Pacific) were purchased from Spain when that country badly wanted money during Spanish-American War. In 1900 by an agreement with Great Britain and the United States, Germany acquired the two largest of the Samoan Islands— Upolu and Sevai. A somewhat menacing feature of German expansion was that Germany cast covetous eyes upon her neighbour’s possessions. In 1911 she acquired a large slice of the Congo rubber region from France under thinly veiled compulsion viz., as the price of recognizing French interests in Morocco. German Empire (1871-1914)
  • It should be noted that the colonial enterprise of Germany proved disappointing. The German Colonies in Africa were mostly enormous in size, much bigger than Germany herself. They were valuable for the raw materials they supplied for German industries and commerce, but were not inviting as fields for emigration. Besides, the arrogance and incompetence of the German officials and the greed of the German merchants made good relations with native tribes impossible. There were repeated risings on the part of the natives in East Africa and the Cameroons which had to be suppressed at a heavy cost in men and money. The most serious rising was that of the Hereros of South-West Africa, who wanted to drive out the Germans bag and baggage. The rising lasted from 1903 to 1907 and was put down with exceptional severity, the tribe being nearly wiped out. This state of affairs made the Germans pessimistic about the values of colonies. But from the year 1906 a new colonial policy began with the appointment of Demburg as colonial Secretary. He reformed the method of colonial administration, introduced a more humane treatment of the natives and did much to rescue the movement from the disrepute into which it had fallen. German Empire (1871-1914)

Ambitious Naval Policy | German Empire (1871-1914)

  • When the German Empire was established in 1871 there was no Imperial Navy at all. But side by side with the growth of colonies and with the vast extension of German trade it was felt that a powerful navy was essential for the protection of large foreign commerce and investment. William II was very keen upon the navy and immediately after his accession emphasised its importance by issuing a proclamation to the naval staff. With the utterance of the famous words, “our future lies on the water,” a new chapter of German history began. Not content with the greatest army in the world, the Kaiser aspired to rival even Great Britain in the size and strength of armament on sea. The increase of the navy was, no doubt, justified by the rapid development of commerce and the growth of the mercantile marine; but its main purpose was to enable Germany to play a leading part in world politics. As a first step to the realisation of his policy he acquired Heligoland in 1890 and established a strong naval base there. The completion of the Kiel canal by 1896 afforded a valuable strategic connection between the North Sea and the Baltic. But it was not until 1697 when Admiral Von Tirpitz was appointed Secretary for Imperial Navy that development became rapid. His organizing capacity and power of persuasion contributed much to the efficiency and development of the navy. Two great Navy Acts, one of 1898 and the other of 1900 inaugurated a prodigious programme of naval construction, so that by the year 1906 the German navy had reached a size and strength second only to those of Great Britain. This striking increase was very disquieting to England as, besides threatening her maritime pre-eminence, it involved her in endless cost. For it was the rule with Britain to maintain her navy as large as the combined navies of Anglo-French and other two powers. Hence every warship built by Germany compelled England to build about twice as much. The British Government repeatedly pointed out the enormous cost on both sides but Germany refused to call a halt. This ambitious policy antagonised Great Britain and drove her to compose her quarrels with her traditional enemy, France. The result was the famous Anglo-French Entente of 1904 which proved to be an event of the greatest significance. German Empire (1871-1914)

World History

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