Otto von Bismarck or Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince von Bismarck,
Count von Bismarck-Schnhausen, Duke von Lauenburg--was a Prussian
statesman who in 1871 founded the German Empire and served as its
first chancellor for 19 years. Once the empire was established, he
actively and skillfully pursued pacific policies in foreign affairs,
succeeding in preserving the peace in Europe for about two decades.
But in domestic policies his patrimony was less benign, for he failed
to rise above the authoritarian proclivities of the landed squirearchy
to which he was born (Britannica, 1997).
Until his resignation in 1890, Bismarck had a relatively free
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Although in the mid-1860s he had rejected such an alliance as harmful,
he now considered it advantageous. Because he feared that the
dissolution of the Habsburg monarchy would lead to Russian expansion
into central Europe, he sought the alliance to gain leverage in
Vienna. He steadfastly used it to prevent a war in the Balkans. In
addition, he did not want seven million Austro-German Catholics
seeking admission to the empire.
Having a solid ally, Bismarck demonstrated his virtuosity by
negotiating a revived Dreikaiserbund in 1881. He now had influence in
St. Petersburg as well as in Vienna to prevent a Balkan war. In 1882,
Italy, fearing French hostility, joined the Dual Alliance, making it
into the Triple Alliance. On the surface Bismarck had triumphed.
France had no allies for a war of revenge, and, for the moment, a
Balkan war seemed unlikely.
But the ephemeral nature of all these alliances soon became
apparent. A crisis in Bulgaria inflamed Russo-Austrian relations,
leading to a breakup the revived league. Once again a war was avoided
with Bismarck's intervention, but his efforts could not reconstitute
the league. He then negotiated a separate secret treaty with Russia,
while maintaining the 1879 accord with Austria-Hungary.
Between 1870 and 1890 Bismarck earned the respect of European
leaders for his earnest efforts in behalf of peace. Apart from a few
colonial acquisitions in the mid-1880s, Germany had acted as a satiate
power. All of Bismarck's considerable tactical skills had been
successful in creating a powerful German Empire in his first decade in
power. For the next two decades these same skills maintained the
From the defeat of Austria in 1866 until 1878 Bismarck was
allied primarily with the National Liberals. Together they created a
civil and criminal code for the new empire and accomplished Germany's
adoption of the gold standard and move toward free trade. Just as they
had earlier written off Bismarck as an archconservative, liberals now
viewed him as a comrade--a man who had rejected his conservative
roots. Many conservative leaders agreed with this assessment. Bismarck
had cashiered kings, gone to war against conservative regimes, and
adopted policies that promoted rapid industrialization. Their fears
were further enhanced when he joined liberals in a campaign against
political Catholicism (Kulturkampf) in 1873.
Bismarck had not counted on the emergence of new parties such
as the Catholic Centre or the Social Democrats, both of whom began
participating in imperial and Prussian elections in the early 1870s.
Along with the left liberal Progressive Party, he labeled them all
enemies of the empire (Reichsfeinde). Each in its own way rejected his
vision of a united Germany. The Progressives found the empire too
conservative and its elite essentially feudal; the socialists