Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it. — Adolf Hitler

Bismarck and the Foundation of the German Empire - J. W. Headlam




The New Empire



1871-1878


With the peace of Frankfort, Bismarck's work was completed. Not nine years had passed since he had become Minister; in that short time he completed the work which so many statesmen before him had in vain attempted. Nine years ago he had found the King ready to retire from the throne; now he had made him the most powerful ruler in Europe. Prussia, which then had been divided in itself and without influence in the councils of Europe, was the undisputed leader in a United Germany.

Fate, which always was so kind to Bismarck, was not to snatch him away, as it did Cavour, in the hour of his triumph; twenty years longer he was to preside over the State which he had created and to guide the course of the ship which he had built. A weaker or more timid man would quickly have retired from public life; he would have considered that nothing that he could do could add to his fame, and that he was always risking the loss of some of the reputation he had attained. Bismarck was not influenced by such motives. The exercise of power had become to him a pleasure; he was prepared if his King required it to continue in office to the end of his days, and he never feared to hazard fame and popularity if he could thereby add to the prosperity of the State.

These latter years of Bismarck's life we cannot narrate in detail; space alone would forbid it. It would be to write the history of the German Empire, and though events are not so dramatic they are no less numerous than in the earlier period. Moreover, we have not the material for a complete biographical narrative; there is indeed a great abundance of public records; but as to the secret reasons of State by which in the last resource the policy of the Government was determined, we have little knowledge. From time to time indeed some illicit disclosure, the publication of some confidential document, throws an unexpected light on a situation which is obscure; but these disclosures, so hazardous to the good repute of the men who are responsible and the country in which they are possible, must be treated with great reserve. Prompted by motives of private revenge or public ambition, they disclose only half the truth, and a portion of the truth is often more misleading than complete ignorance.

In foreign policy he was henceforward sole, undisputed master; in Parliament and in the Press scarcely a voice was raised to challenge his pre-eminence; he enjoyed the complete confidence of the allied sovereigns and the enthusiastic affection of the nation; even those parties which often opposed and criticised his internal policy supported him always on foreign affairs. Those only opposed him who were hostile to the Empire itself, those whose ideals or interests were injured by this great military monarchy—Poles and Ultramontanes, Guelphs and Socialists; in opposing Bismarck they seemed to be traitors to their country, and he and his supporters were not slow to divide the nation into the loyal and the Reichsfeindlich.

He deserved the confidence which was placed in him. He succeeded in preserving to the newly founded Empire all the prestige it had gained; he was enabled to soothe the jealousy of the neutral Powers. He did so by his policy of peace. Now he pursued peace with the same decision with which but two years before he had brought about a war. He was guided by the same motive; as war had then been for the benefit of Germany, so now was peace. He had never loved war for the sake of war; he was too good a diplomatist for this; war is the negation of diplomacy, and the statesman who has recourse to it must for the time give over the control to other hands. It is always a clumsy method. The love of war for the sake of war will be found more commonly among autocratic sovereigns who are their own generals than among skilled and practised ministers, and generally war is the last resource by which a weak diplomatist attempts to conceal his blunders and to regain what he has lost.

There had been much anxiety in Europe how the new Empire would deport itself; would it use this power which had been so irresistible for fresh conflicts? The excuse might easily have been found; Bismarck might have put on his banner, "The Union of All Germans in One State"; he might have recalled and reawakened the enthusiasm of fifty years ago; he might have reminded the people that there were still in Holland and in Switzerland, in Austria and in Russia, Germans who were separated from their country, and languishing under a foreign rule. Had he been an idealist he would have done so, and raised in Germany a cry like that of the Italian Irredentists. Or he might have claimed for his country its natural boundaries; after freeing the upper waters of the Rhine from foreign dominion he might have claimed that the great river should flow to the sea, German. This is what Frenchmen had done under similar circumstances, but he was not the man to repeat the crimes and blunders of Louis and Napoleon.

He knew that Germany desired peace; a new generation must grow up in the new order of things; the old wounds must be healed by time, the old divisions forgotten; long years of common work must cement the alliances that he had made, till the jealousy of the defeated was appeased and the new Empire had become as firm and indissoluble as any other State in Europe.

The chief danger came from France; in that unhappy country the cry for revenge seemed the only link with the pride which had been so rudely overthrown. The defeat and the disgrace could not be forgotten; the recovery of the lost provinces was the desire of the nation, and the programme of every party. As we have seen, the German statesmen had foreseen the danger and deliberately defied it. They cared not for the hostility of France, now that they need not fear her power. Oderint dum metuant. Against French demands for restitution they presented a firm and unchangeable negative; it was kinder so and juster, to allow no opening for hope, no loophole for negotiation, no intervention by other Powers. Alsace-Lorraine were German by the right of the hundred thousand German soldiers who had perished to conquer them. Any appearance of weakness would have led to hopes which could never be realised, discussions which could have had no result. The answer to all suggestions was to be found in the strength of Germany; the only diplomacy was to make the army so strong that no French statesman, not even the mob of Paris, could dream of undertaking single-handed a war of revenge.

This was not enough; it was necessary besides to isolate France. There were many men in Europe who would have wished to bring about a new coalition of the armies by whose defeat Germany had been built up—France and Austria, Denmark and the Poles; then it was always to be expected that Russia, who had done so much for Germany in the past, would cease to regard with complacency the success of her protégé; after all, the influence of the Czar in Europe had depended upon the divisions of Germany as much as had that of France. How soon would the Russian nation wake up, as the French had done, to the fact that the sympathies of their Emperor had created a great barrier to Russian ambition and Russian diplomacy? It was especially the Clerical party who wished to bring about some coalition; for them the chief object was the overthrow of Italy, and the world still seemed to centre in Rome; they could not gain the assistance of Germany in this work, and they therefore looked on the great Protestant Empire as an enemy. They would have liked by monarchical reaction to gain control of France; by the success of the Carlist movement to obtain that of Spain, and then, assisted by Austria, to overthrow the new order in Europe. Against this Bismarck's chief energies were directed; we shall see how he fought the Ultramontanes at home. With regard to France, he was inclined to support the Republic, and refused all attempts which were made by some German statesmen, and especially by Count Arnim, the Ambassador at Paris, to win German sympathy and support to the monarchical party. In Spain his support and sympathy were given to the Government, which with difficulty maintained itself against the Carlists; a visit of Victor Emmanuel to Berlin confirmed the friendship with Italy, over which the action of Garibaldi in 1870 had thrown a cloud. The greatest triumph of Bismarck's policy was, however, the reconciliation with Austria. One of the most intimate of his councillors, when asked which of Bismarck's actions he admired most, specified this. It was peculiarly his own; he had long worked for it; even while the war of 1866 was still being waged, he had foreseen that a day would come when Germany and Austria, now that they were separated, might become, as they never had been when joined by an unnatural union, honest allies. It was probably to a great extent brought about by the strong regard and confidence which the Austrian Emperor reposed in the German Chancellor. The beginnings of an approximation were laid by the dismissal of Beust, who himself now was to become a personal friend of the statesman against whom he had for so long and with such ingenuity waged an unequal conflict. The union was sealed when, in December, 1872, the Czar of Russia and Francis Joseph came to Berlin as guests of the Emperor. There was no signed contract, no written alliance, but the old union of the Eastern monarchies under which a generation before Europe had groaned, was now restored, and on the Continent there was no place to which France could look for help or sympathy.

The years that followed were those in which foreign affairs gave Bismarck least anxiety or occupation. He even began to complain that he was dull; after all these years of conflict and intrigue he found the security which he now enjoyed uninteresting. Now and again the shadow of war passed over Europe, but it was soon dispelled. The most serious was in 1875.

It appears that the French reforms of the army and some movements of French troops had caused alarm at Berlin; I say alarm, though it is difficult to believe that any serious concern could have been felt. There was, however, a party who believed that war must come sooner or later, and it was better, they said, not to wait till France was again powerful and had won allies; surely the wisest thing was while she was still weak and friendless to take some excuse (and how easy would it be to find the excuse!), fall upon her, and crush her—crush and destroy, so that she could never again raise her head; treat her as she had in old days treated Germany. How far this plan was deliberately adopted we do not know, but in the spring of this year the signs became so alarming that both the Russian and the English Governments were seriously disturbed, and interfered. So sober a statesman as Lord Derby believed that the danger was real. The Czar, who visited Berlin at the beginning of April, dealt with the matter personally; the Queen of England wrote a letter to the German Emperor, in which she said that the information she had could leave no doubt that an aggressive war on France was meditated, and used her personal influence with the sovereign to prevent it. The Emperor himself had not sympathised with the idea of war, and it is said did not even know of the approaching danger. It did not require the intervention of other sovereigns to induce him to refuse his assent to a wanton war, but this advice from foreign Powers of course caused great indignation in Bismarck; it was just the kind of thing which always angered him beyond everything. He maintained that he had had no warlike intentions, that the reports were untrue. The whole story had its origin, he said, in the intrigues of the Ultramontanes and the vanity of Gortschakoff; the object was to make it appear that France owed her security and preservation to the friendly interference of Russia, and thereby prepare the way for an alliance between the two Powers. It is almost impossible to believe that Bismarck had seriously intended to bring about a war; he must have known that the other Powers of Europe would not allow a second and unprovoked attack on France; he would not be likely to risk all he had achieved and bring about a European coalition against him. On the other hand his explanation is probably not the whole truth; even German writers confess that the plan of attacking France was meditated, and it was a plan of a nature to recommend itself to the military party in Prussia.

Yet this may have been the beginning of a divergence with Russia. The union had depended more on the personal feelings of the Czar than on the wishes of the people or their real interests. The rising Pan-Slavonic party was anti-German; their leader was General Ignatieff, but Gortschakoff, partly perhaps from personal hostility to Bismarck, partly from a just consideration of Russian interests, sympathised with their anti-Teutonic policy. The outbreak of disturbances in the East roused that national feeling which had slept for twenty years; in truth the strong patriotism of modern Germany naturally created a similar feeling in the neighbouring countries; just as the Germans were proud to free themselves from the dominant culture of France, so the Russians began to look with jealousy on the Teutonic influence which since the days of Peter the Great had been so powerful among them.

In internal matters the situation was very different; here Bismarck could not rule in the same undisputed manner; he had rivals, critics, and colleagues. The power of the Prussian Parliament and the Reichstag was indeed limited, but without their assent no new law could be passed; each year their assent must be obtained to the Budget. Though they had waived all claim to control the foreign policy, the parties still criticised and often rejected the laws proposed by the Government. Then in Prussian affairs he could not act without the good-will of his colleagues; in finance, in legal reform, the management of Church and schools, the initiative belonged to the Ministers responsible for each department. Some of the difficulties of government would have been met had Bismarck identified himself with a single party, formed a party Ministry and carried out their programme. This he always refused to do; he did not wish in his old age to become a Parliamentary Minister, for had he depended for his support on a party, then if he lost their confidence, or they lost the confidence of the country, he would have had to retire from office. The whole work of his earlier years would have been undone. What he wished to secure was a Government party, a Bismarck party sans phrase, who would always support all his measures in internal as well as external policy. In this, however, he did not succeed. He was therefore reduced to another course: in order to get the measures of the Government passed, he executed a series of alliances, now with one, now with another party. In these, however, he had to give as well as to receive, and it is curious to see how easily his pride was offended and his anger roused by any attempt of the party with which at the time he was allied to control and influence his policy. No one of the alliances lasted long, and he seems to have taken peculiar pleasure in breaking away from each of them in turn when the time came.

The alliance with the Conservatives which he had inherited from the older days had begun to break directly after 1866. Many of them had been disappointed by his policy in that year. The grant of universal suffrage had alarmed them; they had wished that he would use his power to check and punish the Parliament for its opposition; instead of that he asked for an indemnity. They felt that they had borne with him the struggle for the integrity of the Prussian Monarchy; no sooner was the victory won than he held out his hand to the Liberals and it was to them that the prize went. They were hurt and disappointed, and this personal feeling was increased by Bismarck's want of consideration, his brusqueness of manner, his refusal to consider complaints and remonstrances. Even the success of 1870 had not altogether reconciled them; these Prussian nobles, the men to whom in earlier days he himself had belonged, saw with regret the name of King of Prussia hidden behind the newer glory of the German Emperor; it is curious to read how even Roon speaks with something of contempt and disgust of this new title: "I hope," he writes, "Bismarck will be in a better temper now that the Kaiser egg has been safely hatched." It was, however, the struggle with the Catholic Church which achieved the separation; the complete subjection of the Church to the State, the new laws for school inspection, the introduction of compulsory civil marriage, were all opposed to the strongest and the healthiest feelings of the Prussian Conservatives. These did not seem to be matters in which the safety of the Empire was concerned; Bismarck had simply gone over to, and adopted the programme of, the Liberals; he was supporting that all-pervading power of the Prussian bureaucracy which he, in his earlier days, had so bitterly attacked. Then came a proposal for change in the local government which would diminish the influence of the landed proprietors. The Conservatives refused to support these measures; the Conservative majority in the House of Lords threw them out. Bismarck's own brother, all his old friends and comrades, were now ranged against him. He accepted opposition from them as little as from anyone else; the consent of the King was obtained to the creation of new peers, and by this means the obnoxious measures were forced through the unwilling House. Bismarck by his speeches intensified the bitterness; he came down himself to make an attack on the Conservatives. "The Government is disappointed," he said; "we had looked for confidence from the Conservative party; confidence is a delicate plant; if it is once destroyed it does not grow again. We shall have to look elsewhere for support."

Bismarck Residence
OFFICIAL RESIDENCE OF BISMARCK IN BERLIN.


A crisis in his relations to the party came at the end of 1872; up to this time Roon had still remained in the Government; now, in consequence of the manner in which the creation of peers had been decided upon, he requested permission to resign. The King, who could not bear to part with him, and who really in many matters of internal policy had more sympathy with him than with Bismarck, refused to accept the resignation. The crisis which arose had an unexpected ending: Bismarck himself resigned the office of Minister-President of Prussia, which was transferred to Roon, keeping only that of Foreign Minister and Chancellor of the Empire.

A letter to Roon shews the deep depression under which he laboured at this time, chiefly the result of ill-health. "It was," he said, "an unheard-of anomaly that the Foreign Minister of a great Empire should be responsible also for internal affairs." And yet he himself had arranged that it should be so. The desertion of the Conservative party had, he said, deprived him of his footing; he was dispirited by the loss of his old friends and the illness of his wife; he spoke of his advancing years and his conviction that he had not much longer to live; "the King scarcely knows how he is riding a good horse to death." He would continue to do what he could in foreign affairs, but he would no longer be responsible for colleagues over whom he had no influence except by requests, and for the wishes of the Emperor which he did not share. The arrangement lasted for a year, and then Roon had again to request, and this time received, permission to retire into private life; his health would no longer allow him to endure the constant anxiety of office. His retirement occasioned genuine grief to the King; and of all the severances which he had to undergo, this was probably that which affected Bismarck most. For none of his colleagues could he ever have the same affection he had had for Roon; he it was who had brought him into the Ministry, and had gone through with him all the days of storm and trouble. "It will be lonely for me," he writes, "in my work; ever more so, the old friends become enemies and one makes no new ones. As God will." In 1873 he again assumed the Presidency. The resignation of Roon was followed by a complete breach with the party of the Kreuz Zeitung; the more moderate of the Conservatives split off from it and continued to support the Government; the remainder entered on a campaign of factious opposition.

The quarrel was inevitable, for quite apart from the question of religion it would indeed have been impossible to govern Germany according to their principles. We may, however, regret that the quarrel was not conducted with more amenity. These Prussian nobles were of the same race as Bismarck himself; they resembled him in character if not in ability; they believed that they had been betrayed, and they did not easily forgive. They were not scrupulous in the weapons they adopted; the Press was used for anonymous attacks on his person and his character; they accused him of using his public position for making money by speculation, and of sacrificing to that the alliance with Russia. More than once he had recourse to the law of libel to defend himself against these unworthy insults. When he publicly in the Reichstag protested against the language of the Kreuz Zeitung, the dishonourable attacks and the scandalous lies it spread abroad, a large number of the leading men among the Prussian nobility signed a declaration formally defending the management of the paper, as true adherents of the monarchical and Conservative banner. These Declaranten, as they were called, were henceforward enemies whom he could never forgive. At the bottom of the list we read, not without emotion, the words, "Signed with deep regret, A. von Thadden"; so far apart were now the two knight-errants of the Christian Monarchy. It was in reality the end of the old Conservative party; it had done its work; Bismarck was now thrown on the support of the National Liberals.

Since 1866 they had grown in numbers and in weight. They represented at this time the general sense of the German people; it was with their help that during the years down to 1878 the new institutions for the Empire were built up. In the elections of 1871 they numbered 120; in 1874 their numbers rose to 152; they had not an absolute majority, but in all questions regarding the defence of the Empire, foreign policy, and the army they were supported by the moderate Conservatives; in the conflict with the Catholics and internal matters they could generally depend on the support of the Progressives; so that as long as they maintained their authority they gave the Government the required majority in both the Prussian and the German Parliament. There were differences in the party which afterwards were to lead to a secession, but during this time, which they looked upon as the golden era of the Empire, they succeeded in maintaining their unity. They numbered many of the ablest leaders, the lawyers and men of learning who had opposed Bismarck at the time of the conflict. Their leader was Bennigsen; himself a Hanoverian, he had brought no feelings of hostility from the older days of conflict. Moderate, tactful, restrained, patriotic, he was the only man who, when difficulties arose, was always able to approach the Chancellor, sure of finding some tenable compromise. Different was it with Lasker, the ablest of Parliamentary orators, whose subordination to the decisions of the party was often doubtful, and whose criticism, friendly as it often was, always aroused Bismarck's anger.

As a matter of fact the alliance was, however, never complete; it was always felt that at any moment some question might arise on which it would be wrecked. This was shewn by Bismarck's language as early as 1871; in a debate on the army he explained that what he demanded was full support; members, he said, were expressly elected to support him; they had no right to make conditions or withdraw their support; if they did so he would resign. The party, which was very loyal to him, constantly gave up its own views when he made it a question of confidence, but the strain was there and was always felt. The great question now as before was that of the organisation of the army. It will be remembered that, under the North German Confederation, a provisional arrangement was made by which the numbers of the army in peace were to be fixed at one per cent. of the population. This terminated at the end of 1871; the Government, however, did not then consider it safe to alter the arrangement, and with some misgiving the Reichstag accepted the proposal that this system should be applied to the whole Empire for three years. If, however, the numbers of the army were absolutely fixed in this way, the Reichstag would cease to have any control over the expenses; all other important taxes and expenses came before the individual States. In 1874, the Government had to make their proposal for the future. This was that the system which had hitherto been provisionally accepted should become permanent, and that the army should henceforward in time of peace always consist of the same number of men. To agree to this would be permanently to give up all possibility of exercising any control over the finance. It was impossible for the National Liberal party to accept the proposal without giving up at the same time all hope of constitutional development; Bismarck was ill and could take no part in defending the law; they voted against it, it was thrown out, and it seemed as though a new conflict was going to arise.

When the Reichstag adjourned in April for the Easter holidays the agitation spread over the country, but the country was determined not again to have a conflict on the Budget. "There was a regular fanaticism for unconditional acceptance of the law; those even on the Left refused to hear anything of constitutional considerations," writes one member of the National Liberty party after meeting his constituents. If the Reichstag persisted in their refusal and a dissolution took place, there was no doubt that there would be a great majority for the Government. It was the first time since 1870 that the question of constitutional privileges was raised, and now it was found, as ever afterwards was the case, that, for the German people, whatever might be the opinion of their elected representatives, the name of Bismarck alone outweighed all else. Bennigsen arranged a compromise and the required number of men was agreed to, not indeed permanently, but for seven years. For four years more the alliance was continued.

At this time all other questions were thrown into the shade by the great conflict with the Roman Catholic Church on which the Government had embarked. Looking back now, it is still difficult to judge or even to understand the causes which brought it about. Both sides claim that they were acting in self-defence. Bismarck has often explained his motives, but we cannot be sure that those he puts forward were the only considerations by which he was moved. He, however, insisted that the struggle was not religious but political; he was not moved by Protestant animosity to the Catholic Church, but by his alarm lest in the organisation of the Roman hierarchy a power might arise within the Empire which would be hostile to the State. But even if the Chancellor himself was at first free from Protestant hatred to Catholicism,—and this is not quite clear,—he was forced into alliance with a large party who appealed at once to the memories of the Reformation, who stirred up all that latent hatred of Rome which is as strong a force in North Germany as in England; and with others who saw in this an opportunity for more completely subduing all, Protestant and Catholic alike, to the triumphant power of the State, and making one more step towards the dissociation of the State from any religious body.

The immediate cause of the struggle was the proclamation of the infallibility of the Pope. It might be thought that this change or development in the Constitution of the Roman Church was one which concerned chiefly Roman Catholics. This is the view which Bismarck seems to have taken during the meetings of the Vatican Council. The opposition to the decrees was strongest among the German Bishops, and Prince Hohenlohe, the Prime Minister of Bavaria, supported by his brother the Cardinal, was anxious to persuade the Governments of Europe to interfere, and, as they could have done, to prevent the Council from coming to any conclusion. Bismarck refused on behalf of the Prussian Government to take any steps in this direction. The conclusion of the Council and the proclamation of the decrees took place just at the time of the outbreak of war with France. For some months Bismarck, occupied as he was with other matters, was unable to consider the changes which might be caused; it was moreover very important for him during the negotiations with Bavaria, which lasted all through the autumn, not to do anything which would arouse the fears of the Ultramontanes or intensify their reluctance to enter the Empire.

In the winter of 1870 the first sign of the dangers ahead was to be seen. They arose from the occupation of Rome by the Italians. The inevitable result of this was that the Roman Catholics of all countries in Europe were at once given a common cause of political endeavour; they were bound each of them in his own State to use his full influence to procure interference either by diplomacy or by arms, and to work for the rescue of the prisoner of the Vatican. The German Catholics felt this as strongly as their co-religionists, and, while he was still at Versailles, a cardinal and bishop of the Church addressed a memorial to the King of Prussia on this matter. This attempt to influence the foreign policy of the new Empire, and to use it for a purpose alien to the direct interest of Germany, was very repugnant to Bismarck and was quite sufficient to arouse feelings of hostility towards the Roman Catholics. These were increased when he heard that the Roman Catholic leaders were combining to form a new political party; in the elections for the first Reichstag this movement was very successful and fifty members were returned whose sole bond of union was religion. This he looked upon as "a mobilisation of the Church against the State"; the formation of a political party founded simply on unity of confession was, he said, an unheard-of innovation in political life. His distrust increased when he found that their leader was Windthorst, a former Minister of the King of Hanover, and, as a patriotic Hanoverian, one of the chief opponents of a powerful and centralised Government. The influence the Church had in the Polish provinces was a further cause of hostility, and seemed to justify him in condemning them as anti-German. During the first session the new party prominently appeared on two occasions. In the debate on the address to the Crown they asked for the interference of Germany on behalf of the Pope; in this they stood alone and on a division found no supporters. Then they demanded that in the Constitution of the Empire certain clauses from the Prussian Constitution should be introduced which would ensure freedom to all religious denominations. Here they gained considerable support from some other parties.

An impartial observer will find it difficult to justify from these acts the charge of disloyalty to the Empire, but a storm of indignation arose in the Press, especially in the organs of the National Liberal party, and it was supported by those of the Government.

The desire for conflict was awakened; meetings were held in the autumn of 1871 to defend the Protestant faith, which hardly seemed to have been attacked, and a clearer cause for dispute soon occurred. It was required by the authorities of the Church that all bishops and priests should declare their assent to the new Vatican decrees; the majority did so, but a certain number refused; they were of course excommunicated; a secession from the Roman Catholic Church took place, and a new communion formed to which the name of Old Catholics was given. The bishops required that all the priests and religious teachers at the universities and schools who had refused to obey the orders of the Pope should be dismissed from their office; the Prussian Government refused their assent. The legal question involved was a difficult one. The Government held that as the Roman Catholic Church had changed its teachings, those who maintained the old doctrine must be supported in the offices conferred on them. The Church authorities denied there had been any essential change. On the whole we may say that they were right; a priest of the Catholic Church held his position not only in virtue of his assent to the actual doctrines taught, but was also bound by his vow of obedience to accept any fresh teaching which, in accordance with the Constitution of the Church and by the recognised organ of Government, should in the future also be declared to be of faith. The duty of every man to obey the laws applies not only to the laws existing at any moment, but to any future laws which may be passed by the proper agent of legislation. Even though the doctrine of infallibility were a new doctrine, which is very doubtful, it had been passed at a Council; and the proceedings of the Council, even if, in some details, they were irregular, were not more so than those of any other Council in the past.

The action of the Government in supporting the Old Catholics may, however, be attributed to another motive. The Catholics maintained that Bismarck desired to take this opportunity of creating a national German Church, and reunite Protestants and Catholics. To have done so, had it been possible, would have been indeed to confer on the country the greatest of all blessings. We cannot doubt that the thought had often come into Bismarck's mind; it would be the proper and fitting conclusion to the work of creating a nation. It was, however, impossible; under no circumstances could it have been done by a Protestant statesman; the impulse must have come from Bavaria, and the opposition of the Bavarian bishops to the Vatican decrees had been easily overcome. Twice an opportunity had presented itself of making a national German Church: once at the Reformation, once after the Revolution. On both occasions it was lost and it will never recur.

The result, however, was that a bitter feeling of opposition was created between Church and State. The secessionist priests were maintained in their positions by the Government, they were excommunicated by the bishops; students were forbidden to attend their lectures and the people to worship in the churches where they ministered. It spread even to the army, when the Minister of War required the army chaplain at Cologne to celebrate Mass in a church which was used also by the Old Catholics. He was forbidden to do so by his bishop, and the bishop was in consequence deprived of his salary and threatened with arrest.

The conflict having once begun soon spread; a new Minister of Culture was appointed; in the Reichstag a law was proposed expelling the Jesuits from Germany; and a number of important laws, the so-called May laws, were introduced into the Prussian Parliament, giving to the State great powers with regard to the education and appointment of priests; it was, for instance, ordered that no one should be appointed to a cure of souls who was not a German, and had not been brought up and educated in the State schools and universities of Prussia. Then other laws were introduced, to which we have already referred, making civil marriage compulsory, so as to cripple the very strong power which the Roman Catholic priests could exercise, not only by refusing their consent to mixed marriages, but also by refusing to marry Old Catholics; a law was introduced taking the inspection of elementary schools out of the hands of the clergy, and finally a change was made in those articles of the Prussian Constitution which ensured to each denomination the management of its own affairs. Bismarck was probably not responsible for the drafting of all these laws; he only occasionally took part in the discussion and was often away from Berlin.

The contrast between these proposals and the principles he had maintained in his earlier years was very marked; his old friend Kleist recalled the eloquent speech which in former years he had made against civil marriage. Bismarck did not attempt to defend himself against the charge of inconsistency; he did not even avow that he had changed his personal opinions; he had, however, he said, learnt to submit his personal convictions to the requirements of the State; he had only done so unwillingly and by a great struggle. This was to be the end of the doctrine of the Christian State. With Gneist, Lasker, Virchow, he was subduing the Church to this new idol of the State; he was doing that against which in the old days he had struggled with the greatest resolution and spoken with the greatest eloquence. Not many years were to go by before he began to repent of what he had done, for, as he saw the new danger from Social Democracy, he like many other Germans believed that the true means of defeating it was to be found in increased intensity of religious conviction. It was, however, then too late.

He, however, especially in the Prussian Upper House, threw all the weight of his authority into the conflict. It was, he said, not a religious conflict but a political one; they were not actuated by hatred of Catholicism, but they were protecting the rights of the State.

"The question at issue," he said, "is not a struggle of an Evangelical dynasty against the Catholic Church; it is the old struggle ... a struggle for power as old as the human race ... between king and priest ... a struggle which is much older than the appearance of our Redeemer in this world.... a struggle which has filled German history of the Middle Ages till the destruction of the German Empire, and which found its conclusion when the last representative of the glorious Swabian dynasty died on the scaffold, under the axe of a French conqueror who stood in alliance with the Pope.We are not far from an analogous solution of the situation, always translated into the customs of our time."

He assured the House that now, as always, he would defend the Empire against internal and external enemies. "Rest assured we will not go to Canossa," he said.

In undertaking this struggle with the Church he had two enemies to contend with—the Pope and the government of the Church on the one side, on the other the Catholic population of Germany. He tried to come to some agreement with the Pope and to separate the two; it seemed in fact as if the real enemy to be contended against was not the foreign priesthood, but the Catholic Democracy in Germany. All Bismarck's efforts to separate the two and to procure the assistance of the Pope against the party of the Centre were to be unavailing; for some years all official communication between the German Government and the Papal See was broken off. It was not till the death of Pius IX. and the accession of a more liberal-minded Pope that communication was restored; then we are surprised to find Bismarck appealing to the Pope to use his influence on the Centre in order to persuade them to vote for a proposed increase in the German army. This is a curious comment on the boast, "We will not go to Canossa."

The truth is that in undertaking the conflict and associating himself with the anti-Clerical party Bismarck had stirred up an enemy whom he was not able to overcome. He soon found that the priests and the Catholics were men of a different calibre to the Liberals. They dared to do what none of the Progressives had ventured on—they disobeyed the law. With them it was not likely that the conflict would be confined to Parliamentary debates. The Government attempted to meet this resistance, but in vain. The priests were deprived of their cures, bishops were thrown into prison, nearly half the Catholic parishes in Prussia were deprived of their spiritual shepherds, the churches were closed, there was no one to celebrate baptisms or weddings. Against this resistance what could the Government do? The people supported the leaders of the party, and a united body of one hundred members under Windhorst, ablest of Parliamentary leaders, was committed to absolute opposition to every Government measure so long as the conflict continued. Can we be surprised that as the years went on Bismarck looked with some concern on the result of the struggle he had brought about?

He attempted to conceal the failure: "The result will be," he said, "that we shall have two great parties—one which supports and maintains the State, and another which attacks it. The former will be the great majority and it will be formed in the school of conflict." These words are the strongest condemnation of his policy. It could not be wise for any statesman to arrange that party conflict should take the form of loyalty and disloyalty to the Empire.

There can be little doubt that his sense of failure helped to bring about a feeling of enmity towards the National Liberals. Suddenly in the spring of 1877 he sent in his resignation. There were, however, other reasons for doing this. He had become aware that the financial policy of the Empire had not been successful; on every side it seemed that new blood and new methods were required. In financial matters he had little experience or authority; he had to depend on his colleagues and he complained of their unfruitfulness. Influenced perhaps by his perception of this, under the pretext—a genuine pretext—of ill-health, he asked the Emperor to relieve him of his offices. The Emperor refused. "Never," he wrote on the side of the minute. Instead he granted to Bismarck unlimited leave of absence. In the month of April the Chancellor retired to Varzin; for ten months he was absent from Berlin, and when he returned, recruited in health, in February, 1878, it was soon apparent that a new period in his career and in the history of the Empire was to begin.