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

The Conquest of Germany


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

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

Map of Germany, 1866


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us complete the history of these celebrated negotiations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bismarck and his dogs.


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

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

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