Otto Fürst von Bismarck
Nationality German
Title
Chancellor
Born 1 April 1819, Schönhausen near Stendal (Brandenburg), Germany
Died 30 July 1898, Friedrichsruh, Germany
Career
After obtaining his law degree in 1835, he served at the Berlin municipal court and in 1837 as a judicial assessor at Aachen. He left government service in 1839 and assumed administration of the family estate at Kniephof, and later at Schönhausen. Bismarck was what one would term a Prussian Junker in the positive sense of the expression, loyal to the king but otherwise free and independent.

In 1847 he became a Conservative member of the United Prussian Parliament, and that year married Johanna von Puttkammer, to whom he remained devoted throughout his life. From 1849 to 1850 he was a member of the comparatively insignificant Erfurt Union Parliament.

In 1851 the king appointed Bismarck Prussian representative and envoy to the Federal Diet of Frankfurt and in 1859 he was sent as ambassador to St Petersburg. He fulfilled the same function in Paris, but in 1862, the year of the latter appointment, he was recalled by Wilhelm I on the advice of the Minster for War, von Roon, and installed as minister president in charge of foreign affairs. He immediately clashed with the majority Liberal Party and, with a vehemence to which the Lower House was not accustomed, forced through the king's military appropriations bill and thus, through this constitutional conflict, forestalled Wilhehn's humiliation. This engendered a close relationship of mutual trust between Bismarck and the king which was never weakened, even by Bismarck's occasional violent outbursts and the differences of opinion that arose between them conceming affairs of state.

In 1863 Bismarck prevented Prussia's participation at the Congress of Princes in Frankfurt (here by dissuading the king from attending) because he feared that Prussia would be outvoted and committed to a scheme designed to perpetuate Austrian ascendancy in Germany. He supported the Czar in suppressing a Polish rising and thus laid the foundations for RussoGerman friendship which endured for as long as Bismarck set the guidelines for foreign policy.

In 1864, together with Austria and a few of the German federal states, he took Prussia to war against Denmark over the proposal of the latter to incorporate Schleswig into the Danish dominion in breach of the London Treaty of 1852.

In 1866 he prosecuted a war against Austria even though the remainder of Germany, with the exception of Mecklenburg and a handful of the smalter North German states, had sided with Vienna. At its successful conclusion, in the face of the violent opposition of the king and the General Staff, he devised the lenient Peace of Prague to spare Austria humiliation. Until the death of the king Bismarck succeeded in upholding the primacy of politics over the military. In 1867 Bismarck was appointed Chancellor of the North German Federation.

Following the declaration of war on Prussia by France in 1870, Bismarck led the "German wars" against France in the 1870-71 period: under the imprint of victory, he devised the First German Reich with the German princes ("Unity from above") against the immediate opposition of Wilhelm I, who in the foundation of a Reich correctly foresaw the eclipse of Prussia. Bismarck became Reichskanzler, the only minister of the Reich (who stood alone at the head of the Imperial Administration including all the government departments) and simultaneously Prussia's minister president. The concept of the enlarged North German Federation was the basis for the new German Reich.

Until the death of Wilhelm I in 1888, Bismarck, who considered the Reich as sated and likely to be preoccupied for several decades with internal reconstruction, conducted a foreign policy that was distinctly peaceable. By virtue of its geographical position in central Europe the Second Reich was very exposed, and Bismarck sought to safeguard its borders by a complicated system of federations.

On the death of Wilhelm's successor, the ailing Frederick III, who reigned for only 99 days, the crown passed to the former's grandson, Wilhelm II. The differences between the new Emperor and Bismarck in home, social and foreign policy, quite aside from a conflict caused by the evident generation gap, were very substantial. Strained relations developed between the old Chancellor, unable to come to terms with an age of new technology, and his young, self-confident and ambitious emperor. In 1890, the latter intrigued for, and received, Bismarck's resignation.

The three legs of Bismarck's "intemal policy" were (a) the constitutional conflict (Verfassungskonflikt) in the 1860s against the Liberals; (b) the struggle for civilisation (Kulturkampf) against the Centre (including the Catholic Church); and (c) the social insurance legislation in the 1880's against the Social Democrats. Only in the first of these was he successful. lf it was the purpose of his unique, pioneering social legislation to undermine the growing social democratic movement, in this he failed. On the other hand, his foreign policy has been described in the following terms:

"A blessing he was for Europe! His foreign policy after 1871 was the politics of peace a policy which, after Bismarck, Germany neither knew nor understood for decades to come, and has only recently rediscovered. lt is only now becoming clear how difficult an art is the policy of peace in a world of sovereign states and rival great powers, and one can begin to admire the wealth of imagination and virtuosity with which Bismarck pursued it and the mastery with which he brought it about".