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
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