"The Iron Chancellor"
Otto von Bismarck (1 April 1815 – 30 July 1898), the “Iron Chancellor,” is one of the most important political figures of history whose legacy is the unification and rapid economic growth that made Germany a powerful, world power.
Bismarck's "realpolitik", a combination of diplomacy and political strategies based on pragmatic concerns rather than ideology achieved Prussian dominance in a unified Germany.
He became known as "The Iron Chancellor" through his "iron and blood" policy which initiated three decisive wars with Denmark, Austria and France to unite 39 independent German states under Prussian leadership.
Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck was born in 1815 at Schönhausen, at a noble family estate west of Berlin in Prussian Saxony.
His father, Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand von Bismarck (1771–1845), was a Junker estate owner and a former Prussian military officer and his mother, Wilhelmine Luise Mencken (1789–1839), was the well-educated daughter of a senior government official in Berlin.
Bismarck also had two siblings, a brother Bernhard (1810–1893) and a sister Malwine (1827–1908).
In 1816, the family moved to its Pomeranian estate, Kniephof (now Konarzewo, Poland), northeast of Stettin (now Szczecin), in the then-Prussian province of Farther Pomerania where Bismarck spent his childhood in the charming countryside settings of the Prussian Junker (German: “country squire”) landowning aristocracy which, under the German Empire (1871–1918) and the Weimar Republic (1919–33), exercised substantial political power.
The Prussian Junker image encouraged Bismarck to wearing military uniforms throughout his life.
Otto von Bismarck was educated at Johann Ernst Plamann's elementary school, the Friedrich-Wilhelm and Graues Kloster secondary schools and from 1832 to 1833, he studied law at the University of Göttingen, the University of Berlin (1833–1835) and in 1838, while stationed as an army reservist in Greifswald, he studied agriculture at the University of Greifswald.
He also spoke English, French, Italian, Polish, and Russian.
After serving a one-year, compulsory military service in the Prussian Army as an officer in the Landwehr (reserve), he returned to run the family estates at Schönhausen on his mother's death.
In 1847, Bismarck married Johanna von Puttkamer, the daughter of a conservative aristocratic family, known for their devout pietism.
Their happy marriage produced three children: Marie, Herbert and Wilhelm.
During this period, Otto von Bismarck embraced the Christian tradition of Lutheranism.
In 1847, Bismarck was chosen as a representative to the newly created Prussian legislature, the Vereinigter Landtag as an ultra-conservative champion of Junker interests.
As a royalist, he openly advocated that the monarch had a divine right to rule.
In 1851, King Frederick Wilhelm IV appointed Bismarck as Prussian representative to the German Confederation in Frankfurt where he spent eight years.
In 1859, he became Prussian ambassador in Russia and in 1862 he became ambassador in France to the court of Napoleon III.
Prince Wilhelm became King of Prussia upon his brother Frederick Wilhelm IV's death in 1861 and appointed Bismarck Minister-President and Foreign Minister on September 23, 1862.
Their working relationship, especially on foreign policy differed, however, Bismarck acquired a powerful hold over the King through his powers of persuasion.
The Revolutions of 1848 were a series of political upheavals throughout Europe led by coalitions of reformers, the middle classes, upper classes (the bourgeoisie) and workers with the aim of removing the old monarchical structures to create independent nation-states, as envisioned by romantic nationalism.
These revolutions spread across 50 countries with the most important being in France, the Netherlands, Italy, the Austrian Empire, and the states of the German Confederation.
Major contributing factors were dissatisfaction with political leadership, demands for more participation in government, freedom of the press and demands made by the working class for economic rights.
The upsurge of nationalism, the regrouping of established government forces and the European Potato Failure, triggered mass starvation, migration, and civil unrest.
Many of the revolutions were quickly suppressed, as thousands of people were killed and others forced into exile.
Bismarck's main goal in a unified Germany was to strengthen the position of Prussia in Europe.
Prior to the 1860s, Germany consisted of a multitude of principalities loosely bound together as members of the German Confederation which encompassed the Holy Roman Empire dating to the era of Charlemagne in the 800s.
Bismarck used diplomacy, nationalism and military power to achieve German unification while excluding Austria, to ensure that Prussia remained the most powerful and dominant component.
On September 30, 1862, Otto von Bismarck's famous speech to the Budget Committee of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies expounded the use of "iron and blood" to achieve Prussia's goals: "Prussia must concentrate and maintain its power for the favorable moment which has already slipped by several times. Prussia's boundaries according to the Vienna treaties are not favorable to a healthy state life. The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions – that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 – but by iron and blood."
Rivalry and conflict for supremacy between Prussia and Austria began earlier, upon the death of the Austrian, Habsburg Emperor Charles VI in 1740.
King Frederick the Great of Prussia then launched an invasion of Austrian-controlled Silesia, starting the First Silesian War (three Silesian Wars were fought) against Habsburg Austria (under Archduchess Maria Theresa) for control of the Central European region of Silesia (now in south-western Poland).
The wars were fought for prestige and for political control of the German-speaking peoples in the new empire.
Otto von Bismarck engineered European rivalries to create the unification of the German states through three successful wars.
Denmark in 1864
Before Bismarck, the First Schleswig War (1848–1852) was fought for control of the duchies of Schleswig, Holstein and Lauenburg which resulted in Danish victory through diplomatic support of the great powers.
In November 1863, the King of Denmark, Frederick VII died which sparked a renewed dispute over the succession of the Schleswig-Holstein duchies.
On 14 January 1864, Austria and Prussia declared they would take action against Denmark without regard to decisions of the German Confederation.
On 16 January 1864, Bismarck, as Minister-President and Foreign Minister, issued an ultimatum to Denmark demanding that the November Constitution should be abolished within 48 hours.
The Austrian and Prussian armies representing the German Confederation then, invaded Denmark, starting the Second Schleswig War (February 1, 1864 - October 30, 1864).
Denmark's defeat to Prussia and Austria meant that the Danish state lost the duchies of Holstein, Lauenburg and Schleswig resulting in a loss of a third of its territory and 40% of the state's population.
Austria in 1866
The Austro-Prussian War (the Seven Weeks' War) fought between the Austrian Empire and its German allies, and Prussia with its German allies in 1866 came about from the dispute between Prussia and Austria over the administration of Schleswig-Holstein, which the two of them had conquered from Denmark and agreed to jointly occupy at the end of the Second Schleswig War in 1864.
Bismarck allied with Italy who wanted to regain Venetia from Austria and Prussia's modernized army brought victory that was formally concluded on August 23 by the Treaty of Prague and resulted in Prussian dominance over the German states.
France in 1870–71
The Franco-Prussian War (19 July 1870 to 28 January 1871) between the Second French Empire and the North German Confederation began with the candidacy of Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen for the Spanish throne, which raised the possibility of a combination of Prussia and Spain against France.
Following diplomatic maneuvers to block Leopold’s candidacy, Bismarck published the Ems Telegram to provoke the French government into declaring war.
The French emperor, Napoleon III, declared war on Prussia on July 19, 1870 to reassert French dominance in continental Europe.
A coalition of German states led by Prussia defeated France, ending French hegemony in continental Europe and creating a unified Germany on May 10, 1871 through the Treaty of Frankfurt am Main.
After the Franco-Prussian War, France was compelled to cede Alsace-Lorraine to the new German empire.
Three victories of war delivered by Prussian military power and Otto von Bismarck's diplomacy, risk-taking and nationalism united Germany into a nation-state that formed the German Empire (Deutsches Reich).
The Prussian King William I, was proclaimed German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, France, on January 18, 1871.
Otto von Bismarck was raised to the rank of Fürst (Prince) and appointed the first Imperial Chancellor (Reichskanzler) of the German Empire.
In his final years, Bismarck composed his memoirs (Gedanken und Erinnerungen, or Thoughts and Memories).
Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, the first chancellor of the German Empire died on July 30th, 1898, aged 83, at his home at Friedrichsruh, near Hamburg and entombed in the Bismarck Mausoleum.
"Please just let me see my Johanna again" – those were the last words of Otto von Bismarck as he lay on his death bed.
Localities around the world named in Otto von Bismarck's honor include:
*Bismarck Archipelago, near the former German colony of New Guinea.
*Bismarck, North Dakota, the only U.S. state capital named for a foreign statesman.
*Bismarck, Missouri, a city in Missouri.
*Bismarck Strait, a channel in Antarctica.
*Cape Bismarck, NE Greenland.
*Bismarck Range, a mountain range in Papua New Guinea.
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