The Chancellorship of Bismarck


The unification of Germany had not been achieved by a popular revolution but by the extension of the power of one of the states. The old social structure remained largely intact, and the constitutional system of the new Germany strongly reflected the old régime.


A variety of factors combined to assist the development of unity;

1) The ZOLLVEREIN had prepared the way for economic unity.

2) As goods already moved frrly about Germany it promoted THE DEVELOPMENT OF A NETWORK OF COMMUNICATIONS.

3) A COMMON LANGUAGE AND A COMMON CULTURE also assisted the process of unification.

4) Bismarck seized every opportunity to display the imperial symbol, and to apply the adjectival "REICHS"; A REICHSBANK, REICHSCURRENCY, REICHSPOST.

5) A start was made on a common code of GERMAN LAW, and court procedures were made uniform.

6) ADMINISTRATIVE SYSTEMS were modelled on a common German pattern.

7) EDUCATIONAL institutions developed NATIONAL COHERENCE.


The succesful partnership between Wilhelm I and Bismarck continued until the death of the Kaiser in 1888, and Bismarck remained the Chancellor of the German Empire until 1890. The continuity of government ensured that the Empire was founded on secure beginnings, and it also ensured that Germany was extensively Prussianized.

Germany was a FEDERAL STATE. It emraced 26 units, each of which retained its own state government and tried to retain something of its own identity.

The Germ,an Empire consisted of the four kingdoms of Prussia, Bavaria, Wurttemberg and Saxony, 18 lesser states, 3 free cities, and the Imperial territory of Alsac-Lorraine.

The units varied greatly in area and influence. But though the Empire was a federation in practice Prussia dominated all the other states.

Prussia was by far the largest of the constituent parts with approximately 60% of the area and population (24.7 out of 41 million).


In theory, the German Empire created in 1871 was a voluntary association of German states governed by as free a constitution as existed anywhere in Europe.- In practice, behind each article of that constitution lurked the power and influence of Prussia

There was an Imperial Legislature (lagstiftande församling) consisting of two houses, BUNDESRAT and the REICHSTAG.


-consisted of 58 members representing the 26 states (Prussia-17, Bavarie-6, Wurttemberg-4, the rest-1).

-had the power to initiate legislation.

-Could, together with the Emperor declare war and settle disputes between states.

-Nominated annually by the legislatures of the states.

-Agreement was required before bills were passed by the Reichstag. Had to be consulted on all important matters of foreign policy but due it steadily lost influence.

-A vote of 14 against a motion meant its rejection, which meant that Prussia could control the Bundesrat.


-Elections/3 year by all men over 25.

-Could reject laws, but not initiate them.

-Could initiate taxes, but not change old ones.

-The Emperor could and did dissolve it (together with the Bundesrat).

-It had the power to question the Chancellor and to initiate debate upon any point of his policy

Could not influence the appointment of ministers (including the Chancellor) - no control over the government (Ministers were not responsible to the Reichstag). Members of the Reichstag could not be appointed ministers.

-It had theoretical control over any alteration to the military budget, but gave away these powers in the fear of a constitutional crises.

Excluded from review of military expenditure and foreign treaties.

-The lack of payment of members until 1906 discriminated against lower class and more radical representatives

THE KAISER HAD CONSIDERABLE POTENTIAL POWER, which Wilhelm I tended to delegate to Bismarck.

-Controlled the armed forces (could declare a "defensive" war.

-The chancellor was appointed by and only resposible to the Kaiser.

-The Kaiser could veto legislation and dissolve the Reichstag.


The state governments had considerable responsibility over matters such as direct taxation, education, transport, police and local government. The degree of popular control varied considerably.


The unification and the French Indemnity encouraged an economic growth, while the newly-gained iron of Lorraine stimulated the growth of the heavy industry.

The economic history of the new Germany opened with a short period of financial euphoria, fuelled by over-generous credit policies on the part of German bankers, and by large amounts of capital pumped into the economy by French war reparations. These stimuli set off a wave of unsound investment projects whose eventual collapse struck a blow to business confidence whose effects could still be felt nearly 20 years later.

From 1873, however, the Empire was affected by the long lasting general economic depression. In terms of production and of economic growth, the German recovery took place relatively quickly. The production levels of 1872-73 had been reached again by 1880. But the psuchological impact of the slump was considerable, and the effect of the depression on political mentalities was to last well beyond 1880.

Due to the decline in trade German industrialists began demanding protection by higher tariffs.

The rejection of liberal, free trading policies by the leaders of German industry soon became evident in the formation of such pressure groups as the League of German Iron and Steel Manufacturers.

The Russian and North American cheap grain resulted in that the German landowners (junkers) joined the demands of protection. In 1878 Bismarck abandoned free trade policy. Europe and the World drifted into a period of economic nationalism and a tradewar. (which usually result in isolation and a lack of understanding between different countries).

The adoption of protective tariffs by France, Russia and Austria-Hungary over this same periodseemed to make it all the more desirable for Germany to follow.

Other reasons were the political need for self-sufficiency in the event of a future crisis, and tariffs provided the government with a valuable source of income independent both of the Reichstag and of the member states. New tarifflaws were enacted in 1879.

Even though Germany faced financial crisis, due to Bismarck's protectionist policy, the country had a spectacular economic growth between 1871-1914. By 1914 Germany had become the second greatest trading nation in the World.

There were several consequences associated with this growth:

1) URBANISATION. Besides a strong populationgrowth (41 to 67 million , 1871-1913) there was a disproportionate growth of towns.

2) CHANGES IN OCCUPATIONAL DISTRIBUTION. In 1860 - 70% depended on agriculture, by 1907-28,4%, while 42,4% worked in the industry. Administrative services was the fastest growing sector from then on.

3) THE EMERGENCE OF CARTELS. A concentration of production into a small number of large firms designed to keep up prices.

4) REGIONAL VARIATIONS. Rural,agricultural and poor east - urbanized, industrialized and rich West.



-Social dominance of the noble landowners on the countryside

-Monopoly of official positions, in the army and in the higher ranks of the government and the administration the nobles enjoyed a preferred status.


-Freed from most of the control, a state within the state.

-Enjoyed a very high status as the creator of the unified Germany (above all criticism). A school for citizenship.

-The officer corps were mostly drawn from the nobility. Jews were not to be appointed officers.

-Used to crush popular social disturbances.


about 1/3 of the German population was Roman Catholic. Eventhough Bismarck didn't want to emphasize the religious differences of Germans he was aware and worried of the international nature of the Catholic Church. There was the danger that Catholics might be more obedient to the Papacy than to the German government.

In 1870 Rome had declared the PAPAL INFALLIBILITY (ofelbarhet) which resulted in a division among the catholics in Germany. When a group of German catholics opposed the Papal declaration Pius IX branded them as heretics (excommunicated-bannlysta). The "Old Catholics" looked to the new German state for protection and Bismarck took up the challenge with the Papacy. This was the stage set for the KULTURKAMPF(struggle for civilisation)-The struggle of two cultures, between the international Church and the National State.

'It is not a matter of struggle between belief and unbelief/.../it is a matter of the conflict between monarchy and priesthood. What is at stake is the defence of the state', Bismarck declared.

By aiming to tie Catholic loyalties directly to the Papacy, instead of to the national state, the doctrine (Papal infallibillity) was a clear challenge to state power. The launching of this struggle offered Bismarck certain other political advantages, such as closer ties with the anti-clerical Italian government; with Russia, themselves greatly troubled by catholic Poles, and with the National Liberals.

Anti-Papal regulations were imposed; German priests were forbidden to use their religious appointments to interfere in politics. German education was brought under the supervision of the state. All jesuits were expelled from Germany (1872). Seminaries for the training of priests were placed under state control. Priests had to graduate from German universities. Religious appointments were made subject to government approval. Civil marriage was made compulsory etc.

Loyal Catholics were prepared to suffer and they were soon winning sympathy even among Protestants. The struggle was dividing rather than uniting Germany. Quite soon it became obvious that Bismarck had to find a way out of the struggle, and the death of Pius IX in 1878 offered the opportunity of a compromise. Neither side won, many of the restrictions were lifted gradually. But civil marriage remained compulsory, the state continued to supervise education, the Jesuits were not allowed back and priests were still forbidden to meddle in politics. But the "Old catholics" failed in creating an independent German church, and the vast majority of German Catholics remained loyal to the Pope.

Certainly the struggle did much to damage Bismarck's earlier work of unification, and made the majority of German Catholics more sympathetic to Papal authority than they had been before.

The anti-Catholic stance endangered good foreign relations with Austria and the threat of an Austro-French understanding grew.


The combination of industrialization, Marx influence and Manhood suffrage led to increasing support for socialism in Germany and the Reichstag.

(Ferdinand Lassalle pioneer)

1869-A workers party which 1875 became the Social Democratic Party.

Bismarck regarded the Social Democrats a threat to Germany's social system and the nationstate (The international side of socialism)

It seems probable that if Bismarck's opposition to Catholicism was not primarly ideological, his oppositon to socialism was.

Bismarck's opportunity came in 1878 when to attempts upon the life of the Emperor gave him the chance to raise the cry of 'The Fatherland in danger', to dissolve the Reichstag and to hold fresh elections.


SDP was driven underground but as Bismarck had no wish to create martyrs the laws were used when necessary against those socialist who offered a revolutionary threat.

By 1883 Bismarck decided that it might be better to attempt to kill socialism by kindness, to steal enough of their policies to win over the working class supporters. The result was that, having already given a lead with a manhood suffrage, Germany gave a lead to Europe in the field of state insurance. National insurence schemes were introduced against SICKNESS (1883), INDUSTRIAL INJURIES (1884) AND OLD AGE (1889). At the same time, Bismarck made concessions to TRADE UNIONISM. Such reforms undoubtly improved the quality of life of Germans, and they put a brake on the development of Social Democratic opposition. SDP:s real breakthrough in the Reichstag came after Bismarcks resignation in 1890.

Bismarck received support from academic socialists for his 'state socialism' but he failed to check the growth of the party (550 000 - 1884, 1,427,000 - 1890)


The new Germany had French, Polish and Danish minorities. They posed a lasting problem. A policy of GERMANISATION was followed with an insistence on German as the language of education and official business. The result was a permanent and growing opposition among the minorities.


In 1890 Bismarck faced a newly-elected Reichstag, more hostile to him than any previous one. He considered reverting to the tactics of 1862, and ruling by the Kaiser's decree. But Wilhelm II was the German Kaiser now (1888). He was ambitious and had no wish to be overshadowed by his veteran Chancellor who, he believed, had mishandled the problem of socialism and had put too much effort into pleasing Russia and Britain. This left Bismarck isolated and in march 1890 in to the resignation, after a violent quarrell with Wilhem II.


After the Franco-Prussian war Europe entered a 44 years long period. A period not of war but of ARMED PEACE, as each great power sought to improve and expand its own military forces.

To Bismarck the creation of the German empire (which most of the eurpean countries armed themselves in defence for) marked the limit of his ambitions in Europe, and after 1871 his diplomacy was aimed almost entirely at preventing the outbreak of further wars from which Germany could have nothing to gain.

The new POLICY OF DEFENSIVENESS presented him two fundamental problems:

1) ENSURE THAT FRANCE SHOULD REMAIN WITHOUT AN ALLY so that she might be discouraged from attempting a war of revenge (ALSAC-LORRAINE).

Possible threat of an French-British alliance but -Britains trditional suspicion of France.

-Colonial rivalry

-Britains policy of SPLENDID ISOLATION


2) PRESERVE GOOD RELATIONS BETWEEN AUSTRIA-HUNGARY AND RUSSIA. If a war would break out between them Germany would probably get dragged in it. This would have a direct bearing on the French question - France would be able to escape her isolation.


-Rivalry between Russia-Austria in the Balkan-area.

The emergence of a strong independent Slav state (which interested Russia to increse their influence, part of Russian nationalism) would represent a considerable domestic danger, since it would act as a focal point of resistance for all the subjected Slav peoples of the Habsburg Empire.

BISMARCK attempted to create a league of friendship between GERMANY-AUSTRIA-RUSSIA = THE DREIKAISERBUND.