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From Iron Blood to Realpolitik: Bismarck’s Controversial Path to German Unification

Solve all problems with iron and blood
Among countless heroes and great men, there are not many who can rewrite history on their own. There is no doubt that Bismarck must be one of them. In the words of one historian: “Bismarck was appointed Chancellor on September 24, 1862, and thus began an astonishing career that not only resolved constitutional disputes in an unparalleled manner but also brought Germany under Prussian leadership Unification was achieved, thus leaving his mark forever on German and world history.”

What was unique about Bismarck, however, was that he was surrounded by controversy throughout. For example, Bismarck’s first speech as chancellor in which he delivered his famous iron-blood policy caused an uproar. Many people were deeply moved by this classic speech and became Bismarck’s die-hard fans without hesitation. Bismarck has since been remembered by future generations as the iron-blooded chancellor. But few people know that Bismarck’s famous speech almost ruined his career.

On September 30, 1862, at the age of 47, Bismarck appeared for the first time before the Budget Committee of the Reichstag. At this time, it was less than a week before he was appointed prime minister by William I who was in a dilemma. Bismarck, who was ordered to do so at the last moment, faced the urgent task of persuading Parliament to adopt the government’s proposals for military reform and an increase in the general budget. Unexpectedly, Bismarck, who was talking so eloquently, went off topic.

In front of the 28 committee members, he impromptuly expressed a commonplace sentiment: “Prussia’s position in Germany does not depend on its liberalism, but on its own strength. Prussia must accumulate strength, seize power, and wait for favorable opportunities. This opportunity has been missed several times. The Prussian frontiers established by the Treaty of Vienna are inimical to healthy national life. The great problems of the day can no longer be solved by speeches and majority resolutions – but only by iron and blood. Let’s solve it.”

Bismarck certainly did not expect that his inadvertent complaint would become a famous saying that has been passed down for a long time, and created a word “iron-blooded” that is commonly used today. The next day, as usual, he wrote to his wife about yesterday’s experience, without mentioning the iron-blooded policy speech he delivered at all. When all the newspapers started discussing the Prime Minister’s remarks, he realized that he had become a “hot search” for no reason.

To make matters worse, William I, who was on vacation abroad, also read about this speech in the newspapers. He was not sure whether Bismarck wanted to pursue a modern and powerful army, or whether he wanted to launch a dangerous war? Wilhelm I began to worry that appointing Bismarck as prime minister against all opinions would be too risky a gamble. Will Bismarck, who speaks so freely, be a qualified prime minister who can turn the tide? Should I change course in time before losing all my money? The king then announced that he would return to Berlin on October 4th.

The confident Bismarck rushed to the small station in Uterburg, about 70 kilometers south of Berlin, and was the first to see the unhappy William I. The king bluntly told Bismarck that his iron-blooded policy might inspire a violent revolution, in which “under my window in front of the Opera Square they will chop off your head, and later mine.” head”. But Bismarck calmly replied: “Can we die more honorably?” When the train finally pulled into the Berlin station, the king was once again successfully persuaded by the eloquent Bismarck and gave up any idea of ​​dismissing him as prime minister.

Three wars, one empire
Bismarck, who had temporarily overcome the crisis of removal from office, continued his efforts and skillfully resolved the deadlock between the king and the parliament. On January 14, 1863, the Prussian Parliament reconvened. Three days later, Bismarck gave a speech in the House of Commons in which he advanced the equally famous theory of “constitutional loopholes.”

King William I wanted complete control of the military and refused to accept any interference, while Parliament insisted on retaining the power to approve military expenditures and years of service. Although the frustrated king repeatedly threatened to abdicate, the confident parliament still refused to give in. It was during this political crisis that Bismarck became the king’s lifeline.

Now, it was Bismarck’s turn to take action. He reminded members that according to the Prussian constitution, all laws, including the budget, must be the product of the unanimous consent of the three parts of the government – the king, the upper house and the lower house. When these three parts disagree, which part should yield? Unfortunately, the Constitution gives no indication. This is the “loophole” in the Constitution. Now that the impasse has formed, in order to prevent a government shutdown, the budget plan should continue to be implemented in accordance with the previous year. In this way, the king could completely ignore the intervention of Parliament and continue to control the army in his own way.

Bismarck’s “loophole” theory once again caused controversy. The Progressive Party, the majority party in parliament, refused to accept Bismarck’s arguments. Faulkenback, the leader of the Progressive Party, declared that Bismarck’s approach meant that Parliament was deprived of the most important budget approval power. In the future, this unscrupulous government would implement saber rule at home and fight wars abroad. Bismarck, he believed, was the most dangerous prime minister to the freedom and happiness of Prussia. However, Bismarck remained unmoved and acted on his own initiative, freely dispensing all the funds he deemed necessary. The Prime Minister and the Parliament have formed a strange confrontation. They seem to be incompatible with each other, but they are in harmony with each other. But William I was always on tenterhooks. He often stood in front of the palace window, looking at the courtyard below, and said to himself: “In that area of ​​the palace courtyard, the people will erect a guillotine for me.”

However, neither Wilhelm I nor Bismarck ascended to the guillotine. A year later, Prussia and Austria defeated Denmark and divided up the Schleswig-Holstein region. Three years later, Prussia defeated its former ally Austria, seized dominance over the German states, and formed the North German Confederation. Eight years later, Prussia defeated Napoleon III’s France, marched straight into Paris, and held a coronation ceremony for William I as the German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, announcing the founding of the German Empire. The huge victories in the three wars not only allowed Bismarck to naturally become the Prince of Prussia and the Chancellor of the German Empire, but more importantly, the various political parties in the Parliament lost the courage to challenge Bismarck.

Later, many people were convinced that it was Bismarck who carefully planned these three wars and ultimately created an empire. In fact, Bismarck once said: “The political man is like a hiker in the forest. He knows his route but does not know where he will emerge from the forest… As long as there is any solution that can save us from war. I will gladly accept the expansion of Prussia and the unification of Germany.” Bismarck never concealed his political goal, which was to expand Prussia’s power by any means necessary. Prussia had no interest in creating an empire unless it would help enhance Prussia’s national power and prestige. He firmly believed that “the only sound basis for a great country is self-interest, not romanticism. There is nothing worth fighting for for a great country except its own interests.” This great country was, of course, Prussia.

The iron-blooded prime minister is defeated and has no successor.
When Bismarck narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on Unter den Linden, a professor from the University of Berlin hurried into a bookstore on the street and shouted indignantly: “The quality of revolvers in this country is too poor!” The professor It was the famous physiologist DuBoy-Raymond. However, four years later, with the victory of the Austro-Prussian War and the establishment of the North German Confederation, Professor DuBoy-Raymond gave a speech in the university auditorium, declaring that all professors in Berlin were guardians of the spirit of the Hohenzollern dynasty. The Hohenzollern family was the Prussian royal family and the ones to whom Bismarck devoted his whole life.

In fact, Berlin’s professors are not the only ones who have “changed with the times.” After the unfortunate assassin committed suicide, many people in Prussia held memorial services and criticized Bismarck’s arbitrary actions. But two months later, when the good news of defeating Austria came, the situation was suddenly very different. Crowds of people crowded outside Bismarck’s house, cheered and shouted the Prime Minister’s name. Bismarck and his wife stood in front of the window and said an intriguing word to the happy people: “What the monarch did was correct!” For the German nation, victory is more important than freedom. The arrogant and stubborn Bismarck undoubtedly knew this.

Although Bismarck has always been controversial before and after his death, at least all researchers admit that Bismarck did not have the ambition to dominate Europe or the world. Once the foundation of the German Empire was completed, Bismarck played the role of an “upright middleman” for the rest of his reign, committed to seeking a balance of power among the European powers. Once upon a time, his main job was to hit the accelerator, now it’s to hit the brakes.

Bismarck’s biggest failure was that he had no successors. The secret of Bismarck’s art of governing the country is: “Don’t let the policy go beyond dangerous limits when executing it, and leave room for decent retreat and reorganization.” But as the British historian Alan Parmel said: “Ideologically There are very few politicians with this kind of adaptability, whether in Germany or other countries.” By the time the ninety-year-old Wilhelm I died of pneumonia, even Bismarck was destined to be unable to recover. As the young and frivolous Wilhelm II came to power, Bismarck had no choice but to resign sadly. From then on, the seemingly prosperous German Empire quietly embarked on the road to destruction.

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