Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman

By A. J. P. Taylor | Go to book overview

VI
THE GERMAN EMPIRE IN THE DAYS OF LIBERALISM

THE war against France certainly achieved the unification of Germany, whether it was designed to do so or not. It was a very different affair from the war of 1866. That had been a Cabinet war, brought on by secret diplomacy and with no popular enthusiasm on either side--least of all in Prussia. The king had decided on war, however reluctantly; and the people of Prussia had to obey his orders. In 1870 William I was almost the last man to realize that war was about to break out. He still thought that he had handled things peacefully at Ems. Only when he read Bismarck's version of the Ems telegram, did he understand what had really happened; and soon he was complaining of the French insults which he had not noticed at the time. The feeling against France was irresistible throughout Germany. Even Bismarck's most radical opponents supported the war at any rate until the fall of Napoleon. The rulers of south Germany were driven to make common cause with Prussia much against their will. The Bavarian chamber voted for war against the advice of the government; and the King of Württemberg said farewell to the French envoy with tears in his eyes, still asserting his friendship with Napoleon III.

Bismarck did not, perhaps, appreciate fully the strength of feeling in southern Germany. At any rate, desire to whip up this feeling still further drove him to a fateful step. He announced that Germany would claim Strasbourg and Metz as security against a new French invasion. Strasbourg, of course, had been a radical demand in 1848; and the Romantic conservatives who dreamt of restoring the glories of the Holy Roman Empire also endorsed it.

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