THE NORTH GERMAN CONFEDERATION
WHEN Bismarck took office in 1862 he found his policies and his enemies ready-made. Austria and the Prussian liberals did not need to be invented. They existed already; and the assertion of Prussian equality in Germany was the way to defeat both of them. Bismarck's policy had been response to a challenge. His admirers have even described it as defensive, though it certainly took an aggressive form. There was no longer the same urgency after the victorious war of 1866. Prussia still had enemies. Francis Joseph might seek to undo the verdict of Sadova; Napoleon III might be pushed by French opinion into opposing any further advance towards the unification of Germany. And there were domestic obstacles also to that union. But the enemies were not active. Bismarck had to take the initiative for the first time. The years between Sadova and Sedan were for Bismarck years of transition when he moved from defence to creation. He ceased to be a Prussian and became a German. He almost became a liberal. He did not admit this himself and marked approvingly an article which described him as a revolutionary: 'Only chance decides whether conditions make the same man a White or a Red.' In his case, chance turned him into a moderate, holding back the extreme current of events.
He had little idea of this when he returned to Berlin from the Austrian campaign in September 1866. Indeed he had no vision of future action; and it was as much this as genuine nervous exhaustion which led to his retirement from affairs throughout the autumn. He buried himself in the country, unable to read, hardly able to talk coherently. Blue skies, green meadows brought him back