A Short History of Germany

By S. H. Steinberg | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
THE BISMARCK EMPIRE (1867-1890)

THE German Empire which came into existence on 18 Jan. 1871 was not the United Germany for which the men of 'Forty-eight' had fought and died. It was not Germany in which Prussia and the lesser states were merged; it was Prussia which absorbed the rest of Germany. It followed that the principles on which Prussia had thriven pervaded the new creation as well. The absolutism of the crown, the loyalty of the army, and the efficiency of the civil service were the three mainstays of Prussia. The rights which the South and Central German rulers reserved for themselves and the concessions which had to be made to the liberal spirit of the age, however, made it inopportune to apply the Prussian system wholesale to the German Empire. Moreover, Bismarck himself was not a soldier, and the difficulties arising from the peace negotiations in 1866 and 1871 brought him into sharp opposition to Moltke, e and the rest of the generals; their aversion was mutual. He also despised the civil servants; having reduced them to mute and sullen obsequiousness, he somewhat unreasonably complained of their lack of initiative and vision. So he concentrated the supreme power in the 'presidency' of the North German Federation and, later on, the German Reich. Nominally, it was vested in the king of Prussia as the President of the North German Federation and Emperor of the Empire. In reality, it was wielded by the imperial chancellor, who at the same time held the office of Prussian premier. For there were neither imperial ministers nor an independent imperial administration. The I offices'--the term 'ministries' was studiously avoided--of foreign affairs, the interior, the finances, and so on were sub-departments of the imperial chancellery; and their chiefs were mere subordinates of the imperial chancellor, in whose hands all the reins of government were united.

The figment of a voluntary association of the German princes was kept up in so far as the policy of the North German Federation and the German Empire was not simply determined by Prussia, but nominally controlled by the Federal Council (Bundesrat). Its members were delegated by the federate governments. Prussia had 17 out of 58 votes in her own right. However, the votes of ten or twelve

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