Bismarck and the Development of Germany: The Period of Unification, 1815-1871

By Otto Pflanze | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIFTEEN
THE GERMAN BALANCE OF POWER

1. DRAFTING THE CONSTITUTION

ONE of the early myths of the Bismarck cult was that the man of genius, assisted by Lothar Bucher, drafted the north German constitution in two days of intensive effort after his return to Berlin on December 1, 1866. Supporting this assumption was the fact that for two months prior to that date he had convalesced at Putbus on the Baltic from a serious illness brought on by the exertions and frictions of the preceding summer. According to his wife, the very thought of politics made him depressed and irate during much of that time.1 The archives show, nevertheless, that the December draft had a lengthy ancestry, beginning with the "outline" presented to the diet on June 10. From such politically disparate persons as Max Duncker, Reichenbach, Wagener, and Savigny, preliminary drafts were received from which features were taken. The ministries of war and commerce supplied the military and economic clauses. Still, the basic structure of the document was entirely Bismarck's work. Only after more than six months of careful calculation and frequent change did the final version mature. Throughout the complicated process of adoption thereafter it retained the basic imprint he gave it. Seldom in history has a constitution been so clearly the product of the thought and will of a single individual.2

Controversy still rages over the interpretation of this document and the purposes of its author. For almost a century historians and political scientists have debated whether it was the outgrowth of a "German or great-Prussian" policy, whether his intention was to create a German national government or merely a federal mask for Prussian hegemony.3 The issue, however, is

____________________
1
Robert von Keudell, Fürst und Fürstin Bismarck, Erinnerungen 1846-1872 ( Berlin, 1901), pp. 313 ff.
2
For a detailed study of the evolution of the Bismarck draft see Otto Becker, Bismarcks Ringen um Deutschlands Gestaltung ( Heidelberg, 1958), pp. 211 ff.
3
For a review of this controversy, see ibid., pp. 17 ff., 834 ff.

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