The German Empire, 1867-1914, and the Unity Movement - Vol. 1

By William Harbutt Dawson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
(1846-1865) THE ELBE DUCHIES AND THE DANISH WAR

IN the memories of Prussians of to-day the Danish war of 1864 lives chiefly owing to the fact that it renewed a military reputation which had become tarnished, and added to their country the flourishing double province of Schleswig-Holstein. For Germany at large the most important political effect of the war was the fact that it directly brought on another, of which the purpose and result was the ejection of Austria from the Germanic household.

How far the Danish war may be justly regarded as a war of necessity, as an event which, in Bismarck's favourite phrase, lay "in the nature of things," may at one time have been a disputable question, but it is such no longer. Writing long after the leading figure in this episode passed away, leaving behind him not a few ungarnished disclosures of the aims and motives which influenced his public life, it is possible to give to the question a positive answer. Bismarck wanted the war, intended and schemed it, from the beginning. For this statement we have his own testimony. He has left it on record that from early days he coveted for Prussia the territories which divided her from the Danish monarchy proper, and that his chief reason for so doing was the knowledge that without the double seaboard which they offered Prusso-Germany could never hope to become a maritime Power. Even if, he said, three wars had been necessary, as in the case of Prussia's conquest of Silesia, he would have fought them for the sake of such a prize. "The diplomatic campaign of which I am proudest was that over Schleswig-Holstein," he said on one occasion; and when asked if he wanted the duchies from the first, he answered, "Yes, certainly, immediately after the death of the King of Denmark" (in 1863), adding that although he knew that to carry his will would mean a determined struggle with the King, he

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