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

By William Harbutt Dawson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
(1866-1867) THE NORTH GERMAN CONFEDERATION

IT was one of Bismarck's maxims of statecraft that questions which were either untoward or not ripe for action should be "treated dilatorily." That meant sometimes not treating them at all. On the other hand, no man had greater capacity for acting swiftly and decisively in emergencies, or was more conscious, in critical situations, of the importance of improving the opportunities and advantages of the moment. He had hurried to a conclusion the peace negotiations with Austria, on the principle of a settlement at any price, since delay meant danger. Now that the way was open for negotiation upon the question of federal reform he was equally resolved to lose no time, but to bind Prussia's willing and unwilling allies at once to the pledges of union which they had already given, lest they should spring upon him new difficulties.

Now for the first time he was face to face with the question of German unity in a practical form. It involved two separate problems. One related to the North German States, the form of the new union to be created, the organization of the necessary legislative and executive authorities, and the determination of their jurisdiction; the other and perhaps more difficult problem related to the future position of the States of the South, their relation to one another, to the union of the North, and to foreign Powers.

By the beginning of September (1866) the Sovereigns of most of the North German States had signified their willingness to enter the proposed Confederation and their acceptance of the convention which had been put forward as a basis of union. Backward States like the Mecklenburg s, which were still without constitutions and feared all innovations of the kind, hesitated, but the only really refractory members were the little duchy of Saxe-Meiningen, whose ruler had been deposed, and the still smaller principality of Reuss of the older line. The haughty attitude held towards Prussia by the Lady Disdain who

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