Eyck, Bismarck, cover

Bismarck: Manipulation, Blood and Iron
Book Essay on: Erich Eyck, Bismarck and the German Empire (New York, W.W. Norton,1964), 332 pages

by Gaither White
November 8, 2006

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
19th Century Germany
UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2006

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About Gaither White

I am a senior history major who has been studying European history from the Napoleonic era up until the present. I have taken several courses on German history including both World Wars and Western Civilization. I traveled trough Germany last summer during the 2006 World Cup. I chose Bismarck as my topic because I believe he is one of the most brilliant men in history, using deception and manipulation to accomplish his goals.

Abstract (back to top)

Erich Eyck's Bismarck and the German Empire is a detailed account of Bismarck’s life and achievements. Bismarck became the premier European statesman of his time and Eyck does an excellent job portraying his journey. Bismarck, from the moment he emerged on the scene, envisioned a united Germany under Prussian rule. Bismarck had a lot of obstacles in his way, but through deception, manipulation and fear was able to navigate his way around them, all while avoiding a major European war. France, Austria, Britain and Russia were all pawns in his master plan and with just about the entire continent against him, he was able to manipulate his country into formation. Whether it was a treaty with Russia, a war with France or a war with Austria, every move Bismarck made was calculated and every situation seemed to go in his favor. Bismarck’s self proclaimed Blood and Iron policy doesn’t even scratch the surface, his diplomatic accomplishments are far greater than any war he provoked. Bismarck’s goals were accomplished after Prussia soundly defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War and the new German State was announced at the Hall of Mirrors in France.

Essay (back to top)

Bismarck was a remarkable man, using deception, manipulation and bold lies to capture power and unify Germany. It is those characteristics that make it practically impossible to study and evaluate Bismarck’s true feelings and intentions. Bismarck in PickelhaubeA.J.P Taylor put it best when describing Bismarck: “Bismarck himself has left, in speeches, conversations or his reminiscences, versions of all the principal events usually deliberately misleading”.(Taylor). But it was that attribute that would prove vital in the unification of Germany. Consider the Ems dispatch, when Bismarck published the shortened conversation between King Wilhelm and the French ambassador (demanding that Austrian Prince Leopold reject the offer of the Spanish throne), the dispatch provoked France to declare war on Prussia. Prussia would prevail in the Franco-Prussian War (1870), leading to Bismarck’s famous declaration of German unification in Versailles, France. Although Bismarck’s tactics were a bit immoral, without his initiative Germany might never have come to fruition. Dr. Eyck disagrees, arguing that Bismarck’s Wars were not essential to German unification; “Was it, indeed, quite impossible for the German nation, by its own free will, to form a united state?” (Eyck continues that quote with a series of questions implying no need for war)(173). The German people attempted to create a unified state in the revolutions of 1848 and failed, leading me to believe that the German people could not have accomplished this enormous feat without help from international conflict.

Germany would be nothing without Bismarck, his actions led to the formation of Germany and without his deception, manipulation and genius Germany would cease to exist.

Bismarck had the uncanny ability to play both sides of conflict to obtain his goals. In January of 1863 there was a large Polish uprising over Tsarist rule and many German citizens voiced their support for the Poles, but Bismarck saw an opportunity to gain favor with Russia and seized it. By backing the Russians he secured their backing in his goals of unification. There was nothing for him to gain by supporting the Poles (except public sympathy which he cared nothing about), and Bismarck understood the growing debate over a European balance of power. This strategic move may be overlooked by many, but it certainly contributed to his cause. Backing Russia opened the door for the founding of the League of Three Emperors in 1881, which accomplished its goal of keeping France isolated and keeping Russia and Austria on his side (at least for the short time that it lived). But creating the league proved difficult with a growing rivalry between Austria and Russia over Balkan disputes. Bismarck had to use some of his manipulation to form the league, getting Russia to join without Austria-Hungry knowing. Bismarck was able to play both sides of the fence, and his ability to create alliances and destroy them was an enormous gift to the German people.

With Russia in his corner Bismarck turned his attention to what he felt was German land Schleswig (under Danish rule). In 1863 the Danish parliament passed the November Constitution created a unified Danish state including Schleswig. Bismarck couldn’t have dreamt a better situation. The November Constitution was in direct violation of the London Treaty of 1851 giving Prussia and Austria international support. The majority of the population of Schleswig were German speaking and German feeling. An uprising created the perfect opportunity for Austrian-Prussian intervention. The war didn’t last long. With a quick Danish defeat in October of 1864, the Danes were forced to cede Holstein and Lauenburg and most of Schleswig. Bismarck was able to receive what he felt to be German land with international support and relatively small casualties. His plan was going well with just a couple of obstacles, one of which happened to be Austria.

Bismarck dreamed of a unified Germany under Prussian leadership, but this would prove difficult. Austria was still the President of the German Federation and it was not ready to cede its right to rule over Germany. His first obstacle was international intervention, because if Prussia were to declare war on Austria all of Europe would certainly be in an uproar. In October of 1865 Napoleon III declared France’s neutrality, mainly because France expected a Prussian defeat and abstaining from the war would give Napoleon III leverage in negotiations of land on the Rhine. Russia, who was a sworn enemy of Austria since the Crimean War and favored Prussia because of Bismarck’s backing in Poland, decided, to stay out of the conflict, which favored Bismarck. Disputed land between Italy and Austria (which Italians saw as their last step for unification) drove Italy into the arms of Prussia, and an alliance was formed in April of 1866. Austria and Prussia were in conflict over the Gastein Convention which stipulated control of the newly occupied territories from the War with the Danes. Bismarck was able to occupy Austrian land without intervention, eventually pushing enough buttons until war was declared. With international powers staying out the conflict and Italy on Prussia’s side, it was Bismarck’s war to win. The Austro-Prussian War or the Seven-weeks War ended on August 23, 1866 with the Peace of Prague, which Bismarck sped through to assure no international influence. The German Confederation was dissolved, Prussia annexed many of Austria’s former allies of the war and permanently excluded Austria from German affairs. The War gave Prussia the freedom to create the North German Confederation the next year and paved the way for Bismarck’s Kleindeutschland. Bismarck made sure not to isolate Austria and created the League of Three Emperors in 1881. Austria would prove to be a great ally in WWI.

Bismarck’s finest hour would come in the Franco-Prussian conflict. The two powers had been at opposite ends for decades and a war was practically inevitable. The situation escalated when the Spanish throne became vacant in 1868 and the Hohenzollern royal family was invited to take the throne. France strongly opposed the invitation and urged King Wilhelm I to decline the offer and Wilhelm did so. Napoleon III then asked Wilhelm to apologize and renounce any Hohenzollern ties to the throne. Bismarck took this event and ran with it. Bismarck’s primary goal was to polarize both sides and create an international uproar over the situation. Bismarck took the conversation and tweaked it a bit, making the French feel that Wilhelm disrespected Napoleon and making the Germans feel as if the French disrespected the Wilhelm. Bismarck published the dispatch, which came to be known as the Ems dispatch. The Ems dispatch did its job, creating a huge buzz and provoking France to declare War on Prussia. Kaiser coronation in Versailles, 1871The war was very successful from a Prussian standpoint, Bismarck and his men controlling Paris for weeks. On January 2 nd, 1871 Germany declared its Nation under Prussian rule in the Hall of Mirrors, and Kleindeutschland had been achieved. Bismarck also received international respect by defeating France so quickly. Bismarck had accomplished his goal in a very short amount of time and created the Germany of his dreams. His attitude of Iron and Blood may not be liked by many, but it certainly did the job.

Francis Loewenheim, in his review of Bismarck and The German Empire, criticizes Eyck’s lack of key issues in certain parts of his book. Loewenheim discusses “… importance of Bismarck’s efforts at Frankfurt” and “the disastrous panic of 1873...and its effects on Bismarck’s subsequent domestic policies.” (Loewenheim). Loewenheim brings up a great point: The Peace of Frankfurt was an essential part in Germany becoming a power in Europe. Although Bismarck did not want to annex Alsace-Lorraine (or any form of Reich expansion) it was an important treaty and essential to Bismarck’s rise to Imperial Chancellor. It was at the Peace of Frankfurt where the King decided to make Bismarck Prince. Dr. Eyck devotes three pages to the Arnim Affair, and the same number of pages as to the section on universal suffrage. I fail to see the true importance of the Arnim affair, if not to only show how ruthless Bismarck is, even to a boyhood friend. The section of suffrage lacked a true debate. Which system would help Bismarck in the immediate future and which would be more advantageous in his latter years as chancellor? Bismarck and German electorate didn’t see eye to eye on many issues, and perhaps voting would have created difficulties in accomplishing his plans. When Bismarck was pushed out by the Kaiser, perhaps voting could have come to his aid and brought him back to power. It is an interesting topic, which Eyck could have paid a bit more attention to.

Snyder’s review discusses the unbiased approach of Dr. Eyck’s work:

Unlike those German historians who start out with the premise that the superman Bismarck did no evil, saw no evil and heard no evil, Dr. Eyck evaluates the Chancellor’s good along with the bad. He shows how Bismarck fashioned a united, strong and powerful Germany, but he also recognizes that the German sense of freedom and individual independence, or justice and humanity, had been lamentably weakened by power politics and by the personal regime which the Chancellor imposed on his countrymen.(Snyder).

When evaluating Bismarck one cannot label him good or bad. Each situation has its good and bad with the ends justifying the means in most cases. Dr. Eyck has many negative feelings towards Bismarck and at times doesn’t give him a fair trial. In Dr. Eyck’s chapter about war with Austria he draws a simple, yet profound conclusion, “..although Bismarck was not from the beginning bent on war with Austria, he was engaged in a policy which made war unavoidable” (126-7). Dr. Eyck argues: had Austria not attempted to acquire Schleswig-Holstein, Bismarck’s policy would not have invoked war, but what he fails to discuss is Austria’s Presidency over the German Federation. Austria stood in the way of a unified Germany, not allowing a multi-nation state and not allowing Prussian rule. If not Schleswig-Holstein, then it would be some other small incident that would provoke a war. Another unfair assertion about Bismarck occurs during Eyck’s paragraph on the Ems dispatch. There is no question that Bismarck was devious in his cut and paste approach to the publication of the dialogue, but Dr. Eyck asserts that the war was provoked by Bismarck alone which is entirely false. Napoleon III is equally responsible for the war because he didn’t allow Prince Leopold to reject the offer of the Spanish throne on his own. By attempting to assert his power on foreign kings he further isolated himself and gives the German people a reason to demand war. I am in no way claiming that Bismarck has an unblemished record. He was an instigator and used every alliance to his advantage. Bismarck was a genius of his time. The Iron Chancellor was able to pit countries against one another, all of which worked to his advantage. But Bismarck was not the cold blooded man everyone perceives him to be. One account shows his remorse for the wars he conjured up: “Without me three great wars would not have happened and 80,000 men would not have perished.”. This quote is an excellent example of Bismarck’s brilliance. It shows remorse , but also alludes to his accomplishment providing the readers with two aspects, one of great compassion and compunction, and the other of his past victories to prove his strength. (But then again, everything Bismarck said must be taken with a grain of salt, because he was such a manipulator.) Germany and Bismarck knew that wars took a toll on military valor. But Bismarck understood that peace in Europe would come with the isolation of France. Bismarck maintained good relations with the other European nations. In 1872 he consummated his good relations with the Austro-Hungarian Empire as well as Russia in the League of the Three Emperors, maintaining good relations with Italy as well. Bismarck did not want to be a dominant power in Europe. This is evident in his involvement in the Treaty of Berlin, which made sure Russia didn’t expand further as a result of its military victories. The Russians felt they were robbed of what they believed to be rightfully theirs. This resulted in poor relations between Germany and Russia, and the League of Three Emperors would soon become the Dual Alliance in 1879, adding Italy in 1882 to form the Triple Alliance. Dr. Eyck believes Bismarck never chose between his two neighbors to the east, but I find it hard to agree with that assertion. Dr Eyck writes:

What he had really done was to choose between Russia and Britain-- and in favor of Russia. True he had drawn Austria closer to Germany by concluding a formal treaty of alliance. But he had at the same time succeeded in keeping clear the path to St. Petersburg… It [The League of the Three Emperors] was renewed in 1884, but expired in 1887 on account of irreconcilable differences between the Eastern policies of Russia and Austria.(268)

It is apparent in the Treaty of Berlin that Bismarck favored Austria over Russia, but Dr Eyck may have stumbled upon something. Austria and Russia could never form a lasting alliance due to conflicting interests, but Bismarck could maintain relations with both Austria and Russia separately. But in choosing Russia, Bismarck isolated Britain. A German-Austrian-Hungarian-Britain alliance could maintain peace in Europe without any conflict of interest. But Bismarck understood the fundamental differences that would disturb such an alliance. In his Reflections and Recollections, Bismarck voices a growing concern for a struggle in Europe, between “the system of order on a monarchical basis on the one hand, and the system of the Socialist republic on the other”.(269).

It was that brilliance which made Bismarck one of the greatest leaders of all time.Bismarck is nothing without Germany, but more importantly, Germany is nothing without Bismarck. Similar to a relationship between father and son, Germany has turned away from its father’s ways, but it must always understand that it is nothing without its creator.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)

  1. Erich Eyck, Bismarck and the German Empire (W.W Norton & Co., 1950)
  2. Loewenheim, Francis. L, Political Science Quarterly, 66:1, Mar. 1951, pp. 155-156. Loewenhein explores Eyck’s lack of key issues in his review of Bismarck and the German Empire.
  3. Snyder, Louis. L, review of Eyck, in: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 273, Medical Care for Americans. Jan., 1951 p. 288.
    Snyder praises Eyck’s unbiased work in his favorable review of Erich Eyck’s book.
  4. Taylor, A.J.P, review of Eyck, in: The English Historical Review, Vol. 58, No. 229, Jan, 1943, pp. 113-115. A.J.P Taylor does a wonderful job critiquing Eyck’s analysis of Bismarck, allowing the reader to explore another side of Bismarck

Related Books:

  • D.G Williamson, Bismarck and Germany 1862-1890 (Longman, 1998). 152 pages. Williamson explores Bismarck’s role as the Iron Chancellor and his role in German unification.
  • A.J.P Taylor, Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman, (Vintage, 1967). A great book, written by Bismarck after his retirement, the book gives great insight into Bismarck’s thinking.
  • 3.A.J.P Taylor, Review of Erich Eyck, in: The English Historical Review, vol. 58, No. 229, Jan. 1943, pp. 113-115. A.J.P Taylor does a wonderful job critiquing Eyck’s analysis of Bismarck, allowing readers to explore another side of Bismarck.
  • Peter H Merkl, German Unification in the European Context, (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004), 464 pages. Merkl explores German re-unification after the fall of the iron curtain. The book explores the German Question and harkens back to the first unification.
  • Showalter, Dennis. The Wars of German Unification, (Hodder Arnold, 2004), 376 pages. A book devoted to Bismarck’s foreign policy and the wars that would create Germany.

Relevant Links:

  • If you would like to learn more about Otto Von Bismarck I would suggest visiting the Wikipedia section devoted to him, which explores every aspect of his rule, from his youth up until his resignation.: www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Von_Bismarck
  • HistoryOrb.com published a detailed article on the importance of Bismarck to the unification of Germany: Graham, James, "Was Bismarck the Key Factor in the Unification of Germany?" www.historyorb.com/europe/bismarck.shtml
  • Fordham University assembled several documents relating to the unification of Germany. The documents include interesting letters and quotes from Bismarck. I highly recommend visiting their site: Modern History Sourcebook: Documents of German Unification, 1848-1871. www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/germanunification.html
  • For a more critical analysis of Bismarck, GermanCulture.com published a fascinating article about the negative aspects of Bismarck’s reign: "Bismarck and Unification," [no author listed]: www.germanculture.com.ua/bi_bismarck_unification.htm
  • For a simplistic, well organized narrative of Bismarck and German unification with many useful links to important documents, I suggest : Bismarck’s Unification of Germany, 1862-1871. At: www.zum.de/whkmla/region/germany/bismarck.html
  • For a brief description of the book as well as Erich Eyck I suggest visiting the publisher's website: www2.wwnorton.com/catalog/backlist/000235.htm

Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

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