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Otto Von Bismarck And The Political Realism Of The 1860's

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The 19th century in Europe was marked with a break from the past, national boarders and boundaries were collapsing and merging, newly developing political awareness and thought was broadening the minds of every citizen, and the general sense that all of Europe was on the threshold of change could be felt throughout. This was not brought about overnight, it was the leadership and ideas of people like Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck that truly started turning the tides, calling for a different future. Soon after the abdication of Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1858; his brother Wilhelm I took over the thrown and quickly appointed Bismarck minister president and minister of foreign affairs of Prussia. This turning point in his career gave him the footing to rise to the top, allowing for him to begin his vehement and often forceful campaign for the unification of the German states. In this post-1848 world, the ideas of a "new realism" emerged which to Bismarck meant a divergence from the traditional order of the liberal majority and leaned more towards a realistic conservative brand of politics that was characterized by the carrying out of an ultimate goal rather than a guiding set of rules. Bismarck made it clear that his main political aim was to gain military and economic dominance for Prussia and sequentially a unified Germany which he carried out with little regard to ethics or morals. Through the use of his own writings, Reflections and Reminiscences and Joan Neuberger's book, Europe and the Making of Modernity, Otto von Bismarck defines his role in European politics and history through his actions in the Schleswig-Holstein altercation, the Austria-Prussia relations and the eventual creation of the North German Confederation. His manipulative tactics and pragmatic brand of thinking lead him to be considered one of the most important players in all German history.

Long before Bismarck gained much of his political power, he began cultivating aspirations for Prussia that would go beyond a shift in economic development and establishing a conservative political order. "He believed that Prussia should take the lead in unifying Germany and that a break with Austria would be needed to accomplish this" (Neuberger, 198). In the time period between his appointment to ministry president while he resided in the Diet of the German Confederation, he took every chance he could to alienate Austria, while allowing for Prussia to gain vital political alliances with Russia and eventually Italy. After his installation into Prussian politics, he took it upon himself to raise a professional army to gain recognition and power for his country. Many in the parliament disagreed with this call to arms, but he circumvented his opponents by exploiting the taxation system, allowing for the army to go without a budget for some years. His eventual success with the programs he employed gained him favor in the eyes of parliament and more importantly the public. With the newly raised and funded military body, Bismarck began calculating the steps he needed to take to obtain the Schleswig-Holstein territories after the king of Denmark passed in 1863. Again through his manipulative talents, he was able to persuade Wilhelm into action against Christian IX, the Danish predecessor by reminding Wilhelm of the acquisitions of kings past,

"The gradations which appeared obtainable in the Danish question, every one of them for the duchies meaning an advance to something better than the existing conditions, culminated, in my judgment in the acquisition of the duchies by Prussia, a view which I expressed in a council held immediately after the death of Fredrick VII. I reminded the king that every one of his immediate ancestors, not even excepting his brother, had won an increment of territory for the state" (Bismarck, 125).

In 1864 with the help of Austria, Prussia defeated Denmark, and obtained the Schleswig territory for themselves, and presented Austria with Holstein after much long debating. This military move cemented Bismarck's political authority and gained him unwavering support from the parliament and government, which brought him one step closer to his main ambition.

Bismarck's position on Austria remained unchanged, and two years after the defeat of Denmark, Austria believed war to be inevitable, which is what Bismarck wanted them to believe. Through fighting them tooth and nail on all issues, he aroused hateful sentiment on the parts of the Austrian statesmen. Through preemptive tactics he was able to ensure that a war between Prussia and Austria would not call the Great Powers to arms, "Great Britain and Russia were both preoccupied with domestic reforms", "France however needed to be persuaded into neutrality, and Italy was induced to sign an alliance with Prussia to join in a war against Austria and receive the province of Venetia in return." He also set in motion a proposed reform that he knew was likely to cause Austrian rejection, a constitution of the German Confederacy that would set up a "national assembly that would be elected by universal male suffrage." Bismarck was waiting for Austria to make one wrong move that could be arguably seen as a provocation of war. This came in the form of the reoccurring Schleswig-Holstein issue, when Austria brought their problems to the Diet which Bismarck considered a "move tantamount to a declaration of war" (Neuberger, 200). With the help of Italy, Prussia set up a dual front against Austria, and marched



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