How Successful Was Bismarck In Unifying The German State During The Period 1871 1890
How successful was Bismarck in unifying the German state during the period 1871 – 1890?
It is argued that Bismarck was both successful and unsuccessful in unifying the German state. In the period of 1871 – 1890, Bismarck faced many factors that both hindered and helped in unification, such as the nature of the constitution, his relationship with the national liberals, his relationship with the Catholics and the creation of the new working class.
The North German Confederation was mainly Protestant however when the southern states joined, the population became nearly a third Catholic. Bismarck did not help to make the Catholics feel welcome in the Confederation. Pope Pius IX that the Church was slowly losing its traditional power, so he announced that any statement he made was to be accepted everywhere by Catholics, therefore German bishops would have to obey. Bismarck similarly wanted his new government to be obeyed. The Centre party (Catholic party) began to win more seats in the Reichstag, causing concern for Bismarck as there loyalty may be to the Pope. Bismarck began to fight back, he banned the most active order of Catholic priests and introduced a law that the government had a right to inspect all schools, including Catholic ones. The government would also control the training of priests and appoint them to churches and no one could be married without a civil ceremony in a government office. The Catholics saw this all as an attack on their beliefs, the country was left in struggle resulting in the ‘Kulterkampf’ movement. The loyalty of the Catholics had been weakened and the Prussian conservatives did not want the government to control local problems. This made Bismarck largely unpopular and cause disunity in Germany.
The constitution in the German Empire had two assemblies, the Reichstag and the Bundesrat. Every year the Reichstag had to approve a budget, which laid down what the government would raise in taxes and how it would spend them. The Bundesrat was made up of men appointed from 25 different states within the empire, this was to show that Prussia hadn’t taken over the other parts of Germany. New laws had to be approved by the Reichstag, the Bundesrat, the emperor and the chancellor. The Reichstag was not in a strong position, even though it could pass or reject the budget, Bismarck could still limit the Reichstag’s spending on the army. The Reichstag’s decisions could be overturned by the Bundesrat. Also the voting system in the Bundesrat was controlled by Prussia, the King of Prussia was always the emperor of Germany, and the emperor was in almost complete control of foreign policy and the army. So it appears that the constitution was designed to seem like the power is shared with the people and other states however Prussia (the emperor and chancellor) had control. Bismarck had control over William I, as his worst fear was that Bismarck would resign, which he regularly threatened to do meaning he would get his own way on matters. However it is also said that Bismarck’s Germany was not as authoritarian as it might seem, believing that Bismarck purely wanted to maintain the empire he had created. He wanted all the political powers balanced in Germany until they felt part of the new state. Bismarck seemed to be unifying the state by giving the people a say in government matters, however he also kept control by being able to overturn any decisions.
Due to the rapid change in industrialisation, a third of all Germans lived in towns and cities. However the growth of industry soon came to a sudden stop. Unemployment became rife along with poverty. The demands from all workers soon increased and lead to the creation of the Social Democratic party. There aim was to turn the empire into a republic, taking control of the ownerships of all main industries giving the workers a fair share of the profits. Bismarck felt threatened by them, it could have affected the current owners of the land or businesses; he also seemed to fear revolution. Bismarck tried to break the Social Democratic’s down, accusing them of attempted assassination of William I. Resulting in Bismarck weakening the empire and the Social Democratic party gaining increasing support.
The National Liberals believed that Germany should be unified. Bismarck chose to co-operate with the National Liberals, as they were the largest party in the Reichstag and their following was large. The decisions that they made were aiming to make Germany more unified. The National Liberals agreed with many of Bismarck’s policies; some of these meant that the same currency, weights and measures would be used all over Germany, businesses would follow the same rules and laws from all the different states would start to come together. All of these methods were creating a more united Germany and also helping to improve Prussia’s free trade. Free trade was welcomed by the National Liberals as most of them were bankers, merchants or civil servants. Therefore they were wealthy and well educated meaning that their businesses would gain from free trade rather than struggle against it. The National Liberals were also supportive of Bismarck when he had problems with the Catholics, this was mainly because they wanted the Churches to have less power.
On the other hand, Bismarck was not as fond of the Liberals as it was made out to be. His relationship with them caused commotion with the Prussian landowners. They were worried that the increase in free trade would destroy the independence of Prussia and the power of religion. Bismarck made it clear in a speech that he ’never belonged to any party’ , therefore he was not siding with the National Liberals. This shows that Bismarck knew he needed the support of the Reichstag. The Liberals and Bismarck argued over they government spending on the Army. Bismarck wanted it granted on a permanent basis whereas the Liberals wanted to be able to vote on which taxes pay for the army, they also wanted as much control as possible over the government spending. However, they did reach a compromise; the Army budget was to be granted for seven years at a time, leaving the Liberals and the Reichstag with very little control over the Army spending. This was pleasing to Bismarck but displays his lack in unifying Germany.
Bismarck tried to unify Germany, both succeeding and failing. However Bismarck appeared more unsuccessful than anything. He did not care about the people he tried to gain support from, and if they wanted different from him he just tried another group. This meant that the parties were never sure of where they stood with Bismarck and he appeared disloyal and confused about what he wanted. His policies changed constantly to suit the party he was co-operating with, leaving the public baffled with the policies. Bismarck was unsuccessful at uniting Germany in the period 1871 – 1890.