Otto von Bismarck: Accomplishments & Facts

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  • 0:03 Germany Background
  • 0:47 Bismarck's Early Life
  • 1:33 Bismarck's Politics
  • 3:28 Bismarck's Accomplishments
  • 5:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Prokes

Chris is an instructional designer and college faculty member. He has a Master's Degree in Education and also umpires baseball.

Otto von Bismarck is considered the founder of modern Germany. His success at unifying various lands into a single Germany and providing social reforms to his people cemented both Germany as a European power and him as a respected leader.

Germany Background

When thinking of Germany, what is the first notion that comes to mind? WWII, Hitler, Volkswagens, the Berlin Wall? You aren't alone in such thoughts. Before these defining moments and events, a time existed when Germany was a ragtag mess of different states and regions called Prussia. They would be unified as one under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck, who served as chancellor of Germany from 1862 to 1890.

Known for both social progress and international efforts, let's explore the life of Otto von Bismarck in this lesson by briefly looking at his early life, exploring his rise to the chancellorship, and assessing his rule through his many accomplishments.

Bismarck's Early Life

Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck was born on April 1, 1815, in a small burg near Berlin. Though born on April Fool's Day, he was wise when it came to making a unified Germany. At that time, Berlin was the capital of a vast region known as Prussia. This region included parts of what is now Poland, Russia, Germany, Belgium, Lithuania, Denmark, and the Czech Republic. Its inhabitants spoke mainly German.

Bismarck came into an economically average, yet highly educated, family. His father owned land but struggled to manage it and make ends meet. On the other hand, his mother's family was full of intelligent government servants. He attended good schools, studying law, and married happily.

Bismarck's Politics

Otto von Bismarck entered politics in 1847 as a member of Prussia's legislature (similar to Congress) and gained notoriety for his ultra-conservative views. What did this mean? Bismarck supported Prussia remaining Prussia. At the time, there were various political revolutions taking place across Asia and Europe, and Bismarck felt that it would be best for Prussia to stay out of it and remain in control of their own affairs.

Bismarck's views earned him respect. From 1851 to 1862, Prussia's King William I appointed him ambassador to various countries. In this sense, he learned a great deal about how other nations interacted, aligned, and gained power. This was knowledge that would benefit him later.

In 1862, he was appointed to the position of Prime Minister. He had great authority and say in what Germany did. He reflected and used what he learned while ambassador, and such experiences greatly altered his views. He wanted all German-speaking regions of Prussia to be united under one flag, one leader, and one Germany. This would ensure their place as a powerful European nation, much like those he'd seen in action while ambassador.

Bismarck accomplished his objective through two main methods:

  • Annexation: this is when one body seeks to make itself larger and adds neighboring territory to its own
  • Hostility: this is the forceful takeover of desired lands via threats, battles, and war

As an example, Bismarck annexed territories along the border with France. Areas of what's now Denmark, Poland, and the Czech Republic were forcefully taken over.

In 1871, a single nation we know as Germany came into existence under Bismarck, and he was made its chancellor. Later, through his accomplishments, he would become known as the 'Iron Chancellor.'

Bismarck's Accomplishments

Given the title of this section, you might be thinking, 'Isn't unifying Germany an accomplishment?' It definitely is, but once chancellor, Bismarck achieved even more.

As we've seen, Bismarck's ambassador experience illustrated what a nation with power can do in Europe. He wanted the same for Germany. Once chancellor, he initiated several political, social, and economic initiatives that pushed Germany in what he felt was the right direction.

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