Matthew Hill received Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and Psychology from Columbia International University. Hill also received an M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Georgia State University. He has over 10 years of teaching experience as a professor and online instructor for courses like American History, Western Civilization, Religious History of the United States, and more.
Early Education and Family
The eighteenth-century French critic Voltaire once said of the former Holy Roman Empire, that it was 'Neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.' Since its collapse in 1806, Germany had become a series of 39 principalities without a unified government. The two most powerful states were Austria under the Habsburgs and Prussia under the Hohenzollerns. Otto von Bismarck changed all that, when he achieved German unification and turned Germany into a military and industrial powerhouse.
Bismarck was born on his family's estate in Schonhausen, Germany. His father was an army officer and Prussian Junker - or landowning noble, and his mother was an educated middle-class commoner with political connections. He received a solid education and attended the University of Gottingen. He began work for the civil service, but soon quit and spent the next several years working on his family's estate. In 1847, Bismarck married Johanna von Puttkamer, who was deeply religious. Bismarck's conversion to Lutheranism had a deep impact on him. By all accounts, the two were very happily married.
Return to Politics
In 1851, King Wilhelm I appointed Bismarck as a representative to the German confederation. From 1851-1862, he served as ambassador to Russia and France. This global experience exposed him firsthand to great power politics. Upon his return to Prussia in 1862, Wilhelm appointed him as prime minister. It was in this role that Bismarck made his mark. His chief goal was to unite the German confederation under a single ruling house. This required uniting the northern German confederation with the southern German confederation.
King Wilhelm was locked in a struggle with Parliament over military policy. The monarchy wanted to increase military funding and the required years of compulsory service, whereas Parliament would increase spending only if the compulsory time was lessened. Bismarck supported Wilhelm's position and boldly told Parliament that 'the great questions of the day will not be settled by speeches and majority decisions but by iron and blood.' This became one of his best known speeches.
Bismarck launched a series of wars in 1864 to drive home German unification. He attacked Denmark to annex the German speaking territories of Schleswig and Holstein. In 1866, he started a quarrel with the Emperor Franz-Josef I of Austria, which triggered the short-lived Austria-Prussian War. Prussia won easily, and in addition to having already annexed Schleswig and Holstein, now gained Hanover and Nassau among others territories.
His most notorious war was the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 against France. In a remarkably one-sided war, Prussia crushed France. Apart from beating France, his goal was to unite the northern and southern German states against a common foe. In a lavish ceremony in the Hall of Mirrors on January 18, 1871, Wilhelm was crowned emperor of a unified Germany and Bismarck named chancellor.
These events had long-term consequences. First, Germany annexed the French territory of Alsace-Lorraine that France only reacquired after the First World War. Second, it forced an alliance between Great Britain and France that pitted these two powers against Germany in the First World War and again in the Second World War. The Congress of Vienna of 1815 carved Europe up into spheres of influence to prevent another Napoleonic super-state dominating the entire continent. However, the balance of power was thrown out of sorts as a unified Germany suddenly became the most powerful industrial and military nation in Europe. Bismarck once stated that: 'Politics is the art of the possible.' He had just made the impossible suddenly possible.
One such policy was Bismarck's controversial Kurlturkampf - which means 'cultural struggle' - policy against Catholics. Several factors played into this. First, the Catholic percentage of the German had swelled to one-third, and he feared its political implication. Second, the Catholic Centre Party, which represented most Catholics, generally opposed his policies. Third, in 1870 Pope IX declared the doctrine of Papal infallibility which added more fuel to the fire.
Bismarck's policies took several forms. First, he dissolved the Catholic branch of the Prussian Ministry of Culture which denied them a public forum. Second, he passed a series of measures that required approval for all clerical appointments, drove clergy out of the civil service, converted religious marriage into civil marriage, and expelled the Jesuits from German soil. In reality, all these did was further inflame the situation.
Another part of his plan was to rid Germany of the Socialist Democratic Party. He considered them 'rats' bent on 'murder and pillage.' Although this was not a treaty situation, he once stated that, 'All treaties between great states cease to be binding when they come in conflict with the struggle for existence.' Bismarck, ever the 'iron chancellor,' outlawed the socialist party in 1878. This only lasted until he resigned as chancellor in 1890. Bismarck lived another eight years until his death in July 1898.
Otto von Bismarck was a giant in European politics and left an indelible print on German history. Politically, Bismarck was deeply conservative, but his vision expanded considerably when he was appointed ambassador to Russia and France. As prime minister and chancellor, he oversaw many policy changes. He managed to provide Wilhelm I the military reforms and funding that he sought. He waged war on Denmark, Austria, and France. Under Bismarck, Germany saw unification, transforming the country into an industrial and military powerhouse. Bismarck initiated a program known as Kurlturkampf that curbed Catholic influences in German politics. Lastly, his political war against the Socialistic Democratic Party proved only temporarily successful, until his resignation in 1890 as chancellor.
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