The Rise and Fall of the German Empire

On January 18, 1871, King William I of Prussia was crowned in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles in Paris, with Bismarck in the white clothes

Germany in front of us is actually still a very young European country. In the long history of Europe, the German states that once existed on this land were competing and interdependent German states.

On January 18, 1871, King William I of Prussia was crowned in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles in Paris. A new and unified German Empire was born.

A few days later, France announced its surrender. The Franco-Prussian War ended on May 10, 1871, marked by the signing of the Frankfurt Peace Treaty. After the Franco-Prussian War, France was weakened. As the victorious side in the war, Germany replaced France as the most important continental power. The rapidly rising German Empire broke the traditional balance of power in Europe and became a new force determining the political situation in Europe.

Otto von Bismarck, a key figure in the victory of the war and the famous “Prime Minister” Otto von Bismarck, took this opportunity to consolidate the once loose German state and realize national and territorial unity. After France ceded Alsace-Lorraine, the total area of ​​the German Empire exceeded 500,000 square kilometers with approximately 41 million inhabitants. In terms of area and population, it is the second largest country in Europe.

The reunified German Empire consists of 27 territories, of which the Kingdom of Prussia occupies about 60% of the territory, and is the most populous federation. In terms of economic and social structure, it began to transform from an agricultural country to an industrial country.

After the establishment of the empire, King William I of Prussia and Prime Minister Bismarck served as Emperor and Prime Minister respectively. Bismarck combined the two major elements of monarchy and parliamentary democracy in an unstable mutual compromise—a political system called “German-style constitutionalism.”

As the international situation in Europe changes, Bismarck’s position has become precarious. The second emperor of the empire, Frederick III, reigned only 99 days. After William II succeeded to the throne, he forced Bismarck to step down, and the empire was crumbling.

In 1918, the Weimar Republic was established, and the German Empire under the constitutional monarchy ended.

German artillery fire over Paris
After the European Revolution in 1848, the Kingdom of Prussia began the process of unifying Germany.

Following the Pudan War in 1864 and the Prussian-Austro-Prussian War in 1866, the Franco-Prussian War was the third and final reunification war in Germany, which brought a successful conclusion to the road to the founding of the German nation-state.

The fuse of the Franco-Prussian War was the issue of the Spanish throne. In September 1868, the Spanish military launched a coup, and Queen Isabella II was asked to step down immediately. The leader who initiated the coup sought a new king of Spain from the rulers of Europe. After repeated rejections by Italy and Portugal, the head of the Spanish government turned to the German royal family Hohenzollern for help.

The Victory Celebration of the Franco-Prussian War in Berlin on June 16, 1871

At that time, world public opinion and sympathy were biased towards the attacked Prussia.

This decision caused France’s fear of not being able to control the new royal family, and the French emperor Napoleon III was worried about his downfall. Even if the worry did not happen, France declared war on Germany on July 19, 1870.

In the case of the Spanish throne, France once asked the Hohenzollern family to abandon the throne. In the eyes of public opinion in various countries, this move is really incomprehensible. Therefore, the public opinion and sympathy of the world at that time were biased towards the attacked Prussia.

Most countries remain neutral, and France is therefore isolated and has no real ally. On the Prussian side, it successfully got the support of the four southern German countries, Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, and Hesse-Darmstadt, and successfully formed an alliance with them.

The biggest purpose of the French war was to seek to prevent the reunification of Germany out of considerations of power politics. If Prussia’s struggle for power can be curbed, France will continue to be the dominant country on the European continent. At the same time, this may also be a means by which the Napoleon III government used military forces to suppress the French opposition.

After discussion, the upper layers of the Kingdom of Prussia decided to annex Alsace-Lorraine, located at the junction of northeast France and southwest Germany, hoping to permanently weaken France in terms of political power and establish a buffer zone to protect southern Germany from possible French future The impact of the campaign.

At the beginning of the war, the French army had only 336,000 soldiers, in fact outnumbered. Due to the small population of France, the German countries were able to recruit more soldiers. The German army deployed 460,000 people near the border.

The French side has hardly made any preparations for the upcoming troop redeployment, and lacks accommodation and tents. In terms of food, the soldiers initially had only their own rations. Even when the fighting had begun, until September of that year, the French army still lacked equipment and personnel.

On September 2, Emperor Napoleon III was captured by Prussia in Sedan, a small border town in Belgium. The news of the defeat came back to Paris, and the imperial regime began to collapse completely. On September 4, 28 members of Parliament requested a vote to abolish the monarchy.

The Franco-Prussian War was the third and final reunification war in Germany. The picture shows the war that took place near Metz, France, on August 18, 1870

On the same day, riots broke out in Paris. The rioters occupied the parliament and immediately announced the establishment of the Third French Republic and the establishment of a “provisional defense government” to continue to contend with the German military.

The Germans began to plan to march on the French capital Paris, but it was revealed that the troops were insufficient to siege the city. During the chaos, the French government successfully recruited about 1 million soldiers. However, they are under-trained and their weapons and equipment are also poor, which leads to low combat capabilities.

During the counterattack, Prussian Prime Minister Bismarck ordered shelling of the French capital in order to speed up France’s surrender. In the next few local battles, the Germans successfully repelled the French and won the final victory.

American military historian Jeffrey Vavro analyzed the reasons for France’s defeat. In his book “French-Prussian War”, he particularly emphasized the indecision and lack of planning of the French military leadership. The senior officers did not make good use of the French army’s main advantage-the Trespot rifle.

Crucial to the success of the German army is the number of soldiers (approximately 850,000 French versus 1.3 million Germans). In addition, the strength of the German artillery was also one of the reasons for the failure of the French army.

The Bismarck era against the traditional church
After the Franco-Prussian War, Bismarck was the main driving force behind the establishment of the German Empire. During his reign, he tried his best to advocate the unification of Germany by power and force, so he was called the “Iron Prime Minister” by historians.

As a politician, Bismarck first became famous in Prussia as a representative of Junker’s interests in conservative circles. After the Prussian constitutional conflict, King William I appointed him as Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1862.

In terms of foreign policy, his goal is to strike a balance between the European powers and preserve the empire’s strong position in Europe. In terms of domestic policy, his rule after 1866 can be divided into two stages.

The first is to ally with moderate liberals. The early domestic policy of the German Empire was based on Bismarck’s cooperation with liberal conservatives and national liberals. These have had a considerable impact on the formation, unification and modernization of the economic and legal order of the empire and Prussia.

At that time, the conflict between modern countries and churches was a common phenomenon in Europe. For Catholicism, liberalism, as the successor of the Enlightenment and the bearer of modernization, represents the opposite of its own position. For liberals, the papacy rejects all changes and is a relic of the Middle Ages.

The Liberal Party and Bismarck are unanimous in opposing Catholic parties. During this period, many reforms were carried out in the country, such as the implementation of notarized marriage. Bismarck used drastic measures to combat opposition from Catholicism.

The cooperation between Bismarck and the Liberal Party not only played a role in reform policies, but also played a key role in the so-called anti-Catholic and Central Party attacks.

The policies of the German Empire at the founding stage benefited from the vigorous development of many economic sectors and greatly promoted the social recognition of liberal reforms. In 1872, the German Empire surpassed France, which was weakened by the war, and became an industrial power. From 1873 to around 1879, the so-called “entrepreneurial wave” also appeared in the country, and Germany transformed from an agricultural country to a modern industrial country.

But Bismarck and the Liberal Party did not agree on all issues. The Liberal Party’s success in certain policy areas was achieved through compromise with Bismarck. This led to tensions within the liberal camp, and some voter groups were disappointed. The Liberal Party can no longer claim to be the true representative of the entire people.

Starting in the late 1870s, Bismarck began to stay away from liberals in order to prevent further liberalization of the empire and to develop the empire in a conservative sense.

Liberalism faded
When the German Empire was founded, the economy began to flourish. For the first time, a unified domestic market was established, and tariffs that hindered countries were abolished, which greatly simplified domestic trade. The victory of the war and the establishment of the empire triggered widespread optimism, leading to a substantial increase in investment and a construction boom.

Liberalism has been blamed as the cause of the economic recession. Modern anti-Semitism thinking began to increase.

But not long after the so-called “entrepreneurial era”, there was an economic depression.

Subsequently, agriculture fell into crisis. In direct competition with Russia and the United States, German food quickly became too expensive, even in the domestic market. A long-term consequence is the emergence of economic interest groups.

Bismarck in 1881

Even though free traders were still dominant in eastern Germany at first, in the context of the economic crisis, big landlords and heavy industrialists called for tariffs to be more and more loud, and protective tariff associations began to appear in the agricultural sector.

The economic crisis has also had a considerable impact on the political party structure. People have turned from the optimistic attitude of progress in the previous decade to pessimism. Moreover, liberal ideas have been blamed as the cause of the economic recession. In this mood, modern anti-Semitism began to aggravate. Because people suspect that liberalism and stock market capital are behind international Jews.

The government is under increasing pressure and has begun to intervene in the market in a regulatory manner, instead of relying on market forces as it did during economic prosperity. Taxes fell, fiscal deficits increased, and the country itself felt the impact of the crisis.

At the same time, Bismarck’s foreign policy system is increasingly under threat. Since 1886, when France’s restorationist tendency has strengthened, he has always been wary of other countries forming alliances with France.

In the late 1880s, despite Bismarck’s best efforts to exclude potential successors, there were growing signs that his political leadership was coming to an end.

Frederick III, the successor of William I, was not long in power. Later, the new emperor Wilhelm II had confrontation with Bismarck because of their disagreements. In addition to generational differences, William wants to regain policy-making power, and the two have different views in many places. In March 1890, Bismarck was forced to resign from all positions.

William II successfully got rid of Bismarck’s control and began to change foreign policy. He built a powerful imperial navy, but he forgot the dangers of geopolitics, which made the entire empire hover on the brink of war, and finally ruined the German empire himself.

In November 1918, the Weimar Republic was established and the parliamentary democracy was introduced the following year. Germany entered a new era.