The Second Reich
The Napoleonic attempt to restore the Roman Empire in the West is but a short-lived success. Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo in 1815 sends the one-time master of Europe into lonely exile on the rocky island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic. And his dream of a unified Europe follows him into the abyss.
Defeated France is reduced to her 1790 boundaries, assessed a large indemnity payment and forced to submit to an allied army of occupation. The unpopular Bourdons are restored to the French throne under Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI. He will reign as French king until his death in 1824.
But the affairs of the rest of Europe also have to be reordered. To guard against the recurrence of war, the Congress of Vienna convenes to redraw the map of Europe and bring stability to the war-exhausted Continent.
Among the chief negotiators are Austria’s chancellor Prince Metternich, Britain’s foreign minister Lord Castlereagh, Czar Alexander I of Russia, Prussia’s King Frederick William III, France’s representative Talleyrand, and the Papal delegate Cardinal Consalvi.
The international assembly reorganizes the political boundaries of Europe. One of the results of the Congress is the establishment of the German Confederation (Deutscher Bund) under the presidency of Austria. The defunct Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation is no more.
Napoleon’s reorganization of Germany consolidated scores of smaller German states into larger entities. The new German Confederation is an association of 39 sovereign German states. But it is a feeble organization. Unity is still severely hampered by rivalries among states. The loosely knit league will limp along until 1866.
Prince Metternich (1773-1859), the Austrian chancellor, seeks to make Austria a leading European power and the undisputed head of the German-speaking people. But his designs are opposed by a formidable antagonist – Prussia.
Under Frederick the Great (king in Prussia from 1740 to 1786), Prussia had become a rival to Austria for control of the German states. This rivalry persists. Prussia still seeks to gain the upper hand in German affairs. In 1834, Prussia organizes a German customs union, known as the Zollverein, under Prussian leadership. It creates a free-trade area throughout much of Germany, removing unnecessary restrictions from commerce. And, significantly, it undermines Austria’ dominate position in the region.
The Zollverein shows the Germans the value of cooperation. It encourages the desire for unity. Historians will look back on the customs union as a key first step on the road toward German reunification.
Back in France, a revolution in July 1830 drives the Bourdons from the throne. The Bourdons monarch, Charles X (1824-1830), flees to England in exile. The new king of the French is Louis-Philippe, duke of Orleans. Though a relative of the exiled king, Louis-Philippe has a reputation as a progressive. He reigns for nearly 18 years as constitutional monarch.
In 1848, a revolutionary tide sweeps across Europe. The colorless and increasingly unpopular Louis-Philippe is one of its victims. Abdicating in February, he too flees to England.
On December 10, 1848, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (1808-1873), a nephew of the late Emperor Napoleon I, is elected president of France’s Second Republic. The republic, however, is short-lived. In the last month of Bonaparte stages a widely popular coup d’etat, establishing an authoritarian government under his leadership. A vote is taken in favor of the restoration of the Empire.
The Second Empire is formally inaugurated on December 2, 1852, the day of Louis Napoleon’s coronation. He styles himself Napoleon III, Emperor of the French. (Napoleon II, the young son of Napoleon I, had died in 1832.)
A major concern of his reign will be the threatened emergence of the unified German nation. The stage is being set for a titanic clash of ambitions that will rock Europe to its very foundations!
Meanwhile, in Italy, a crucial series of events is taking place. The Congress of Vienna had again divided Italy into numerous states. Most of the peninsula is now dominated by Austria. Only the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont is free of Austrian influence.
In 1849, Victor Emmanuel II comes to the Sardinian throne. He is head of the House of Savoy. During the 18th century, this dynasty had acquired the rulership of the island of Sardinia and territories in northern Italy, centered on the region of Piedmont. The capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont is the city of Turin.
A growing movement is now under way for Italian freedom and unification. It is called the Risorgimento (“resurgence”). Victor Emmanuel is an ardent supporter of the cause of Italian independence.
In 1852, Count di Cavour (1810-1861) becomes prime minister of Sardinia-Piedmont. He is a descendant of the one of the ancient noble families of Piedmont. Like his king, Cavour is devoted to the cause of ejecting Austria from Italian affairs and bringing about the unification of Italy under the House of Savoy.
In July 1858, Cavour meets with Napoleon III, Emperor of the French. They agree to provoke Austria into war. The war comes in 1859. The Franco-Italian coalition succeeds in breaking the power of Austria in the Italian peninsula. But as the last moment, Napoleon III deserts the Italians and concludes a treaty with the Austrians. He wants Italy liberated from Austria, but does not want the peninsula united under Savoy.
Despite this setback, the movement for Italian unification continues. Another figure now enters the picture. Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882). Years earlier, Garibaldi had joined Young Italy, a movement for Italian liberty and unification organized by the revolutionist Giuseppe Mazzini. Now Garibaldi decides that the best road to unity lies in his working with Victor Emmanuel and Cavour.
In May 1860, with the support of Cavour, Garibaldi leads a 1,000 man volunteer guerrilla army from Genoa in a spectacular invasion of Sicily, then ruled by the king of Naples. This is the famous Expedition of the Thousand. Garibaldi’s men are clad in scarlet shirts, and are popularly dubbed the Red Shirts.
Sicily is taken after three months of fighting, Garibaldi then moves against Naples. That city falls on September 7, 1860.
Sicily and Naples have been conquered! Garibaldi is a national hero. Garibaldi hands his conquest over to Victor Emmanuel. Other Italian states declare by plebiscite for union with Sardinia-Piedmont. On March 17, 1861 Victor Emmanuel II is proclaimed the first king of Italy. Most of Italy is united under the House of Savoy! But the unification of the peninsula is by no means complete.
Not included in the new kingdom is the Papal possession of Rome. Emperor Napoleon I had taken the Papal States – territory in central Italy ruled by the Papacy in 1809. They were restored to the Pontiff by the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
Now, the Papal States (or States of the Church) are seized by the armies of Victor Emmanuel and annexed to Italy. The Church’s temporal power is shattered! Only Rome – garrisoned by French troops-- remains under Papal sovereignty. France considers herself the protector of the Papacy.
Garibaldi still dreams of Rome as the capital of the new united Italy. In 1862, he raises a force to capture Rome and annex it to the Italian kingdom. But Victor Emmanuel, desirous of avoiding a conflict with France, orders his own forces to stop Garibaldi. Four years later Garibaldi tries again, but is defeated by Papal and French forces. The time is not yet ripe for the conquest of Rome.
Now the focus shifts to Germany. In Prussia, Otto von Bismarck becomes primes minister and minister of foreign affairs in the autumn of 1862. He serves under King William (Wilhelm) I, who acceded to the Prussian throne in 1861.
Bismarck was born in 1815, the year of Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo. He is a political genius, ultraconservative in viewpoint. From 1859 to 1862, he served as Prussian ambassador to Russia.
Bismarck’s chief ambition is to unify Germany under Prussian leadership and exclude Austria from German politics. During a short stay in London in the summer of 1862, he astonishes British statesmen by bluntly declaring that when he becomes Prussia prime minister, his first move “will be to reorganize the army with or without the help of the Diet. As soon as the army shall be brought into such a condition as to inspire respect, I shall seize the first pretext to declare war on Austria, dissolve the German Diet, subdue the minor states, and give national unity to Germany under Prussian leadership.” Within nine years he will fulfill this program.
At the very outset of his premiership, Bismarck stuns the world by declaring to the Ways and Means Committee of the Prussian Diet: “The great questions of our day cannot be solved by speeches and majority votes, but by blood and iron.” He is thereafter popularly known as the Iron Chancellor.
Bismarck expands the Prussian military as the long-standing hostility between Prussian and Austria nears the breaking point. In 1866, the question of the leadership of Germany is finally fought out. In June, Bismarck picks a quarrel with Austria over the possession of Schleswig-Holstein, a territory at the base of the Jutland peninsula bordering Demark. Thus begins the Seven Weeks’ War, occupying the summer of 1866.
The Seven Weeks’ War is a conflict between the opposing groups of German states, one led by Austria and the other by Prussia. It culminates at the battle of Sadowa (Koniggratz) – an overwhelming Prussian victory.
Austria is now excluded from participation in German affairs. Bismarck declares null and void the Constitution of the German Confederation of 1815.
In the wake of the Prussian victory over Austria, the North German Confederation (Norddeutscher Bund) is formed under Prussian hegemony in 1867. It is a union of the German states north of the Main River.
Berlin becomes the capital of this new Confederation. Bismarck writes a constitution making the Prussian king the hereditary ruler and the Prussian prime minister its chancellor.
The four larger southern Germany states of Baden, Bavaria, Saxony and Wurttemburg remain independent and are permitted to form a separate confederation. They enter into a military alliance with Prussia.
Austria’s defeat in the Seven Weeks’ War leads Austrian Emperor Franz Josef and his government to establish a dual monarchy embracing the Empire of Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary. It is officially known as the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (Oester-reichish-Ungarische Monarchie). The two halves of the monarchy are independent of each other. The bond of union is the common dynasty and a close political alliance. The crown is hereditary in the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty.
Bismarck’s ultimate goal-that of uniting all Germany under Prussian leadership – has still not been achieved. His next move will be to bring the south German states into final union with the Prussian-led North German Confederation. He will accomplish this by provoking a war with France.
After making sure that Russia will remain neutral in any Franco-German conflict, Bismarck uses the candidacy of a Hohenzollern prince to the throne of Spain to goad France into war.
Napoleon III of France declares war on Prussia on July 19, 1870 just as the Iron Chancellor had hoped. The ambitions of the two men have come to a clash. Thus begins the Franco-Prussian War. As Bismarck had anticipated, the south German states side with Prussia against France. Fighting side by side against the armies of Napoleon III, Germans of the north and south develop a sense of camaraderie and oneness, another step toward the unification of all Germany.
The German offensive is planned brilliantly by General Helmuth von Moltke. On September 1, 1870, Prussia defeats France at the battle of Sedan. Napoleon III surrenders himself to the Prussians. Paris itself is captured on January 28, 1871.
The Franco-Prussian War brings about a strong feeling among German states for a closer union. The south German states decide to unite with the North German Confederation.
On January 18, 1871, King William I of Prussia is proclaimed German Emperor (Deutscher Kaiser) in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles near Paris. North and South Germany are united into a single Reich, or Empire. Bismarck has succeeded in consolidating Germany under the Prussian Hohenzollerns!
Bismarck assumes the office of Reich Chancellor and is made a prince. This new German Empire is called the Second Reich. (The First Reich had been inaugurated in A.D. 962 with the crowning of Otto the Great as Holy Roman Emperor by Pope John XII.) This Second Reich, born in 1871, will live 47 years (until 1918). Germany has become the dominant force in European affairs!
With the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, Napoleon III’s troops in Rome return home. For years they had maintained the temporal power of the Papacy over that city. Now Rome is virtually defenseless.
On September 20, 1870, the forces of Victor Emmanuel II enter Rome. The “Eternal City “is taken by Italian troops in the name of the Kingdom of Italy. In October, Romans vote overwhelmingly to become part of the Italian kingdom. Rome officially becomes the capital of a united Italy on July 2, 1871. After 1,500 years, Rome is again the capital of Italy!
But what of the Papacy? The Pope, Pius IX (1846-1878), has been stripped of temporal power by troops of the Kingdom of Italy. He excommunicates the invaders, declares himself a prisoner in the Vatican and refuses to recognize the new kingdom. His successors, too, will become voluntary prisoners in their own palace. It will by six decades before reconciliation is effected.
Though weak in the temporal sphere, the Papacy is asserting its strength in the spiritual realm. Pope Pius had convoked the first Vatican Council in 1869.The next year it declared Papal Infallibility as a formal article of Catholic belief. This dogma holds that when a Pope speaks officially (ex cathdra) to the universal Church on a doctrine of faith or morals, he cannot err.
Not all, however, are willing to submit to this newly defined and reasserted Papal authority.
The German Reich is ruled by a Protestant dynasty, the Hohenzollerns. Bismarck seeks to strengthen the unity of the Reich by limiting the power of the Catholic Church within Germany. He accuses Catholic elements within the Reich of political separatism, and labels them a threat to the unified German state.
Thus begins the so-called Kulturkasmpf (1871-1887), the conflict between Prussia and the Church of Rome. It is a struggle between two rival cultures and powers, the Catholic Church and the secular state. Bismarck’s objective is to wipe out the Vatican’s political influence within the Reich.
“We are not going to Canossa, either bodily or spiritually!” Bismarck declares, in an allusion to the capitulation of Emperor Henry IV to the Pope at Canossa in 1077.
A series of drastic laws are passed to intimidate the Catholic clergy. “What is here at stake is a struggle for power, a struggle as old as the human race, the struggle for power between monarchy and priesthood. That is a struggle for power which has filled the whole of German history,” Bismarck declares.
Pope Pius dies in 1878 after a pontificate of 32 years – the longest in the history of the Popes. But the Kulturkampf continues, though on a lesser scale, for another nine years.
A major reason for the Kulturkampf has been Bismarck’s desire to create some focus for national resentment. But with the rise of socialism, Bismarck now sees the socialists filling that role even better. He gradually begins to rescind his anti-Catholic measures.
Bismarck is also active in the international political arena. On October 7, 1879, he concludes a military pact with Austria-Hungary, allying the Habsburg with Prussians-dominated Germany. The alliance is designed to render France powerless against the Reich. In 1882, Italy joins forming the Triple Alliance. It will remain in force until Italy’s defection in 1915.
The ancient tie of Italy and Germany, extending back to the days of Charlemagne and Otto the Great, are reforged. It is the prelude to an era that will arise more than a half century later under Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
Emperor William I dies March 9, 1888. His son and successor, Frederick III, lives only a few months. In June 1888, William II becomes Emperor of Germany. The new Kaiser is anxious to direct the government personally. He demands the Iron Chancellor’s resignation.
After 38 years of service, Bismarck steps down in March 1890. He retires to his castle, Friedrichsruh, near Hamburg. The Kaiser then sets an aggressively independent course in foreign affairs, a course that leads eventually to war.
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Francis Ferdinand - heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary is assassinated by a Serbian in the Balkan town of Sarajevo. The great powers are caught in the webs of their alliances. The bloody event triggers World War I. When the guns finally fall silent on November 11, l918, a staggering 10 million lie dead. And the German Empire lies vanquished.
The abdication of the Kaiser is announced November 9. Defeated Germany is demilitarized and becomes a republic. A new German constitution is adopted at the city of Weimar. Many German war veterans are embittered by defeat and the humiliations imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. Among them is a young Gefreiter (lance corporal) by the name of Adolf Hitler.
Part 9 is coming soon!