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Bismark and the Unification of Germany Essay

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a. The reference made here to ‘our national development won in 1866’ is an allusion to the additional power Prussia gained after its “Seven Week’s War” with Austria in 1866, which changed the balance of power in the German states, making Prussia, in stead of the now-defeated Austria, the leader of the Germanic countries.

b. The “heredetary Prince of Hohenzollern” is actually the prince from the Prussian royal family chosen by the Spanish to be their leader. France had complained, and sent an ambassador to the Prussian king to get his assurance that the prince would forever renounce the Spanish throne. The king refused, and wrote a telegram to Bismarck telling him of this. This telegram (though modified here) is the one published in Germany by Bismarck in order to gain public support for a war on France.

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2. The source of the telegram had been Ems, where the Prussian King was taking a leave of absence. The king sent this telegram to Bismarck to inform him of the turn of events pertaining to the French ambassador. The ambassador had wanted the king to agree that he would bind himself “for all future time never again to give his consent if the Hohenzollerns should renew their candidature”1, meaning that the king would agree to never again let any person from the Prussian royal family take power in Spain.

3. Prussia was “compelled” to go to war with France in the sense that Prussian nationalists and the public demanded it, as an upholding of Prussian honor. If Prussia did not go to war with France, it would seem as if it was afraid of her and her (Prussia’s) respect among other countries, and her own people, would be diminished. What Bismarck fundamentally means is that Prussia had to uphold her honor in the face of French insults.

4. Doc. B, that is to say the excerpt from Bismarck’s memoirs, shows us that Bismarck is above all skilled at justifying himself: he very well tells us that Prussia was “compelled” to go to war France, whereas any logical deduction would dictate it was not so. However, he also shows himself to be a master politician, taking into account among other things public opinion, and being able to both manipulate it and recognize its importance. We also are shown that he is not at all shy about using deception and propaganda to achieve his aims: it was the omissions from the Ems telegram, when it was sent to be published, which made a public furor and gave Bismarck, and Napoleon III, the public backing for war.

Of his aims, more is clear: it is apparent, especially if one knows the context in which this event takes place, that Bismarck wants to expand Prussian control and power, by reducing those of others. He had already done this with Austria, and now again he wanted to prove Prussia’s power against France.


a. This comic, or caricature as it might be called, is a very interesting doorway to comprehending Bismarck’s philosophy. In it, he is pictured in the process of breaking eggs, and saying to the kitchen maid (who could be taken to be the King of Prussia) “you can’t make omelets without breaking eggs”. This can be taken to mean that Bismarck is saying that in order to make something good (or better), one has to unavoidably destroy other things. Taken like this, it would seem that he is saying that in order to make Prussia greater, one inevitably ruffles some feathers.

b. The usefulness of these documents is severely limited: the first is a caricature, a drawing, so maybe the artist compressed the message he wanted to give, so that it would go with the image, thereby destroying some of its authenticity. However, this ‘compression’ thereby allows a very large amount of information to be presented in a format comprehensible by a very large body of people (drawings).

The second document (B) is somewhat different: it is an excerpt from Bismarck’s memoirs. The problem with this format is that Bismarck perchance was not totally forthcoming in these writings, knowing they would become public. Also, written by Bismarck, they would tend to show only one (the Prussian) side of the story. However, the memoir gives us also a rare insight into the thoughts of one of history’s greatest men.


As a general guide for context, the following source(s) were used:

* Microsoft(r) Encarta(r) Online Encyclopedia Deluxe 2001 – Article(s): “Bismarck, Prince Otto Eduard Leopold von” (c)Microsoft Corp. 1997-2000 (c) All rights reserved

1 From Reflections and Reminiscences, Otto von Bismarck. This is a quote from the telegram as it was published, in its modified form, in Germany.

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