Consolidation Of Germany
Author: Lowe, Charles

Consolidation Of Germany

1881 - 1890

In European statesmanship the master mind of the latter half of the
nineteenth century was unquestionably Bismarck. The unification of Germany,
consequent on the war with France, was a brilliant stroke; but the
consolidation of the empire - a slower and more difficult process - required
greater skill and untiring perseverance.

The condition of Germany when William II had just been crowned Emperor
was much like that of the United States when independence had been won by the
victories of Washington's army. The separate States had their separate
interests, their traditions, their local pride, their jealousy of centralized
power; and the last of these considerations was the most difficult to master
or pacify. One of the plainest lessons of history is that small states within
the same natural boundaries must and will ultimately unite, and they find
their safety and their highest interest in so doing; and it appears strange
that this can seldom be accomplished without a struggle. That which was
patriotism in the earlier day, devotion to the small country and the limited
sovereignty, becomes provincialism when the principalities are combined in an
empire. Such combination is certain to come with the progress of
civilization, the extension of lines of traffic, the multiplication of
industries, and the increase of commerce. To accomplish combination and
unification on an old continent, within a single generation, required at once
the wisdom of patience and the genius of energy.

To create the empire had been a very hard ask, but to consolidate it
proved a still harder one. When the first Imperial Parliament was opened at
Berlin (March, 1871), Bismarck had almost completed his twentieth year of
continuous service to the State, counting from his appointment to the old Diet
at Frankfort; and during this period of incessant endeavor he had expended the
energies of at least a score of ordinary men. But there was still in store
for him an equally long period of uninterrupted service as Imperial
Chancellor, or major-domo, of the empire. For it was still incumbent on him
to rivet the empire which he had raised.

The main reason for this was that he insisted, so to say, upon doing
everything himself. The foreign relations of the empire were certainly more
than enough to engage his undivided attention, but his was the chief directing
hand in the field of domestic affairs as well. In his own person he formed a
ministry of all the talents. As Chancellor he was the sole responsible
Minister of the empire, and champion of the Imperial Constitution, which had
simply been adopted from that of the North German Confederation to suit the
new order of things. And, on the whole, it was not ill-suited to the peculiar
wants and political character of the German people. The National Legislature
might be described as of the bi-cameral kind, with no separate sovereign veto
over it; the Bundesrath, or Federal Council, forming the Upper Chamber, and
the Reichstag, or Imperial Parliament, the Lower. The former was composed of
delegates, or plenipotentiaries, from the Federal Sovereigns, presided over by
the Chancellor; while the latter represented the German people, the deputies
being returned by universal suffrage in about the proportion of one to one
hundred thousand of the population, making the total number three hundred
ninety-seven. The assent of both bodies was equally necessary to the passing
of a law, which might originate with either; though, as a matter of fact, the
birthplace of bills was invariably the Federal Council. The Popular Assembly
could reject a bill as absolutely as the Sovereign Council, and, when the two
had once adopted a measure, it was beyond the power of the Emperor to veto it,
for the Kaiser was made only the executive head of the Federal Council, and
could exercise no sovereign rights apart from it in his Imperial capacity.
The German Emperor always has been popularly supposed to be a kind of military
autocrat, but, as a matter of fact, there is no sovereign in all Europe so
constitutionally tied down and circumscribed as he. For example, it is often
feared that his impetuosity might cause him to plunge his people into war.
But the Emperor cannot declare an aggressive war without the consent of his
fellow-sovereigns. He is only the executor of the combined will of the
Reichstag and the Bundesrath, and it has often happened that he has had to
carry out decisions of the latter body which, as King of Prussia, he had
unsuccessfully opposed. The locating of the Imperial Supreme Court of Justice
at Leipsic, instead of at Berlin, is a case in point, when Prussia was
outvoted in the Federal Council by a majority of two, much to the disgust and
indignation of Bismarck, though, as Chancellor, he had to bend to the
decision. No student of modern German history ever can attain to a clear and
just apprehension of his subject until he realizes the fact that the German
Emperor is anything but an autocrat, and that the vicarious, despotic power of
his Chancellor is only such as has been conferred upon him by what is probably
one of the most even-balanced and beneficent constitutions in all Europe. In
saying this, I would only be understood as meaning that it was peculiarly well
adapted to the stage of political development reached by the German people.

Yet there were many who thought that the person of Bismarck himself
formed much too prominent a part in the executive machinery of the Imperial
constitution, as witness the following letter from his war colleague in the
Prussian Cabinet, Count von Roon, to a Conservative leader:

"The Hermit of Varzin wishes to do everything himself, and yet issues the
most stringent orders that he is not to be disturbed. It is enough to drive
to despair an old man who would fain go to bed with a quiet mind. If Bismarck
does not make all haste to bring together a first House, and the most
necessary Ministers for the empire, history will one day pronounce a severe
judgment upon him. Living from hand to mouth will not do for long, however
dexterous and strong the hand, and however eloquent and keen the tongue. God
knows that nobody wishes him better than I, as I am, so to speak, the shield
on which he was uplifted. But he has too few sincere friends, and listens too
much to his enemies, of whom those who idolize him are the worst. It is
because I have so high an opinion of him that I should like him to be
different in many respects."

This was written after Bismarck had been only about two years in harness
as Chancellor of the empire and Prussian Premier, and his pluralist duties had
been of the most Herculean character. His war with Rome had already broken
out, and he had also been busy garnering the results of his war with France.
To him fell the organization of Alsace-Lorraine as a Reichsland, first under a
kind of dictatorship, or "kindly despotism," and then as a quasi-autonomous
province duly represented in the Reichstag. His policy toward the reconquered
provinces may be briefly described. He trusted to gradual recognition on the
part of the inhabitants that, on the whole, "the rule of the Germans was more
benevolent and humane than that of the French, and that, under their new
masters, they enjoyed a much greater degree of communal and individual
freedom." In annexing Alsace-Lorraine, his primary object, he said, was not to
make the inhabitants happy and contented, but to secure Germany against future
aggression, and their happiness lay in their own hands. A good deal of
recalcitrancy was shown by these inhabitants in the earlier years of their new
lot, but by 1879 Bismarck was able to announce that he was quite willing to
confer on the provinces the "highest degree of independence compatible with
the military security of the empire"; and after this, the appointment of a
Stadtholder, or Viceroy, in the person of Marshal Manteuffel, relieved the
Chancellor of all direct responsibility for the fate of the Reichsland.

It had been very much easier to dispose of the five milliards, which
quickly found their level, like a flood of gold, throughout Germany. Among
other objects to which they were devoted were generous provision for the
victims of the war, the construction of new fortresses and strategic lines of
railway, the building of an Imperial fleet, the allotment of six hundred
thousand pounds among the leading commanders and statesmen of the war, and the
assignment of forty million thalers as a Kriegschatz, or War Emergency Fund,
without which the German Army, said Bismarck, would never be able to mobilize
so swiftly as it already had. Some objections were raised to this scheme for
letting such an enormous amount of money lie dead and unproductive; but to
those who wished to saddle the employment of the war-treasure with
parliamentary conditions Bismarck replied that the Reichstag in such matters
could not possibly claim more power than the Federal Council, which might,
indeed, prevent the Emperor from declaring war, but not from mobilizing the
army, and ready cash must always therefore be at hand. For this simple and
preliminary purpose, he said, the Kriegschatz no more than sufficed; and so
the sum of six million pounds sterling in gold was forthwith consigned to the
Julius tower, in the fortress of Spandau, there to lie like the talent of the
wicked and slothful servant.

Here, I think, I cannot do better than quote the following domestic
picture of the Major-Domo of the Reich as it was drawn about this time by John
Lothrop Motley, who went to Varzin on the occasion of the Chancellor's silver
wedding:

"I found him very little changed in appearance since 1864, which
surprises me. He is somewhat stouter, and his face more weather-beaten, but
as expressive and powerful as ever. ... Their manner of living is most
unsophisticated, as you will think when I tell you that we were marched
straight from the carriage into the dining-room (after a dusty, hot journey of
ten hours by rail and carriage), and made to sit down and go on with the
dinner, which was about half through. ... After dinner Bismarck and I had a
long walk in the woods, he talking all the time in the simplest and funniest
and most interesting manner about all sorts of things that had happened in
these tremendous years, but talking of them exactly as every-day people talk
of every-day matters, without any affectation. The truth is, he is so
entirely simple, so full of laissez-aller, that one is obliged to be saying to
one's self all the time: This is the great Bismarck, the greatest living man,
and one of the greatest historical characters that ever lived.

"If he had learned nothing else, he said, he had learned modesty.
Certainly a more unaffected mortal never breathed, nor a more genial one. He
looks like a colossus, but his health is somewhat shattered. He never can
sleep till four or five in the morning. Of course work follows him here, but
as far as I have yet seen it seems to trouble him little. He looks like a
country gentleman entirely at leisure. ... The woods and park about the house
are fine, but unkept and rough, unlike an English country-place. ... We
breakfast at any hour, dine generally about half-past three, he not being
allowed to dine late, and after dinner we make these sylvan excursions, and go
to bed, after a scrambling, promiscuous supper, about twelve. ... His
breakfast is very light, an egg and a cup of coffee, and then he has a
meerschaum pipe. He smokes very little now, only light tobacco in a pipe.
When I last knew him he never stopped smoking the strongest cigars. Now, he
tells me, he couldn't to save his life smoke a single cigar. He has a disgust
for them. ... While he is sitting there and talking to all of us, his
secretary hands him the piles of letters with which he is goaded in his
retirement, and with a pencil about a foot long makes memoranda as to the
answers and other dispositions to be made. Meanwhile the boys are playing
billiards, in another part of the same room, and a big black dog, called
Sultan, is rampaging generally through the apartment and joining in
everybody's conversation. No dinner dressing nor evening costume. Dinner
always good and simple; wine excellent. ... The intense affection which he has
for his wife and children is delightful to contemplate, and, as you may
imagine, he is absolutely worshipped by them."

It was the growing sense of physical infirmity referred to in the
foregoing extract that had caused Bismarck, toward the end of the same year
(1872), to ask the Emperor-King to relieve him of half his official burden,
the post of Minister-President of the Prussian Cabinet. This too, though much
against his will, his Majesty at last did, with an assurance of his "undying
gratitude" and the order of the Black Eagle in brilliants; but before the year
(1873) was out, Bismarck had resumed his old office, which had meanwhile been
exercised by the War Minister. This was the first of several attempts to vest
the functions of Imperial Chancellor and Prussian Premier in separate persons,
but in the long run they were all found to be impracticable. The threads of
Prussian and Imperial policy were so closely intertwined that to intrust them
to separate hands was like placing two drivers, each with a rein, on the box
of a coach and pair. The Prussian Constitution laid down the direct
responsibility of the Minister to the Crown, and not to the Premier as in
England. But in the course of time Bismarck had gradually converted the
Prussian theory into the English practice, and made himself virtual dictator
over his Ministerial colleagues. This was, indeed, one of the things which
ultimately helped to bring about his fall. But at the time of which I am now
writing his will was supreme in the Prussian Cabinet, and he found it utterly
impossible to conduct the domestic affairs of the empire in particular without
resuming his old post as Premier of the monarchy.

During Roon's interregnum, so to speak, as Prussian Premier, the Liberal
Jewish deputy, Herr Lasker, delivered his famous philippics in the Chamber on
the subject of malpractices in certain high places connected with railway
concessions. The influx of the milliards had led to a period of feverish
over-speculation in all fields of commerce and business enterprise; and this
Gruender Era, as it was called, had led to the inevitable Krach ("crash"),
with its accompanying ruin to purses and reputations. Some Opposition prints
even made bold to insinuate that Bismarck himself had brought his influence to
bear on the Minister of Commerce, Count Itzenplitz, in favor of Herr Wagener,
his old and steadfast henchman of the Kreuz-Zeitung; but the Chancellor
courted the most searching inquiry into the matter, and emerged from the
ordeal without the faintest blot on his scutcheon. With all his unique
opportunities for enriching himself on the Stock Exchange by his knowledge of
State secrets, Bismarck had never yielded to the temptation to do so - or only
once, as he confessed during the French War, and that was connected with the
Neuchatel incident in 1857. But even then he had done so against the advice
of the Frankfort Rothschilds, and lost heavily by the transaction.

The Gruender-Era scandals, however, resulted in the resignation of Count
Itzenplitz, this being the first instance in the parliamentary history of
Prussia where public opinion had forced the King to part with one of his
Ministers. But the voice of scandal was not hushed even by this concession;
and the Kreuz-Zeitung carried its party spite so far, for Bismarck had now
estranged the sympathies of his old Conservative friends, as to accuse him of
having virtually farmed out the finances of the empire to a Jewish banker as a
requital for the services which this discriminating Hebrew had been the first
to render to him in the early days of his political difficulties and pecuniary
need. To this foul aspersion Bismarck could only reply by calling upon all
the readers of a journal, whose reputation he had himself helped to found, to
mark their sense of its baseness by ceasing to take it in; though the
aristocratic subscribers to the scurrilous print "refused," in their own
words, "to take their notions of honor and decency from the Herr
Reichs-Kanzler."

The Chancellor's fulmination against the Kreuz-Zeitung was part of a
general lamentation on the license of the press, and the inability of the law
to reach some of its excesses. The press he still looked upon in much the
same light as he regarded Parliament - as a necessary evil - in spite of the
apparent zeal which he had shown years before in promising a newspaper law for
the empire. This was in the session of 1873, when the Government consented to
make a move in the matter, but only after the Liberals themselves had taken
the initiative by framing a bill. But as the Liberals had shown no great
eagerness to discuss matters of infinitely more account in Bismarck's eyes
than the liberty of unlicensed printing, he disciplined them by disappointing
their hopes till next year (1874), when a law was passed, after the usual
compromise, which relieved the German press from some of the vexatious
restraints under which it had hitherto sighed, though it was still far from
being as free as that of England or America. At the same time it was another
gratifying proof of national unity that the press laws for all the various
States had been merged in one for the whole Fatherland.

But a much better symbol of this national unity was the army, which for
about four years had been under the control of one directing mind - that of
Moltke - and was now, in point of organization, equipment, and human material,
the most perfect fighting-machine of its kind that the world ever had seen.
Germany had become a school of arms for the whole world, and no higher
compliment could have been paid her military system than the fact that it was
carefully copied by the nation - France - which had succumbed to its merits.
It was copied by all nations, by none more sedulously than by the Japanese.

Moltke said that what Germany had won by the sword in half a year she
would have to keep with the sword for half a century; and it was this simple
argument - for Moltke's arguments were ever brief and simple - which, more
than anything else, finally induced the Reichstag to restrict its own
financial power over the army. Professor Gneist, a great constitutional
authority, and a Liberal member of Parliament, had laid down that "the theory
of fixing the strength of the army by an annual budget was incompatible with
the idea of conscription"; and in accordance with this agreeable theory the
Government had asked the Reichstag to fix the peace establishment (about four
hundred thousand men) "until otherwise provided by law." But the Reichstag
could not be prevailed upon to part so indefinitely with its power of the
purse.

The Emperor, however, who never could brook to be gain-said in military
matters, however much he might bow to the will of the people in other
respects, proved to be just as dogged as the Reichstag seemed determined, and
it looked as if the nation were on the eve of another "conflict time" with its
budgetless rule. But from this danger it was ultimately saved by Bismarck,
who, from his bed of suffering, solemnly counselled his Majesty to accept the
compromise which had meanwhile been proposed by the National Liberal Herr von
Bennigsen - ever the "honest broker" in Parliament, as the Chancellor was out
of it - and which fixed the peace strength of the army for a period of seven
years. This Military Septennate was repeatedly renewed, each time with an
enormous increase of men, seeing that it behooved Germany to keep pace with
the armaments of her neighbors, though on the last occasion (1887) Bismarck
could effect his purpose only by the ever-effective means of dissolving the
Reichstag. For, with all their pride in their Parliament, the Germans are
still prouder of their army, knowing what it has done for them. "An appeal to
fear," said Bismarck once, "never found an echo in German hearts," but an
appeal to them about their armor ever had.

Meanwhile Bismarck's task of consolidating the Reich had been further
advanced by the elaboration of a judicature act for the whole empire, which
now enjoyed also the benefits of criminal and commercial codes, while the
gigantic labor of preparing a code civil was being actively proceeded with.
The discussion of the Judicature Act (fixed to take effect in 1879) led
Bismarck to assume an attitude of such hostility to the provisions of the act
relating to the trial of press offences, which he characteristically wished to
make as rigorous as possible, that another conflict with Parliament was
avoided only by the usual compromise. But on the question of establishing the
Supreme Court of the Empire at Leipsic no compromise was possible, unless,
indeed, it could have been agreed to locate this seat of justice half way
between the Saxon city and Berlin. On this question Bismarck had to yield,
for, as previously remarked, Prussia had been outvoted on the subject by the
Federal Council from motives that were mixed, and there was now presented the
strangely "particularist" spectacle of German Sovereignty being enthroned in
one capital and German Justice in another.

In all this there was little, certainly, of the semblance of that
national unity which Bismarck had been struggling so hard to complete. But
the want of mere semblance here was nothing to the lack of positive substance
elsewhere, above all in a field where he had hoped to find another most
effective rivet, for the Reich Germany was still divided among no fewer than
sixty-three railway administrations, and the Chancellor's dearest aim was to
evolve harmony out of all this chaos by nationalizing the lines. He had
little hope that the Herculean task would be accomplished in his own lifetime,
and yet he was bent on doing his utmost to translate into a living truth that
article of the constitution by which the Federal sovereigns had bound
themselves to convert all the various lines into one systematized net. In 1873
an imperial railway board had been created; but time passed, and the only
field of its jurisdiction continued to be Alsace-Lorraine, with its strategic
lines. Moltke had pointed out that the triumph of Bismarck's system would be
an additional bulwark of defence to the nation, "railways in our time having
become one of the most important means of warfare"; and though Parliament
feared that, with a railway revenue of eight hundred million marks the
Imperial Government would become independent of its will, Bismarck scoffed at
the idea of "German freedom and unity being swept away by the first Imperial
locomotive."

But the opposition of Parliament, combined with the apathy of the Federal
States, proved too much for him, and all that he could do meanwhile, as a
preliminary step in the desired direction, was to induce his own Prussia to
perform "an act of abdication in favor of the empire." A narrow particularism
could not be laid to the charge of Bismarck, who had practically ceased to be
a Prussian with the trumpet-call of Koeniggraetz. Devoted as he was to the
institutions of his "engeres Vaterland," the interests of Germany, as a whole,
were nevertheless very much nearer his heart, and his broad and patriotic
views in this respect had even swelled the number of his foes among the
Prussian Junkers. "I hold it," he said, "to be my primary duty to strengthen
the power of the empire, and not that of a Grand-Prussianism
(Gross-Preussenthum);" and for this reason he advocated a railway "act of
abdication in favor of the empire." In the course, therefore, of the next few
years the Prussian Government had bought up all the railway lines within its
own territory, and though the Prussian Diet also passed a law empowering the
Government to transfer these lines to the Emperor, the latter has never shown
any inclination to carry out the Chancellor's policy to its full extent.

Prominent among the motives that had induced Bismarck to espouse this
policy was the desire to improve the finances of the empire, and render it
independent of the "matricular contributions" which, in the event of a
deficit, it was entitled to receive from its component States. "An empire,"
he said in 1872, "that is founded on the theory of 'matricular contributions'
lacks the strong bond of cohesion that is furnished by a common system of
finance." In 1875 he had failed to impose a tax on beer and bourse
transactions; and two years later, just after assuring Parliament that he was
meditating a thorough scheme of financial reform, the nation was startled with
the news that the Chancellor had resigned. His health was bad; his foes at
Court were active; he was at serious variance with some of his Ministerial
colleagues, notably Herr von Stosch, Chief of the Admiralty; he was being
thwarted on every hand, and nothing went right with him. But neither Germany
nor Europe (just on the eve of the Russo-Turkish War) would hear of his
resignation, and still less the Emperor, who hastened to write his famous
"Never!" on the margin of the Prince's "request for leave to resign." It has
been said that no man is indispensable, but at this time that was certainly
not the belief, either of the old Emperor William or of the majority of his
subjects.

The Prince's official labors were now lightened by the creation of a new
post - that of Vice-Chancellor - which was held for about three years by Count
Stolberg-Wernigerode, and then practically fell into abeyance. Herr von
Bennigsen went to Varzin to negotiate the forming of a Government party out of
the Conservatives and National Liberals (the latter having always proved true
to Bismarck in any great emergency); the Emperor exercised the necessary
pressure on Herr Camphausen, Finance Minister, and his lukewarm colleagues,
and in the spring of 1878 the speech from the throne announced the
introduction of bills for raising the tobacco-tax and levying further
stamp-duties, with the view of rendering the Reich independent of its
"matricular contributions," which Bismarck termed its "outdoor support."

Yet the only outcome of the session was the fall of the Finance Minister
and the reluctant granting of a meagre tax on playing-cards. Bismarck was in
despair. But out of this mood he was presently aroused by the pistol-shots of
the Socialist fanatic Hoedel, who had sought to murder the Emperor only a few
yards from the spot where the Chancellor himself had been covered by the
revolver of Ferdinand Cohen-Blind on the eve of the Austrian war. Next day an
order arrived in Berlin from Varzin to draft a law for combating the evils of
Social-Democracy, of which the tinker ruffian Hoedel was the clear outcome.
In the first German Parliament this party had been represented by only two
members, but this number had now increased to twelve. Within the last eight
years the movement had been making immense strides in Germany, as in every
other military State. Its organic existence, by a curious coincidence, dated
from the time when Bismarck became Premier of Prussia. At Versailles Moltke
had prophesied that Socialism, even more than France, would be Germany's great
enemy in the future. Bismarck, too, had been equally alive to its danger. We
have already seen that this was the ground on which he had successfully
brought about a rapprochement of the three empires, and had even addressed the
European Cabinets on the necessity of concerting common measures for combating
the spirit of international revolution. It now behooved him to do this from a
purely national point of view. Two years previously (1876) he had asked
Parliament, but vainly, for "means, as yet quite independent of the hangman,"
of dealing with Social-Democracy. All he begged for was a rigorous clause in
the Penal Code, but it was haughtily refused; nor could the Reichstag be
persuaded to approve the exceptional measure which had now been presented to
it as a consequence of Hoedel's crime. The cure, it was argued, would be
worse than the evil, and the bill was rejected by a sweeping majority.

A week had not elapsed since its rejection, when another Socialist, Dr.
Karl Nobiling, fired at and wounded the Emperor with a fowling-piece. And
then Bismarck, who had returned to Varzin, ill, bitterly disappointed, and big
with thoughts of resignation, hurried back to Berlin. There his resolution
underwent a complete change. "After beholding my lord and King lying there in
his blood," he said, "I made a silent vow that never against his will would I
leave the service of a master who, on his part, had thus adventured life and
limb in the performance of his duty to God and man." He hastened from the
palace and dissolved Parliament; and its successor - which had been elected
under the influence of the powerful wave of horror and indignation that swept
over the empire after this second attempt on the life of its venerable and
blameless chief - ended by giving the Chancellor the repressive powers he
wanted. But it subsequently rejected the Maulkorbgesetz ("muzzle measure"),
by which he also proposed to gag the mouths of the Social-Democrats in
Parliament itself.

The Antisocialist Law was most stringent, constituting an instrument of
repression such as was, perhaps, possessed by no other Government in Europe,
and, though passed for only three years at a time, it was repeatedly prolonged
by Parliament, and only dropped by William II two years after his accession to
the throne. From the point of view of its authors, had the repressive measure
been a success? In answer to this question a few figures may be quoted. At
the elections for the first German Parliament in 1871, about one hundred
thousand Socialist votes only had been recorded; at the same elections in
1890, Bismarck's last year of office, this number had risen to one million
four hundred twenty-seven thousand two hundred ninety-eight; and three years
later this number had further swelled to one million seven hundred eighty-six
thousand seven hundred thirty-eight, out of a total ballot of seven million
six hundred seventy-three thousand nine hundred seventy-three. In the first
German Parliament the Socialists had been represented by two members, and in
the ninth (1893) by forty-two; while, judged by the number of its voters, the
party was by far the strongest of all the twelve fractions in the Reichstag.
Had the results of the elections of 1893 been true to the principle of
proportional representation, the Socialists should have been awarded about a
fourth of the whole number of seats (397) in the Reichstag, and then the
balance of Parliamentary power would have passed into their hands. At the
same time it must be pointed out that, though the party had thus increased so
enormously during the operation of the law for its repression, it had also
begun to betray a certain distrust of its extreme members, and to believe more
in the efficacy of evolution than of revolution for the achievement of its
aims.

But Bismarck had never surrendered himself to the illusion that the
social problem of the nineteenth century could be solved as the Inquisition
sought to settle the religious question of the Middle Ages. All he aimed at
with the Socialist Law was merely to prevent the revolutionary movement from
spreading, and to render it as innocuous as possible the while he devised
radically remedial measures. He was well aware that reform must go
hand-in-hand with repression, and accordingly there was now inaugurated what
has been called the "Economic Era" of his career. Of this era Bismarck's
transition from free trade to protectionism was the first act. It had already
been agreed at a conference of the Finance Ministers of all the various States
that "an increase in the revenue of the empire was indispensable, and that
this increase should be sought for in the field of indirect taxation." "In
revising our tariff," said Bismarck, "our own interest is the only thing that
can guide us;" and this interest was more financial than protective.
"Germany," he added, "could no longer be expected to remain the dupe of an
honest conviction. ... In the field of political economy the abstract
doctrines of science leave me perfectly cold, my only standard of judgment
being experience." In the opinion of Bismarck the doctrines of the Cobdenites
were as dangerous to the German State as the theories of the Jesuits; and the
"Ultramaritimes" - as the English free-traders now began to be called in
Germany - were ranked in the same hostile category as the "Ultramontanes."
But, indeed, it was only with the help of the latter that he ultimately
managed to triumph over the "Ultramaritimes"; for it was the Clericals who,
inspired, among other things, by hopes of future requital in the field of the
Kulturkampf, had proved his best allies in the work of storming the fortress
of free trade and planting there the flag of protectionism.

Bismarck's protective tariff formed the corner-stone of a complicated
structure of financial reform which aimed at "enabling the empire to stand on
its fiscal legs"; but in the further elaboration of this structure he was not
so successful. For he repeatedly failed to realize his ideal of a tobacco and
schnapps monopoly, as he also failed to establish biennial budgets, though he
succeeded in changing the legislative period both in Prussia and the empire
from three to five years. Those who imagine that the German Parliament is a
comparatively powerless body which serves merely as a registering machine to
the will of the Government should bethink themselves of the numerous defeats
which it inflicted upon the Chancellor during the "Economic Era" of his
career. But even when balked in the Parliament of the empire, he sometimes
managed to achieve his purpose in the Parliament of Prussia. In the latter
Legislature he once said:

"We must look about for means of making ourselves independent of
obstruction in the Reichstag. In ordinary circumstances I should be no
advocate of such a policy, but when the cause of the Fatherland is imperilled
I will not hesitate to give the Emperor becoming advice. That minister would
be a coward who did not risk his head to save his country in despite even of
the will of a majority. I am not inclined to let the achievements of our army
be destroyed by internal frictions, and I shall find means of obviating this."

This was said in reference to his Polish policy (1886) which caused such
a sensation; and for expelling thousands of Poles from Prussian Posen he was
denounced as a "pitiless despot." But he was no more of a "pitiless despot"
than the President of the United States when he refuses the hospitality of
that country to Chinese immigrants who would prove detrimental to the welfare
of the native population. The multitudes of Poles whom Bismarck expelled from
Posen were aliens (Russian and Austrian), who intrigued against the integrity
of Prussia and it is only flabby-minded statesmen who would tolerate such a
danger in any state. But this expulsion policy had a complement in the shape
of a scheme (the Prussian Parliament voted one hundred million marks to carry
it out) for buying out (not expropriating) Polish landowners, and parcelling
their estates among German farmers who, beginning as leaseholders, would in
time acquire the freehold of the soil.

This plan for Germanizing Prussian Poland was as bold an experiment as
some of Bismarck's other enterprises in the field of state socialism; for that
is the only phrase that adequately describes the Chancellor's colossal schemes
for insuring the working-classes against old age, illness, accidents, and
indigence - schemes to which he devoted most of his time and attention until
they had acquired something like practical shape before the death of the old
Emperor. "You have been the brave and faithful adviser," wrote Kaiser
Frederick to the Chancellor on ascending the throne, "who gave shape to the
aims of my late father's policy and secured their successful realization. I
and my house are, and will remain, most grateful to you."

William II professed himself to be equally conscious of the great things
which Bismarck had done for Germany, above all with his economic measures. For
his Majesty was not one of those who, while believing the Chancellor to be
simply infallible in the field of foreign affairs, denied him the versatile
genius which would have made him equally at home in the domain of domestic
reform. To this category of doubters, however, belonged the Social-Democrats
themselves, who, for reasons which they could never make wholly clear to the
unprejudiced mind, had always scoffed at and opposed the Chancellor's
state-insurance and other schemes devised for their express benefit. Far from
lessening the disaffection of the poorer classes, these remedial schemes had
only seemed to increase it. Social-Democracy had become more exacting and
disquieting than ever - so much so that, before William II had been two years
on the throne, his Chancellor proposed resort to a still more repressive
policy. But the Reichstag would not hear of such a thing, and, indeed, the
Emperor himself was at heart against the idea. His Majesty had his own
thoughts about the settlement of the social question, and to these thoughts he
now gave expression in the rescripts which he issued (February, 1890) as to
the meeting of an International Conference at Berlin to discuss the relations
of employer and employed. Of these rescripts Bismarck afterward said:

"The rescripts had long been a favorite idea with the Emperor. In
principle I was opposed to them; but as the Emperor insisted on their being
issued, I carried my point at last as to their particular wording, in order to
tone them down. The wording of them was mine, and I had no help from any of
my colleagues. It was I, too, who suggested the International Conference."

This International Labor Conference met in due course. But it had not
sat long when the attention of Europe was completely diverted from its
academic debates by the startling and momentous news that Prince Bismarck had
resigned all his offices, and was no longer Chancellor of the empire he had
served with such splendid distinction for a period of twenty years.

 

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