The Franco Prussian War
The Franco-Prussian War, was a war in 1870-1871 lost by France to the German states under the leadership of Prussia. The underlying causes of the conflict were the determination of the Prussian statesman Prince Otto Edward Leopold von Bismarck to unify Germany under Prussian control and, as a step toward this goal, to eliminate French influence over Germany. On the other hand, Napoleon III, emperor of France from 1852 to 1870, sought to regain both in France and abroad the prestige lost as a result of numerous diplomatic reverses, particularly those suffered at the hands of Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. In addition, the military strength of Prussia, as revealed in the war with Austria, constituted a threat to French dominance on the continent of Europe.
The government of Napoleon III, still not content, was determined to humiliate Prussia, even at the cost of war. Antoine Agénor Alfred, duc de Gramont, the French foreign minister, demanded that William submit a personal letter of apology to Napoleon III and a guarantee that the Hohenzollern candidacy would never be renewed. In an interview with Benedetti at Ems, the Prussian king rejected the French demands. The same day, Bismarck obtained William's authorization to publish the French demands and the Prussian rejection contained in what was known as the Ems Dispatch. Bismarck edited the document in a manner calculated to aggravate the resentment of the French and the Germans. The Prussian statesman realized that this move would in all probability precipitate war, but he knew that Prussia was prepared, and he counted on the psychological effect of a French declaration of war to rally the south German states to Prussia's cause, thus accomplishing the final phase in the unification of Germany.
THE WAR BEGINS
BATTLE OF SEDAN AND
CAPTURE OF NAPOLEON III
Upon receiving intelligence of the capture of the French emperor, Paris rose in rebellion, the Legislative Assembly was dissolved, and France was proclaimed a republic. Before the close of September, Strasbourg, one of the last points at which the French had hoped to stem the German advance, capitulated, and Paris was completely surrounded. On October 7 the minister of the new French government, Léon Gambetta, made a dramatic escape from Paris by balloon, and with his chief assistant, Charles Louis de Saulces de Freycinet, established a provisional capital in the city of Tours. From there they led the organization and equipment of 36 military divisions. The efforts of these troops proved unavailing, however, and they were at length driven into Switzerland, where they were disarmed and interned.
SIEGE OF PARIS,
FRENCH CAPITULATION, AND GERMAN OCCUPATION
A day earlier, January 18, an event had occurred that represented the culmination of Bismarck's unremitting efforts for the unification of Germany. William I, the Prussian king, was crowned emperor of Germany in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The formal capitulation of Paris took place on January 28, following which an armistice of three weeks was arranged. A French national assembly, elected to negotiate the peace, convened at Bordeaux on February 13 and chose Adolphe Thiers as the first president of the Third Republic. In March Parisians broke out in revolt of the new assembly and organized a revolutionary government known as the Commune of Paris (see Commune of Paris, 1871). Opposing the armistice, they fought bitterly against government troops sent by Thiers to suppress the revolt. The ensuing civil war lasted until May, when the revolutionaries surrendered.
The Treaty of Frankfurt, signed on May 10, 1871, ended the war between France and Germany. The treaty provided that the French province of Alsace (excepting Belfort) and part of Lorraine, including Metz, were to be ceded to the German Empire, and that France was to pay a war indemnity of 5 billion gold francs ($1 billion), submitting to occupation by German troops until the amount was rendered in full. This heavy obligation was discharged in September 1873, and during the same month, after an occupation of almost three years, France was at last freed of German soldiers.
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