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France In The Franco Prussian War

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Three wars determined the fate of Germany, the first one early in 1864 with Denmark, then in 1866 Austria, the final one, France. The last one, Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71 directly led to the founding of Germany after French defeat. The Prussian victory was due much to the isolation of France. A.J.P Taylor commented that “…France was isolated in 1870 as Austria had been in 1866”, and actually, these two isolation was the arts of Bismarck’s foreign policies. There is no doubt that the favourable international circumstances benefited Bismarck’s foreign policies, but like what Taylor had commented that it is “inadequate to explain Bismarck’s success solely by the mistakes of his opponents”, acknowledging his contribution to the isolation of France in the Franco-Prussian War. This essay thus includes the architects of the Iron Chancellor to isolate France before this war.

After the defeat of Austria in Seven Weeks’ War, the Franco-Prussian rivalries were more apparent. While Napoleon III was suspicious of Prussia due to her growing influence in Central Europe, he called for reward for French neutrality in the Austro-Prussian War. Bismarck, however, cleverly utilized his ambition to isolate France.

To do so, Bismarck was intended to keep British isolation of France. After Prussian victory in the Austro-Prussian war in 1866, Napoleon III of France looked for the purchase of Luxemburg as compensation for neutrality in the war. French diplomat Vincent Benedetti even proposed a draft treaty of Franco-Prussian alliance to Bismarck, which was called “the Benedetti treaty”, proposing French annexation of Belgium. He later used them as a means to discredit France before the Franco-Prussian War by disclosing this treaty in The Times on July 25, together with the conspiracy of Napoleon III towards Belgium. This move was to arouse the discontent of British and to ensure her isolation on France.

It is true that Britain was always suspicious of France right from the start of the 19th century owing to the Napoleonic Era and her strong nationalism, but this is not enough to explain British neutrality. It is Bismarck who utilized British fear to isolate France. British “practical concern” was Belgium. The Treaty of London in 1839 Britain guaranteed Belgian neutrality. During the Belgian Independence War(1830-9), British had resisted French intervention, since she had to prevent the spread of French influence there. Bismarck was wise to publicize the ambition of France in this region to gain British neutrality in times of war against France. This showed Bismarck’s manipulation of international circumstances in foreign policies.

The Iron Chancellor, on the other hand, tried his best to keep Russia neutral in the war to isolate France. He tried to get Russian goodwill first by offering the help for the chase of those Polish rebels, though it was rejected by Tsar Alexander II. Bismarck’s later foreign policies finally succeed, especially during the period 1866 and 1870, when the Near East Crisis revived. Bismarck did not get involved in it, but he looked to peaceful ways to solve this. For instance, in 1869, Bismarck called a conference in Paris to solve the Cretan Crisis by acting as an honest broker. Actually, the relationship between Russia and Prussia was going on the right track. The Russo-Prussian Agreement was issued by Tsar Alexander II to station 100000 troops on the Austrian frontier to “keep Austria in check”. This showed that Bismarck in fact won the goodwill of Russia at that time, and it is not surprising Russia would stay neutral in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Of course, Bismarck’s foreign policy was only one of the reasons contributing to the Russian neutrality. In fact, Russian military weaknesses led to her neutralization. She just lacked military power in Galicia to mobilize, let alone intervention. However, one cannot deny the effectiveness of Bismarck’s foreign policies, which won the goodwill of Russia, avoiding her intervention in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71.

Bismarck was well-aware of the Austrian foreign policy. Prussia had just defeated the Austrian in 1866 in the Seven Weeks’ War. However, Bismarck knew clearly that Austria was crucial to German unification due to the fact that he did not want a Greater Germany, but a Little Germany to ensure Prussian domination in Germany.

Bismarck cared much about Austrian neutrality in case of a Franco-Prussian conflict. Actually, he was trying to recover the relation between Austria and Prussia after handing the former a lost in the war in 1866. He forced William I to treat Austria leniently by a threat of suicide. At last, this previous dominant power in the Central Europe lost only Venetia, Holstein and the presidency in the German Confederation according to the Treaty of Prague. She was still remained a power in the Central Europe.

However, the above policies by Bismarck did not result in the neutrality. Actually, Austrian intention to take revenge on Prussia was not diminishing until 1870(Struggle for Mastery in Europe….. p169), which could be seen in the attempt to seek a Triple Alliance between Italy and France in 1868. Notwithstanding, Bismarck’s policy to deliberately weakened Austria by stimulating the Hungarian revolt against the Hapsburg Empire during the Austro-Prussian War was the reason for Austrian neutrality. The dual monarchy, Austria-Hungary, was an indirect cause of Bismarck’s plot. This led to internal instability in Austria because the newly-founded monarchy had too much to settle, for example the multi-racial sentiment like the demand for equal national rights by the Czechs in Bohemia since 1868, and the compromise with the Magyars, that is, Hungary, on the organization of the government. Austria-Hungary after 1866 defeat faced a chaotic situation, with complicated internal affairs remained unsettled. She was not ready for intervention. She was afraid of repeating Custoza rather than revenging Sadova. In this case, credits should be given to Bismarck’s foreign policies, making Austria weak politically and militarily, resulting in her neutrality in Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

Uniting with the Southern Germany was a highly serious matter considered by Bismarck. The Prussian Minster-President after the Austro-Prussian War in 1866 faced a difficult task in unifying these Southern German states. Nationalism among these four southern states, Baden, Bavaria, Hesse-Darmstabt and Wurttemberg, were not strong enough to unite with the North German Confederation. Though Bismarck had tried several times to unite with the Southern Germany, these were not successful. The most important one is the setting up of a “Zollparlament” after 1867, including all the delegates from all German states, regardless of Northern or Southern one. Most deputies from those Southern German states were only inclined to discussions of commercial problems, not political one. On the other hand, the four southern states were hostile to Prussia, and they were different from Prussia in terms of their religion. Prussia was a Protestant state, while others Catholics. Adding to it, there was a danger of these four southern states falling into the hands of Bismarck also due to the demand of Napoleon to get all territories of the left bank of the Rhine. Bismarck was in a headache not only in getting the unification with Southern German states, but to keep them in Prussian side.

However, Bismarck turned impossible to miracle. He, intentionally quarreled with France, used her to generate a great force of nationalist emotion and, through inviting foreign French intervention to unite the North and Southern Germany. He wisely exposed the ambition of France in the discussions with the Southern German states to frighten them. This was effective. Secret military alliances were signed between Prussia and the four Southern German states respectively in August 1866. These were crucial, not only did these facilitate the development of close personal contacts with Prussians, but also in 1870, when the Franco-Prussian war was imminent, the Southern Germany took up their arms to help Prussia in the war. In this case, Bismarck’s foreign policy manipulated the certain circumstances in the isolation of France before Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

Italy, the most ineffective sixth power in Europe, however, was still a concern for Bismarck. He, before the Austro-Prussian War, signed an alliance with the Italians, promising to win her Venetia if she cooperated with Prussia against Austria in the war. At last, though it was France forcing Austria to cede Venetia after the Battle of Sadova in 1866, it was Bismarck’s Treaty of Prague confirmed it. This foreign policy by Bismarck was part of the reason leading to the neutrality of Italy in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. But it is arguable whether the neutrality was all of Bismarck’s work. Truly, it is the long-time hostility of Italy towards France that caused this neutrality. Actually, France, since 1849, had troops in Rome, and the Italians would not co-operate until France had withdrawn her garrison there. (Bismarck and Germany 1862-1890 p.?) Therefore, those circumstances favoured push Italy away from France, even though an alliance with Austria and France was offered, she found it “pointless” to cooperate with France. Therefore, Italian neutrality in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 was not only due to Bismarck’s foreign policies, but also the favourable circumstances internationally. But Bismarck’s work should not be regarded useless, but crucial since Bismarck as least tried his best to win Italian friendship. This was a smart decision. Italy strove to complete her unification. Prussian help in ensuring the return of Venetia won much Italian appreciation. Italy, thankful to Prussia, would not easily take action to stop her in the Franco-Prussian War. So, Bismarck’s foreign policy was valuable in the isolation of France.

To say Bismarck created circumstances is simply a joke. One can say Bismarck as an opportunist, as he made use certain international circumstances to isolate France. In a period when all the powers in Europe longed only for achieving their own needs, Bismarck was still able to play out his tactics in it. The Austrian neutrality was his playing, the Russian was, and even the Italian was. However, we cannot deny the fact that Bismarck was an architect, planning for the alliance with the Southern German states, for the Ems Telegram. Bismarck was a diplomatic genius. His cruel “blood and iron” policy earned him, and William I, an entire new and Prussian-led German Empire.

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