Otto von Bismarck

First Chancellor of the German Empire / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Otto, Prince of Bismarck, Count of Bismarck-Schönhausen, Duke of Lauenburg (German: Otto, Fürst von Bismarck, Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen, Herzog zu Lauenburg, pronounced [ˈɔtoː fɔn ˈbɪsmaʁk] i; 1 April 1815 – 30 July 1898), born Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, was a Prussian and later German statesman and diplomat.

Quick facts: His Serene HighnessOtto von BismarckPrince of...
Otto von Bismarck
Bismarck as an elderly man. He is balding and wears a moustache.
Bismarck in 1890
Chancellor of Germany
In office
21 March 1871  20 March 1890
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byLeo von Caprivi
Other offices held
Federal Chancellor of the North German Confederation
In office
1 July 1867  21 March 1871
PresidentWilhelm I
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byHimself (as Chancellor of the German Empire)
Minister President of Prussia
In office
9 November 1873  20 March 1890
Preceded byAlbrecht von Roon
Succeeded byLeo von Caprivi
In office
23 September 1862  1 January 1873
MonarchWilhelm I
Preceded byAdolf zu Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen
Succeeded byAlbrecht von Roon
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
23 November 1862  20 March 1890
Prime Minister
Preceded byAlbrecht von Bernstorff
Succeeded byLeo von Caprivi
Personal details
Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck-Schönhausen

(1815-04-01)1 April 1815
Schönhausen, Saxony, Kingdom of Prussia
Died30 July 1898(1898-07-30) (aged 83)
Friedrichsruh, Schleswig-Holstein, Prussia, German Empire
Resting placeBismarck Mausoleum
53°31′38″N 10°20′9.96″E
Political partyIndependent
(m. 1847; died 1894)
Alma mater
  • Politician
  • diplomat
  • author
  • soldier
  • lawyer
Military service
AllegianceFlag_of_Prussia_%281892-1918%29.svg Kingdom of Prussia
Flag_of_Germany_%281867%E2%80%931918%29.svg German Empire
Branch/serviceImperial German Army
RankColonel General with the rank of Field Marshal
AwardsPour le Mérite with oak leaves

From his origins in the upper class of Junker landowners, Bismarck rose rapidly in Prussian politics, and from 1862 to 1890 he was the minister president and foreign minister of Prussia. Before that, he was the Prussian ambassador to Russia and France and served in both houses of the Prussian parliament. He masterminded the unification of Germany in 1871, and served as the first chancellor of the German Empire until 1890, in which capacity he dominated European affairs. He had served as chancellor of the North German Confederation from 1867 to 1871, alongside his responsibilities in the Kingdom of Prussia. He worked with King Wilhelm I of Prussia to unify the various German states. The King granted Bismarck the titles of Count of Bismarck-Schönhausen in 1865 and Prince of Bismarck in 1871. Bismarck provoked three short, decisive wars against Denmark, Austria, and France. Following the defeat of Austria, he replaced the German Confederation with the North German Confederation, aligning the smaller North German states with Prussia, but excluding Austria. Receiving the support of the independent South German states in Prussia's defeat of France, he formed the German Empire which also excluded Austria and united Germany. With Prussian dominance accomplished by 1871, Bismarck used balance of power diplomacy to maintain Germany's position in a peaceful Europe. However, the annexation of Alsace–Lorraine caused French revanchism and Germanophobia. Bismarck's Realpolitik and powerful rule at home led to him being called the Iron Chancellor. Juggling a very complex interlocking series of conferences, negotiations and alliances, he used his diplomatic skills to maintain Germany's position. Bismarck disliked colonialism because he thought it would consume German resources rather than reaping the benefit of it but reluctantly built an overseas empire when it was demanded by both elite and mass opinion.

As part of his domestic political maneuvering, Bismarck created the first welfare state in the modern world, with the goal of undermining his socialist opponents. In the 1870s, he allied himself with the low-tariff, anti-Catholic Liberals and fought the Catholic Church in what was called the Kulturkampf ("culture struggle"). This failed, as the Catholics responded by forming the powerful German Centre Party and using universal male suffrage to gain a bloc of seats. Bismarck responded by ending the Kulturkampf, breaking with the Liberals, and forming a political alliance with the Centre Party to fight the Socialists. He was loyal to his ruler, German Emperor Wilhelm I, who argued with Bismarck but supported him against the advice of Wilhelm's wife and son. While the Imperial Reichstag was elected by universal male suffrage, it did not have control of government policy. Bismarck distrusted democracy and ruled through a strong, well-trained bureaucracy with power in the hands of a traditional Junker elite. In 1888, which came to be known as the Year of the Three Emperors, the German throne passed from Wilhelm I to Frederick III to Wilhelm II. The new emperor dismissed Bismarck from office, and Bismarck retired to write his memoirs.

Bismarck is best remembered for his role in German unification. As head of Prussia and later Germany, Bismarck possessed not only a long-term national and international vision but also the short-term ability to juggle complex developments. As a result, he became a hero to German nationalists, who built many monuments honouring him. Historians praise him as a visionary who was instrumental in uniting Germany and kept the peace in Europe through adroit diplomacy. He has been criticized for his domestic policies such as Catholic persecution and the centralization of executive power, which some describe as Caesarist. Furthermore, he has been criticized by opponents of German nationalism, as nationalism became engrained in German culture, galvanizing the country to aggressively pursue nationalistic policies in both World Wars.