Bismarck on War with France

Taylor Bismarck

Bismarck himself feared the effect of the Luxembourg settlement on German, not on French opinion. His fears were not without foundation. One member of the North German parliament indeed protested against the compromise on grounds of national pride and appealed to the German people. This patriot was the Social Democrat, Bebel. War and an aggressive foreign policy were still the prerogative of the Left; love of peace still the most telling accusation that could be made against a man of the Right, and Bismarck showed his usual courage in facing the charge. His dealings with German liberalism were the exact counterpart to the implicit bargain which he had made with King William in 1862. Then he had defended the rights of the crown and had exacted the price in a foreign policy directed against Austria. Now he offered the Germans liberal institutions and imposed a pacific foreign policy in return. Many liberals would have liked to challenge France and to show that Germany had taken her place as la grande nation. Bismarck dreaded war with France, not from fear of defeat, but because of the consequences which victory would bring. He said during the Luxembourg crisis: ‘I shall avoid this war as long as I can; for I know, that once started, it will never cease.’ And later, to his friend Keyserling: ‘Even if Prussia wins, where will it lead to? Even if we took Alsace, we should have to defend it, and in the end the French would find allies again, and then things could go badly!’ The war against Austria had been fought for a practical purpose and with concrete aims; once these aims were achieved, peace could be made. War with France would be a test of strength without solid prizes; and the test would have to be repeated whenever the defeated party felt strong enough to challenge the verdict.


1. Taylor, A. J. P. Bismarck, the Man and the Statesman. New York: Knopf, 1955. Print.


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