* * * * *
If it be a mark of progress to call God a superstitious idol and to endeavor by the guillotine to enforce political rights, then the precious French key to the Door of Destiny for this human race should be duplicated and placed in the possession of nations, far and wide, as the final expression of man's best idea of himself, his wife, his child and his country.
This 1789-93 return to National paganism, both political and social, is the mockery that Bismarck decided with all his almighty strength, nay his supreme rage, to set aside; and for him Prussian Militarism, which he so jealously set his heart on, against the rising tides of French constitutionalism, otherwise mob-rule, was at once to prove the sharp cure and the dreadful counter-blow.
* * * * *
It was only after St. Helena that the Napoleonic legend, presenting Napoleon as the great democrat, was brought forward, to wit, that the Emperor's many brutal campaigns were in the interest of the "common people" instead of gratification of his obsession for wars.
The transition came about in a simple way. The Emperor was dead and gone; his fate on a distant black rock added romantic interest to his lost cause; and the return of the old-line French kings after Waterloo, under the bayonets of Britain and the Allies, had proved a keen disappointment, politically, to France. It is conceded that Napoleon had promised and in many cases had applied liberal principles in his conquered domains; but now that the man was dead, agitators of many lands, including the 39 distracted German states, began to take literally what the Emperor had said in a sort of huge politico-military satire, to wit, that his blood-letting was truly in the interest of the masses.
* * * * *
Hence, between 1815 and 1848, agitators of Germany began ringing the changes on the glories of the French Revolution. True, the Emperor had been dead some 20-odd years; a new generation found surprising merits in his military plans, forgetful of the lure of loot that had been the foundation of it all; yes, for one thing the hungry desire of the landless for the lands of the Catholic church.
The exaggerated fact has been falsely set forth again and again that the French peasant of 1789 was down in the very mire of political despond, without a sou to his name; the cock called him to work at dawn, and all for the good of the aristocrats; he was penniless, he was an absurd figure, he was not a man but a beast;—hence his righteous revolt in the sacred name of Liberty.
The fact is that at this time the French peasant was in no worse condition than the working classes of other lands, including Britain, Italy and Germany. That the Revolution first broke out in France and not in the other countries named is to be traced to journalistic and oratorical agitators of the ward-politician type.
The special taxes of which the peasantry complained did not exceed two per cent of the products of the soil; and it is also a fact that France had a large and profitable foreign trade; but French political and journalistic agitators were afield, and the plain truth is that the landless desired to confiscate, and did confiscate, the titles of those in possession.
No sooner was the gigantic confiscation of Catholic church lands, amounting to about one-third of the soil of France, or two billion five hundred million of francs in nominal value, ordered by Mirabeau, backed up by the Revolutionary tribunals, than the supposedly impecunious French peasants came forward and purchased to the extent of millions of francs; and it is a fact today (1915) that one of the secret dreads of the French peasantry is that some sensational political change may come in the stability of the French Government, a change that will forfeit these old land titles, based on confiscation in Revolutionary days.
The French peasantry wants no great National military hero to emerge from the war of 1915; and it is not unthinkable that should a very strong French general suddenly come forward, he would be removed by assassination; a thing that has happened at least once before, in latter-day French politics.
This confession of politico-social fears on the part of the French peasantry explains why in France, take them as a group, the candidates invested with the honors of the Presidency are timid men, without ambitious political bias, and why, on the whole, the modern French National instinct lives in dread of a military hero, who with a turn of his wrist might on the vote of his soldiers declare himself, let us say, Emperor.
* * * * *
Loaded down with debts incurred for various reasons, the French of 1789 were on the verge of National bankruptcy.
This condition has usually been charged up against the excesses of the French kings, such, for example, as expending some 200,000,000 francs for pleasure-palaces, for the pretty women around Louis XIV; but this charge will not bear the light of modern research.
It is also a fact, on the practical side, that the much-boasted support given to America by the French in America's Revolutionary War, in a degree helped to bankrupt the French government; but Americans have forgotten or wink at this plain financial obligation.
Also, the French Revolution had promised in its every utterance the dawn of the political millennium, whereas instead it brought an era of blood, idol-worship and free-love. We are not discussing here those poetical French surveys of the Rights of Man. Every ward-politician in Paris had the list at his tongue's end. There was some truth, much truth, in many of these expressions, no doubt, as mere expressions of humane sentiments. That, however, is another story.
* * * * *
One has but to read the Memoirs of President Bailly of the Revolutionary Assembly to find that mob-rule predominated from the first day of the supposed "Dawn of the political Millennium." The mob in the gallery hissed or applauded each speech, and deputies were intimidated.
Bismarck in his united Germany wanted no Jacobin Clubs, largely composed of ward-politicians, and Bismarck wanted no Marat with his vile newspaper, "Friend of the People," setting class against class.
He wanted no guillotine as the German symbol of political liberty. This political method of the guillotine was at best only a cowardly form of assassination, ineffectual, barbarous. First one side used it, then the other; then still another group; each set of French political assassins prating of Liberty had recourse to the guillotine to be well rid of rivals much as in Csar's time the women of Csar's family, that their own might be exalted, in turn proceeded to poison prospective collateral heirs to the Imperial throne.
* * * * *
Bismarck knew all about this dirty French mess, parading itself as the "voice of the people." He was a strong man himself and he was guilty of gross ambitions in his rise to power, but on the whole Bismarck stood for self-possession and for manly audacity, certainly not the French Revolution type of audacity. It is a fact that Bismarck, as a human being, was a vast egotist, and had his own, ofttimes unscrupulous, way of gaining his ends, but his conception of Militarism, the force he did eventually use, was at bottom a virtuous effort to support, liberate and unify the Fatherland, not drag it into the mire of idolatry and bestiality.
* * * * *
We shall frequently say harsh things about Bismarck, in this book; we do not wish to follow French methods and endeavor to make an impossible hero of a man of clay. Bismarck, as a man and in the methods of his rise to great glory, had his gross faults, and we fearlessly point them out.
But here are some of the facts that Bismarck can never stand accused of, in the light of this much-boasted French political "Millennium" of 1789-93, and here, likewise we find the real reasons why he did struggle with all his might against a reluctant people to enforce Militarism throughout the jealous clashing 39 German states; and if Bismarck's exercise of the strong hand, in the bosom of the German family was a fault, then at least it did not include these French conditions, set up to cause the world to gasp in admiration.
The bull-necked Danton, the Parisian ward-heeler, in control of public opinion, came on with his guillotine; and closed the city's gates against any man that had a dollar to pay his debts or buy a dinner.
The so-called "will of the people" was in short a spurious affair, unnaturally created by a political morphine that gave glorious dreams; and this wretched drug was supplied by the mob-leaders.
All the blood-letting was represented as a harmless affair, tending toward liberty and equality; all the confiscations of church-lands and redistribution among the peasants was declared a "great" political triumph.
Throughout even the loneliest country districts the word was passed that the political millennium was about to break.
The King was represented as a "monster fattening on crime." His wife was called an Austrian "panthress," and vile pamphlets were secretly passed around reflecting on her character. God was represented as judging the King, and the guillotine was awaiting Louis, by Heaven's decree.
The 26,000 priests who refused to take the oath of allegiance to the monstrous political farce were visited with all manner of persecutions; one section of Revolutionary opinion decreed that death was the just due of all offending pastors.
The assertion of kept-historians that there was "political justification" is at once spurious and an insult to common sense.
In justice to the better French element it is granted freely that the dreadful September massacres did not express the real beliefs of the great decent body of the French people; but the Nation was dragged through the mire and the Nation has for years been endeavoring to explain this political Millennium of riots, murders, midnight assassinations, despoilings of land titles.
* * * * *
Bismarck would have drained the poison cup rather than stand for such French Constitutional nonsense in his beloved Germany, the Germany of his dreams, the Germany for which he labored so many years, the Germany which he would save from itself, so to speak.
He purposed to build up German political opinion, not through blatherskite ward-heelers, in Berlin, Frankfort or Hamburg, but by a manly appeal to German common sense and German sense of respect for authority; and if Bismarck overworked his idea of Divine-right of kings, then at least this may be said: that he issued no appeal to the German people "Who Laughs on Friday, Weeps on Sunday!" (The massacres had come between!) And as to Danton, who glories in being the immediate instigator of the massacres we have these, Danton's own words: "It was I who caused them. Rivers of blood had to flow between me and our enemies!" Finally, after these rivers of blood, the word was passed, "That the entire Nation will hasten to adopt this (guillotine) most-necessary means of public salvation."
Viewing at closer range the work of the legislators of the great republic of liberty and equality; these facts Bismarck well knew, explaining his belief in militarism.
After reading five hundred pamphlets on the Revolution (as she testified at her trial) Charlotte Corday struck down Marat with a dagger; and her act has been generally condoned by men with a sense of fair-play. It was indeed a bloody murder; but when a mad-dog is running wild, a beast fattening on human blood, one passion feeds on another—and Corday is no exception. (Henderson, Symbol and Satire of the French Revolution).
Heroine or monster, take your choice; at least in her time such was the frenzy of the alleged political Millennium that Marat was soon worshipped as a martyr. This atrocious political quack, with all his daggers and his blackjacks, was likened to Jesus Christ; and among the sentiments of the hour we read, "A perfidious hand has snatched him away from his beloved people"; "To the immortal glory of Marat, the people's friend"; "Unable to corrupt me, they have assassinated me!" "Marat, rare and sublime soul, we will imitate thee; we swear it on thy bloody corpse."
Such are some of the expressions of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity that followers of French Constitutionalism had years later decreed to re-enact in Germany; but Bismarck stood as a master with a rod of iron to lay over the backs of fanatical German Radicals, who would come on with their drunken calls of "Liberty!"
* * * * *
All this, however, is only the mild opening chapter of this much glorified French Constitutionalism. The French prisons soon held about all there was of French intelligence and moderation; the brains, the blood and the beauty. It is not necessary to mention names.
If you wish to become hysterical, read your fill of this drunken era of French Constitutionalism.
At the height of the Terror, there were 8,000 political prisoners in French dungeons; and the mobs still came on with their cries for fresh blood. One day, this expression was made: "The town of Lyons shall be destroyed; the name Lyons shall be effaced," etc. All this meant that Lyons, weary of blood, had decided on raising an army to beat back the sons of spurious liberty.
* * * * *
Any man who, in the Terror, dared disagree with the mob-rulers was called a "conspirator." In a letter from Herbois, we find this plain evidence of political lunacy masquerading as inspiration: "There are 60,000 individuals here who will never make good republicans; we must have them sent away. I have new measures in mind, weighty and effectual,* * * Heads, more heads, heads every day! * * * How you would have enjoyed seeing National justice meted out to two hundred and nine rogues. What cement for the Republic! I say fete, yes, citizen president, fete is the right word. The guillotining and fusillading are not going badly!"
* * * * *
The Queen, now in her dungeon, was treated with wretched dishonor. Even the petty expenses of bread and salt were begrudged: 15 francs a day for food; three francs and 18 sous for trimming a skirt, 18 sous for a ribbon and shoe-strings; three francs for a tooth wash;—all this was kept track of. Yet in years gone by France had allowed her four million francs of pin money, and the royal allowance was twenty-five millions of francs per annum.
"Through a small window in her cell comes the light of day. * * * She is accused of being a leech, a scourge, a harpy and a free-lover; she is condemned to death."
* * * * *
The political assassins, known as the Mountain, and that known as the Girondists, now began destroying each other; every patriotic action of the Girondists was set forth as having been instigated by love of vulgar applause. After some days, the Jacobin Club petitioned for freer trials, less hindered by legal formalities.
"Long live the Republic!" was the cry. "Perish all traitors!" Executions continued, day by day.
The poor king was long since dead and gone, yet his memory was detested.
On a certain day of horrors, the tombs of his ancestors were broken open by the mob, and the bones scattered. One corpse (or what remained of it) was stood up against a wall and the beard hacked off by a patriot of the new Regime.
* * * * *
All authority was now overthrown; and as one writer adds, "the most daring enterprise of the Revolution remains to be chronicled: the storming of Heaven!" (Henderson.)
The leaders decided next to attack God on His throne; God was officially declared a superstitious myth.
The altars of France were hurled over; the Christian era was abolished by political decree; the Sabbath day was officially proclaimed done away with; Christ was to be henceforth banished, officially; churches closed, pagan rites substituted.
* * * * *
Bismarck, the thinker, Bismarck, the builder, with his dream of political responsibility, of vested Authority, stood for no such facts in his protests against the rising tide of Radicalism, in the German states.
He knew his history too well; he knew the satire of the French Revolution, the folly of meeting it in any way except by the sword.
Yes, Bismarck believed strongly in what has since been called Militarism; but his idea was that power was needed for the liberation and the unification of his country; and he hated French Constitutionalism and fought by fair means and by foul all efforts to warp upon Germans the political ideals of the French Revolution. So you must here and now make up your mind whether or not Bismarck was a great statesman or a great fool.
* * * * *
The French Convention, weary of blood-letting, began maundering in the psychology of religion.
It was officially set forth by one of the Deputies that, after all, the idea was to invent some new form of religion, without which the proposed political Millennium had fallen short.
Marat was turned to, that choice spirit of the height of the era; though in his tomb, he was called upon in this strange language, despite his bringing in the Terror:
"O, heart of Jesus, O heart of Marat, you have an equal right to our homage!"
A New Era was now decreed, taken in the main from the paganism of early France. The four seasons were symbolized by the hunt of the man for his mate: he is afield in Autumn, on horseback; in Winter, he first finds his new mate; in the Spring, the maid watches her sheep feeding on the hills; and in Summertime, the man is seen leading his mate to a couch, his arms already around her waist.
One of the leading symbols was Reason, presented as a lady petting a lion; saints' days were replaced by days for animals, one for the cat, the dog, the sheep, and what you will; but no longer St. John's, St. James, St. Louis.
Certain other days, dedicated to the "Spirit of the Revolution," were termed "Sans culotte," or without trousers, to wit, the French version of that great idol of the American yellow editor, who cries for justice in behalf of the man with the seat out of his trousers.
On a certain day, the Cathedral of Notre Dame was used as a background for the great French political drama; a mountain was erected, a figure known as Truth was present. The Goddess Reason was also carried to the Tuileries; and later as a report written at the time says, "The President of the Convention gave the Goddess a fraternal kiss, whereupon his secretaries asked and obtained a similar privilege."
At Rochefort the orator of the hour began, "Citizens, there is no future life!"
The images of saints were replaced by men of the stripe of Marat, Brutus and other tyrants.
Also, an ass was dressed in pontifical robes at a sort of National fete, and a few days later at a public masquerade, the President replying to praises of the New Era explained himself as follows: "In one single instant you make vanish into nothingness the errors of eighteen centuries"; by which he meant to honor the paganism of the new French political Millennium.
* * * * *
Now comes that dangerous man, king of political charlatans, Robespierre, who offers a private religion of his own.
The queer thing about this Robespierre, the new dictator, is his belief that he and he alone is the fountain of all political virtues. One must be willing to sacrifice brothers, mother, sister, father to the guillotine—for the good of one's country.
The Robespierre idea is that the supreme duty of a Nation is to repress "crime," as well as to uphold "virtue" and "crime" consists largely in not agreeing with the great central authority. He has had many followers since that day.
Robespierre was really a great man gone wrong; he had in many respects a brilliant mind; he was a profound orator; a born leader; but he was unsound at the core, like a rotten apple; taught bloodshed and violence, as expressions of National honor.
In one picture of the hour, he is represented as the Sun, rising over the Mountain, and Giving Light to the Universe.
* * * * *
The day dawns when Robespierre has his old friend and rival Danton on the scaffold. This was to be expected. Then followed many executions of Dantonists.
Robespierre now came on with his "new" religion; he boldly announced a Supreme Being and belief in immortality!
He applied the torch to the wooden images set up by his political predecessors. He made a speech that is unintelligible, all wind, sound and bombast, but was cheered to the echo.
* * * * *
Are you not growing weary of all these absurdities? Perhaps you think the details taken from the records of Bloomingdale Asylum?
No; French Constitutionalism of 1789-93, the sort that the Radicals of Germany had in mind, (with some variations), and often extolled in fiery speeches of the German Liberal party that Bismarck decided to crush down, with a rod of iron. True, the old offensive historical details were kept out of sight and were not fresh in men's minds;—except reading men and thinking men, like Bismarck; men bold enough to stand out against mob-violence, called by whatever soft name you please.
A French cartoon of the Robespierre Regime made at the time by an admirer shows the earth around the guillotine heaped with heads, and at last the over-weary executioner, failing to find further victims, decides to execute himself! He is therefore seen lying under the axe, his head rolling on the floor.
Robespierre in the end went the way of all the other political fanatics; the day came when he was spat upon, struck, beaten by mobs, pricked with knives.
According to his own theory, he needed no trial (said his new rivals and enemies in their lust for power), for he has by his acts shown himself to be an enemy of his country.
They carried him down the great staircase; he fought back savagely, like the frightful animal that he was.
Eighty-two of his followers died that day, on the guillotine.
"Long live the Republic! Long live Liberty!" was the loud cry of the rabble.
* * * * *
Such is some of the work of the great legislators of the Republic of Equality as set forth by the various authors of the new French "political Millennium," during those terrible years 1789-93; we have seen their ideas on a grand scale; and it is for you to judge whether in setting himself squarely in favor of Discipline and respect for constituted Authority, as exemplified by the line of Prussian kings, and the Prussian system of education, Bismarck was to show himself a man or a mouse.
Bismarck, who was a deep reader on politics, knew well the frightful excesses of French mob-rule. He may also have recognized certain general excellent principles, but he would have nothing to do with the fungous growth. And as we follow his career, we see the virtue in his strong reliance on Militarism, as an arm to keep in check the turbulent German masses, also, later, this same Militarism to be used to do battle for the German Empire.
* * * * *
For many years, all manner of rosy democratic plans had been voiced by the Liberals.
The thing had been done to death. Every manner of political Utopia had been planned by theorists, but Bismarck met them all with his ironical speeches, and bided his time.
Bismarck's idea was that the only hope for German unity came through accepting the King of Prussia as ordained of heaven.
In his arguments, he ignored the masses, the villagers, the workers, the busy-bees, the regard for individual rights.
His whole programme seemed to the masses to be anti-Christ in conception, that is to say, it harked back to political paganism.
It is very difficult for an American to comprehend this Prussian conception of Divine-right, as a political principle—but it should not be difficult from the point of human experience. Bismarck had no illusions concerning the power of the average man, and he held that the phrase "the people" was used by every political quack in Europe for any one of a thousand selfish motives.
Bismarck had absolutely no faith in the power of the average man to govern himself—much less to govern others!—or faith in the average man doing anything above the average, outside his own small trade or craft.
* * * * *
Americans are accustomed to make much of an alleged saying of Lincoln: "No man is good enough to govern another without that man's consent." It is all a beautiful dream, false in theory and false in fact, belied by every record since the Lord drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden.
Beginning with that stupendous episode, certain it is that this act of government was not carried out with, but against the will of the ruled; and the point at issue was not the supreme goodness of the ruler, but the power to station an angel with a flaming sword at the gates, toward which Adam ever after looked backward with longing eyes—but looked in vain!
In the innumerable dynasties of Babylon, Nineveh, Egypt, Greece, Arabia, Armenia, what man ruled who did not force his leadership?
It is not in the nature of human beings to accept new ideas without hostile objection.
This holds true also in the evolution of governments, for all life is founded on struggle, and the man who would rule must force his leadership or remain unknown.
Lincoln is absolutely in error, and his much-quoted words are folly. It is not a question of goodness, or badness, or fitness, on part of the man who has the ambition to rule, but it is very much a question of his courage, his craft or his cunning in compelling others to do his bidding.
Julius Csar was not selected to rule, but he selected himself; and so did Charlemagne, and Bismarck—and so Lincoln, himself.
If some concession to the democratic system is sought on the ground that the voice of the people loudly "called" Lincoln, then it is to be set up that Lincoln on his part was one of the shrewdest political log-rollers this nation has ever seen; and if he did not originate the canvass that busies itself kissing the babies, congratulating the wives and shaking hands with the farmers, then at least Lincoln was an apt pupil.
It is inconceivable that, without his own high ambition, his long and painstaking endeavors to trim sail to every favoring gale (for example his shifting positions on the slavery question), he would have been nominated for President of these United States.
* * * * *
It is an amiable conceit of human nature, looking backward, to profess to see what it blindly ignored, looking forward; and go to any penitentiary in America, ask the convicts, and you will find that, according to the stories, there are no guilty men behind the bars; invariably a peculiar complication of circumstances enabled the guilty man to escape, and justice was thereupon avenged by a human sacrifice; likewise in the United States Senate or in the House of Representatives, ask whom you please, "How came you to hold your seat?" and you will find no ambitious man. Some were forced to stand against their protests; others were away traveling when word was received, by telegraph, "You have been elected!" Still others appealed to the nominating committee, "For the love of God desist!"—but in vain.
Thus, without raising a finger to direct the movement of events, our leaders were selected by an omnipotent democracy to occupy the seats of the mighty.
Truly, no man is good enough to rule another without that other man's consent! Recast in terms of human experience, it would mean that we would go unruled; for no man yet has willingly selected his ruler, but has had dominion over him thrust upon him—even as Bismarck expressed his right to rule, backed by blood and iron.
Such is human nature since the world began; otherwise why was Christ, the gentlest ruler of all time, brought to the tree; Socrates forced to drink the hemlock by the very wise justice of his day; and Columbus called a madman because he wished to rule men's minds with a new truth, showing clearly that the world is not square or flat, but round like a ball?
Bismarck had the real clue—and forced his purpose through the power of his commanding personality.
In spite of the dyke-captain's denunciation of French Constitutionalism, King Fr: Wm. IV marches with the Democrats!
The uprising of '48 was primarily a students' demonstration; the hot-bloods of the universities, aided by various political enthusiasts, were intent on doing something—and doing it right away. There had been a preliminary meeting at Heidelberg, and this led to the Frankfort Convention; 600 disputatious delegates were going to build a liberal German constitution—at last!
Thus, between 1815 and 1848 German Unity had been stimulated by a dozen causes, religious, commercial, literary, social—but the political lagged, for the fact is that about the last thing a man learns is to govern himself.
There was a rising sense of National faith, as predicted by Arndt, the poet of German brotherhood; also the call of blood, based on language; likewise a deep yearning, as yet unsatisfied, for a constitutional form of government, as against the warring, insolent 39 states.
By 1848 there were Constitutions in 23 of the states; many of these documents illiberal to be sure; but nevertheless a step in representative government.
But the Germans are a peculiar people. They wish to refer everything to ultimate philosophical causes; hence the fruitless debates of the Frankfort Convention, in which all manner of prospective Constitutions were tried by the formal rules of philosophy and ethics. Such questions as "What is a Federal state?" were angrily debated, and the changes rung on "federation of states."
* * * * *
After worlds of talking, unseen hands decided to offer to some powerful prince the German crown. How is that for democrats? William IV was the man selected.
Prodded by Bismarck, who was always explosive and satirical about democratic crowns, William spunkily refused to "pick a crown out of the gutter!" His dignity, as a Hohenzollern was offended; but Bismarck was playing for larger stakes. William now went about canvassing the German princes for a crown; twenty-eight replied, one way or another; others, sticking to selfish interests, made no acknowledgment.
Now Bismarck, bellowing like a mastiff, set up the cry that if William accepted that democratic crown out of the Frankfort gutter, Prussia would become involved in civil war. And it was a fact! The old-line Prussian military aristocracy wanted no "democratic gold, from the gutter, melted down with their old aristocratic gold of Frederick the Great"—and as a matter of fact, could you blame them? Were you there, at the time, and of the land-holding privileged class, you too would have been up in arms.
Get this straight: William's idea of "United Germany" simply meant that there should be a United Germany compounded of the thirty-nine clashing states, provided William's beloved Prussia and not the detested Austria could front the movement.
Despite all the noble souls who write poetry on brotherhood (and Germany has her patriots, God knows!), the irony of fate is such that all human alignments of a political nature must at some stage be spattered with mud.
You see, henceforth for a quarter of a century, the realization of this much-prized but elusive and seemingly impossible Unity was to become more and more a game of politics in which the stakes were kingdoms, principalities, riches and honors unnumbered. In all card-games the result is not known till the last card is played; and in the present case the game was to be protracted twenty-four years. Chips were flung about in huge stacks, now piled on the Austrian side, now on the Prussian; and finally, it was to break up in a fight, in which Prussia had to tip over the table, violently seize the spoils, batter heads right and left, and beat off rival players with needle-guns.
Come, come, there is no need of claiming too much for human nature. The grand prize was to be gained, ultimately, by seizure! Even the sober, common-sense William I, to whom it finally fell to be crowned German Emperor, saw the true situation early, after the church-building William IV had been gathered to his fathers. You will hear more of that as we go along.
When all intriguing, all card-stacking, all smiling, all smooth speeches no longer serve to conceal the real end of this amazing game of international politics, as between Prussia and Austria, then the thing to do is to bring on "blood and iron." The very human end that Bismarck always had in mind was German liberation and Unity, by driving the Nation's enemies beyond the borders.
The best title to lands, the surest, the most incontrovertible—let purists and pietists rage as they may—is the sharp edge of the sword.
We shall see all that more clearly as the bloody years go by.
* * * * *
In the critical year '48, democratic mobs chased that old aristocrat and king-maker Metternich out of Vienna. Hungary, Bohemia and other intervening principalities went mad with excitement about "Liberty!" South Germany was in a turmoil.
William IV had again practically promised a Constitution, and had ordered the troops from Berlin; he placed a sign on his castle "National Property." At this time the king let slip these fateful words, "Prussia is to be dissolved in Germany!" Bismarck, pained beyond expression, sent a letter to the King, full of expressions of loyalty. The King kept the letter on his desk all summer.
The giant continued to protest. He now first used a subsidized press, called well-known men to write for the "North Prussian Gazette."
For all this, he was dubbed "Junker," "Hot Head," "Reactionary," but he thundered away like a battleship in action.
* * * * *
The King was in the hands of the Liberals. Bismarck regarded this as a frightful situation. Bismarck, of the Old Regime, stood by the landlords and the titled folk. He had prodigious pride of station, hated to see the King make a fool of himself about paper Constitutions.
In Berlin, along in March, there were amazing scenes. The democrats were crazy for blood; William shrank with horror against fighting his beloved Berliners. But this son, the future William I, who twenty-four years later was to gain the imperial German crown, was not so squeamish. The young prince gained the popular title "Cartridge-box prince," equivalent to saying that he was willing to blaze away at "beloved Berliners," or at any other citizens insane with political excitements hazardous to "Divine-right."
It is true that on March 18th this romantic William IV did indeed enter into negotiations with the insurgents; and—think of the mortification to one of Bismarck's upper-class leanings!—did indeed do no less than wrap the German tricolor around his body and heading a democratic procession march around the streets, even going so far as to make a foolish speech in which he extolled the glories of the German democratic revolution.
Here we might as well close the book, were it not for Bismarck. The surly dog of a king's man flatly refused to vote "Aye!" in the Diet, where the hot-heads were intent on passing resolutions "commending the King for his loyalty to democratic principles," in marching 'round town with the mob. Bismarck for the time being stood like a great mastiff at bay before wolves.
His terrific speech upholding royal prerogative made his early and sudden fame.
* * * * *
It is a fact that with all their political ambitions, and their solemn belief that Germany's political future was an open book, the Radicals in Prussia never guessed the way events were to turn out; nor for that matter the Radicals never desired the conquest of Germany by Prussia; therefore the subsequent astonishing rise of German Imperialism through Prussian domination, would have proved a most surprising revelation had the patriots of 1806 to 1848 returned from the other world, say in 1870, to view Prussia's rise to glory.
* * * * *
The political uprisings of 1848 had parallels in Italy, France, Spain, and Germany; and the excesses cleared the way for wiser action, in years to come.
"The frenzy was a sort of tottering bridge between the French 1789-93 idea of democracy (that has to do with bloodshed and violence) and the purified conception expressed in modern constitutional democracy."
The German democratic uprisings of 1820, '30 and '48 were planned to win a certain type of civil liberty. They failed. The question was "equality," as well as popular "machinery" of representation. How was it to be brought about? Modern "parliamentarism" had not as yet been involved.
The patriots of '48 had their Jacobin clubs in mild imitation of the French Revolution. Baden alone had 400, with a membership of 20,000. "Every tavern and brewery, (Dahlinger, German Revolution of '49, p. 33), became a seat of democratic propaganda."
See, there stands the mighty Hecker, A feather in his hat, There stands the friend of the people, Yearning for the tyrants' blood; Big boots with thick soles, Sword and pistol by his side.
Copied from French models was the word "Citizen." We hear of Citizen Brentano, Citizen Franz Sigel, Citizen Ostenhaus, Citizen Schimmelpfennig; some of these leaders were extremely radical; but Brentano endeavored to keep the Revolution from becoming a record of lawlessness after the French Revolution type. (Dahlinger, p. 100).
We cannot go into the various battles fought and lost. Many of the leaders were exiled, others shot. The patriots were as a rule young collegians, ambitious to rise in life, but sincerely holding to modified conceptions of French Constitutionalism. There were a large number of journalists in the thick of the struggle, also professors in high schools. These chosen leaders, by various oratorical tricks, drew political and social malcontents from every walk of life.
In the end, Prussian troops put down the patriots.
* * * * *
In '48, all kings were under suspicion; it made no difference whether the king was a good king or a bad king; a king was a king, and all kings were bad.
The younger generation, especially became morbid over the word "Liberty!" What it really meant, in '48, was that human nature should restrain itself, in order that all men might, immediately, enter into so-called God-given political rights.
The situation was somewhat analogous to that created after the Civil War, in the United States. Certain political fanatics, weeping over the Negroes, now demanded universal suffrage, literally, for the slaves, and in secret saw that by controlling the South, a "Black Republic" might be set up, side by side with our "White Republic."
Fraternity and equality—that was the cry in '48—glossed over by politico-religious glamour, expressed in the idea that men "ought" do thus and so, and therefore "a people's king" was in order. The people were to crown themselves.
For a thousand years the accepted political doctrine had been that kings held office by Divine-right, but now orators of the day harangued mobs proclaiming the literal belief that the voice of the people is the voice of God.
While, thus, the new apostles ridiculed the old idea of Divine-right, as attached to the acts of monarch, leaders of the people saw no inconsistency in asserting attributes of political divinity in the doings of the common people. Thus, a species of nebulous politico-religious humanism was pictured as the highest expression of political philosophy.
The individual wished to come into his own and the quicker the better. Reformers shocked landed proprietors, titled folk and office-holders under kings, by demanding unconditional surrender of the machinery of government; zealots urged revolts against all manner of constituted authority. The point was to gain for the barber, the tailor, the shoemaker and the blacksmith more life, more political experience, more freedom of choice—and right on the next tick of the clock!
There is this about it: that the Frankfort Convention offered to William IV the "People's Crown" as a direct symbol of belief in political idealism, not necessarily, however, the political idealism that tolerates a king but instead uses him as a popular signboard.
The Convention held that German unity "ought by right" to be established; therefore "once the grand Idea was set afloat" the cause "must by moral right come to pass."
Probably never before in the world was there formulated an outright, widespread expression of greater political idealism by men who called themselves patriots. There is a noble side to the sentiment, heightened the more as we realize the inevitable delusion of it all, translated into terms of human selfishness.
Germany, so the zealots proclaimed, should by blood and language be united; and in this respect orators of the hour were correct.
Germany had a manifest destiny, the speakers continued, but in this respect they were guided by faith rather than by experience. At least, the momentary end of "manifest destiny" was clearly the political function; to be one and united.
So far good.
* * * * *
Then why "should not" this noble German Idea be "accepted"? The word Idea was usually presented with a capital letter, in form of personification, so real had the thing become to German political orators.
Certainly every German was ready to testify that National Unity had been the one political dream of generations past and gone.
Had not the old wandering minstrels sung of the Fatherland, alas, too long delayed by miserable human selfishness! German bull-headedness insisted on insularity, on individualism, on particularism, on standing each petty monarch in his corner, with farce-comedy courtiers bowing and scraping while the rights of the peasant were forgotten. Assuredly, the day had come for this folly to cease. Then in Heaven's name, why not a United Germany—here and now?
* * * * *
The petty passions of rival princes acted as a bar to the acceptance of the glorious National Idea, spelled with the big "I."
Intense particularisms preferred loyalty to local princes, fashions, customs, dialects rather than to lose the old ways in the larger life of the German Nation.
But Bismarck did not lose heart.
So Much the Worse for Zeitgeist
We will never get at Bismarck through a study of the interplay of politics; suppose we state his case in terms of human nature?
From this time on, the shelves are freighted with volume after volume of German political jargon, forming a bewildering diagonal of forces crossing and recrossing in thousands the tangled threads. Bismarck's presence runs throughout, but it is a long and complex story, hard to comprehend and difficult to compress without sacrificing important details.
We find "Grand Germans" against "Petty Germans"; Grimm, the philologist, has his say against Simson, the jurist; Arndt, the poet, against Welcker, the publicist; the Frankfort parliament offering its paper crown to the King of Prussia, imploring him to become a democratic liberator and unifier; and on the other hand we hear Bismarck in the Berlin Diet, urging the king to stand firm for the Old Regime; arks of free-speech from Polish insurgents, also ill-advised youth waving banners of blood; mobs in the Berlin streets, whiffs of grapeshot here and there to clear the air; John of Austria urging something and the Prince Consort of England advising, post-haste, the kings of Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and Wuertemberg; the Assembly manufacturing Magna Chartas, after noisy clashes of opinion.
"There is not enough practical sense behind all," says Bismarck, "to build a political chicken-coop, to say nothing of an empire." Then, the patriots, so-called, leave for America, worn out with waiting for some new freedom set down on paper; and of the motley crew, not one is sufficiently wise, or strong enough to make head or tail of the complex situation. Barricades are thrown up, artillery plays upon the mobs, and general blood-letting follows; thousands of lives are snuffed out, to be charged up as advance sacrifices for political cohesion. Hapsburger against Hohenzollern, Protestant against Catholic, Ultramontanes beholding the reign of Anti-Christ; Guelphs and Wittelsbachs, protesting their own peculiar and ancient lineage against self-seeking latter-day upstart aristocrats!
And the problem grew darker as the months went by.
* * * * *
You may read till you are dizzy and then stand back and try to get a bird's-eye view of the complicated quarrels of the Diet; the vagaries of Frankfort or Berlin; the brawls of this poet, that student, editor, publicist, or princeling; with soldiers of fortune hovering around waiting, like vultures that have already a whiff of the carrion, from afar. Instead of a bird's-eye, the incoherent mass of details comes piecemeal, and you get the toad's-eye view;—till we apply the simple idea that behind it all is elemental human nature, with politics as a mere frame to the picture.
Look on Bismarck at this moment as one dealing with forces of human nature, the clash of many minds, ending by dominating over one and all, years hence, through his own inherent sagacity as a human being against other and weaker members of his kind—and we get at once a significant conception of the greatness of Bismarck's mentality, also of his innate craft, enabling him to triumph over a thousand oblique forces, many of them firmly entrenched, and from a logical point fully as defensible as were his own peculiar conceptions.
It was not, after all, what this man or that prince or some other ruler thought, but what Bismarck thought, that turned the balance.
A hundred instances could be offered to show that the men Bismarck was fighting had the better part of the argument, as mere argument; but between opinion and making that opinion stick is a wide gulf—however logical may be the argument.
Bismarck was for the ensuing twenty years pictured as a noisy disturber, but he was shrewd, very shrewd. He could call a man "liar," "thief," "scoundrel," "impostor," in virile speechmaking, or could pass him up with a shrug, all the while keeping a cold eye on the main chance, and in the end getting his own way because he was strong enough to get his way—and that is all the logic there is in the situation.
This miracle he did indeed perform; he turned back the political clock to feudal days and gloriously set up "Divine-right," in the face of the intensely modern cry, "Let the People Rule!"
Bismarck's amazing career affords a classical instance of what a strong man can do, even against the very spirit of his time!
So much the worse for that Zeitgeist! The jade had to come to him, at last, completely subdued, as in the "Taming of the Shrew."
As King's Man, Bismarck now preached "Divine-right" in an age of democratic ideas.
Thrones were falling everywhere; the inflammatory ideas of the French Revolution had wrested from monarchs the form, if not the substance, of constitutional liberties for the masses.
The people were clamoring for they knew not what; at any rate for some new experiment in the quest for happiness, which they believed could be attained through new forms of government. Bismarck fought the new order, and as late as A. D. 1870, restated the seemingly worn-out doctrine of "Divine-right." How did he accomplish this political miracle?
A strong leader, by tireless repetition of some idea, finally brings about faith in that idea. It does not follow that this leader must necessarily be wiser than the masses. It is always his will to power, rather than the inherent validity of his ideas.
First, he stands alone with his idea, whatever it may be. Finally, one person is convinced? This is the beginning. Well, if one, why not two, then ten, then a hundred, or a thousand, or ten thousand?
And so the wonder grows.
At last, our stubborn man with the idea is believed! He now has his long-awaited day to prove the force of his contribution to human welfare.
There is a species of religious glamour over the old man's basic conception of respect for kings. The word king, for Bismarck, spells faith in discipline, obedience, loyalty to chosen leader—as against excesses sure to follow in turning over the Government to the rabble, according to the idea of the French Revolution. There is this condition to be made here: that Bismarck undoubtedly leaned as far in one direction as the old-line French Revolutionists did in another; Bismarck was an extremist no less than Danton, Marat, Robespierre. But there is also this distinction, in Bismarck's favor: He was a great constructive statesman and the French agitators turned out to be but assassins and political fools.
We spare no one in this analysis, neither Bismarck nor Robespierre. Therefore, we boldly, here and now, call your attention to a certain strange fallacy in all political ideals.
The people expect some new form, or change of government, to make them happy and free. The machinery of legislation is the thing. It is proclaimed the great leveler.
Thus men eagerly try all manner of political enterprises, believing that ultimately in some plan of government, social equality will result. In the light of the anomaly that in spite of our efforts, we persist in reverence for "the good old" days, as against the iniquities of the moment, it is clear that either we deceive ourselves, or are forever wandering about in a fool's paradise.
* * * * *
Bismarck at least does not justify cynical damnation. He was intensely human, and so was the King of Prussia. It is playing with race prejudice to call Prussia, after the French fashion, "That robber Prussia."
Nations act as do men individually, are swayed by forms of pride, passion and prejudice. If every nation that robbed or stole should return its loot of land, to whom would it ultimately go?
The United States would not, at least, now be in possession of California. But for that matter, the Spaniards stole her from the Indians, and the Indians from the Aztecs, and the Aztecs from we know not whom. Always then, history justifies herself with the will to power—as manifested by the strongest!
Take it by and large, this miracle he did indeed perform: He turned back the political clock of Time to Feudal days, and gloriously set up "Divine-right," in the face of the intensely modern cry, "Let the people rule!"
Secret chamber in this strange man's heart; the master at work for United Germany.
The great Bismarck, during his long and turbulent career, as a rule refused to remain loyal to party affiliations.
The moment a party-theory no longer seemed expedient, the Prussian Junker reckoned neither on political friendship nor on political antipathy.
His whole life, he was engaged in endeavoring to persuade others to adopt his policies, regardless of the fact that opposed policies might be supported by as much if not even by more logic. Bismarck always justified his opportunism by saying that his sense of duty was superior to his private feelings of love or hate; however, his attitude was uniformly directed for or against conditions in proportion as, to his mind, they were charged with good or evil for his beloved Prussia.
Although one of the world's greatest among amiable despots, Bismarck always held himself to be at once free from prejudice and under the hand of God. Even on this high ground, it would still be easy to show (by many startling episodes in Bismarck's career) well-nigh innumerable changes of front that, to the average mind, must pass as inconsistencies.
Get clearly in mind, then, this giant's political attitudes of gross contradiction, as between promise and performance—otherwise we will miss the essence of Bismarck's genius as a statesman and his peculiar glory as a man large enough to stand beside Csar.
Now here is the master-key, unlocking every door in the secret chambers of his heart: Bismarck, all his long life, kept himself in power by his consummate knowledge of human nature.
Shakespeare dealt with men, on paper, making them march this way or that at the behest of his immortal genius.
Bismarck dealt with men in the open arena of life, had no way of controlling their actions except by the inspiration of his own practical, constructive genius.
It is one thing to control a man's actions, on paper; wholly another—and a greater triumph, is it not?—to master man's ways in the market place, making those around you do not necessarily what they think they ought, but do what you wish.
Thus in some senses Bismarck appears in the figure of the superman; for there is absolutely no question that on many occasions he forced strong men to do his bidding, squarely against their individual preferences!
This huge bulk, this deep-drinking, gluttonous Bismarck, this world-defying voice, raged and stormed through his eighty-three years of life—making little men's souls shrink in fear—and ever the essence of his genius was for alignments with men, or against them, using this human clay ultimately for his own peculiar ends, as the potter molds the mud. He knew too that despite the old German family and tribal feuds, the Germans are brothers; standing apart it is true at this hour, fighting each other; yet the day is to come when Bismarck will triumph in his Germany, one and united. It mattered not, he would make friends with his deadly enemy, if such a step seemed advisable to carry out that cherished plan for a free and united Germany.
If he could not bend men to his will by logic, he tried flattery, and if that failed he threatened war, and the war came, too, but not till Bismarck was good and ready. He took his own time, made preparations that defied disaster, then moved forward and swept his enemies off the face of the earth.
Thus, there was always evidences of peculiar precaution, even in Bismarck's boldest strokes. He never forgot himself, never did things by halves. It might take a week or a year, or ten years, that mattered not to Bismarck; in the end, he would bring his wishes to pass. He never courted failure by hastening with some incomplete plan; but with the certainty of Fate, Bismarck abided his time. Obliged to surmount tremendous obstacles, often set back, in the end he carried everything by force before him.
We are here reminded of those vast fields of snow seemingly in a state of dead rest, in the higher Alps, through many winters still secretly gaining bulk and encroaching inch by inch all unobserved upon the doomed valley below; then, at the dropping of a mere pebble, the ice begins to slide, nor does the dread avalanche pause for the sobs of the dying. So behind Bismarck's amazing preparedness his ofttimes long deferred but inevitable destruction of his enemies seems to be something that he borrows from the avalanche. It is at once massive and inexorable, the power given to but few master-spirits in the history of the world.
In political acumen, in administrative and executive capacity Bismarck measures up with Csar. The smallest facts about such as Bismarck are of more than ordinary interest. Too much time cannot be spent on this great character, in an endeavor to understand the secret springs of his mighty powers.
Aside from the mere biographic outlines of his career, the man presents, in himself, a study that deserves all the thought that can be put on it—in an effort to set forth the realism of his mighty life.
Bismarck shows himself master at quelling a meeting, checking a mob, stamping out a rebellion, and heading off a king.
And after the Frankfort radicals found themselves unable to make Bismarck pick the German crown "out of the gutter," they turned and tried to establish—what do you think?—a republic!
By Autumn, the forces of Revolution spent themselves and Metternich drove the rebels before him, as the hurricane blows chaff. Order was re-established in Vienna and in the Italian states.
The uncompromising Metternich restored the "Old Diet," originally ordered by the Congress of Vienna, 1815, as the one authentic source of political legitimacy for the clashing German states. It was a clever Austrian by-play.
* * * * *
We now return to Berlin. In May, the blood-letting was over, but no prospect of political reform seemed immediately possible.
Bismarck began using what might be called underground methods to head off the demand for that long-promised democratic Constitution.
Already the King began to see more clearly. It struck him that this brazen-faced giant might be useful, later on. Had not Bismarck said in his now widely quoted speech: "Soon or late, the God who directs the battle will cast his iron dice!" It gave His Majesty courage!
The King looked to right and left, dissolved one Diet after the other, till he had one to suit him. Otto nudged his King. That momentary weakness of marching with the democrats was something His Majesty wished to forget!
Bismarck's position must be clearly set forth. He was no mere reactionary, brandishing his fists at new leaders, who favored the common people. He knew all about this liberty, equality and fraternity business, from across the Vosges—and he despised the cure-all.
Here is the idea in a few words: Bismarck was not fighting political liberalism, as an end; instead, he protested with his giant's strength at the implied destruction of the Old Regime.
He laid the revolt largely to the bureaucratic system, which he characterized as "The animal with the pen!"
He stood fast by his good old Prussian dogma, as outlined in "I am a Prussian!" paralleling "Rule Britannia," and other national hymns.
The song is sung with wild martial vigor, akin to the furious appeal of ancient Polish melodies:
I am a Prussian! see my colors gleaming— The black-white standard floats before me free; For Freedom's rights, my fathers' heart-blood streaming, Such, mark ye, mean the black and white to me! Shall I then prove a coward? I'll e'er be marching forward! Though day be dull, though sun shine bright on me, I am a Prussian, will a Prussian be!
Sixteen years later, when endeavoring with all his strength to bring about German National unity, his "Prussians we are and Prussians we will remain" was used against him with mocking effect.
* * * * *
By October, nerves were steadied. The King sent Gen. Wangrel to occupy Berlin and disperse the radicals—with cannon, if necessary.
That speech has the right sound; but William has before this veered around many times, like a weather-vane, and may he not shift again?
For the instant, he stood for the Old Regime and Divine-right.
The following month William appointed Brandenberg, an old-line Prussian aristocrat, Prime Minister. The siege of Berlin was declared; the Assembly protested but finally gave in. Along in December, without consulting the Assembly, William invited the states to send delegates to Berlin and made an alliance of three kings—Prussia, Saxony and Hanover.
What is going to happen next?
At last the people have a share in their government, but Bismarck sees to it that the radicals are not favored.
William's "Tri-regal alliance" failed as fail it must on account of jealousies. Then Wuertemberg replied with a "quadruple" affair, composed of herself, Hanover, Bavaria and Saxony, side by side, under a constitution acceptable to Austria. Quite a stroke, that.
In turn, William set up his Erfurt parliament, March 20, 1850. Bismarck was fast becoming a "practical politician." Through deft stacking of the cards, the radical delegates drew only the low cards, and the Kreuz-Zeitung crowd and other ultra-conservatives were well supplied with aces and kings.
Bismarck naturally urged more concessions to the Prussian spirit; he tried also to muzzle the press gallery, calling newspapers "fire-bellows of democracy."
Later, he even started newspapers for his political purposes. In this he was not inconsistent, merely logical; his attitude was based on the fact that, at this particular time, he felt called on to fight hostile editors; but made terms wherever it seemed worth while. Such was the man's discriminating glance.
The Erfurt "tongue tournament" Bismarck called the whole affair. He did not oppose the King's position in this matter, because, as Bismarck said, "it makes no difference." He spoke contemptuously of the mystical high-flown speeches. Its "Constitution" was quickly forgotten!
Bismarck's course would have been made somewhat easier had he not openly refused to sit with President Simpson, at the Erfurt convention, denouncing the President as "a converted Jew!"
The convention broke up, to meet again in Berlin, where a Prussian Constitution was drawn up.
Events moved rapidly. Austria now stood forth for resumption of authority by the Old Diet, established by the Congress of Vienna, while from Berlin one heard of a plan for a "restricted union."
Talk, talk, talk. Finally, in September, 1850, Austria invited Prussia to a seat in the Old Diet. Prussia refused, and the cat was out of the bag.
It meant that German Unity must come through Prussian supremacy and Austrian humiliation—otherwise all might well be forgotten.
But Austria was by no means so easily disposed of. There was much life and fighting blood in her yet!
Bismarck's opinions during his years of preparation were, on the whole, unchanging, though often presented in different dress. In 1848, he bitterly objected to the King's softness in recalling his troops from Berlin, instead of definitely crushing the March rebellions; in '49, he stood steadily beside the King in refusing the people's crown, from Frankfort; in 1850, he deplored the Prussian diplomatic defeat at Olmuetz, but swallowed his mortification because he saw that Prussia was not ready to strike; "and he thereon assisted in reconciling his party to a policy which he deplored."
This situation convinced Bismarck that the first duty of a Prussian statesman is to strengthen the army, "that the King's opinions can be upheld at home; likewise backed by the mailed fist, Prussian authority will be respected abroad."
"My idea," he says in his Memoirs, "was that we ought to prepare for war, but at the same time to send an ultimatum to Austria, either to accept our conditions in the German question, or to look out for our attack."
* * * * *
Thus out of the Revolution of 1848, Prussia emerged with a written Constitution, establishing a legislative assembly and giving the people a share in their government.
Bismarck's inconsistencies? Yes, by the score, but he was playing a deep game of politics, for his King, and for his beloved German Unity. Always, you must understand that Bismarck scorned the political Millennium alleged to have been brought in by the French Revolution; with the political ideas from over the Vosges Bismarck would have nothing to do. That old war-cry "the people" made him sick! He believed in discipline and not in mob-rule. But he would not rush unprepared into the war.
It is a fact that, in 1850, Prussia had cause for war far more just than that on which she seized in 1866. But Bismarck made his famous anti-war speech!
"Woe to the statesman who does not look about for a reason for the war that will be valid, when the war is over!" were his astonishing sentiments.
What he really meant was that Prussia was not just then ready to fight; hence, he painted war as detestable; later on, however, we shall see how he looks upon war, when Prussia is ready!
Prussia, through her political endorsement of the people (1850) did not suddenly become a Parliamentary state, despite William's new Constitution. Broad privileges were granted, but Prussia remained an absolute monarchy. While there was henceforth to be a certain restricted cooperation between Crown and Crowd, the Divine-right theory that had come down through the ages was not weakened or its authority compromised; in short, by conciliating certain hostile popular elements, led by fire-breathing first-cousins of the French Revolutionists, a large part of the hated Liberal programme was done away with, in turn consolidating the power of the Prussian kings.
This situation also defines the political evolution essential before Germany could become a Nation. Despite various historians, Germany could not at this hour have proclaimed herself a Republic.
Bismarck realized more and more, as he grew in experience and power, that the Germans were sick unto death of political experiments; they wanted unity, as a matter of course, but by unity they really meant a head to the National house; a strong father, to advise, protect and punish his children. The parallel extends to the German idea of National rule; thoroughness, efficiency, discipline take the place of political expediency, job-holding for the mere sake of job-holding; in church, in state and in family life the idea of a great central Authority alone satisfies the German mind.
Thus, the German conception of a Nation is intensely practical; the state is not merely an aggregation of office-holders, but the state is primarily a vast institution, efficiently administered by the best minds, and these servants of the people are instantly responsible to the great central authority, whose power of removal for cause may be exercised as the father corrects his children, for the good of the family.
* * * * *
To these fundamental ideas, based on the soul of the German people, Bismarck now addressed himself for many years to come. He knew what the German race demands; his analysis was psychologically correct, although few patriots of '48 could see it that way.
* * * * *
As his years of apprenticeship pass, Bismarck carries on his mission in a new way: is decided to lead Prussia to the conquest of Germany; is done with political platform-making except in so far as the alignments of politics lend themselves to his final purpose.
With political instinct for gigantic projects carried out with realism, the King's Man now determined the bold outlines of his National policy.
He did not worry about details: these he would fill in, as time passed; but he would on one side hold fast to German National unity and on the other side would sustain Prussian kingcraft as the very voice of God for Germany; one of Bismarck's strongest ideas was that the King of Prussia was the vicegerent of Christ on this earth. In short, Germany must come through Prussian supremacy, and incidentally exalt Prussian supremacy, otherwise it might not come at all.
* * * * *
To clear William's Divine-right once for all, so far as our story goes, let it be known that German historians have always laid stress on the respect of Teutonic tribesmen, from ancient days, for the leadership of a strong fighting man. Tacitus, the earliest writer of importance, detailing the lives of Teutonic tribes, sets forth that it was the custom of the German warriors in times of crises to select their strong man and endow him with the power of rulership; looking to him in turn to lead the tribe to war against the common enemy. This reliance upon kings who were also powerful war lords continuing through the centuries, satisfied the fundamental aspirations of the Germans in their will to military power; but as the generations passed the old story of human nature was proved anew, that is to say, what begins as a "privilege" ends as a "demanded right." On the side of the kings, was now proclaimed more loftily than ever that monarchy is the voice of God.
BOOK THE FOURTH
Blood is Thicker than Water
Socrates in Politics
Perfecting himself in political intrigue and in vituperative debating, also in caustic letter-writing; all is necessary grist for the Bismarck mill.
We come now to the year 1851.
The entrance of Emperor Francis Joseph, at this time, on the politico-military stage of Austria was followed by still another era of political reaction; the Liberal Austrian constitution, wrested during the riots, was revoked; as were also those Democratic constitutions pledged for almost every German state.
The Germanic Confederation, with political legitimacy vested in the curious Frankfort Parliament, again took the field. It was an Austrian plan to get the advantage of Prussia.
"If I do not do well, you can recall me," Bismarck told William. The King decided in his extremity to hazard the appointment of the unknown Bismarck, as Prussian delegate to Frankfort. William remembered those bold "White Saloon" speeches.
Now get this straight: Bismarck was a land-owner of ancient days; estates won by the sword had been in the Bismarck family for 600 years; nay, the Bismarcks traced their knighthood to the far-distant year 1200. The force of this appeal in the blood was at once profound and irresistible.
Bismarck to the day he died was always an Alt Mark vassal to his liege lord and master, the Margrave of Brandenburg, the King of Prussia. So much is clear.
Bismarck was also much more than this. We repeat, he was a leader of men. The King of Prussia could command old families in scores if not in hundreds, to support the Ancient Regime, socially and politically, but where find that rare man, a born leader for the cause?
Duty and self-interest prompted Bismarck to hold up the royal hand, but after all is said, the vital force of Bismarck's endorsement was found in the man's genius for leadership. It was not so much the cause as it was the man. For had Bismarck gone over to the other side the history of Germany would have been vastly different.
This Frankfort parliament, a hydra-headed political creation dedicated to liberty, was in secret doing the purposes of Austrian plutocracy and reaction; it was to be the last stand of the Old Regime, against Democracy.
But it was necessary to move with cautious foot. The sappers were at work under the thrones, and at any instant the mines might be touched off.
Bismarck thus, quite by accident, finds himself the representative of William IV, in Frankfort Diet or Bundestag, the political Punch and Judy show originally set up by Metternich, in 1815, to rule the quarreling thirty-nine German states. Their intense individualism was such that Metternich, who dominated at the Congress of Vienna, after the downfall of Napoleon, did not know what was best.
All other parts of Europe, and even the islands of the seas had been reassigned, but no human being could tell what to do with the turbulent thirty-nine German states.
"Here, then, was a mysterious 'Court of Chance,' where things dragged on for years, a political circumlocution office, hopelessly bound by its own interminable seals, parchments and red tape."
The secret object was to do nothing that would not favor Austria; with the idea that, in the end, the devious course of politics would bring Austria final control of the German lands, everywhere.
It was in this absurd Parliament that Bismarck was to perfect himself in political intrigue. Frankfort made no organic laws; these were mysteriously settled at Vienna; the meetings of the Diet were held in secret; at best, the voting was along lines that gave to Austria and not to Prussia the deciding voice.
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It did not take Bismarck long to find that at Frankfort the King of Prussia was but a cipher. Furthermore, what raised Bismarck's ire was the impotence of the Parliament. Frankfort had been unable to put down the blood-letting of '48, and Bismarck detested weakness of any kind, mental, physical or spiritual.
He was, and always remained, a profound extremist; but his position was tempered by massive common sense.
The world dearly loves a flunkey—and flunkeyism was universal at Frankfort.
The many members fluttered about in gay military dress, wore stars of sham authority, gold crosses, medals dangling from bright ribbons.
Names prefixed by count, duke, margrave—crests on the coach door and Latin mottoes—hyphenated family names, indicated all manner of political marriages de convenience. Bestarred gentlemen, one and all, if you please!
Bismarck wrote home soon enough, for he was choking with anger, not on account of the aristocratic airs of Frankfort (for Bismarck dearly loved a title), but choking with anger because his beloved King of Prussia was a Nobody in this crazy Parliament. "I find them a drowsy, insipid set of creatures, only endurable when I appear among them as so much pepper," are his sarcastic words.
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Had Bismarck not been a diplomat, he might have made his mark as a radical writer. His letters very often show almost anarchistic dissent. At vulgar characterization, no man could outsnarl Bismarck.
Also this Pomeranian giant's correspondence at times fairly stinks with frightful smells. When in these black moods, he released nasty fumes around the heads of rivals.
We are surprised, likewise, to find growing in the mire of his thoughts, here and there, violets worthy of the poet Freiligrath. The man's power to be poetical or insulting, as he willed, is indeed as strange as it is rare.
Bismarck's pen pictures of fellow ambassadors—how they flirted, danced, drank to excess, their maudlin ideas of government, although regarding themselves as veritable political seers—show the powerful satirical and analytical side of Bismarck's brain.
And although Bismarck mocked with sardonic immensity his colleagues, yet with an under-play worthy of the Devil, our Otto proceeded to make these owlish and absurd gentlemen puppets in the hands of Prussia.
Alas, time does not permit us to set forth the charming letters Bismarck writes home. There is that moonlight swim in the Danube; the interview with Metternich, the old war-horse of kings; the gypsy ball and the weird fiddling gypsies; his visits to robber-infested parts of Hungary, making the trip in part in a peasant's cart, "loaded pistols in the straw at our feet, and near by a company of lanciers carrying cocked carbines, against the imminent visits of robber bands."
He describes how he visited Ostend, going sea-bathing at that famous resort; rambling on through Holland, smoking a long clay pipe; then on to Sweden for the shooting; next to Russia for wild boars.
His letters often have a lyrical quality, telling of waterfalls of the Pyrenees, the fascinating fairyland of Mendelssohn, dark-eyed Spanish beauties, open-air concerts, London garroters, old musty houses with peculiar smells, or what you will. Bismarck dwells often on eating and drinking; and in one letter from Paris speaks of a dinner at which he drank St. Julien, Lafitte Branne, Mouton, Pichon, Larose, Latour, Margaux, and Arneillac!
These, and hundreds of other letters comprise charming interludes between black moods of political intrigue, wherein he used his vitriolic pen to lampoon his beribboned, bejeweled farce-comedy fellow-ambassadors.
"Germany is tied together with red tape," writes Bismarck at this stage of his political apprenticeship, at Frankfort; and he hit the nail on the head.
Promise yourself a delightful month reading Bismarck's four octavo volumes telling of his change of heart toward Austria, as shown little by little in Frankfort dispatches, documents and proceedings, interspersed with satirical stories in Bismarck's extremely individualistic style. Throughout, you receive glimpses of the man's great mind. No less an authority than the Herr Prof. von Sybel tells us of these Bismarck writings, bearing on the formation of the German Empire: "They possess a classic worth, unsurpassed by the best German prose writers of any age."
Applying Socratic methods to game of politics; Bismarck's bold and masterful preparations for German unity.
Now then, during these years 1851-'61, Bismarck was doing two things: Perfecting himself in the dastardly art of political intrigue; likewise, he was going about like a modern Socrates, talking with men of high or low degree everywhere; studying what might be called the human nature side of the German problem of unity and nationality; studying it, not in an aimless way, but to mould men to his own gigantic political ends, when the right time arrived.
Thus, with the stiff wind of adverse political affairs straight in his teeth, remember that Bismarck's great strength was always his knowledge of men.
During the years of which we now write he made it his business to visit the various petty German courts, to gaze on princelings who would be kings; busied himself with court gossip till he found out the inner political jealousies.
Thus fortified, Bismarck knew the one man or woman to touch in the various parts of Germany, to help along Prussian ambition—when the supreme moment to strike had come at last.
This supreme moment he awaited with diabolical patience through the slow-going years.
No human being could hasten or retard Bismarck's ultimate victory; for he remained the one truly masterful man in Europe.
He sat at gambling tables, he wheedled secrets from the prostitutes of princes; he stood by and egged on human dog-fights; he took part in church-rows about doctrines; he had inside glimpses of the venality of Austrian kept-press-writers, "the scum of the earth," he calls them, "who sell opinions as the petty merchant sells butter and eggs." Bismarck seemed to be the only man in Europe who really was able to grasp the solution of the German problem.
Also, the granite soil of his heart is shown again and again. What a hater he was!
For example, refusing to go to Mass for the repose of Schwarzenberg's soul, Bismarck gave the reason: "He is the man who said: 'I will abuse Prussia and then abolish her.'"
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You see, our Otto is one of those uncomfortable Germans who in his own amazing personality expresses the National ideal of earnestness; Otto is frightfully in earnest in his cups, or over his half dozen eggs for breakfast—as you please. He frightens timid souls.
His temper few men could curb, much less sit calmly by and receive without retiring in bad order. Incident after incident at Frankfort might be cited, but what is the use?
With fiendish earnestness Bismarck plotted to break the bones of two democratic editors whose writings threw the Prussian mastiff into periodical black rages. Bismarck justified his cruelty by insisting that "bounds must be set for these infamous press scribblings." He means that attacks on the Divine-right of kings must at all hazards be choked off. He always hated journalists, called the press "a poisoned well," and as for himself he is on record to this effect: "I always approached the ink-bottle with great caution."
But mark this well: Our Otto, in his turn, craftily used the press to present the smooth side of his own political intriguing; indeed he had his very valuable Prussian press bureau; and we have authority for the statement that the Bismarckian idea of journalism was to have "hireling scribes well in hand, men who stabbed like masked assassins and mined like mobs."
During the decade we call Bismarck's apprenticeship, 1851-'61, he was thus engaged: 1851, envoy at Frankfort Diet; 1852, Prussian ambassador at Vienna, during the illness of Count Arnim; St. Petersburg, 1859; Paris, 1862.
Thus, he had an opportunity to get acquainted with all the leading diplomatists on the European chessboard, to study them in their own haunts, and to perfect himself in playing with pitch without blackening his hands.
Bismarck told Francis Joseph, "I am firm to put an end to the attacks on Prussia in the Austrian press!"
This boldness won the Emperor, and in confidence he remarked to a friend: "Ah, that I had a man of Bismarck's audacity."
Also, he told Joseph, "Prussia will never yield in the matter of the commercial union, with Austria."
The Emperor remarked on Bismarck's youth—37 years—and was much impressed. "Bismarck had the wisdom of a man of 70!" was Joseph's comment.
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You begin to get a clearer idea of what this thing called patriotism means? Nay, do not scoff at our Otto; he is only carrying on the old, old game called reaching out after place and power; is doing exactly what you would do yourself, if you had the will to rise to the mountain-tops where live the Bismarcks and the Csars.
Mask after mask Bismarck used to cover his real intent, from 1847 to 1870, the long years he was scheming to establish a German Empire; and he did his work well; more than that cannot be said of any man. Therefore, his fame is secure in the Valhalla of Mankind.
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Here is an amusing bit, showing the craft and cunning of our master: When Napoleon the Little, through his coup d'etat made himself Emperor of France, December 2, 1851, and while Frankfort's Parliament was trying to decide "what" to say about it, officially, a French journal in Frankfort printed an enthusiastic endorsement of the new Emperor.
Bismarck suspected that it came straight from Prussia's hated rival. Seeking out the proprietor of the newspaper Bismarck congratulated him "on close relations with Napoleon." The owner, taken off his guard, replied: "You are wrong; it came from Vienna!" This was exactly what Bismarck wished to ascertain, and his suspicions were verified.
To make assurance doubly sure, Bismarck leaving the journalist, did a little detective work. In the garden, from a secret place, he could see the French minister's house. In half an hour, he spied the journalist ringing the French minister's doorbell.
"Ah, ha!" was Bismarck's comment.
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What did this giant not do to help his beloved Prussia, and to humiliate his detested Austria?
One day, he found a fiery anti-Prussian review in an Austrian member's desk. He thought nothing of ransacking a desk. Richelieu had a system of espionage unrivaled in history. Bismarck in this respect is the Cardinal's close second. Each man regarded himself as a patriot. Bismarck was obstinately loyal to Prussia. Her aggrandizement became henceforth his life's passion. Nay, Bismarck did not ask that the member be dismissed! That would be punishment too coarse. Instead, Bismarck decided that the best revenge would be to print the address piecemeal and thus keep the member in suspense;—something like twisting the cords a little each day till the victim meets strangulation in frightful form.
During the eight years that Bismarck was a member of the freakish Frankfort Diet set up by Austria to "rule" the quarreling thirty-nine German states, Bismarck, the Prussian giant, came to see the necessity of controlling the press.
Frankfort stupidities decided Bismarck to appeal directly to the common people (whom also he politically despised!) and hence we find that he now meets Austria's hired journalists by urging the utmost press-freedom. "In this," says Lowe, "Bismarck was an opportunist," as he often was. "I learned something," he used to say when his enemies accused him of shifting ground.
Bismarck now demanded "open discussion" of German policies; saw that hired press agents vigorously set forth the Prussian side. In this connection it is interesting to draw a parallel between Bismarck's ideas of journalism, in 1852, and the American conception (1915).
"In the press, truth will not come to light through the mists conjured into life by the mendacity of subsidized newspapers, until the material wherewith to oppose all the mysteries of the Bund (Frankfort) shall be supplied to the Prussian press, with unrestricted liberty to use it."
This idea is precisely what extremists like Roosevelt set up (1915), battling against "trusts," endeavoring to make them audit their books on the curbstone! So, what is new under the sun?
Ox-like patience of Prussian peasantry sorely tried—The incessant call for the strong man to end political miseries.
As the result of all this deep study, Bismarck came to the conclusion that Prussia in the great moral idea of a United Germany could win, only by fighting Austria. We might as well get at the core of this thing, in short order. The complications are amazing; but the more we probe into Bismarck's gigantic problem, the larger grows the stature of our modern German giant.
From this time till the hour of his death, many years later, Bismarck remains the one great central will power of Germany, the source of political legitimacy, dealing out with his brawny hands favors where they would do the most good, setting men up or casting them down; and in the end, through a series of profound political combinations the inner currents of which to this hour no human being has been able to chart and classify, our strong man at last is to set up his United Germany, placing the imperial crown on William's head in the palace of the French kings, at Versailles.
Oh, how unforgivable all this is to the French. Not only that defeat should come in '70, but that the palace of the Bourbons, costing some $200,000,000, should be used in solemn mockery by the super-man Bismarck, as the stage-setting whereby to complete the imperial German holiday! Centuries must pass before this, the profound mortification to French feelings, is forgotten. That is to say, the worst thing you can do to a man is to hurt his pride. Had the German Empire come to pass without wounding French pride (not to add the French pocketbook) the French would long since have gone on their way in peace, rejoicing in German prosperity. Why not? The French are Christians, not the slightest doubt of that; and as Christians do not envy the German ox, ass or maid-servant. Indeed, that is as it should be in a Christian world.
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At home, up in Prussia, Bismarck's sullen glances surveyed Europe afar, and in the '50's, of which we are writing, this is his problem:
He sees Germany still a mere crazy-quilt of clashing states. There are warring ecclesiastical barons, free cities, petty princelings; Catholic Bavaria against Protestant Prussia; nobles against the people; the people against themselves, divided by God knows what controversies, sane or insane; poets writing their hymns of liberty then dying unheroically by a brickbat flung wildly in some street brawl; jurists trying to hammer together some constitution that will not be blown to pieces by the first explosion of gunpowder;—and all failing! With pugnacious Prussia on the North, with rapacious Austria on the South, with insolent Bavaria hanging off on the Southwest, and the others fighting tooth and nail for the land, that will eventually fall to the strongest—the German problem became an exhibition over many years of the noblest, likewise of the darkest, passions of the human breast.
Three dreadful wars were to be fought, 80,000 lives were to be sacrificed, during twenty years of turbulence; and in the blood-drenched interim various monarchs are to make a plaything of the thirty-nine disunited German states.
But the thing had to be gone through with. The historical evolution could not be hastened, although it was often set back. Sick Germany had many a hideous nightmare before the fever passed.
Convention after convention, diet after diet, contending monarchs using any plea that will give the upper hand to Prussia or to Austria, or over princes and whimsical knights, from the one who holds his sovereignty because his ancestor had been a king's barber, to another who in a lucky moment had found the queen's lace handkerchief, and after that lived like a parasite on the land;—all these high contracting parties must be sent to the dump heap and the soil sprinkled with precious German brothers' blood, mingling freely with vile blood, before the new political crop can grow.
Between 1750 and 1870 the German problem had been settled over and over again, but was not finally settled till by Bismarck's blood and iron. This means in Frederick the Great's own obstinate way!
We have heard from political fanatics, poets, lawyers, kings, thieves, church-people; all manner of men and not a few women have babbled and cackled; and there has been blood-letting, generation after generation, all up and down the Rhine, the Main, the Spree and the Elbe; then there would follow a lull brought about by some great Charter of Liberty framed by the Liberals, at their latest conference; and when it all went up in smoke, we would hear again that the Prussian government had its own plan, which, quite naturally Austria would never consent to advance.
Indeed, the ox-like patience of the German people, with their great moral dream of "German National faith," was strongly tried.
It remained for the obstinate spirit of Frederick, through Bismarck, to find the only way, by blood and iron. Sentimentalists should not shed tears. It is no less an authority than Marshal Davout, the great French soldier who had for his watchword, "The world belongs to the obstinate."
Was not the Great Frederick, in his youth, an idealist, and did he not write a touching essay on the evils of absolutism? But he ended by embracing the tyranny of kings—even as you and I, if we have the power.
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At the very outset, then, let it be made clear that it is short-sighted to call Bismarck Prussian tyrant. What would you, please? Cakes for the child, when the child cries? That has often been tried, and always in vain.
Next time, the child wants two cakes instead of one. It will not do.
Frederick was dubbed the "last of the tyrants." We are sorry if this were true.
Tyrants are exceedingly useful. Nay, we are glad to report that Frederick is not the last.
They still exist in every family, village, city, state, and nation.
For the most part, they exercise their tyranny in petty exactions, with no big plan such as distinguishes the dominating man from the little fellow with the mean temper and his childish ambition to rule, let us say, his dog or his wife.
There is something pathetic in the incessant call this earth has for a strong man. It was so in Germany, and Bismarck was that man.
Csar was assassinated because he was said to be a tyrant, yet after his death for 400 years Rome sought in vain for a man strong enough to hold the Empire from going to pieces.
Is there not something puzzling in the devotion of a people to their amiable oppressor? They may rebel against absolutism, as Bavarian hates Prussian, but if the political despot is strong enough to win against foreign foes, as Bismarck did at Koeniggraetz, Sedan and Gravelotte, the people kiss the hand that smites. What greater tests of loyalty do you ask of human nature?
Before 1866, he was without doubt the "best-hated" man in Europe, lampooned, ridiculed, even the victim of attempted assassinations.
At Frankfort mothers sang their children to sleep by the following ditty:
Sleep, darling, sleep, Be always gentle and good, Or Vogel von Falkenstein will come And carry you away in a sack; Bismarck too will come after him, And he eats up little children.
Yet within a few years, in his character as Prussian Prime Minister, who against the will of the people achieved the greatness of Prussia, and thereby made possible United Germany, no adulation was too great for our self-same Bismarck, formerly sneered at, despised, vilified, and stoned.