- The German Army  1657-1945

Bismarck and the Development of German The Period of Consolidation 1871-1880

IN JUNE 16, 1871, the German Kaiser, preceded by Bismarck, Roon, and Moltke, entered the city of Berlin on horseback in triumph at  the head of forty thousand troops newly returned from France. George Bancroft, the American minister, described the scene. "The via triumphalis was about three miles long, through streets as wide and in some places thrice as wide as Broadway." Cannon captured from the French were parked in close order on both sides of the route, which was also lined by "flag-staffs garlanded and festooned with oak-leaves and evergreens." At intervals stood three huge statues made of linen covered with gypsum and stuffed with straw: at the start a "gigantic image, representing the city of Berlin"; at midpoint "a colossal victory, having on her right hand and left statues of Strassburg and Metz"; at the end "a Germania receiving back into her arms Alsace and Lorraine." More than one million people crowded the sidewalks under a brilliant sun and, when night came, every house and building in Berlin was illuminated. At the opera a glittering company of royalty, nobility, and generals viewed two pageants specially composed for the occasion. "The first represented Justice as having done its work in the late war, and now introducing Peace attended by all the Seasons and all the Arts. The second showed Barbarossa spellbound in his cave, dreaming on till the empire should be restored, and seeing in his visions what the spectators saw in tableaux vivants, the epoch-making incidents of German history, from the crusades and early humble fortunes of the younger branch of the Hohenzollems, to the moment when its chief was upborne at Versailles as emperor by the arms of the princes of Germany." Germany, Bancroft concluded, enjoyed a "feeling of security such as it never had before." 
While Germany reveled in the euphoria of triumph, the rest of Europe shuddered. Three stunning victories within six years had elevated Prussia, whose qualifications for great power status had been questioned before 1866, to a leading position among European nations. Two great powers had been humbled by the superior discipline of its soldiers, the competence of its generals, and brilliance of its political leadership. Geographical size and position, rapidly growing industrial and financial strength, larger population, and the size and capacity of its army made the new German Reich the most formidable power on the continent. 
Bismarck, whose chance of survival had been widely discounted in 1862, was now the dominant figure in German and European politics. Naturally questions arose. What new goals would the "man of blood and iron" now pursue? What new conquests might be necessary to satiate a people steeped in the history and legends of medieval empire? What Germanic people or German-speaking minority would be the next target of the German quest for national unity?
Contrary to these expectations, German unification did not introduce a new era of conquest and bloodshed in Europe. Instead, it was the prelude to a period of international order that lasted, despite many crises, more than forty years. After 1871 Bismarck, whose direction of German foreign policy went almost unchallenged for nearly half that time, became an arbiter of peace rather than war. In his view Germany was externally a satiated state whose interests in foreign policy were now best served by the preservation of the European balance of power as reconstructed in the wars of Italian and German unification. From 1871 to 1890 his foreign policy was the defensive shield behind which the German nation coped with the problems of internal unification. No word and no task was more often in Bismarck's expressed thoughts during these decades than that of "consolidation" (Konsolidierung). 
During the 1880s as the problems—and failures—mounted, the word changed, significantly, to "fortification" (Festung).
The problems of national unity were regional, cultural, and social in character. In 1871 it was by no means certain that the states and dynasties of the German Reich, after decades and centuries of independence, would fully accept their new status as member states of a federal union. This was true even of Prussia, whose ministers and officials were inclined to view the emerging imperial government either as an enemy of Prussian interests or as an extension of Prussian power and authority. In all of the great wars fought on the European continent since the Reformation one or more German states had collaborated with outside powers against their German neighbors. Bismarck could not assume that the conception of self-interest that dictated such combinations would now disappear. The exclusion of Austria from Germany, furthermore, had upset the equilibrium between the Catholic and Protestant churches and populations. Catholics now found themselves a minority in a largely Protestant country headed by a Protestant dynasty. Political unity under these terms raised again the old question of Germany's religious division.

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