Who's Who - Otto von Bismarck

1894 Photograph of Otto von Bismarck Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), born on April 1, 1815 at Schönhausen, is considered the founder of the German Empire.  For nearly three decades he shaped the fortunes of Germany, from 1862 to 1873 as prime minister of Prussia and from 1871 to 1890 as Germany's first Chancellor.

After reading law at the Universities of Göttingen and Berlin, Otto von Bismarck entered Prussian service and became a judicial administrator at Aachen.  Bismarck gained prominence in 1851 when he was chosen to represent Prussia in the Federal diet.

In 1859 he was sent as ambassador to Russia, from where he was recalled in March 1862 to become ambassador to France.  However, after six months in September 1862, Bismarck returned to Berlin as prime minister of Prussia whence he devoted himself to the task of uniting Germany.

In the war of 1866 he succeeded in defeating Austria and excluding it altogether from German affairs.  The Franco-German War (1870-71) similarly ended with Prussian success.  Both were geared towards German unification.

This victory instigated the kingdoms of Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden and Hesse to join the North German Alliance, an alliance of Prussia and 17 northern German states created by Bismarck in 1866, which led to the declaration of the German Empire (Deutsches Reich) in 1870 and the proclamation of King William I of Prussia as German Emperor in Versailles in 1871.

The imperial constitution was declared in April 1871.  Bismarck was appointed imperial chancellor.  The chancellor of the Reich was not responsible to parliament but to the Emperor.  The Reichstag, the imperial parliament, was convened by universal, equal, direct and secret elections.  Next to the Emperor, it was the second most important institution.  However, its political influence was limited to the area of legislation.  It exerted only a minor influence over the formation of governments and government policy.

Characteristic of the Reich was the "government over the parties" and the restriction of the peoples' representation to a position in which it was only able to express a non-binding opinion on important political questions.  The system was described at the time as a "chancellor dictatorship".

It was Bismarck as Imperial Chancellor who decided upon policy outlines and who proposed the appointment and dismissal of state secretaries who were in turn responsible for the administration of the ministries of the Reich.

Bismarck's greatest achievements, however, were the administrative reforms, developing a common currency, a central bank, and a single code of commercial and civil law for Germany.

Bismarck also became the first statesman in Europe to devise a comprehensive scheme of social security to counter the Social Democrats, offering workers insurance against accident, sickness and old age.

In foreign affairs, he, as a master of alliances and counter-alliances, presided over the Congress of Berlin (1872) and this seemed to symbolise his paramount position as mediator between the then great powers such as Russia, Austria, France, Great Britain.  An alliance with Austria-Hungary (1879) marked a new period of conservatism in Bismarck's foreign policy.

But by 1890 his policies began to come under attack.  On March 18, 1890 two years after Emperor William II's accession, Bismarck was forced to resign.  His last years were devoted to composing his memoirs.

Article courtesy of German Embassy, India

Click here to view brief film footage of Bismarck probably filmed in the 1890s

A cartwheel was a particular type of aerial manoeuvre.

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