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Otto von Bismarck

Wars with Austria and France

Bismarck was appointed premier in 1862 by William I in order to secure adoption of the Prussian king's army program, which was then being strenuously opposed in parliament. Bismarck, in direct violation of the constitution, dissolved parliament and collected taxes for the army without parliamentary approval.

To expel Austria from the German Confederation now became Bismarck's chief aim. The disposition of Schleswig-Holstein, former Danish territory annexed by Austria and Prussia after their defeat of the Danes in 1864, provided the necessary pretext. By the Gastein Convention of 1865 the two countries agreed to rule jointly—Austria was to administer Holstein and Prussia was to administer Schleswig; but friction soon developed. Bismarck accused Austria of violating the Gastein treaty and thus precipitated the Austro-Prussian War (1866), which ended after seven weeks with the defeat of Austria. By the treaty signed at the end of the war, Germany was reorganized under Prussian leadership in the North German Confederation, from which Austria was excluded.

Fear of France, skillfully propagated by Bismarck, was to bring the remaining German states into the Prussian orbit when the candidature of a Hohenzollern prince to the throne of Spain caused friction with the French Emperor Napoleon III. To make sure that this friction would provoke war, Bismarck published the famous Ems dispatch. In the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) that ensued the states of S Germany rallied to the Prussian cause as Bismarck had anticipated, and in Jan., 1871, William I of Prussia was proclaimed German emperor.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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