France had made war in order to undo the work of partial union of Germany effected by Prussia in 1866. It achieved the opposite result, for King William returned from the war Emperor of a united and satisfied Germany. The German Empire had been formed, realizing Bismarck’s long cherished dream. The troops of South Germany (Bavaria, Würtemberg, and Baden, and those of the semi-independent Kingdom of Saxony) had fought side by side with those of Prussia, and the States confederated with her in a contest of triumphant success against her ancient foe. By the genius of Von Moltke and Bismarck, the long deferred vengeance due for centuries of French aggression had been exacted with terrible completeness. Even during the progress of the war the German States awoke to a realization of the genius of Prussia and the dependence which must be placed upon that Kingdom for the maintenance of German integrity. Immediately after the victory of Wörth the crown Prince had seen that the time had come for abolishing the line of division that severed southern Germany from the Federation of the North. A strong desire for a closer union had arisen, and after the battle of Sedan (September 2, 1870) negotiations were opened with each of the southern States for its entry into the northern confederation. Bavaria alone raised serious objection and demanded terms to which the Prussian Government would not consent. Bismarck refrained from exercising pressure at Munich, but invited the several Governments to send representatives to Versailles for the purpose of arriving at a settlement. For a moment the court of Munich drew the Sovereign of Würtemberg to its side, and orders were sent to the envoys of Würtemberg to act with the Bavarians in refusing to sign the treaty projected by Bismarck. The Würtemberg Ministers thereupon tendered their resignations; Baden and Hesse-Darmstadt signed the treaty and the two dissentient Kings saw themselves on the point of being excluded from united Germany. They withdrew their opposition and at the end of November the treaties uniting all of the southern States with the existing confederation were executed, Bavaria retaining larger separate rights than were accorded to any other member of the union.
In the acts which thus gave to Germany political cohesion there was nothing that altered the title of its chief. Bismarck insisted that William should be given imperial dignity, and, early in 1871, when the complete victory of Germany seemed assured, it was resolved to signalize the triumphant Commander-in-Chief of the German forces in a way that should declare him to the world and record him in history as the head of an amalgamated German Nation. On the 18th of January, amid the cheers of the assembled German chiefs and the representatives of its army assembled in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, King William was proclaimed and hailed as German Emperor. Thus the divisions which had enfeebled and wasted the German Nation were canceled. Germany, which had been little more than a geographical expression, was raised to the position which her strength and intelligence entitled her to claim. She was supreme in Central Europe, and discerning men everywhere recognized in the greatness of this peace-loving and industrious people a new guarantee that the tranquillity of Europe would not in the future be so lightly disturbed as in the past.
The Emperor came back to Berlin and the first Diet of the restored Empire that symbol of United Nationhood was opened. Bismarck naturally became the Imperial Chancellor and was created a Prince on the conclusion of the war. The new German Empire represented in this Diet was composed of twenty-five States and one Reichsland (“imperial territory” or “district”)Alsace-Lorraine. The States include four Kingdoms (Prussia, Bavaria, Wurtemberg, Saxony); six Grand-Duchies, five Duchies, seven Principalities, and three free towns (Hamburg, Lübeck, Bremen). The legislative functions are vested in a Bundesrath (Federal Council) of fifty-nine members appointed for each session by the Governments of the individual States, and a Reichstag (Parliament or Diet of the Realm) of 397 members, elected by universal suffrage and by ballot for three years, representing the German Nation.
Under Prince Bismarck’s energetic and skillful leadership, the attention of the new German Empire was mainly devoted to the settlement of internal questions. Almost at once it found itself involved in the ecclesiastical contest with the Church of Rome, known as the Kultur-Kampf, which had previously begun in Prussia. The origin of the struggle was an effort to vindicate the right of the State to interfere somewhat intimately, with the behavior, appointments and even educational affairs of all the religious societies in the country. The Jesuits were expelled in 1872 and Pope Pius IX retorted by declining to receive the German Ambassador. In 1873, in the month of May, Herr Falk, at Bismarck’s dictation, brought forward and carried in the Reichstag, what are known as the May Laws, the repeal of which was the one task of the Center party in the Reichstag, from that time forth. These May Laws made the discharge and exile of bishops legal, when they acted against the decrees of the existing Government. They made it obligatory that every bishop be educated in a gymnasium, according to the regular German system, and they established an imperial court for the settlement of ecclesiastical difficulties. This last virtually took the decision in religious matters away from the Church into the hands of the State. In 1874 a supplementary law making it criminal for bishops who had been dismissed to persist in exercising their former prerogatives was added to the list. After the laws of 1873 the Catholic clergy, at the decree of the Pope, had gone on with their work as before. Finally, in 1875 ( January 25), a law was carried through the Reichstag establishing civil as well as religious marriage. The Pope issued an encyclical declaring the Falk laws invalid and matters seemed for a time to be at a dead-lock. On the election of the new Pope, Leo XIII (in 1878), attempts were made to arrange a compromise between the Empire and the Papal See. Falk, the Prussian Kultus Minister, resigned in 1879, and certain modifications were made in the obnoxious laws in 1881 and 1883. Bismarck took a firmer step toward conciliation when he proposed the Pope as arbiter between Germany and Spain in the dispute as to the possession of the Caroline Islands, and he practically owned himself beaten in the concessions which he granted in revisions of the politico-ecclesiastical legislation in 1886 and 1887. In 1893 the decree of expulsion against the Jesuits was repealed. Another semi-religious difficulty which demanded Government interference was the social persecution of the Jews, which reached a climax in 1881.
These concessions to the clericals were due largely to the political sagacity of Windhorst, their leader, who cleverly maintained a balance of power between the Conservatives, or supporters of the Government party, and the Socialists, whose aid had at first been evoked by Bismarck to secure the passage of the Falk laws. Bismarck had been a friend of La Salle, and himself carried out State Socialistic theories. The doctrines preached by the Socialists found good soil in the students of the universities, and the party increased rapidly in power. Two attempts on the Emperor’s life in May and June, 1878, were attributed more or less directly (probably unjustly) to the social democratic organization, and gave the signal for legislative measures conferring very extensive powers upon the administration to be used in suppressing the influence of Socialism. These Socialist laws, though limited in duration, have invariably been renewed, sometimes with additional severity, before their validity expired. In 1889 several of the most important towns in the Empire were in what is called the “minor state of siege,” for police purposes, and a new Socialist law was carried which remained in force until October, 189o. A plot, happily futile, to blow up the Emperor and other German rulers in the Niederwald in 1883 was considered by the Government to justify its repressive measures. Prince Bismarck, however, was not content with repressive measures, he endeavored, by improving the condition of the working-classes, to cut the ground from beneath the feet of the Socialistic propagandists. The acknowledgment in the Emperor’s message to the Reichstag in 1881, that the working classes have a right to be considered by the State was followed by laws compelling employers to insure their workmen in case of sickness, and by the establishment (1888) of compulsory insurance for workmen against death and old age. Yet in spite of these measures Socialism has constantly increased in Germany, and the Socialists in 1898 polled 2,200,000 votes in a total vote of 7,600,000, being by far a larger vote than that of any other of the numerous political parties.
The Emperor, William I, died March 9, 1888. His son Frederick, at that time suffering from a cancerous throat, was expected to begin a liberal policy, but he died on June 15th of the same year, being succeeded by his son William II. The new Emperor was trained in the school of divine right, and has endeavored to enforce these ideas in Germany. At the very outset of his reign he had a difference with Bismarck on proposed schemes for the extension of State Socialism as concessions to the working classes, and (March 20, 1890) Bismarck was forced to retire. Since then the young Kaiser has ruled with an iron hand and has shown him-self reactionary in spirit. Repressive measures have been enforced to a greater extent than ever. Recalcitrant members of the Reichstag have been imprisoned, and by means of inducements of various sorts, with the support of the clerical party which has thus increased its influence, he has subordinated the position of the Parliament, which has been forced to give way whenever in opposition to his measures as in the case of the in-crease of the army in 1893 and of the navy in 1898. At the opening of Parliament in 1899 it was found that the Emperor was supreme and the Reichstag had been tamed.
Emperor William, during his reign, has embarked with energy in the colonial policy which was inaugurated by Bismarck in 1884. Important extensions of German colonies in East Africa have been made and the Emperor (in 1898) gained Kiao-Chou in China.
No foreign wars have been engaged in by Germany since 1871. But the army has been maintained to great strength, by the system of compulsory military service and a navy has been built. Yet in foreign politics Germany has played a leading part. It was Bismarck who formed the League of the Three Emperors in 1871 by which the Czar, Franz Joseph, and Emperor William I made an alliance. When this fell in 1877, upon Russia’s engaging in war in behalf of the Bulgarians, Bismarck formed the triple alliance (1879), about which only the principal facts and not all the details are known. It is an agreement for mutual defense in case of attack, and the parties to it are Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. Bismarck’s revelations in 1896 betrayed the fact that from 1887 to 1890 Germany had a secret agreement with Russia along the same lines, the result of which would have been disastrous to Austria had there been war in the interval.