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Germany page 2

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The king's sudden liberalism did not command the confidence of his people ("The poor King of Prussia has made a sad mess. Never has he made a move or a concession but it was too late; nay, when it would have been better had he done nothing" - Baron Stockmar to Prince Albert, 31st March). On the day after the royal proclamation a bloody conflict raged for hours in the streets of Berlin between the populace and the troops; barricades were erected within sight of the palace; numerous dwellings were sacked and burned. Next day a new and more liberal ministry was appointed, and the king's asseveration of his ardent desire to secure the liberty of his people became more emphatic than before.

Royal and popular liberalism having thus united their forces, the transition from a despotic to a democratic form of government was quickly accomplished. His majesty proposed household suffrage as one of the bases of the new constitution, and his offer was rapturously accepted by the chamber. But not even by a concession so extreme did the king succeed in restoring harmony between the government and the people. The assembly fell into interminable debate regarding trivial details of the constitution. They eliminated from the royal title the words "by the grace of God," leaving it to be understood that his majesty ruled merely by the will of his people. They abolished his nobility. Their profitless discussions paralyzed commerce and roused the passions of the populace. Employment could not be found; multitudes of workmen, idle and hungry, roamed the streets of Berlin; destructive riots were of frequent occurrence, - and still the assembly prolonged its vain debates.

The king was deeply chagrined by the untoward results which his new institutions had produced. He had also to endure the mortification of seeing an Austrian prince chosen regent of the German confederacy - a dignity which he ardently desired for himself (He was proposed for the office by a Prussian deputy, but the proposal was received in the diet with general laughter). It became evident that he had entered upon a path which did not lead to tranquillity, and he resolved to retrace his steps. His cabinet announced that "a limit must be put to the revolution." Berlin was filled with troops, under the command of General Wrangel, a soldier of approved fidelity and vigour. The too loquacious assembly was forcibly dissolved, and its president, seated in his official chair, was borne out by the irreverent soldiery and deposited in the street. A new constitution was announced, with changes of a highly conservative character. It is true that every Prussian who had attained his twenty-fourth year received the franchise. But the voters were ranked in three classes, according to the amount of taxes paid. By the method adopted the small minority of persons who were rich and highly taxed exercised in an election equal authority with the vast majority of workmen and others who paid inconsiderable amounts. This principle still regulates the electoral system of Prussia.

Among the members who formed the united diet, on which the king had bestowed increased powers, was Otto von Bismarck. He was a younger son of a family whose estates had been seriously encumbered by the extravagance and faulty administration of many years. He was then a man of thirty-two, of vast stature, and physical strength such as few men possess. His youth had been wild, but the energies of a great nature now demanded worthier occupation, and he had chosen a political career. He was the uncompromising enemy of liberalism. The divine right of the Prussian monarchy was a fundamental article of his political creed. He regretted the concessions of the king; he condemned with vehemence the demands of the people. His voice was often raised in defence of absolute authority, and his commanding ability quickly gained for him a foremost place among the defenders of the endangered monarchy. There is no reason to believe that even then Bismarck was in his heart a lover of despotic government. But from an early period in his political life he satisfied himself that order could not be brought out of the prevailing chaos otherwise than by the action of a strong Prussian government. His first care was to establish the affairs of Prussia and Germany on a solid and permanent basis, and he did not believe that result could be gained by such parliamentary government as Prussia was then able to supply.

The king bestowed favourable regard upon this formidable champion of an authority which men were threatening to reject.

He employed him as his representative in the German diet at Frankfurt. He sent him as ambassador to St. Petersburg. And when Frederick William died, and his brother became King William L, the influence of Bismarck was yet further increased. He was sent on a short mission to Paris, where the emperor, "looking well, and by no means fat and aged, as he is caricatured," and the empress, "still one of the handsomest women I know," received him "in a friendly manner," little dreaming of that terrible interruption to friendship which the swift years were soon to bring. And then he was summoned to Berlin to undertake the government of his country in the capacity of prime minister. It was a work of unwonted difficulty, for the policy which he had determined to pursue was in direct opposition to the wishes of a strong parliamentary majority. But he had gained the full confidence of the king, whose mind, slow to comprehend the policy of his new minister, was tenacious in his adherence to that which he once adopted. He had the powerful support of his colleague, Yon Boon, the minister of war, and of Von Moltke, whose military genius would add to the purposes of the new government the sanctions of irresistible force, the prestige of unexampled success. Above all, he had his own clear perception of the country's need, and a resolution, which never faltered, to make Prussia great and Germany tranquil in defiance of all opposition.

Bismarck entered immediately upon a strife between the king and the lower house which was already of some continuance. The king had pressed a scheme of army reorganization. The house refused him the means to carry it into effect. Bismarck did not hesitate to suspend parliamentary government, and to restrain illegally the liberty of the press. He closed the diet with the despotic intimation that, since the house refused its sanction to the budget, he found himself obliged to carry on the administration of affairs even in the absence of sanction. During four years this violence continued to be offered to the constitution. The liberals denounced a method of government so offensive. But gradually, as the foreign policy of the great minister was successfully developed, the clamour ceased. Even the liberals forgave the means which had been used, in view of the splendid results which were gained. After the defeat of Austria there was no longer any temptation to govern by irregular methods, for the country elected a house which was prepared to give willing support to the government. Bismarck asked for, and obtained by a majority of two hundred and thirty to seventy-five, a bill of indemnity for his violations of the constitution. Henceforth success gained acceptance for his measures, and he governed according to law. The king still maintained a belief in the divine right of his own authority, and was not easily convinced that there was any power in the state higher than the royal will. The most influential members of the cabinet cherished the same political faith. But Bismarck was wise enough to see that every desirable result could now be gained in the safe path of constitutional government, and he was strong enough to impress his own views upon his master and his colleagues.

The relations existing with Austria formed for the Prussian government the grand question of the day. For ages Austria had been supreme in Germany, and she was wont to treat Prussia with scant ceremony as a manifest inferior. But Prussia - compact, wisely guided, and long in the enjoyment of peace - increased in power; while Austria, burdened with distant and dissatisfied provinces, wasted by costly wars, and frustrated in her career by injudicious government, was steadily dwindling. Prussia aspired to supremacy in Germany. A long diplomatic strife was maintained over trivial differences evolved from the growing animosity of the two governments; but it was obvious that the high dispute was, in the hands of diplomacy, merely ripening for its inevitable solution by the sword.

Bismarck had secured the "benevolent neutrality" of Russia and France in the long-foreseen conflict. The active friendship of Italy could be safely assumed.

But while the great controversy was still at some distance from its close, Bismarck succeeded in inducing Austria to join him in wresting from Denmark the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. After a brave defence against the overwhelming strength of the invaders, Denmark was forced to yield. The plunder was easily acquired, but grave difficulties arose in regard to its distribution. Bismarck took measures which pointed to the absorption by Prussia of all the newly-gained territory. Austria favoured its erection into an independent state, under a certain Prince Frederick of Augusten-burg, who might be trusted to rule according to Austrian maxims. Ultimately it was agreed that the gains should be divided; that Holstein should be made over to Austria, and Schleswig to Prussia. But this settlement gave no satisfaction to either of the disputants. Some months ensued of mutual complaint and recrimination, growing ever more bitter. Early in the year it became plain that war was at hand. The reorganization of the Prussian army was complete, and Bismarck had resolved that the time had come to expel Austria from the German confederation and unite the remaining states in a close alliance under the Prussian king. The Emperor of Austria summoned a council of his most distinguished soldiers. General von Moltke sat down to prepare the plan of the approaching campaign.

Austria was able to strengthen herself by the support of some of the smaller states. During the spring months all Germany was arming. Mutual demands of explanation and of disarmament were exchanged, and mutually refused. Austria at length announced herself as the "upholder of the freedom, power, and integrity of the whole German Fatherland" against a power influenced only by "the dictates of egotism and an ungovernable craving after aggrandizement." Prince Frederick Charles led his army into Bohemia, in order to defend his country against "Austria, faithless and regardless of treaties." "With the exchange of such amenities the war opened.

But during the last sixty years - even from the hour of Prussia's deepest humiliation - there had been evolving, with slow and silent but unswerving progress, a marvellous train of circumstances, which were now to exercise a commanding influence on European history. In the year 1806 a Prussian boy finished his apprenticeship, and went forth upon his travels in quest of employment. His name was John Nicholas Dreyse; his age nineteen; the occupation to which he had been bred that of locksmith. The battle of Jena had just been fought, and Dreyse chanced upon the field, still cumbered with the Prussian dead and with the arms which they had wielded so vainly. From time to time, as he walked among these ghastly memorials of national ruin, he lifted and examined with care the musket which had dropped from some dying hand. He satisfied himself that it was the least effective musket in Europe, and that his poor countrymen had been sent out, imperfectly armed, to wage hopeless combat with the genius of Napoleon and the prowess of his well-equipped veterans. He resolved that he would amend that faulty weapon. In the purpose of the young locksmith lay wrapped up much of the political future of Germany and of France.

Dreyse found his way to Paris, and obtained employment in the workshop of a Swiss gunmaker, named Pauli, who enjoyed the favour of the Emperor Napoleon. The industrious, intelligent Prussian lad quickly gained the confidence of his master. One day Pauli told him that he was charged by the emperor to construct a musket which should be loaded at the breech. It was a revelation to Dreyse, whose mind now brooded continually upon the idea of breech-loading fire-arms. His master was similarly occupied, and even constructed such a gun. Napoleon encouraged him to further effort by a gift of money and the Cross of the Legion of Honour.

It is one of the striking situations of history. The genius of the tyrant had given him possession of an idea whose embodiment would have laid Europe at his feet. The man who was ultimately to create that embodiment was face to face with him, seeking laboriously to do it now. But a safe expanse of years still lay between Europe and the success of this perilous attempt. Long before the invention was perfected the conqueror slept beneath the willow-tree of St. Helena.

The musket constructed by Pauli was complex and unsatisfactory, and never came into use. Just as the war closed the percussion-cap was invented, and Dreyse turned his attention to the manufacture and improvement of this important novelty. But the idea of a breech-loading musket was never abandoned. At length, in 1835, nearly thirty years after his first efforts, he succeeded in constructing a breech-loading needle-gun, which promised to be of practical service. It was tried by the Prussian government, and approved, and means were given to Dreyse for the erection of a factory of such weapons. The new musket was first brought into action, experimentally, against the Danes, and yielded satisfactory results, to the high delight of King William, who at once ennobled the inventor. Measures were now taken to arm all the Prussian forces with this terrible weapon and train them to its use. From time to time the other powers heard of the Prussian needle-gun, but failed to appreciate its significance. And now Austria was drawn into war against a neighbour whose power to destroy was fearfully in excess of hers. The Austrians advanced to a hopelessly unequal conflict and a vain expenditure of human life.

Three Prussian armies entered Bohemia by different routes, with orders to drive back the Austrians and concentrate towards Sadowa. In all the preliminary combats they were successful. The Austrians fought bravely, but the terribly rapid fire of the new Prussian musket inflicted losses which paralyzed them. In the first engagement which took place an entire battalion of Austrians was struck down almost to a man. Within a week the Austrians had fallen back upon Sadowa. Here, in a position of considerable strength, they were attacked by the first Prussian army, under the nephew of the king, Prince Frederick Charles. The Austrians, with a splendid artillery, made good their defence, and inflicted severe losses (The 27th Prussian regiment, for instance, went into battle three thousand strong, and only three hundred or four hundred men came out unwounded). After three or four hours' fighting, it seemed that the attack had failed. But then there burst forth suddenly on the Austrian right a deadly fire of musketry. The second army, under the crown prince, had arrived at this opportune moment on the field. The dark-blue regiments multiplied with appalling rapidity, and the withering fire of their needle-guns was quickly reinforced by a powerful artillery. They had struck full on the most vulnerable point of the Austrian position. For an hour or more the Austrians stood their ground, enduring bravely the fearful losses which the enemy was now able to inflict. But at every point the Prussians cut their way deeper into the Austrian lines, their murderous fire covering the ground with dead. Resistance ceased, and the shattered Austrian army withdrew, weakened by the loss of thirty-two thousand men in killed, wounded, and missing. The Prussians had lost only nine thousand. After a defeat so crushing, the continuance of the war was impossible. Two days after, the emperor made over Venetia to Prance; to be by this mediator delivered to Italy. Negotiations for peace were entered upon, and easily completed. At the opening of his chambers, the Prussian king was able to give thanks for God's gracious goodness in bestowing upon the army this rapid career of victory, and thus "smoothing the course for the national development of Germany." The campaign had occupied seven days; between the declaration of war and the formal conclusion of peace only seven weeks had elapsed.

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