Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871)
Bismarck‘s work of unifying Germany under the leadership of Prussia was not yet over. He had to bring the southern German states within the German Confederation. The southern German states showed no inclination to exchange their independent sovereignty for Prussian rule. However, forces outside Germany unexpectedly came to Bismarck‘s aid.
Relations between France and Prussia gradually began to deteriorate. The French resented the rise of Prussia in Central
Europe with enlarged territories and increased military might. As the price of his neutrality during the Seven Week‘s War, Napoleon III failed to achieve any compensation from Bismarck, which lowered his prestige in the eyes of his people. Public opinion in France and Germany was cultivated in such a way that people of both countries began to view each other with suspicion, jealousy and hatred. With this background Bismarck sought an opportunity to wage the final war of German unification against France.
Once again with superior diplomatic skill, Bismarck managed to secure the neutrality of European powers in a possible war against France. Thereafter he sought an excuse for the war which would represent France as the aggressor and Prussia as the defender of German rights. Such an excuse was found in the question of Spanish Succession.
Following the revolution in Spain, the Spanish throne was offered to Prince Leopold, an Hohenzollern, a distant relative of the King of Prussia. The offer was welcomed by Prussia but was opposed by France. Napoleon III feared the encirclement of France if Hohenzollerns ruled both Germany and Spain. Benedetti, the French ambassador to Prussia informed King William that France would not consent to Leopold becoming the King of Spain. War seemed inevitable. But much to Bismarck‘s disappointment Leopold refused to accept the throne of Spain. In France this news was greeted with jubilation as a great diplomatic victory over Prussia.
The French Foreign Minister was not quite satisfied and sent a telegram to Benedetti, the French ambassador to meet the
Prussian King at Ems and get an assurance from him that no other relative of his would accept the Spanish Crown.
Benedetti met the Prussian king on 13 July 1870 at Ems and presented the French demand. William I firmly refused to give any
such guarantee. Following his meeting with the French ambassador, William I sent a telegram from Ems to Bismarck in Berlin regarding the negotiations between himself and the French ambassador. Bismarck received the so called Ems Telegram when
he was dining with von Roon and von Moltke. All the three, who were eager for a war against France became greatly disappointed.
However, Bismarck edited the telegram and twisted it to suit his objective, namely to provoke a war between Prussia and France. The modified telegram was published in an extra evening edition of the German official newspaper. It evoked different reactions in Prussia and France. While the people of Prussia felt that the French ambassador had mis-behaved with their Emperor, the French felt that the Prussian Emperor had insulted France by refusing to listen to the French ambassador. The French were so much provoked by the Ems Telegram that with the overwhelming support of the French people, Napoleon III declared war on Prussia on 19 July 1870.
Bismarck had been preparing for this final war of German unification. He had already reached an understanding with the
southern German states as well as other European powers. He was assured of Austrian neutrality due to the lenient terms offered to her following the Seven Week’s War. The Russian Tsar also remained neutral.
Soon after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, the southern German states joined the North German Confederation, which completed the unification of Germany. In the Franco-Prussian War, France was decisively defeated in the Battle of Sedan on 1 September 1870, and Napoleon III surrendered. The German troops proceeded towards the French capital, Paris. Following the surrender of Napoleon III to the Germans, the Second French Empire collapsed. In Paris a republic was proclaimed and a
provisional government was hastily formed to take charge of affairs. The republican leaders were ready to make peace with Germany, but not at Bismarck‘s terms. Thus, the struggle continued and the German army pressed on and besieged Paris. In spite of a strong resistance from the French people, Paris fell to the German troops.
The Franco-Prussian war came to an end by the Treaty of Frankfurt (May, 1871). By this treaty, France agreed to cede Alsace and a part of Lorraine including Metz and Strasburg to the German Empire. France was required to pay an indemnity of five billion francs to Germany. Besides humiliating France and acquiring territorial advantages Bismarck accomplished the unification of Germany. The merger of the southern German states with the North German Confederation brought about the final unification of Germany. A federal government was established with Berlin as its capital. King William, the ruler of Prussia was proclaimed as the German Emperor on 18 January 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. This symbolized the newly achieved unity of the German people. However, but for Bismarck the unification of Germany would have remained just a dream for a long time.