"Foreign success; domestic failure." How fair is this summary of Bismarck's governance of Germany

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Foreign success; domestic failure.” How fair is this summary of Bismarck’s governance of Germany

        It is not fair to state that Bismarck failed domestically, however it is true to some extent that his foreign policies, in terms of success and to some extent importance, did overshadow his practically and theoretically limited domestic policies. It could be argued that these limitations were not because of Bismarck’s political mismanagement but because of the social and political situation Germany held at the time. Bismarck was confronted by several impediments. The fact that Bismarck was faced with a religiously and socially disjointed federal state, holding several different political parties within the Reichstag, offered only hardship for domestic control. His position was further weakened due to his absence from Berlin, as a result of his poor health, reducing his control of the every day decision making. After 1871, Bismarck was persistently thwarted in his efforts to shape the domestic developments of the Reich.

        Bismarck’s main domestic aim was to achieve unity within Germany. There was urgency for the need of legislation to establish an economic and legal framework for the Empire. Bismarck’s influence over William gave him an immensely strong position, which he exploited. Bismarck ensured that other ministers were little more than senior clerks, carrying out his orders. Being a democracy the promotion of mass political parties with popular appeal had negative effects on Bismarck’s authority. The Chancellor was under no threat of a democratic expulsion, for the Reichstag did not have the authority to do so, however, it was in Bismarck’s interests to receive support for his own legislative proposals. Bismarck grudgingly accepted that the co-operation of a popularly elected body was almost essential in order to achieve an efficiently running modern state. Yet, Bismarck was only ready to work with the Reichstag on condition that it accepted his proposals or an acceptable compromise was made. If no compromise was made Bismarck would usually dissolve the Reichstag and would call for fresh elections, he was also prepared to use all the means at his disposal, to swing public opinion in elections to secure contentious legislation. Amazingly, the Reichstag became very troublesome for Bismarck, often criticising and undermining his plans. Bismarck decided to work with, the biggest party in Germany at the time, the National Liberals.

        There was much support from many members, whom applauded him for his success in creating a united Germany and were eager to consolidate national unity in the early 1870’s. However, there had always been an uneasy relationship between Bismarck and the National Liberals which delayed domestic political action. Bismarck did not agree with their hopes for the extension of parliamentary government. He resented having to rely on them to ensure the passage of legislation and became increasingly irritated as they opposed a number of his proposals. A major dispute was over the military budget, at first agreeing in 1867, that the budget should remain at a fixed level outside Reichstag control until 1872. After the Franco-Prussian war in 1874, Bismarck presented a law which stated that an army of over 400, 000 men would be automatically financed by federal expenditure. The measure was opposed by the Liberal Democrats due to the threatening deductions on monetary powers. Evidence of Bismarck’s authority is shown by threats to call new elections, thus a compromise was made that the military budget would be fixed for seven years at a time, rather than voted for annually or fixed permanently, this was a major diminution of the Reichstag’s power.

        Bismarck successfully passed legislation, getting rid of a great deal of legal and economic anomalies. A national system of currency was introduced, a Reichsbank was created, all internal tariffs were abolished and there was much legal standardisation. In the early 1870s Bismarck had left all economic matters in the hands of Delbruck, a capable administrator who continued the free trade policies of the Zollverein. However, in 1879, Bismarck ditched both free trade and the National Liberals. Turning to the Conservative and Centre parties, he supported the introduction of tariffs, or customs duties, protecting German industry and farming. Bismarck’s eagerness to use tariffs is justified by achieving strong economic and financial reasons. German agriculture was suffering from bad harvests in the 1870s and from the USA and Russia. As the price of wheat fell, German farmers suffered. Bismarck understood the dangers of a prolonged agrarian depression. Bismarck also knew that relying on foreign grain would seriously weaken Germany’s strength in time of war. Bismarck took to Economic Protectionism aiding Germany’s self-sufficiency. This act was encourages by an industrial collapse in 1973, leading to produce a crisis of confidence in economic liberalism. The adoption of protective tariffs by France, Russia and Austria-Hungary in the late 1870s seemed to make it more desirable and perhaps showing signs of developing interests rather than economic understanding. The federal government’s revenue raise from customs duties and indirect taxation was proving to be far too inadequate to cover growing costs of armaments and administration. Supplementary payments were to be made by individual states, Bismarck found this distasteful and hoped the new tariffs would give the federal government a valuable extra source of income ensuring financial independence from both the states and the Reichstag. Bismarck also realised that there were political advantages in abandoning free trade. By the late 1870s German landowners and industrialists were clamouring for protective tariffs, by declaring protectionist policies, Bismarck could win influential support. Bismarck saw the opportunity to break with the National Liberals and broaden his support, after the 1878 elections, when the National Liberals had lost some 30 seats. The combine strength of the two Conservative parties was now sufficient to outvote the National Liberals.

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        BY 1879 an all-party association for tariff reform, made up of mostly Conservatives and Centre Party members, had a majority in the Reichstag. Bismarck introduced a general tariff bill in 1879, was passed through the Reichstag, duties were to be imposed on imports. Bismarck had portrayed his capability as a political manoeuverer, firmly committing himself to the Conservative parties. The National Liberals had splintered, those who believed in free trade joined the Progressives forming a new radical party in 1884, the other remaining members remained loyal to Bismarck. Bismarck however was no more reliable on their backing and in that ...

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