(EMPIRE and NATIONALISM in EUROPE, 1850-1900 – continued)
The extension of Prussian power with its victory against Austria in 1866 appeared ominous to Napoleon III. Bismarck, on the other hand, was interested in a showdown against French power. He wanted to complete the unification of Germany and calculated that a war against France would arouse a nationalistic fervor in the independent states of southern Germany that would swing these states toward favoring unification with Prussia.
France was opposed to a relative of the king of Prussia, Wilhelm von Hohenzollern (Wilhelm I) becoming king of Spain. Bismarck managed to make the French feel insulted, and on July 19, 1870, wishing to teach Prussia a lesson, France declared war. Napoleon III appeared to be the aggressor. Austria would not join France against Prussia. Britain, Russia and Italy remained neutral. And believing that France was the aggressor, the south Germans sided with their fellow Germans to the north, as Bismarck had hoped.
France entered the war believing it was militarily superior to Prussia, but at least in organization and preparedness it was the Prussians who were superior. The Germans were superior in railway development to the French, and Prussia's military counted heavily on use of its railways in its well-developed telegraph system.
On August 4, Prussia's military crossed the border into French territory – Alsace. On September 1 the Germans defeated the French decisively at Sedan (11 kilometers from what today is the Belgian border), capturing Napoleon III and 100,000 of his troops. By September 19 a siege of Paris began. There political unrest resulted in Napoleon III being deposed, and there famine continued for months, with the Parisians refusing to consider defeat.
The Germans were in occupation of Versailles, just outside Paris, and there, on January 28, 1871, the French signed an armistice with Germany. In May, the Treaty of Frankfurt was signed, officially ending the war. The independent German states – Bavaria, et cetera – had supported their fellow Germans against the French, and they agreed to unification with Prussia.
Bismarck's victory added to German railways as nation builder. German railways had joined together in commerce the hundreds of local markets Germans. Railways had been the first of the great commercial enterprise in Germany – as in the United States. And now economic unification was followed by political unification.
France accepted Bismarck's harsh terms – a $1,000,000,000 indemnity to be paid by France to Germany within three years. And France ceded most of Alsace and a large part of Lorraine to Germany.
Bismarck had attracted support for the war among Germans by promising that he would return German rule to Alsace and Lorraine, which had been taken by France during the conquests of Napoleon I. And in Alsace and Lorraine the Germans gained coal mines, ire ore deposits and Germany gained some military advantages: higher ground, a shorter western border and a greater distance from its western border to its heartland. But the annexation was not popular among the people in Alsace and Lorraine.
Germans had been uncertain about who would win the war, and the German victory was greeted with relief and exultation and pride. The Franco-Prussian war would be a source of pride to Germans into the twentieth century, including a German Austrian born in 1889 named Adolf Hitler. In this new age of social Darwinism some Germans thought of Germans as the fittest of peoples. And for some Germans, Bismarck's success enhanced their respect for the authoritarianism of his government, as opposed to his liberal critics who championed real parliamentary government.
On September 4, 1870, two days after the capture of Emperor Napoleon III at Sedan, the French proclaimed an end to France's Second Empire and the creation of a republic – the Third French Republic.
On March 3, one month after the signing of the armistice with Germany, and seventy days before the official end to the war, German troops marched into a Paris with empty streets and shuttered windows. The people of Paris were angry, and the people's army – the National Guard – prepared for conflict. The Parisians elected a municipal council – the Paris Commune – consisting of some moderate republicans, some followers of Proudhon and Blanqui and members of Marx's First International workingmen's association. The Paris Commune wanted to govern Paris without interference from the more conservative people outside of Paris. At Versailles the President of the new French republic wanted to disarm Paris. This was Louis Adolphe Thiers, a former critic of Napoleon III, an historian and a liberal whose views paralleled the upper bourgeoisie.
The Paris Commune proclaimed the separation of church and state and the nationalization of Church property. On April 8, 1871, it removed all representations of religion from the schools of Paris. On April 11, French troops sent by Thiers began another siege of Paris. Fighting continued into May, and after the official end to the war with Prussia on May 10 the Paris Commune refused to intensify. Troops broke through and entered Paris on May 21, and for eight days they overwhelmed Communard resistance. As many as 30,000 Communards and innocent Parisians were summarily executed, and many others were imprisoned and deported. It was another disappointment for revolutionaries, including Marx and Engels. Hostility to revolution helped elect to France's National Assembly those closer to the Church and in favor of restoring the monarchy, and in 1873 a monarchist majority forced Thiers to resign. The monarchists weakened themselves through internal division. In 1879 moderate Republicans won enough support in France's parliament to frustrate monarchist aims, and the Third French Republic was to survive until 1940.
Copyright © 2009-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.