???Events Shape People More Than People Shape Events???

December 17, 2016 History

???Events shape people more than people shape events???
How Accurate is this statement in relation to Bismarck

Events shape the actions of people, but it can also be seen that the actions of people shape the events which occur. Bismarck had great influence on the events leading up to German unification, but the actions which Bismarck took were taken based the circumstances and the events which surrounded him. The three wars leading to the German unification did happen due to the actions of Bismarck, but he did not himself shape the events in order to make them happen. Bismarck??™s behaviour was determined based on the events surrounding him. Events do shape people more then people shape events, but Bismarck??™s actions did determine many events which occurred.

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Bismarck may be seen as a figure that shaped the unification of Germany. According to the reports of Disraeli, Bismarck planned the unification of Germany as early as 1862, which involved three wars in order to unify Germany. Bismarck attacked Denmark in order to get Schleswig and Holstein. Then by allying with Austria and co-administering Schleswig-Holstein, Bismarck trapped Austria into another war and after defeating Austria, Bismarck established the North German Confederation. Bismarck used the Spanish Succession Question to provoke France into war, showing some great logical design. Bismarck gained French impartiality by deceiving Napoleon III into thinking that he would get territorial compensation. Before fighting France, he secured Austrian neutrality by treating her leniently after the Seven Weeks War. Finally, Germany was unified in the same sequence that Bismarck had planned. It is seen that the actions of Bismarck did shape the events leading up to the unification of Germany.

Bismarck built the Prussian military immediately after being appointed the role of Prime Minister using methods such as conscription and establishing a military college to develop skilled officer elite, as it was an area of great importance to him. Bismarck established fully negotiated alliances with some neighbours while isolating and moving Prussian military might against others. He gave his famous ???Blood and Iron??? speech which shows his authoritative rule ???Prussia must gather up her strength and hold it in readiness for the opportune moment which has already slipped by several times??¦ not by speeches and majority votes are the great questions of the day decided??¦ but by iron and blood.??? Due to the great training and organisation of the German army, Prussia, with Austria, won the war over Schleswig-Holstein in 1864, Prussia defeated Austria in the Austro-Prussian war, and defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, after which Germany was united. British historian Michael Howard stated that ???The social and economic development of the past fifty years had brought about a military as well as an industrial revolution. The Prussians has kept abreast of it and France had not??? . Bismarck can be seen to have shaped the Prussian military, and therefore shaped the events which took place due to the victories of Prussia.

In making friendship with other powers, Bismarck well-utilised the international situations to kill two birds with one stone and developed good relationship with powers so that they would assist Prussia in time as well as helped Bismarck in isolating the enemies of Prussia, to speed up the unification process. Provoking wars was a way which Bismarck shaped the unification of Germany. Win after win got the people of Germany stirring about their great army and navy. For example, Bismarck accused Austria of violating the conditions of the ???Gastein Convention??? and announced Prussia??™s intention to annex Schleswig-Holstein. In the Austro-Prussian war, Prussia defeated Austria in seven weeks and the treaty of Prague was signed. Bismarck??™s accusations and announcements bought about the Austro-Prussian war, which Bismarck had planned for. Bismarck did in fact, heavily influence and shape these events which occurred.

Bismarck can be seen to have shaped the German unification by manipulating his way into wars. This can be seen in 1868 where Bismarck stepped in and edited the public statement about the meeting between the Prussian king and the French ambassador at Ems, making the French seem hostile, when in reality the meeting was carried out in a friendly manner. France felt insulted and declared war on Prussia; making the French appear as the aggressor. As a result the southern states joined the confederation. Fighting between Prussia and France began in July 1870. Due to the great training and organisation of the German army the French were defeated in January 1871. Finally a united Germany was proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles and, King Wilhelm I of Prussia was crowned the first emperor/Kaiser of Germany. It was the actions of Bismarck which represented the French as being hostile. The way in which Bismarck edited and manipulated the public statement played a huge in role in the war between France and Prussia. Bismarck did shape this event, but this would not have been possible if there was no vacant Spanish throne. The event shaped Bismarck??™s actions.

Bismarck may have helped to shape the unification of Germany, but over time his ???master-planner??? interpretation has been challenged by some historians. D. Thomson argued that it was unlikely, if not impossible, for anyone to plan successfully 10 years ahead and impose his plan to such exact precision, meaning the three wars. Seaman points out that the ???master plan??? interpretation was not based on facts. The Schleswig-Holstein problem and the Spanish Succession were not Bismarck??™s inventions and he did not shape and plan for them to occur, for the former was an age-old problem and the latter was an unexpected event. Moreover, Bismarck??™s many diplomatic activities were not dictated by war-preparation considerations. Bismarck fought the Danish War in 1864 due to the strategic importance of Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia and he allied with Austria because he had to due to Austria??™s domination and power in Germany. Bismarck could not have predicted Napoleon III??™s reactions. Bismarck made the most use of the circumstances he was in, and let events shape his actions. A.J.P. Taylor stated that ???Bismarck??™s greatest lay not in mastering events, but in going with events so as to seem to master them???. Events shaped many of the decisions and actions of Bismarck??™s.

Bismarck did plan to unify Germany. Kent stated that ???It now seems fairly certain, on the basis of newly discovered documents and a reinterpretation of old ones, that Bismarck planned a war from the very beginning??? , but while Bismarck was making preparations militarily and diplomatically, he still hoped to achieve his aim, unifying Germany under Prussian leadership, without wars. Bismarck stated in 1864 that ???Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war??? showing his negative attitude towards war. In 1864, Bismarck made attempts to establish good relation with Austria by allying with her in the Danish War. In the Convention of Gastein, he hoped that Austria would concede to Prussia the lion??™s share of political influence in North Germany. When Austria strongly resisted it, it was only then that Bismarck used the situation in Schleswig-Holstein to precipitate a war with Austria. After defeating Austria, Bismarck unified North Germany. He then made every effort to link the southern states to the North German Confederation, foe example by common economic institutions and Napoleon III??™s blunders. The Spanish Succession Question was unexpected. Bismarck at first did not intend to use it to provoke a war with France. That explained why he left the discussion to the King at Ems. H. Bohme stated that Bismarck ???had neither planned the war nor even foreseen it.??? In 1861 Bismarck stated that ???I shall never consent to a war that is avoidable, much less seek it.??? Bismarck went with the event as it happened, skilfully manipulated it in his favour and completed German unification. Bismarck seemed to be unwilling to provoke wars in order to unify Germany; however, under the circumstances he was in, Bismarck saw that war was the best option. Events shaped Bismarck??™s decisions to go to war.

Events shaped the behaviour of Bismarck, more than the behaviour of Bismarck shaping events. They determined the actions and decisions he took leading up to the unification of Germany. Bismarck??™s actions did inturn have great influence on all events, but Bismarck??™s decisions were made purely shaped by and based on the mitigating circumstances surrounding him.


1. Bruce Waller, Bismarck, 1985, Basil Blackwell Ltd

2. Theodore S. Hamerow, Otto von Bismarck- A Historical Assessment, 1971, D. C. Heath and Company

3. Michael Gorman, The Unification of Germany, 1989, Cambridge University Press

4. http://www.firstworldwar.com/bio/bismarck.htm

5. http://www.spatacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWbismark.htm

6. http://www.questia.com/PM.qsta=o&d=7561027

7. http://www.ecclesbourne.derbyshire.sch.uk/ecclesbourne/content/subsites/history/files/Historical%20Interpretations/Views%20on%20Bismarck.doc


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