IN the year when Napoleon made his compact with Cavour, the feeble King of Prussia gave way to a regent, his brother William I., famous for having shot down rebels in Berlin in 1848. The Regent (king after 1861) began by setting Roon, the War Minister, and Moltke, the Chief of Staff, to enlarge the army. The Prussian Diet, which was largely Liberal in composition, disliked the increase of taxation necessitated. William in 1862 appointed Otto von Bismarck to be Chancellor and empowered him to collect taxes without the authority of parliament. As Moltke carried through his army reforms, Bismarck looked round for material with which to pacify the indignant Liberals. These Liberals were further disgusted by the support which Bismarck gave the Russian Tsar during the Polish rebellion of 1863: the Tsar suppressed it with ferocity and remained under an obligation to Prussia.
Bismarck's mastiff countenance and habit of wearing uniform represented one side of his character, but his success was due to a finesse generally associated with Renaissance Italy rather than with modern Germany. His achievement was to take one of the aims of the German Liberals, the union of Germany, which the Prussian monarchy had hitherto thwarted, and, by helping them to attain it, to defeat their Liberal aims, and impose the military and autocratic character of Prussia on all Germany. Any dislike we may feel for the Prussian system should not blind us to the energy of its servants- nobles, soldiers, and civil servants, and perhaps above all, its efficient schoolmasters, with their inculcation of military patriotism.
In 1864 a dispute over the sovereignty of Schleswig and Holstein caused a war between the German Bund and a rashly confident Denmark. The Prussian and Austrian forces overran the smaller country. The war gratified most people in Prussia, and Bismarck now found support against the Liberals. Out of the occupation of the duchies Bismarck fomented a quarrel with Austria in 1866. Europe expected the war to be long and indecisive. It ended decisively, in seven weeks, in favour of Prussia. Napoleon III. had intended to intervene when the combatants were exhausted: he did not get the chance. Bismarck made a very lenient peace; the cession of Venetia to Italy and the withdrawal of Austria from the German Bund left Francis Joseph with very little desire for revenge.
In place of the Bund a new North German Confederation was formed, an enlargement of Prussia, which absorbed all the smaller supporters of Austria, while a number of States in the south-west (principally Bavaria) remained independent.