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Eduard Stephani to Rudolf von Bennigsen on the National Liberals' Motives for Supporting Bismarck (July 14, 1878)

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government does not force us into it by way of subsequent legislation. At the moment, we must not allow ourselves to be pushed into the Progressive Party's camp of direct opposition; of course we have to seek some external contact with that party, but we absolutely must not identify with it. It is true, people are making it hard for us to maintain a level-headed stance, but what counts is that we withstand this difficult test: that we prove to be more level-headed than Bismarck. Indeed, some of the provocations we face from Bismarck and the Conservatives are almost unbearable; we have to fend them off, but not by switching over to aggressive opposition, as parts of the National Liberal press do now. The more frantic Bismarck is, the firmer and calmer we have to be. If we give the election campaign a personal slant – Lasker vs. Bismarck, the overtones of which can already be heard here and there – we will create a shameful fiasco. I can already sense this from the urgent complaints and admonitions I have received. At a meeting in Leipzig a few days ago, I faced bitter questions on this score. The staunchly conservative public mood in Leipzig, which had quieted somewhat, has been fuelled once again by the stance of our press. If this attitude continues, we will not only lose a few constituencies; we will also weaken our party's internal cohesion and we may even precipitate a real separation. What a triumph for Bismarck that would be. In any case he has gained new strength because of his success at the Berlin Congress, even though in my view this whole success was rather dubious and may well be categorized as the momentary triumph of an incredible schemer (with the exception of his destruction of anti-German alliances, because he set the great powers fighting against each other like dogs over a bone, and also because he has now directed Austria even more firmly towards the East and away from Germany). Nevertheless, for the moment all this has enormously enhanced Bismarck's authority and popularity, and if we tried, particularly right now, to give the election campaign such a markedly personal character against Bismarck, we would be met with nothing but scornful laughter; we would lose disgracefully and we would merely ensure that, for an indefinite period of time, the moderate parties at the political center would lose their leadership in Germany, allowing unknown luminaries to take turns at the rudder in perpetual vacillation and reversals of course. Therefore, please raise your voice and put a stop to the misconceived battle strategy that has now in part been adopted in Berlin.

Source: Hermann Oncken, ed., Rudolf von Bennigsen. Ein deutscher liberaler Politiker. Nach seinen Briefen und hinterlassenen Papieren [Rudolf von Bennigsen: A German Liberal Politician. According to His Letters and Papers], 2 vols., vol. 2, Von 1867 bis 1902 [From 1867 to 1902]. Stuttgart, 1910, pp. 378-80.

Original German text reprinted in Hans Fenske, ed., Im Bismarckschen Reich 1871-1890 [In the Bismarckian Reich 1871-1890]. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1978, pp. 194-96.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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