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Bismarck’s Diplomatic and Military Gamble through British Eyes (February-August 1866)

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In my humble opinion a great stride has been made to the attainment of this aim, and the rapid course of events will force Prussia – if not at present, at no distant date – willingly or unwillingly, to rally the nation round her standard, and to put herself at the head of Germany.

Count Bismarck is wise at this moment to restrict his ambition to the acquirement of Northern Germany. Prussia could not now risk a war with France, and without a collision with her no German unity will be established.

But there is another motive which must weigh powerfully with Count Bismarck – viz., a wish not to endanger the advantages already acquired. If at this moment the Imperial crown were offered to the King of Prussia, with the Constitution voted by the National Assembly at Frankfort in 1849, and with the Electoral Law passed by that Assembly, the whole internal system of government in Prussia would be submerged. The Feudal party, with its limited notion of constitutional rights, would be swept to the winds, and a moral revolution would take place in Prussia of as great importance as the miraculous successes which have attended her arms.

For these reasons, therefore, Count Bismarck will resist to the utmost any pressure which may seek to drive him beyond the limits of the preliminaries agreed to at Nikolsburg, and he will be contented with the creation of a great and powerful Prussia, without aiming to place the Imperial crown on the head of his Sovereign.

I may observe that Count Bismarck has passed through with wonderful success one phase of his ambitious undertaking – namely, that of “Demolition.” The second phase is about to commence – namely, the work of Reconstruction. In carrying out this latter phase, Count Bismarck will encounter great difficulties – difficulties, however, which his energy and iron will may succeed in overcoming. The exigencies of a theoretically constitutional, but a practically absolute, monarchy – the reactionary tendency of a triumphant military party – the strong “particularist” feelings in the dispossessed States, which are not uprooted in a day – the fanaticism of a feudal class, whose political opinions are associated with a past age – and the active pressure of the Progressist [sic] party, undaunted by defeat, will severely test the statesmanship, the skill, and the patience of Count Bismarck. [ . . . ]

These are difficulties of no mean order, which he [Bismarck] will have to surmount. It is through these shoals that he will have to steer the vessel of State, and he will be fortunate if in avoiding “Scylla” he is not driven on “Charybdis.”

Bold in conception and energetic in action, unrestrained by scruples and unmoved by principles, governing by fear where he could not win by love, this intrepid, dexterous, and powerful Minister has now in his hands the most important part which, perhaps, has ever fallen to the lot of a statesman to fill. On the success of his policy will not only depend the future greatness and prosperity of his country, but also the maintenance of the security and peace of Europe.

Source: Lord Augustus Loftus, The Diplomatic Reminiscences of Lord Augustus Loftus, Second Series, 1862-1879, 2 vols. London: Cassell, 1894, vol. 1, pp. 39, 43-45, 60, 69, 99, 105-108. Original British spelling and syntax have been preserved.

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