The Results of the Franco-Prussian War Essay

The Results of the Franco-Prussian War

In this paper i will pay particular attention to one specific area of the Franco-Pressian war. The area i will focus on will be the results. I will analyse exactly how the results shaped themselves out. this will be followed by my evaluation.

The German Empire

1        From the start of the war Bismarck had determined that King William of Prussia should become Emperor of Germany.  This was not an easy objective as:

2        The 4 southern states had to accept him.

3        In addition, William himself was reluctant to accept a ‘German’ title, which would take precedence over his Prussian one.  He was also determined that the offer of the Imperial crown should come from the Princes, not from the German people, as it had done in 1849. (Howard, 1961)

1        October 1870 – Bismarck began his complex negotiations.  He was helped by the fact that the successful war against France created a tidal wave of German patriotism.  Popular pressure in the 4 southern states for turning the wartime alliance into a permanent union grew.  This strengthened Bismarck’s negotiating hand with the south German rulers.(Howard, 1961)

1        Seeking to preserve Prussian influence at the same time as creating a united Germany, he was determined that the new Reich would have a constitution similar to that of the North German Confederation.  The south German rulers, by contrast, wanted a looser system in which they retained more rights.(Howard, 1961)

2        Bismarck had to use his diplomatic skill to get his way, calling on the German people to remove those rulers who stood in the way of unity.

1        November 1870 – Separate treaties were signed with each of the four south German states by which they agreed to join the German Empire.

2        The new Reich was a federal state: constituent states retained their monarchies and had extensive power over internal matters.  But real political power was in the hands of the Emperor, his army officers and his hand-picked ministers of whom Bismarck, the new Imperial Chancellor, would be chief.

2        Ludwig II, King of Bavaria agreed to put his name to a letter asking William to accept the title of Emperor.  The other princes were then persuaded to add their names, and the document was sent to William

3        December 1870 – A deputation to William from the North German Reichstag seconded the appeal.

1        18 January 1871 – King William I of Prussia was proclaimed Kaiser, or German Emperor, not in Berlin but in the French palace of Versailles just outside Paris.  The fact that William had been proclaimed German Emperor at Versailles was a bitter pill for the French to swallow, and added to the humiliation of the surrender which came ten days later. (Howard, 1961)

b) The Treaty of Frankfurt

4        May 1871 – The peace treaty between France and Germany was finally signed at Frankfurt.

5        German troops were to remain in eastern France until a heavy fine of £200 million had been paid

6        Alsace and the eastern half of Lorraine were annexed to Germany.

7        The peace terms were to lead to long-lasting hate between France and Germany. (Carr, 1991)

Why did Bismarck impose such a humiliating treaty on France, so different from the one which ended the Seven Weeks’ War with Austria?

5        Alsace and Lorraine were rich in iron ore and good agricultural land, but Bismarck’s interest in them was not essentially economic.  Although a good case could be made for including Alsace in the German Reich, since Strasbourg had been an Imperial city in the days of the old Holy Roman Empire, Lorraine was very French and it might have been better left annexed. (Carr,1991)

6        Bismarck believed that French defeat, irrespective of the peace terms turned France into an irreconcilable enemy.  He thus wished to ensure that she was so weakened that she could pose no threat to Germany in the future.

2        There were good strategic reasons for taking both provinces.  The fortresses of Metz and Strasburg were crucial.  Metz, in Moltke’s view, was worth the equivalent of an army of 120,000 men.

3        Moreover, during the war, the German press had portrayed France as the guilty party.  Justly defeated, most Germans now believed she needed to be punished.  One way of doing this was to annex territory, and ‘geographical considerations’ dictated that Alsace-Lorraine should be the territory chosen.  The problem was that the new Reich would now have to cope with French desire for revenge.  ‘What we have gained by arms in half a year, we must protect by arms for half a century’, said von Moltke. (Carr, 1991)

c) My evaluation

The years 1870 and 1871 were dramatic for Bismarck and Europe, with France defeated, Germany united as an Empire and the balance of power in Europe totally altered.  How much of this was due to Bismarck?

1        It is possible to argue that Bismarck did not make Germany: rather Germany made Bismarck.  A variety of factors – German nationalism, Prussian economic growth, the international situation in the 1860’s, the Prussian army – were such that Bismarck was able to credit for bringing about a unification which may well have developed naturally, whoever had been in power.

2        However, whatever view is taken about the ‘inevitability’ of German unification, it is clear that it happened as it did and when it did largely as a result of Bismarck’s actions.

1        His precise aims baffled contemporaries and continue to baffle historians.  It is difficult to disentangle his motives and decide how far he planned ahead.

2        While it is probably wrong to believe he came to power in 1862 with a master plan for German unification, it is equally wrong to imagine that he had no long-term objectives and fumbled his way through events simply by good luck.

3        He manipulated situations even if he did not always create them.  He had clear aims but the exact means of achieving them were left to short-term decisions based on the situation at the time.

4        Perhaps his main skill as a diplomat lay in his ability to isolate his enemy.  I don’t think he was a warmonger.  For Bismarck, wars were risky means to an end.  However, confident in the strength of the Prussian army, he was prepared in 1866 and in 1870 to engineer war to achieve his end.Having created a united Germany, the main question now was whether he would be able to deal with the domestic and foreign problems resulting from the unification process.


Becker, Frank: Bilder von Krieg und Nation. R. Oldenbourg Verlag. München, 2001.

Carr, William: The Origins of the Wars of German Unification. Longman. London, New York, 1991.

Howard, Michael: The Franco-Prussian War. Rupert Hart-Davis. London, 1961.

Schieder, Theodor: Propyläen Geschichte Europas 1848-1918 – Staatensystem als Vormacht der Welt. Ullstein. Berlin, 1999.

Wawro, Geoffrey: The Franco-Prussian War. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, New York, 2003.