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Bismarck's Domestic Policies

Updated on June 11, 2013

The German Empire


Bismarck did not only face difficulty and threats from the outside of the German Empire but also from within. Bismarck was put under an immense amount of pressure due to some of his domestic policies or the lack of any action within the nation. Through laws and restrictions Bismarck succeeded in keeping his enemies from power, although sometimes failing to stop them completely. The chancellor of Europe’s newest Great Power faced five main issues that came from the people of Germany.

Bismarck’s initial problem was the passing of the new constitution. It represented a structure of the German empire encompassing all German people. At its lowest level was the Electorate that was made up of all males over 25 year of age. The voting procedure was free, secret, universal and equal, with the exception of women. All voters elected the Reichstag and the Bundesrat, which both created the legislative institutions of Germany. Bismarck succeeded in keeping power within Prussian hand with the following rules. Bismarck chaired the Bundesrat and had to answer only to the Kaiser of the German empire, who in turn was the King of Prussia, the head of the army and could dissolve the Reichstag. Another aspect of the new constitution, which reserved Prussian power, was a single rule within the Bundesrat. For a veto to be instated 14 votes were needed, while there were 17 delegates representing Prussia, allowing Prussia to be the only state to have a veto right. Bismarck succeeded through these small, but important aspects of the constitution, to retain power over the presumably democratic newly founded Germany. The constitution was passed and instated in 1871.

These factors added to the successes of Bismarck, which led to the nearly complete Prussianization of Germany. All the power lay with the Kaiser, who was also the King of Prussia. The educational system in all German states was universalized according to the Prussian model, the new guiding image within Germany was that of a Prussian officer, the Prussian Mark was adopted in every state as the new currency value and the new Code of Law was heavily influence by the Prussian Criminal and Civil code. The laws were also constructed in such a way to permit Bismarck to control the future of the German Empire.

The “Kulturkampf” was one of Bismarck’s harshest measures of control. As Prussia was a predominantly protestant nation, which was known to persecute Catholics, Bismarck initiated measure against the catholic believers on all other German states. During the period Bismarck succeeded in weakening the church and strengthening the governments influence within the lives of people. The initial step during the “Kulturkampf” was the law, which dissolved all Jesuit order, highly intelligent and educated Catholics, which opposed Bismarck domestic policies to a great extent. After the Jesuits were prohibited, the chancellor began to relieve the church of its most important duties, thus weakening it greatly. The state seized all educational institutions and Prussianized the educational system. The state also took control over all documents and civil liberties, such as civil marriages. Although this weakened the churches influence, a great portion of the population did not approve these restrictions and seizures of power. This led to huge support for the anti-Bismarck Centre Party, which in 1890 had the most delegates within the Reichstag.

The chancellor’s next domestic problem arose from the support that the German socialists managed to acquire after 1974. The SPD socialist political party, founded in 1869 by August Babel, began to receive solid support due to the massive industrialization and development within Germany, which effect the lower classes greatly. Unemployment was high; accidents occurred often, wages were low. Bismarck combated the socialist ideas by instigating anti-socialist laws and suppressing them and prohibiting marches and meetings, similar to the Jesuit persecutions. In order to stop workers from protesting, Bismarck initiated “state socialism”. The German state offered insurances – Health in 1883, Accident coverage in 1886 and old age pensions in 1889.

The biggest success of Bismarck’s domestic policies was the support of the National Liberal party, which although the strongest supporters of Bismarck and the Empire, they longed for a much more democratic government. They supported Bismarck greatly due to two reasons – both Bismarck and the National Liberals were protestant and they had one greater common goal – to create a strong, internally unified and internationally powerful nation-state. In the wider political situation a conflict between Bismarck and the National Liberals arose. Bismarck succeeds in combating this problem and regaining the full support of the National Liberal party by stating, “the Reichstag can never be dominated by any single party.” This statement renewed the Liberals hopes of creating a more equal and democratic state, where the Reichstag was able to contribute greatly in matters of state.

Bismarck’s main aim during the period between 1871 and 1890 was to pass the constitution and retain most of the power with the state, which would be heavily influenced only by Protestant Prussia. Bismarck succeeded in Prussianizing the German Empire and retaining most of the power within the hands of the Kaiser, the king of Prussia. Maybe his only failure was his harsh prosecution of the Catholic Church, which, led to the catholic Centre Party being the biggest political party within the Reichstag. However this did not create any extra pressure during Bismarck’s presence due to his success in maintaining Prussian hegemony.


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    • Ivan Tonev profile image

      Ivan Tonev 5 years ago from Plovdiv, Bulgaria

      Insightful, objective and interesting analysis as always, Mathewson!