Chenaouy Diane 6FRC

Tuesday, the 18th September 2007

Franco-Prussian War

After the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, there was created a German Confederation of thirty-nine states. During the 19th century, German nationalists wanted a greater Germany and for that sought the unification of the German Confederation to create a German Empire. They saw the success of the movement of Italian unification and took that as an example. Furthermore, there was an economic need: the united Germany would improve communications and commercial cooperation, which would a result in a quicker industrial growth. Lastly a politician, Otto von Bismarck, agreed to that ideas and accept Prussia’s role as a leader. That drove German Confederation to unite in 1871. However, France and Austria opposed this unification for different reasons. Austria was the Prussia’s rival and did not approve anything that would make it more powerful and more prestigious. As for the France, she was afraid of the power that Germany will get, she thought that Germany would become too strong and it would upset the balance of power. Bismarck, the prime minister, didn’t be afraid by the war. For him, the Germany had to determine its strength not by diplomatic means but by the war. In 1864 the Prussia and the Austria decided to attack Denmark together and to share the spoils after the war. The war was very short and Denmark resigned. Bismarck wanted the province of Denmark where there was a great German population. Austria kept Holstein and Prussia Schleswig. After a while, Bismarck wanted to attack Austria. Before that he made France promise she would remain neutral, but France thought that Austria was more powerful and would easily win the war. In 1866 Prussia’s army invaded Denmark to took back Holstein from Austria control. As a result, Austria declared war on Prussia. Austria was defeated within seven weeks of war. In 1867, Bismarck wanted to add some states in the Germanic Confederation. The states north of the river Main were took under the Prussia’s control. But the states in the south of the river Main became independent and free of Austria influence. Bismarck wanted to unite them to German confederation, so he needed a good reason for them to want be united. He thought that a war would persuade them to join his side. That’s why he was looking for a reason to provoke France into war. In 1868 a revolt took place in Spain and the queen Isabella was deposed. All the royal family was sent into exile. Bismarck wanted the prince Leopold von Hohenzollern to become the king of Spain, because he was a relative of the Prussian royal family and that would be a problem for the France, because it would be surrounded by hostile states and became in danger. He tried even to bribe the Spanish parliament to support Leopold’s claim, but in the end Leopold decided to withdrew his claim. Thus the war between German Empire and France could be avoided for at while. The Emperor of the France, Napoleon III, was expected by his wife, French government and public opinion to stand up to Bismarck. So he decided, advising by his foreign minister, to

send an ambassador to Prussia, in the purpose to make it promise it would not try to take control of Spain. This ambassador met the king of Prussia, William I, at Ems. He was received with courtesy but couldn’t obtain any guarantee for the future. However, Bismarck was informed of the meeting and decided to take this chance to provoke eventually the France. That is why he intercepted the telegram of the French ambassador and shortened and reworded it to suggest to the French that the Prussian King had insulted their ambassador. This telegram was published in papers and sent to Prussian embassies throughout Europe. The French felt humiliated and throughout France, people gathered and talked about national honour and wanted to revenge. Even if the Napoleon did not want the war, the pressure of public opinion and his own family was too strength that he eventually decided to declared war on Prussia on 19 July 1870. Other European power remained neutral. The Franco-Prussian War was fought into French territories. And if French got a victory at Saarbrucken, the rest of the war was for France a disaster. One of major battles took place at Worth, where French were really outnumbered and were driven to Metz, and after at Spickeren. In that way, Germans obtained Alsace. At Metz the fortress leaded by General Bazaine was besieged. Marshal MacMahon and Napoleon who took command of the French army joined him, but they had to retreat. The greatest battle took place at Sedan on 1 September. Germans repulsed the French cavalry because of their guns and bombardment. Next day Napoleon surrendered. If the victory was so easy for the German, it’s because they were much more than the French. In addition, their weapons were better and French guns could not be used because of the lack of munitions. Then the Germans had good tacticians and prepared this war since a long time. They foresaw every detail, although French were badly prepared. The reservists returned to their home barrack instead of the nearest, so the mobilisation was slowed up, the civilians continued to use the railway system, that slowed the transportation of men and war materials. French generals made bad strategies and Napoleon was sick, so his decision to take control of the army drove to a disaster. After that, French government met in Paris. Napoleon was deposed and the Third French republic began. The new government was called the Government of National Defence and led by Leon Gambetta. Because German Empire decided to keep Alsace and Loraine, France decided to fight to recuperate them. German troops were attacked, but they retaliated by burning villages and shooting captured soldiers and the German armies marched on Paris, that was the beginning of the siege of the town. Paris was cut off of food supplies and was expected to submit. Gambetta escaped from the town and tried to raise a resistance’s army in the Loire. Parisian continued to resist but they starve to death, and the winter approached. In January 1871, the city began to be bombarded. On 18 January the king William I was declared emperor of Germany, the ceremony took place in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. On 28 January, Paris surrendered. An armistice was signed, the war was over? In February 1871 a conservative assembly was elected and Adolph Thiers became the prime minister. He signed the Treaty of Frankfurt on 10 May 1871, which was imposed by the German Empire. Its terms really shocked the French because it was considered as very harsh. It was written that France lost the Provinces of Alsace and Lorraine in the German benefit, France had to pay an important indemnity and the German army would occupied French soils until it would be paid, and France was allowed to keep Belfort in Alsace if she allowed the German to make a triumphant march in Paris, or that was very humiliating. After that, French government made the revenge and the recovery of the lost provinces as a priority and new political objectives, and that would be one of the causes of the World War I.

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