History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Divided Germany

Meanwhile in Berlin the Revolution bad been even more violent than in Vienna. Riotous meetings were held, and to disperse them troops were called out. Upon this the people took up arms. All Berlin became a battlefield and many people were slain.

In vain the King tried to quell the riot. He ran up a white flag upon his palace with the word "misunderstanding" in huge letters upon it. He issued a proclamation, and at length, as a last resource, he ordered the troops to withdraw.

Then and then only the people were quieted. But their hearts were filled with sullen wrath against the King, and they resolved to punish him for having caused the death of his citizens.

So, decked with laurel wreaths, those who had been killed in the street fighting were carried into the castle courtyard. Loudly the crowd cried put for the King to show himself. And at last, very unwillingly, he appeared on the balcony, with his Queen half-fainting with terror. They were greeted not with loyal cheers but with angry howls.

"Take off your hat," yelled the mob.

The King obeyed, and with bowed head he looked upon the dreadful procession of dead bodies, with all their wounds exposed, as they filed past. The mood of the crowd was dangerous. It was hard to tell what they would do next, to what fresh indignity they would force their King to submit.

Then suddenly some one began to sing a hymn. The crowd joined in the familiar tune, it seemed to soften them, and at length the rioters marched away with their ghastly burdens.

A few days after this a placard appeared upon the walls of the city addressed to the German nation. In this the King announced that, for the salvation of Germany, he put himself at the head of the whole Fatherland, and that that very day he would ride through Berlin wearing the old and honoured colours of the nation.

And so through the streets the King rode in splendid procession, surrounded and followed by his ministers and counsellors, all wearing the revolutionist colours of red, black and gold. At various places the King stopped and spoke. "I feel myself called," he said, "to save German freedom and unity. I swear to God that I will thrust no prince from his throne, but I will protect German unity and freedom."

"Long live the Emperor of Germany," shouted the people in reply. But the King signed to them to be silent.

"Not that," he cried; "that I will not be."

But in all this the King was not sincere. It was a comedy, he said afterwards, which he had been made to act.

A few days after all these wild doings, a provisional Parliament met at Frankfort to draw up a constitution for all Germany. But this was no easy matter. First of all the question of what the new Empire was to consist of, had to be settled. Was Austria to belong to it—Austria with all her non-German speaking peoples, with her Czecks and Slavs and Italians and what not? it was asked. Over this question, argument grew long and bitter. At length it was decided that only Austria proper might belong to Germany, and that all her other possessions must remain outside the union. This meant that the unity of Austria would be destroyed, and the Emperor would not hear of it. "Austria must remain one," he said, "both for the sake of Germany and of Europe." The Austrian Empire, declared Francis Joseph, would enter the Confederation as a whole or not at all.

When this was known, the Frankfort Parliament made up their minds, that if this was Austria's last word, then Austria must remain outside the Empire. And they decided to ask the King of Prussia to take the title of German Emperor, and become head of the new Empire.

With great anxiety the whole of Germany waited for his answer. If he accepted it would mean a united Germany at last, but it might also mean war with Austria.

King Frederick William refused the title. He must have, he said, the free consent of all the German Princes before he accepted the honour. Frederick William IV was a dreamer, his head was full of vague fancies and dreams of splendour. Yet he was not dreamer enough to imagine that the title which the Frankfort Parliament offered him would be anything but an empty honour. So he refused it.

With tears in their eyes the messengers from the Parliament went away. Their dreams of a united Germany had been shattered.

In spite of this disappointment, however, the Parliament tried to persuade the chief German Princes to give their peoples a constitution. A few of the lesser rulers did, but all the more powerful ones either gave a vague answer or refused to have anything to do with the matter. The Emperor of Austria, angry that the King of Prussia should have been asked to become Emperor, recalled all the Austrian members from the Parliament. Prussia and other great states did the same, and soon the Parliament was so small that it was of no importance.

It was moved to Stuttgart first, and then finally dissolved altogether.

The failure of this Parliament was a great grief to many Germans, for they had thought it would be a power for good, and that better days for Germany were about to begin.

Yet in spite of every reverse, the desire for freedom and the desire for unity still continued strong, so too did the rivalry between Prussia and Austria. But it would be impossible to follow the course of the struggle and tell of all the useless Parliaments, of all the rebellions and wars.

At first Austria was thoroughly successful in the struggle for power, and Prussia was thoroughly crushed. But now there rose to power in Prussia a young man named Otto von Bismarck. He was rude and rough, and his hectoring ways were for ever leading him into fighting duels. He wore shabby clothes, and lived in shabby lodgings, but he was clever and he rose to great power. He was cool and calm, too, to a wonderful degree. It was said that if he had been asked to command a ship, or perform a difficult operation, he would have said, "I have never done it before, but I will be quite pleased to try."

The staid old politicians were, however, afraid of this hectoring young man. "He may be clever," they said, "but he goes too fast. He will come to an evil end."

Bismarck, however, had made up his mind that Prussia should be great, and he set himself to show Austria that Prussia did not mean to be crushed.

Meanwhile King Frederick William became so ill that he could no longer rule, and in 1858 his brother William was made Regent. In 1861 King Frederick William died, and the Regent came to the throne as King William I. He was already sixty-three, but he was strong and vigorous, and a great soldier, and he chose Bismarck as his Prime Minister.