Franco-Prussian War: Impact

Figure 1.--A month after the signing of the Treaty of Frankfurt, formally ending the Franco-Prussiam War, the Germans staged a huge victory parade in Berlin. The Army matched throughj the colums of the Brandenburg Gate. Here many people climb on this mearby statue for a good view of the trops marching in review (June 16, 1871). This set the tradition of the troops passing theough the Brandenburg Gate when returning from war. Note the nunber of school boys who have climbed up here.

The Franco-Prussia War was surely the most important war of the 19th century after the Napoleonic Wars. For many at the time the importance was the elinimation of Napoleon III and the dominance of consrvative momarchial rule. The War also made possible the unification of Germany. This significantly changed the ballance of power in Europe. But it occurred at a time when the European powers were carving up Africa and Asoa. And Germany without a substantial navy was unvle to ontain a colonial empire merited by its self image. The unification occurred around Prussia, the most conservative and militaristic of the German states. The War left Germany convinced thzt theie security was ensured with the acquisition of new fortresses in Alsace Loraine. The German military was left convinced of the superority of the Germany Army. Alsace-Loraine raher than ensuring Germzn security, bought the perpetual emnity of the new French Republic. The French learned a very important lesson. Never go to war with Germany again without allies. French foreign policy was thus directed at developing treaty relations with Btitain and Russia. This was not possible while Bismarck was Chanvelloe, but when Wilhelm II became Kaiser, he quickly retired Bismsrck and pursue a new more belicose foreign policy. And the German Army was confirned in its traditional opinion that the path to cictory was rapid mobilization and deployment for a preemtive offensive.


The War was a disaster for France. Not only was Alsace-Loraine lost, but France now faced a united Germany. A French reader writes, "The Germans had not evaluated the reaction of the French Army and the nation after the invasion. French victories could have demloralized Germany. Only the hesitation of our politicians such as Foreign Minister Jules Favre defeated France. They desired to put an end to the war, before it turned to our advantage.] Everybody knows the results which followed ... the hatred of the Germans and World War I (1914-18) and the Treaty of Versailles followed. It was a new era for France, a large occupied territory. Under the Treaty of Frankfurt, Alsasse Lorraine was lost. About 100,000 people from Alsace migrated to France rather thn live under the Germans. France had to pay the Germans an indemnity of 5 billion francs in gold." Our reader raises some important points. We think he is completely wrong about the strength of the Prussian/Germany Army. The Prussians commanders were far more effective than the French commanders. A continued war would have simply meant more losses. He is correct, however, about the impact of the War. France became Germany's bitter enemy and a irrecosiable enemy wich did eventually lead to World War I. Rather than obtaining a secure western frontier, this revanchism created a permanent state of crisis between the new German Empire and the new French Republic. Germany gained Germany strong fortified positions and Strassbourg and Metz, but at the cost of a permanent security threat from France. Thiers became chief of the French executive power in France. French authorities immediately organized election for a French National Assembly which met at Bordeaux. The National Assembly had no real aletrnative other than to accept the preliminary peace agreement (March 1, 1871). The preace agreement was formalized by the Treaty of Frankfurt. The National Assembly ratified it (May 21). France was required to pay Prussia an indemnity of $1 billion--a hugh sum at the time. The calculation is based on an indemnity that Napoleon forced upon the Prussians in 1807 during the Napoleonic Wars. [Ludwig, pp. 384-385.] The French had to agree to maintain a German occupaton army until the indemnity was paid. Bismarck expected the indemnity to handicap the French for years. The French paid off the full sum in less than 3 years. The Government with strong popular support subscribed loans that allowed to pay the debt. Even more humiliating to the French was that Alsace, except for Belfort, and much of Lorraine were ceded to Germany. Field Marshall Molke had insisted on Loraine becaiuse of the importance of Metz. [Ludwig, p. 384.] A historical could be made for Alsace as a German province as it had only been brought into the French realm by Louis XIV, yet it was seen by the French as an inseperable part of the French state. German nationalists argued that it was a wedge aimed at the heat of the German nation. Little justification of any kind could justify the annexation of Loraine, other than the military importance of Metz.


The Prussian-dominated North German Confederation was replaced by a new German Empire comprising almost all of the German states except Austri. Prussian King Wilhelm IV was proclaimed Emperor Wilhelm I of a new united Germn Empire in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles (January 18, 1871). Prussian militarism had triumphed in Germany and was thus to be th foundation of the new German Empire and provide the foundation for German imperialistic ventures. Chancellor Bismarck after the War pursued a diplomatic policy of keeping France isolated to prevent any future challenge to Germany. That policy was notaly sucessful, This changed with the assession of Willhelm II as kaiser. Wilhelm as a boy saw Bismarck at his prime and was actually courted the boy. By the time that he became kaiser, the Chancellor was old and past his prime. He wanted a more foreceful foreign policy for Germany which he saw as rightfully the dominant European country. Wilhelm proceeded to make the monumental mistke of allowing the treaty with Russia to lapse. His bedlicose behavior and decesion to build a navy also managed to allientate the British--including his aging grandmother--Queen Victoria.


The removal of Napoleon III who had protected the Papal States allowed Italy to seize them. The French garrison of Rome withdrew . Italian forces sized the city. The papal states ewre annexed, completing the unification of Italy. Rome became the capital of the new Italian kingdom.


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Created: 5:46 AM 9/21/2009
Last updated: 5:46 AM 9/21/2009