The System of Secret Alliances, 1871-1890 :
Domination of the Eastern Empires


Franco-Prussian War reversed a situation which had existed for two hundred years.  After the Thirty Years’ War in the seventeenth century Germany remained weak.  Economically she had been exhausted by that terrible conflict in which all Europe trampled on her soil.  Politically she was weak by her division into an incongruous multitude of states differing in size and character, and by the increasing rivalry for leadership between the decaying power of the Hapsburgs and the growing vigor of the Hohenzollerns.  Consequently she was continually subject to the French policy of Richelieu and Mazarin, which aimed to keep her weak and divided.  Occasionally, also, she was subject to actual invasion and dismemberment by French armies, as in the time of Louis XIV and Napoleon.  Early in the nineteenth century, to be sure, in a time of great danger and humiliation, Prussia and Austria had temporarily sunk their mutual rivalry;  with English and Russian assistance they had united in the War of Liberation to expel and dethrone Napoleon.  But Waterloo did not end Germany’s internal weaknesses.  The loose Confederation of 1815 and the continued jealousy of Austria and Prussia left Germany still comparatively impotent and unimportant as an international power.  Finally, in the 1850s at the Frankfort Diet, Bismarck became convinced that Germany’s weakness could only be cured by a fratricidal war in which Austria should be forcibly expelled from the German body politic.  At Paris and at Biarritz, he learned to gauge the weakness and ambition of Napoleon III which could be turned to Germany’s advantage.  So he annexed Schleswig-Holstein, expelled Austria by the Prussian victory at Sadowa, and established the North German Federation under Prussian leadership.  In 1870-1871, by Sedan and Versailles, he at last transformed Germany into a strong unified Empire.  The situation between France and Germany was now reversed:  it was no longer Germany, but France, which was weak and in danger from an attack from across the Rhine.

Bismarck’s unification of Germany was hailed at the time as a desirable, even glorious, accomplishment of the spirit of nationalism.  But it was accompanied by the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine.  The French have always regarded this as a crime—“the brutal dismemberment of a nation,” “the tearing of children from their mother.”  History shows that it was worse than a crime, it was a blunder.

In Bismarck’s defense it has been said that he was only “liberating” territory which had been wrested from Germany by Louis XIV at a time when Germany was weak and divided against herself.  Victors had always seized territory from the vanquished if they could, and if it suited their purposes.  Moltke and the Prussian military authorities insisted that the provinces between the Vosges and the Rhine must be in German hands to prevent a possible attack by a revengeful France upon the South German States, which were none too enthusiastically or securely incorporated into the new German Empire.  Bismarck, it is argued, could not come back to Berlin and face a Reichstag and the popular German demand for French territory without laying himself open to the charge of having been weakly generous to the successors of Louis XIV and Napoleon.  Moreover, the majority of the population in the annexed districts spoke German.  There is some truth in this point of view.

On the other hand, there is much more truth in another point of view.  There was a vast difference between the French annexations in the seventeenth century and Bismarck’s annexation in 1871.  Between these two periods, lay the French Revolution and the forces to which it had given rise.  Louis XIV in seizing the Alsatian districts did not dismember Germany, because there was at that time no united German body politic—nothing but a conglomeration of mutually jealous German territories.  The so-called Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire, but “an irregular sort of a body like a monster,”(1)  incapable of feeling a wound.  The French Revolution, however, had swept away provincial boundaries in France, and created a new self-conscious nation, “one and indivisible.”  France, including the annexed districts of Alsace and Lorraine, had become one body, powerfully conscious of its unity and nationality;  if one of its members suffered, all suffered together.  Bismarck had mutilated a living body and the wound would not heal;  it was to remain an awful open sore threatening the peace of Europe for forty years.  Nor was Alsace-Lorraine necessary to Germany’s safety from a military point of view;  the Rhine was as good a boundary as the Vosges.  And though the majority of the million and a half people in Alsace and Lorraine were German speaking, that did not mean that they were German thinking;  on the contrary, the great majority were bitterly opposed to separation from France and protested vigorously, but in vain.  Could Bismarck have peered into the future and seen how French pride and French bitterness over the loss of Alsace-Lorraine was to vitiate every effort at permanently satisfactory relations between Germany and France—could he have foreseen how, by its direct and still more its indirect consequences, it was to be one of the main underlying causes of the World War, perhaps then he would have acted otherwise in 1871.  But though he was possessed of unusual political foresight, he can scarcely have expected that the French would never become reconciled to their loss;  that, on the contrary, the desire for revanche, unspoken perhaps, but fixed in the heart, would persist and even grow in intensity in later years.  In fact, Bismarck’s policy in the decade 1875-1885 seems to indicate that he had hopes of winning the French to something like frank friendship and an acceptance of the fait accompli.(2)  Nevertheless, whatever he may have hoped as to the future, he had no illusions about the present.  He knew that for the years immediately following the war, French resentment would run high.  He must therefore protect the new German Empire, the child of his creation, by making it strong of itself—strong by holding France weak and isolated, and strong by the establishment of close relations with the two other Great Powers bordering on Germany on the east and south, that is, with Russia and Austria.


Between Russia and Prussia there had existed traditional bonds of friendship ever since their armies had fought side by side for the overthrow of Napoleon.  These bonds had been further strengthened during the Crimean War and the Polish uprising of 1863.  Both Powers had a common interest in preventing the reestablishment of Polish independence, which would have deprived them of the spoils of the partitions of Poland.  During the Franco-Prussian War, Russia had done Bismarck the great service of maintaining an attitude of benevolent neutrality and of tending to restrain Austria from joining France and seeking revanche for Sadowa.  The long months during the siege of Paris were for Bismarck a critical and difficult period, and Russia might, if she had chosen, have greatly embarrassed him.  Bismarck therefore at once frankly recognized the service which Russia had done him in 1870-1871 by assenting to the Tsar’s abrogation of the humiliating Black Sea Clauses, imposed on Russia after the Crimean War.  A still stronger bond between the two countries was the close personal tie between old Emperor William and his nephew, Alexander II, a tie which was renewed by the visit which the Tsar paid to Berlin in the month following the signature of peace between Germany and France.

With Austria, Bismarck was especially anxious to establish firm, and friendly relations.  Having accomplished his purpose, of establishing German unity under Prussian leadership, he believed that the natural relation of the two countries which contained such large German elements and which for centuries had formed part of the same Holy Roman Empire should be one of friendship.  After Sadowa he had purposely refrained from humiliating Austria further by annexing Austrian territory or by allowing the victorious German army to enter the Austrian capital.  He had also maintained close relations with the powerful Magyar elements in Hungary who had used Prussian victories to secure for themselves from Francis Joseph the favorable constitutional Compromise of 1867.  Austria, on her part, was ready to recognize 1866 as a fait accompli and to give up any hope of changing the arrangements which Bismarck had established.  Accordingly, Bismarck was able to bring about friendly personal meetings between Emperor William and Francis Joseph in the summer of 1871 on Austrian soil.  In November, 1871, the good relations between the two Powers were greatly strengthened through a change in the Foreign Office at Vienna:  Count Beust, a Saxon who had never liked Bismarck and was inclined to the side of France, was replaced by Count Julius Andrássy, a Magyar and an old friend of Bismarck’s.

In April, 1872, Count Andrássy suggested that Emperor Francis Joseph should pay a return visit to Emperor William at Berlin.  When Tsar Alexander II heard of the intended visit he asked the German Ambassador in St. Petersburg, “Have they not written to ask you whether they would like to have me there at the same time with the Emperor of Austria?”(3)

Alexander did not want to be left out in the cold while his two brother monarchs were conferring together.  He suggested that such a meeting of the three Eastern monarchs would be the strongest guarantee for the peace of Europe and would strike a blow at the French desire for revanche which was the most permanent menace to this peace.  But his suggestion was a little embarrassing to Bismarck.  He did not quite know how Francis Joseph would take it.  When, however, the Austrian Emperor’s consent had been secured, it was finally arranged that the three monarchs, accompanied by their Foreign Ministers, should visit Berlin together in the second week of September, 1872.  This interview of the three Emperors, accompanied by extraordinary gala festivities meant to impress the world, resulted in a still closer understanding between the three Eastern Powers.  Though no written agreement was signed, and though the Foreign Ministers conferred in pairs and not all together, there was established a close “understanding” or “Entente à trois,”—the basis for the “League of the Three Emperors” a few months later.  In a sense, this Entente was a renewal of the old Holy Alliance of 1815;  as in the days of Alexander I and Metternich the three Eastern Powers had stood together in defense of conservatism and the status quo, so now they were to stand together in defense of monarchical solidarity against the rising danger of international socialism, and for the preservation of the peace and status quo of Europe against possible moves of France or others to disturb it.  On the whole, the meeting was a triumph for Bismarck, though he was not without irritation at the Russian minister, Gorchakov, whose vanity and suspected intrigues were ever a trial to his nerves.  Gorchakov, for instance, on this occasion had greatly embarrassed Emperor William by remarking to him in the presence of the French Ambassador, “Well, I have just been at Prince Bismarck’s to discuss with him the points on which we are agreed, but nothing has been put in writing; promises suffice between sovereigns and ministers.”(4)  For the suspicion which this remark may easily have aroused in the mind of the French Ambassador there was absolutely no ground.  Alexander had no thought of participating in any aggressive policy toward France.

The Entente of the Three Emperors was further strengthened in the following year when Emperor William, accompanied by Bismarck and Moltke, visited St. Petersburg.  A secret military convention was soon signed by which Russia and Germany promised to each other the assistance of two hundred thousand men in case either was attacked by a European Power.(5)  A few weeks later, when Tsar Alexander journeyed to Austria to attend the Vienna Exhibition of 1873, he and Francis Joseph signed an agreement that they would consult one another on any questions in which they might have divergent interests;  in case of any aggression by a third Power menacing the peace of Europe, they promised to come to an understanding with one another, without seeking or contracting new alliances, in order to reach a common line of conduct;  and if, as a result of this understanding, military action should become necessary, it should be arranged for by a special military convention.  This agreement was communicated to Emperor William who gave his adhesion to it on October 22, 1873.  In this way came into being the so-called League of the Three Emperors.(6)

Germany, as a result of her recent victories and her large army, was the strongest of the three Powers.  And of the three ministers—Gorchakov, Andrássy and Bismarck—the last was by far the ablest in grasping the European situation as a whole, in seeing what the political interests of his neighbors were, and in being willing to recognize and bargain on the basis of these interests.  The natural result was that the guiding spirit of the League was the German Chancellor.  He used its influence to preserve the peace of Europe, and incidentally to prevent France from forming any coalition or seeking revenge against Germany.  This at first was not difficult.  Italy followed the lead of the three Emperors.  England was still holding to her traditional policy of splendid isolation.  France was too exhausted and too occupied with domestic political problems to think of disturbing the peace.

But in 1875, the harmony of the League was seriously ruffled.  Gorchakov’s vanity made it difficult for him to play second fiddle to Bismarck.  With personal inclinations toward France, which were not shared by the Tsar, he listened to anti-German reports of his representatives at Berlin, Belgrade and Constantinople.  He came into conflict with Bismarck over a Montenegrin affair and over the question of the rank to be enjoyed by Rosen, the German Consul General at Belgrade.  Bismarck feared, with reason, that Gorchakov might influence the Tsar against Germany and thus weaken the League of the Three Emperors.  He therefore sent Radowitz to St. Petersburg to take the place of the German Ambassador who was on indefinite sick leave.  Radowitz was to represent Bismarck’s views to Gorchakov energetically, and he did so successfully.  But Gorchakov then circulated rumors which grew into the French legend that Radowitz had been sent to bribe Russia to give Germany a free hand against France in return for Germany’s giving Russia a free hand in the Orient.  This alarmed France and England and contributed to the so-called “war-scare of 1875.”  Bismarck was unjustly suspected of contemplating a “preventive war” against France.  Whether Bismarck had any hand in inspiring the German newspaper articles which added to the scare, or whether they started with the irresponsible communications of a newspaper reporter in Vienna, as now seems likely, is not wholly clear.  At any rate, it is quite probable that he was willing to make use of it as a means of frightening France out of completing her proposed army reorganization, and there is no doubt that the French felt they were menaced.  The French Foreign Minister appealed to Tsar Alexander and Queen Victoria to use their influence to prevent Germany from any aggressive action.  Gorchakov easily persuaded the Tsar, on his visit to Berlin, to make it clear that Russia could not allow France to be crushed.(7)  Gorchakov’s pompous announcement from Berlin, “Now peace is assured,” flattered his own vanity, but made Bismarck very angry, because Gorchakov seemed to have implied that Germany had really intended a preventive war and that Russia had averted it—an implication the truth of which Bismarck always energetically denied, and for which he never forgave the Russian foreign minister.(8)  The incident led to cooler relations between Berlin and St. Petersburg, but cannot be said to have really destroyed the League of the Three Emperors, since Alexander II and William I still remained close personal friends.

Near Eastern Crisis, 1875-1878

Another event in 1875 which threatened the harmony of the League of the Three Emperors was the outbreak of a new and, prolonged crisis in the Balkans.  The progressive dissolution of the Sick Man of Europe and the outrages committed by his savage soldiers on his long-suffering Christian subjects led Russia again to consider the possibility of his demise.  In Herzegovina the cruelty of the land-owning aristocracy, a large part of whom were of Serb blood but who had become converted to Mohammedanism in order to live on better terms with the Turkish rulers, caused an uprising of the unhappy Christian peasantry in July, 1875.  The uprising spread rapidly into Bosnia.  It awoke the fanatical sympathy of Serb brethren in Austria-Hungary and the neighboring principality of Serbia.  On account of the mountainous nature of the region and the inefficiency of the Sultan’s government, the Turks seemed powerless to suppress the revolt.  Russia and Austria were at once brought face to face again in their old rivalry over Balkan interests.  Bismarck now had the difficult task during the next fifteen years of preventing this rivalry from causing a rupture between the two Powers whom he wished to have as friends and whom he wished to prevent from gravitating toward France.

Russia’s ambitions in the Balkans were of long standing, With the remarkable rise and consolidation of the Russian state at Moscow, the Slav Empire had begun to push steadily southward toward the Black Sea and the Dardanelles.  Peter the Great, in wars with Turkey, had acquired for a short time at Azov his coveted “window” on the Black Sea, and given that impetus to Russian progress toward the south which his successors came to regard as Russia’s historic mission.  Catherine the Great, taking up anew the war with Turkey, had secured the Crimea and the whole northern shore of the Black Sea.  Conveniently for Russia’s ambitions, the rit of nationalism awakened by the French Revolution had stimulated in Greeks and Slavs of the Balkans the desire to throw off the Turkish yoke.  Russia was ready, as usual, to support their desire in order to fish in troubled waters herself.  Already she had waged eight wars against Turkey, either for her own territorial expansion or for the ostensible purpose of assisting the subject nationalities of Slavic blood and Orthodox Greek faith.  In the last of these wars—the Crimean—she had been checked by England and France and by the hostile attitude which Austria had assumed.  This attitude of Austria, during the war and at the Congress of Paris, had contributed to Russia’s loss of part of Bessarabia and caused great bitterness in Russia.  It was felt to be an unpardonable act of Hapsburg ingratitude, coming, as it did, so soon after Nicholas I had sent a Russian army to help the Hapsburgs crush the Hungarian revolt of 1849.  Russia’s bitterness of feeling had subsided after the establishment of the League of the Three Emperors, but now there was danger that it might revive.  Russia was anxious to win back the part of Bessarabia lost in 1856 and was inclined to support a new revolt like that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which promised further to break up the Turkish Empire.  Though Gorchakov had at first been opposed to Austria’s annexing Bosnia and Herzegovina,(9) he gradually came round to accept such an arrangement, provided Russia in turn could secure adequate compensations for herself.

Austria, on the other hand, had no ostensible ties of religion and blood with the oppressed Christian nationalities in the Balkans and no desire to see them achieve independence as clients of Russia.  Austria-Hungary—especially Hungary—already included more Slav peoples than could be easily assimilated.  With the growing spirit of nationalism, these Slav subjects were becoming more and more difficult to govern.  The Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Andrássy, a Magyar, was therefore at first opposed to the acquisition of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which he feared would aggravate the internal problem of the Dual Monarchy of ruling over a large number of Slavs.(10)  He preferred to have the Great Powers act jointly by way of a Conference and enforce reforms upon Turkey for the benefit of the peasantry in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but he did not desire to begin the partition of the Ottoman Empire.  His desire found expression in the “Andrássy Note” of December 30, 1875, which demanded an armistice, a series of reforms, and the appointment of a mixed Christian and Mohammedan commission to look after the carrying out of the reforms.  The Turks, as usual, made a pretense of accepting the demands; but the insurgent Bosnians, fired with enthusiasm by their successes and by their hope of support from their brother Serbs in Serbia and Montenegro, refused to abide by the terms of the Andrássy Note.  The crisis became more serious.

Bismarck’s chief concern in the whole Eastern Question was to prevent it from disturbing the peace of Europe and the satisfactory relations between Austria and Russia which had been established by the League of the Three Emperors In a conversation with Gorchakov at Berlin in December 1875, he had already emphasized this.(11)  Germany herself, as he repeatedly declared, had no selfish interests of her own in the Balkans.  “The whole Eastern question was not worth the bones of a Pomeranian grenadier.”(12)  But the danger of a split between Russia and Austria, or of the formation of a European coalition in connection with the Bosnian crisis, were very serious matters to him.  Andrássy’s idea of a conference of the Powers he did not look upon with favor, because he feared that Austria would naturally side with England and that Russia consequently might draw closer to France.  Gorchakov, he suspected, would not be averse to flirting with France.  But such a division of Europe into an Anglo-Austrian and Franco-Russian grouping would place Germany in a delicate and dangerous position:  she would have the thankless task either of acting as arbitrator between the two groups, or she would have to cast in her vote on the Anglo-Austrian side, thus laying Germany open to hostile Powers on two fronts.  Such a grouping would also endanger the League of the Three Emperors and its safeguarding of the peace of Europe.(13)

Meanwhile, however, Tsar Alexander and Emperor Francis Joseph, accompanied by their Ministers, had come together at Reichstadt and on July 8, 1876, reached a secret but somewhat hazy “agreement” without Bismarck’s knowledge.  They agreed to refrain from intervention in Turkey for the present.  But for the future, if the Turks should regain the upper hand over the insurgents, Russia and Austria would protect the Serbs from excessive violence and insist upon real reforms.  If, on the other hand, the insurgents continued their successful resistance and the Ottoman Empire in Europe should crumble to pieces, Austria was to annex part of Bosnia, Russia was to regain the part of Bessarabia lost in 1856 and territories on the eastern shore of the Black Sea [in which Austria had no interest];  Bulgaria and Rumelia were to be autonomous;  additions of territory were to be given to Serbia, Montenegro and Greece; and Constantinople—was to be erected into a free city.(14)

By this Reichstadt agreement Gorchakov had secured Austria’s agreement in principle to the partition of Turkey.  The terms, as Andrássy conceived them, were, exceedingly favorable for Austria.  The agreement contemplated the development of a number of small, weak states, in the Balkans, but expressly excluded the creation of a large, strong Slav state, whether Serbian or Bulgarian, which would have naturally affiliated itself with Russia on racial and religious grounds and have been a menace to Austria.  Moreover, by the stipulation that Austria might annex Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria would assure the safety of her outlying Dalmatian possessions, would check the danger from the growing nationalist aspirations of the Serbs, and, would acquire territory which might be regarded as compensation for the loss of Venetia in 1866.  Andrássy, who had originally been opposed to the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, was now well content with the agreement.  The failure of his efforts to secure reforms in the region from the Turks during the past months had convinced him of the futility of attempting to preserve the status quo or to secure any permanent satisfactory settlement for the Christian peasantry so long as they remained under Turkish misgovernment.  And if Austria was to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina it was much better to do it in friendly agreement with Russia than in opposition to her.

But the fortunes of war in the Balkans during the following weeks did not bear out the probable expectation of Gorchakov and Andrássy that Turkey was on the point of collapsing.  On the contrary, the lurks showed an extraordinary revival of energy.  They defeated the insurgents in one encounter after another, until finally on August 29, Prince Milan of Serbia called for help.  Gorchakov and the Russian Pan-Slavs were not deaf to the call.  They felt that they must intervene on behalf of the oppressed Orthodox Slav peasantry, in spite of the principle of non-intervention for the present, which had formed the first clause of the Reichstadt Agreement.  This at once renewed the old hostility between Russia and Austria over Balkan affairs and led to a tense situation between the two Great Powers.  Both accordingly turned to Bismarck.

On-September 13, 1876, Andrássy informed the German Ambassador in Vienna of the Reichstadt Agreement, which hitherto, at Gorchakov’s request, had been concealed from Bismarck.(15)  Gorchakov on his part resorted to a stratagem which aroused Bismarck’s indignation.  Instead of communicating in the proper official way through the Russian Ambassador at Berlin, he was suspected by Bismarck of instigating the Tsar to make use of Baron Werder, Emperor William’s personal representative to the Tsar.  Werder, who was staying with Alexander at Livadia in the Crimea was suddenly asked the blunt question whether in case of war between Russia and Austria, Germany would observe benevolent neutrality as Russia had done in 1870.  Werder telegraphed the embarrassing and indiscreet question to Berlin.  But Bismarck evaded giving any answer to it, and would have recalled Werder except for Emperor William’s fear that it would hurt the Tsar’s feelings.  But a few days later, employing the correct channel of communications by instructions to the German Ambassador at St. Petersburg, Bismarck again emphasized his aim of preserving peace in Europe and harmony in the League of the Three Emperors.  If Russia decided to intervene and make war on Turkey, Bismarck would use his influence to prevent Austria from attacking Russia, and he hoped he could succeed in this.  If not, and if war broke out between Russia and Austria in spite of all his efforts, Germany would not necessarily abandon neutrality.  He would make no promises beforehand, but he would say that German interests could not allow a coalition of all Europe permanently to weaken Russia’s position as a Great Power;  nor could he, on the other hand, permit Austria to be endangered in her position as a European Power or in her independence, and so cease to be one of the factors on which Germany could reckon in the European balance of power.(16)  “We could endure that our friends should lose or win battles against each other, but not that one of the two should be so severely wounded and injured that its position as an independent Great Power, taking its part in the councils of Europe, would be endangered.”(17)

Bismarck’s refusal to give Russia a free hand against Austria caused Gorchakov to moderate his attitude.  It was arranged that the representatives of the Christian Powers should meet in conference at Constantinople and convince Abdul Hamid of the need of making real reforms.  But convincing the Turk was about as easy a matter as making a donkey gallop.  Abdul Hamid thwarted the conference by a clever pretense of proclaiming a constitution for Turkey and by promising even more wide-reaching reforms than the Powers themselves had demanded.  Gorchakov, however, rightly had no confidence in the honesty of the Sultan’s promises.  He therefore prevailed upon Austria to sign a new secret Budapest Convention of January 15, 1877, providing for the war which Russia contemplated waging against Turkey.  Austria agreed not to threaten the Russian flank upon its advance south of the Danube, and in return Russia approved the idea of Austria’s annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the other provisions which Andrássy understood had been agreed upon at Reichstadt.(18)

In April, 1877, as soon as weather conditions permitted, Russia opened against Turkey the war which she had long desired.  Though checked for months at Plevna, she eventually won a series of victories which brought her armies to the outskirts of Constantinople and forced Turkey to accept the Treaty of San Stefano on March 3, 1878.  This provided for the creation of a great Bulgarian State, more or less comprising the predominantly Bulgarian parts of Turkey and embracing an extensive sea coast on the Aegean.  The Treaty met with objections on every side:  by Greece, Serbia, and Rumania because this “Greater Bulgaria” was to be so much more powerful than any one of themselves.  It was objected to by Austria and England who feared the greatly enlarged Bulgaria would be virtually a vassal state under Russian control;  Austria did not like to see such an increase of Russia’s power near her border, and England feared for the safety of the Suez Canal.  Both these Powers therefore insisted on a Congress for the revision of the Treaty of San Stefano.  Bismarck at first had no great liking for this proposal, but finally consented to act as “Honest Broker,” and invited the Powers to the Congress of Berlin.

In the various preliminary negotiations which settled almost all the essential points before the Congress met, so that the Congress merely had to register decisions which had already been arranged by Bismarck, the German Chancellor strove hard to satisfy both Austrian and Russian interests.  In the end, Austria was again accorded by the Treaty of Berlin the right to occupy and administer Bosnia and Herzegovina and also, if military necessity required, to occupy the tongue of territory between Serbia and Montenegro known as the Sanjak of Novibazar.  Russia acquired the part of Bessarabia lost in 1856 and valuable territories between the Black and Caspian Seas.  These were important gains for Russia, but to Gorchakov they seemed but slight rewards after all Russia’s military efforts and successes.  He left the Congress with bitter feelings against Bismarck.  He felt that Bismarck had betrayed Russian interests and been guilty of unpardonable ingratitude in view of Russia’s benevolent neutrality during the Franco-Prussian War.  In Russia there was a violent outburst in the Pan-Slav press against Germany which Bismarck regarded as altogether unjustifiable.  Though he had supported Austria and England on many points, he had also done Russia a real service, getting far more for her at the Congress than she could have gotten for herself.  He thought Russia ought to look with satisfaction at the real gains that she had made, instead of comparing the Treaty of Berlin with what she would have gained by the Treaty.  of San Stefano.  The result of this personal bitterness between the two Ministers and of the violent newspaper attacks of one country against the other put an end for the time being to that harmony and cooperation which had been the object of the League of the Three Emperors.


The hostility between Russia and Germany was not confined merely to personal bitterness between the Ministers or to the recriminations of newspapers.  In the commissions established for executing the terms of the Treaty of Berlin, the German delegates sided regularly with Austria against Russia.  In reply, Russia undertook a vigorous increase in armaments and pushed her troops westward into Poland toward the German frontier.  “Russia must prepare for War,” declared General Miliutin, and his declaration was reiterated by the Pan-Slavs.  At last, in the summer of 1879, even Alexander himself, unable longer to restrain his feelings, poured out his grievances to the German Ambassador in St. Petersburg, and wrote a letter to Emperor William complaining of Bismarck’s policy and warning him of “the disastrous consequences which might follow.”(19)

At about the same time Bismarck heard that his friend Andrássy was soon to resign and was likely to be replaced by Baron Haymerle, on whose friendship he did not feel sure that he could count.  In view of the danger from Russia he decided to seek at once a defensive alliance with Austria while Andrássy was still in office.  He accordingly drew up with him the Treaty of October 7, 1879, which established the Austro-German Alliance.  He would have liked a treaty in which Austria and Germany would promise to support each other in case either were attacked by a third Power, whether Russia, France, or Italy.  But Austria was unwilling to expose her eastern frontier to a Russian attack by promising unconditionally to assist Germany in the West in case the French should undertake a war of revenge.  Austria was mainly concerned with the danger from the side of Russia.  Therefore the treaty provided that should Austria or Germany be attacked by Russia, the to the assistance one of the other with their whole war strength; should either be attacked by a Power other than Russia [such as France or Italy], the other Contracting Party bound itself to observe a benevolent neutrality;  should, however, the attacking Power be supported by Russia, then the other Contracting Party would come to the assistance of her ally with her whole strength.  The treaty was to be for five years and renewable.  It was also to be secret, though if the armaments of Russia really proved menacing, the Contracting Powers would consider it a duty of loyalty to let the Tsar know, at least confidentially, that they would consider an attack on either as an attack on both.(20)

The Austro-German Alliance consolidated the Central Empires and became henceforth, until their collapse in November, 1918, the very foundation rock of German policy.  It indicated a political course from which neither Bismarck nor his successors ever seriously swerved.  In its origin, and as long as Bismarck remained at the helm, it was essentially defensive in purpose and fact.  Germany and Austria mutually protected each other against the rising tide of Pan-Slavism;  and Germany, if attacked by an outbreak of French revanche, could count upon Austria’s neutrality, just as Austria could count on that of Germany in case of an outbreak of Italian Irredentism.

Contemporary opinion regarded Bismarck’s establishment of this Alliance as a master stroke.  In the words of the French Ambassador at Berlin:  “From the point of view of his prestige in Europe and of his popularity in Germany, Bismarck has never accomplished a work so considerable as that of the Alliance with Austria. . . . He has realized without wars, without conquests dearly bought, without burdensome or enfeebling annexations, the German politic dream of union of all the States where the German dominates in a common political system and a powerful solidarity.”(21)  This contemporary opinion has for the most part been endorsed by posterity.(22)  Only here and there before the World War were there those who criticized it.  But after 1914, when German support of Austria became one of the causes which involved all Europe in war, many voices, even in Germany, questioned Bismarck’s wisdom.  They alleged that Bismarck, by further alienating Russia through alliance with Austria, made inevitable the Franco-Russian Alliance;  and that by taking sides with Austria against Russia in the Balkans, he prepared the way for the clash which came in 1914.

Such critics, however, are wrong in thinking that Russia was permanently alienated from Germany after 1879.  They did not know of the very secret treaty which Bismarck made with Russia within two years (June 18, 1881) and which he renewed (with modifications) and kept effective as long as he remained in power.  They are wrong in thinking that it made the Franco-Russian alliance inevitable.  This was perhaps “inevitable” anyway, in view of the growth of Pan-Slavism in Russia and the persistence of Alsatian memories in France.  And they are wrong in thinking that Bismarck’s alliance of 1879 necessarily involved an Austro-Russian clash in the Balkans.  True to the defensive aims with which he had established the Austro-German Alliance, Bismarck continually warned Austria in the following years that Germany would not fight to support Austrian expansion or aggression in the Balkans.  He repeatedly took occasion to remind her that the alliance was defensive, not offensive.(23)  In 1885, for instance, with prophetic vision, he warned Austria that in supporting Serbia too strongly she might so arouse Serbian ambitions that Serbia would some day “turn against Austria and talk of a Serbia Irredenta in the Banat” of Hungary.(24)  It was not until many years after Bismarck’s dismissal that Austria began to pursue the more aggressive and independent policy, which tended to pervert the Austro-German Alliance from one which was defensive in form to one which became offensive in fact.  Criticism should not be directed against Bismarck, but against his later successors—especially Bülow and Bethmann—who failed to follow sufficiently closely his conservative policy of holding Austria in check.

It is also a mistake to imply, as so many writers do, that Bismarck’s choice of Austria in preference to Russia in 1879 was final, and that the wire between Berlin and St. Petersburg was permanently broken down.  It was not.  Bismarck was only waiting for an opportunity to repair it.  He had by no means permanently turned his back upon Russia.  In allying with Austria he was only taking a step which prudence for the moment counselled, but this did not preclude another step later in the direction of Russia.  The opportunity for this soon came.


Among Russia’s diplomats there were two who did not allow themselves to be blinded by indignation against Bismarck over the outcome of the Congress of Berlin.  One of these was Giers, who soon assumed virtual charge of Russian foreign affairs in place of Gorchakov.  The other was Peter Saburov, who foresaw the probability of an Austro-German alliance even before it was signed.(25)  In January, 1880, Saburov came as Ambassador to Berlin, where he had many intimate interviews with Bismarck with a view to reknitting the close personal relations between Tsar Alexander II and Emperor William I, thus reviving the League of the Three Emperors .(26)

Saburov, like all Russian diplomats, always had one eye out for Russian control or influence at Constantinople.  He had realized in 1878 how easy it was for an English fleet to threaten the Turkish capital and he feared for the future.  He therefore laid before Bismarck his view of Russia’s danger in a memorandum to the following effect.  In 1833 Russia had aided Turkey against the victorious army of Mehemet Ali, and was rewarded for this service by the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, in which Turkey undertook to close the Dardanelles to all enemy fleets which sought to penetrate to the Black Sea.  This stipulation, negotiated exclusively for Russia’s benefit, protected her southern shores from hostile attack;  but this stipulation was modified to her detriment by the Treaty of London of 1840 and the Straits Convention of 1841, in which the principle of the closure of the Straits, hitherto applied to entry into the Black Sea, was equally extended to exit from it.  Russia was thus shut off from sending her navy into the Mediterranean.  These principles were confirmed in the Treaty of Paris in 1856 which in addition forbade Russia, and Turkey to have ships of war on the Black Sea;  this treaty remained in force until the Treaty of London of 1871.  The London agreement, resulting from Russia’s attempt to abrogate the Black Sea Clauses while France and Germany had their hands tied by the Franco-Prussian War, annulled the provision of 1856 forbidding Russian or Turkish war vessels on the Black Sea, but admitted for the first time the principle that foreign navies might enter the Straits if the Sultan judged it necessary for the safeguarding of the other clauses of the Treaty of Paris.  This reversed completely to Russia’s disadvantage the principle of the closure of the Straits, which in its origin had been intended to provide Russia with a lock and chain at the Dardanelles for the protection of her shores and her influence over Turkey.  At the Congress of Berlin, England had declared that “her obligations, concerning the closure of the Straits, were limited to an engagement to the Sultan to respect in this matter only the independent decisions of the Sultan”;  in other words, England was not obliged to respect the decision of the Sultan if the latter tried to close the Straits at Russia’s demand, for such a decision would not be “independent.”  England, Saburov concluded, was reserving the right to enter the Straits and threaten Russian interests whenever she pleased.  Russia’s lock and chain were valueless therefore, unless she could get the support of Germany and Austria.(27)  This is what Saburov wanted and what Bismarck was willing to give, in return for the restoration of friendly relations with Russia.  A friendly agreement with Russia would mean a renewal of the League of the Three Emperors, and tend to guarantee the peace of Europe.  Saburov had also been duly impressed by the Austro-German Alliance and began to realize Russia’s diplomatic isolation.  Russia was anxious again for German and Austrian support.

Bismarck, on his side, in spite of his relatively friendly relations at this time with France, could never wholly rid himself of the nightmare that the French might make coalition with Russia against him.  To diminish the likelihood of this, he believed it would be highly desirable to restore the old harmony between the three Eastern Emperors, which had existed before the Congress of Berlin.  Austria also would derive advantage from such a renewal of good relations with both her neighbors, because it would tend to safeguard the new position which she had acquired in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and would make more certain that any future changes in the status quo in the Balkans—which was still very unstable—would not be made single-handed by Russia to the sole benefit of the Slavs and to the detriment of Austria;  such changes would only be made on the basis of a mutual understanding between the three Eastern Empires.

In view of the advantages to each of the three Powers, it was not difficult to reach the very secret agreement which was signed by Bismarck, Saburov, and Széchenyi on June 18, 1881.  It was regarded as so secret that Bismarck did not entrust the drawing up of documents in regard to it to the chancery secretaries, but wrote them out with his own hand;  and the diplomatic correspondence dealing with it was marked with special numbers and reserved for the eye of as few initiates as possible.  The secret was so well preserved that the world knew nothing of it until part of it was published by Professor Goriainov in 1918.(28)  It provided among other things (Art. I) that “in case one of the High Contracting Parties should find itself at war with a fourth Great Power, the other two will preserve a benevolent neutrality toward it and will devote their efforts to the localizing of the conflict.”  In other words, if Germany should be at war with France, or Austria at war with Italy, or Russia at war with Turkey, the country at war need have no fear of an attack on its rear by either of the other two Eastern Empires.  Austria’s interest in the Balkans was safeguarded by the provision that this first clause in Art. I should apply to a war between Russia and Turkey, “but only in case a previous agreement has been reached between the three Courts relative to the results of that war.”

In Art. II the three Signatory Powers agreed to respect the rights acquired by Austria in Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Treaty of Berlin, and to make no changes in the territorial status quo of “Turkey in Europe” except by common consent.  By tacit implication this meant that Russia could still pursue her forward policy in the Caucasus where Austria and Germany were not particularly interested.

Saburov’s fears of an English fleet in the Straits were quieted by Art. III:

“The three Courts recognize the European and mutually obligatory character of the principle of the closure of the Straits of the Bosphorus and of the Dardanelles. . . . They will take care jointly that Turkey shall make no exception to this rule in favor of the interests of any Government whatsoever by lending to warlike operations of a belligerent Power the portion of its Empire constituted by the Straits.  In case of infringement, or to prevent it if such infringement should be in prospect, the three Courts will inform Turkey that they would regard her, in that event, as putting herself in a state of war towards the injured Party, and as having deprived herself thenceforth of the benefits of the security assured to her territorial status quo by the Treaty of Berlin.”

A supplementary protocol provided for friendly coöperation between the consular and other agents of the, Signatory Powers in the Balkans, and for the possible reunion of Bulgaria and East Rumelia.  Russia’s concessions to Austria in the Reichstadt Agreement and Budapest Convention were reaffirmed by a clause agreeing that:

“Austria reserves the right to annex the provinces of, Bosnia and Herzegovina [already occupied in 1878] at whatever moment she shall deem opportune.”

This treaty of 1881, which revived the League of the Three Emperors and converted it into an alliance, served Bismarck’s great purpose of preserving peace in Europe, and especially of preventing a conflict between Russia and Austria in the Near East.  It established by tacit consent a kind of line of demarcation between the two.  Russia was to have unhampered and dominant influence in Bulgaria and the Eastern Balkans such as Austria was to have in Serbia and the Western Balkans.  The establishment of the frontier between Bulgaria and Serbia as the demarcation line dividing Russian and Austrian interests, Bismarck rightly believed, was the surest and best way to avoid dangerous rivalries and suspicions in the Balkans.  He was quite ready to use Germany’s decisive influence in the balance to force each of his allies to keep behind the line of demarcation in their proper spheres.  In contrast to the policy of his successors, he was ready to restrain Austria by timely warnings and pressure from taking aggressive action in the Balkans which would arouse dangerous Russian opposition.  He did not care who ruled in Bulgaria nor what took place there.  That was Russia’s sphere and she could do as she liked in it.  Russia had originally established Alexander of Battenberg as Prince of Bulgaria;  but if Russia wanted to turn him out when he no longer proved the pliant tool which the Pan-Slavs had expected, that was Russia’s affair and Austria ought not object.  He warned Austria that she must keep hands off in Bulgaria, and that he would not allow anyone to throw a noose about his neck in this matter which would embroil Germany with Russia.  His wise advice to Austria was:  “The Eastern Question is a game of patience; he wins who waits.”(29)

Bismarck’s policy of a demarcation of interests between Austria and Russia, and the pressure he put upon each, helped to preserve the peace of Europe even during the violent Balkan crisis that arose through the union of the two Bulgarias in September, 1885.  Austria did nevertheless so encourage the Serbians against the Bulgarians that Alexander III refused to renew the Alliance of the Three Emperors when the Treaty ran out in 1887.

The Tsar had an ineradicable distrust of Austria.  He had inherited it from his grandfather at the time of Austria’s “astonishing ingratitude” during the Crimean War.  It had been fostered and nourished by his tutors and advisers, who belonged to the Pan-Slav group represented by Miliutin and Katkov, and it had taken a deep hold on him during the long Bosnian crisis which ended so unsatisfactorily for Russia in the Congress of Berlin.  Bismarck worked hard to bring about the renewal of the tripartite agreement of 1881.  He did not want to see it “thrown behind the stove.”(30)  But when he found that the Tsar was unshakeable in his distrust of Austria, he had no mind to forfeit Russia’s friendship because of Austria’s unnecessarily aggressive support of Serbians against Bulgarians.  Moreover, his relations with France had grown very much worse during recent months as Boulanger had come into prominence, and he had heard rumors in September, 1886, and in the spring of 1887, of secret negotiations for a Franco-Russian coalition.(31)


Bismarck therefore accepted with alacrity a Russian proposal that in place of the existing tripartite agreement, Russia and Germany should make a defensive treaty of their own with Austria.  With a characteristic directness of action, Bismarck drew out of his portfolio the text of the Alliance of 1879 and read it to Schuvalov, declaring that he sincerely regretted that Russia’s attitude at that time had compelled Germany to protect herself by means of this treaty.  Nevertheless it existed; Germany must and would remain loyal to its terms and to Austria, and therefore the fact must be taken into consideration in framing any treaty between Russia and Germany.  After the discussion of a number of alternatives, this difficulty was finally overcome by the wording agreed upon in Art. I:  “If one of the High Contracting Parties shall find itself at war with a third Great Power, the other will maintain towards it a benevolent neutrality and will devote its efforts to the localization of the conflict.  This provision shall not apply to a war against Austria or France resulting from an attack made upon one of these two powers by one of the Contracting Parties.”(32)  This defensive arrangement was perfectly satisfactory to Bismarck as he had no intention of attacking France;  and in case France should attack Germany he had been insured since 1879 against danger on his Southern frontier by Austria’s promise of benevolent neutrality.  Now, by the new treaty with Russia, he was re-insured against any danger on his Eastern frontier.  Furthermore, if Russia should attack Austria, the new “Re-insurance Treaty” in no way conflicted with his obligation to protect Austria, in accordance with the Austro-German Alliance.

With his characteristic willingness to consider the aims and ambitions of other Powers and to bargain on the basis of them, Bismarck then further recognized Russia’s Balkan interests and Saburov’s desire to secure a Russian lock and chain against the English in the Straits.  The Re-insurance Treaty accordingly recognized (Art. II) “the rights historically acquired by Russia in the Balkan Peninsula and particularly the legitimacy of a preponderating and decisive influence on her part in Bulgaria and East Rumelia”;  and Art. III reaffirmed the principle already agreed upon in 1881 that Russia and Germany should support each other in putting pressure on the Sultan to keep the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles closed to the warships of foreign Powers.  They also pledged themselves to permit no modification of the status quo in the Balkan Peninsula, except by a previous mutual agreement.  In a supplementary protocol Bismarck went even further in recognizing the Russian point of view by agreeing that “in case Russia finds it necessary to undertake herself the task of defending the entrance into the Black Sea in order to safeguard the interests of Russia, Germany engages to lend her benevolent neutrality and her moral and diplomatic support to the measures which Russia shall deem necessary to guarantee the key to her Empire.”  This meant that, so far as Germany was concerned, Russia might take possession of territory on the Straits and perhaps even of Constantinople.  The possession of this “key,” which Russia would virtually have acquired by the Treaty of San Stefano in 1878 and which Bismarck now promised in 1887, meant much more than the mere lock and chair against the English fleet for which Saburov had stipulated in 1881.  Bismarck was willing to concede even this “key” in order to lessen the likelihood of a coalition between Russia and France.  He may also, no doubt, have counted upon the fact that England would still have something to say if Russia tried to oust the Sultan from his capital.  This so-called “Re-insurance Treaty”, of June, 1887, was to he in force three years.(33)  It outlasted Bismarck’s own tenure of office, but was not renewed by his successor, Caprivi.  During the three years it was in force it did not wholly prevent the beginning of a rapprochement between France and Russia which eventually developed into an Alliance, but there is no doubt that it delayed this coalition which had been Bismarck’s worst nightmare.

Such was the success of one set of alliances, establishing the domination of the Eastern Empires, by which Bismarck for nearly a score of years conjured away an open clash between Russia and Austria in the Balkans, preserved almost unbroken the good relations of Germany with her powerful neighbors to the south and east, and thereby lessened the danger from the west.  The very existence of the Alliance of 1881 with Russia and Austria had been preserved with such perfect secrecy that it gave rise to no suspicions or alarm on the part of France or other Powers.


The formation of the Triple Alliance is commonly attributed to Bismarck.  He is pictured as encouraging France to seize Tunis with the calculation that this “would arouse such bitterness in Italy that Bismarck could undoubtedly secure the consent of the Italian Government to an alliance with Austria and Germany.”(34)  It is true that he encouraged France to “pluck the ripe Tunisian fruit” and to engage in other colonial adventures.  But he did this mainly in the hope of winning the friendship of the French by supporting their ambitions, and also of interesting them in colonial activities which would help them to forget the defeat of 1870.  He hoped the French would expend their energies in North Africa and China instead of preparing to regain Alsace-Lorraine.  He was quite willing that the French should antagonize the Italians, but he was not calculating to secure the alliance of the latter.  It was not with Bismarck that the Triple Alliance originated, but with Italy.

Early in 1882, Italy asked for a treaty of alliance with Germany and Austria.  Italy wanted to strengthen her position and to gain support for future ambitions.  Italy had come away from the Congress of Berlin “with clean hands,” which meant empty hands, though Bismarck had told her that, as far as Germany was concerned, she might take Tripoli any time. She had just received what she regarded as a humiliating slap in the face from the French who had occupied Tunis, the very territory which Italy had not unnaturally been coveting for herself.  And she was still afraid “the Prisoner of the Vatican” might attempt to regain his temporal possessions.  Italy had everything to gain and little to risk in an alliance with Germany and Austria.  This Bismarck fully recognized, and he was not therefore especially eager to incur an Italian liability.  Earlier, in 1880, when a treaty with Italy was first suggested to him, his comment was, “You don’t need to run after Italy if you want something of her;  moreover, her promise will have no value if it is not in her interest to keep it.”(35) Of the value of the Italians themselves as Allies, he had no very high opinion.  In his private notes, recently published, he refers to “their fickle character,” “their childish egoism,” and “the restless, arrogant character of Italy’s policy, which might easily involve her friends in trouble.”(36)  He argued the instability of alliances with parliamentary monarchies like Italy and England:

“Not all countries are able to offer the same guarantee that their obligations will be strictly executed, especially in countries in which the legislature exercises more influence than the dynasty.  With England, for instance, there could be no permanent alliance, because in England domestic poli tics take precedence over foreign affairs.  Political parties, which alternate in the government of a country, do not necessarily recognize the obligations of their predecessors, and the monarch is not strong enough by himself to uphold his foreign policy against the party momentarily in power. . . With us, as in Austria, the case is different.  In these two countries, although they also have parliamentary institutions, there exists a sufficiently strong monarchy to be able to carry out its treaty promises under all circumstances.”(37)

Nevertheless, Bismarck gradually came to regard with favor Italy’s application for an alliance, owing to certain advantages it would have for Germany.  But as the German Empire did not touch Italian territory, and was not so directly interested as Austria in a number of troublesome points which would have to be settled, Bismarck suggested that Austria should negotiate the terms of the treaty with Italy.  The Italian Ambassador at Berlin was told that “the key to the door which leads to us must be sought in Vienna.”(38)  Accordingly, the ensuing Austro-Italian negotiations, with occasional suggestions from Bismarck, ultimately resulted in the Triple Alliance Treaty signed at Vienna on May 20, 1882, by Kálnoky, Robilant, and Reuss.(39)

The general purposes of Austria, Italy, and Germany were, according to the preamble, “to augment the guarantees of peace in general, to strengthen the monarchical principle, and by this to insure intact the maintenance of the social and political order in their respective states by agreeing to conclude a treaty which by its essentially conservative and defensive character aimed only to protect them against the dangers which might menace the safety of their states and the peace of Europe.”  Though the treaty did not specifically guarantee Alsace-Lorraine to Germany against France, nor Rome to Italy against the papal claims to temporal power, it was hoped by each Power that it would have this effect.

By Art. I, “The High Contracting Powers mutually promise peace and friendship, and will enter into no alliance or engagement directed against any one of their States.  They engage to proceed to an exchange of ideas on political and economic questions of a general nature which may arise, and they further promise one another mutual support within the limits of their own interests.”

At the negotiations of the Austro-German Alliance of 1879 Andrássy steadily refused to promise Austrian armed support in case of a French attack on Germany, unless France were also joined by Russia;  his successor persisted in this refusal in 1882, and hence in Art. II, dealing with a possible French attack, Austria’s obligation extended only to Italy, while Germany’s and Italy’s obligations were mutual:  “In case Italy, without direct provocation on her part, should be attacked by France for any reason whatsoever, the two other contracting parties shall be bound to lend help and assistance with all their forces.  This same obligation shall devolve upon Italy in case of any aggression without direct provocation by France against Germany.”

Art. III provided for the danger of a Franco-Russian coalition:  “If one, or two, of the High Contracting Parties, without direct provocation on their part, should chance to be attacked and to be engaged in a war with two or more Great Powers non-signatory to the present treaty;  the casus foederis will arise simultaneously for all the High Contracting Parties.”  This virtually extended to Italy the principle agreed upon between Austria and Germany in 1879, except that the addition of the words “without direct provocation” gave the obligation a more restricted and purely defensive character.

According to Art. IV:  “In case a Great Power, non-signatory to the present treaty, should threaten the security of the states of one of the High Contracting Parties, and the threatened Party should find itself forced on that account to make war against it, the two others bind themselves to observe towards their Ally a benevolent neutrality.  Each, of them reserves to itself, in this case, the right to take part in the war if it should see fit to make common cause with its Ally.”

Art. V was calculated to secure solidarity of action:  “If the peace of one of the High Contracting Parties should chance to be threatened under the circumstances foreseen by the preceding Articles, the High Contracting Parties shall take counsel together in ample time as to the military measures to be taken, with a view to eventual coöperation.  They engage henceforth, in all cases of common participation in a war, to conclude neither armistice, nor peace, nor treaty, except by common consent among themselves.”

The Treaty of Alliance was for five years, and its contents and its existence were to be kept secret.

The Triple Alliance was expected to bring considerable advantages to each of its members.  Italy gained an increase in prestige and power by alliance with the powerful German Empire, and could now be accounted one of the Great Powers.  Her royal government, which had shown some signs of tottering before revolutionary agitation, was much strengthened and less likely to be disturbed by papal or French attacks.  Moreover, Italy would have less fear of trouble with Austria, who now became her ally instead of her enemy—at least as far as the governments, if not the populations, of the two countries were concerned.  The obligations which Italy assumed in return were not heavy.  She did not have to assist Austria in a war between Austria and Russia alone.  In case of an attack by France upon either Germany or herself, Italy would have the powerful assistance of Germany, and might look forward to a victorious outcome which might give her some increase of territory in the direction of Nice and Savoy or Northern Africa.

Austria’s chief benefit from the treaty lay in the, hope that in case of an attack from Russia over Balkan questions, she would no longer have to leave a part of her army to guard her southern frontier against the danger of Italian Irredentism.  She could throw the whole weight of her forces against Russia or into the Balkans.

Germany hoped the treaty would prevent Italy from allying with France and from thus giving encouragement to the revanche party at Paris.  In case France should make war, however, the French forces available against the Rhine would be diminished by those which would have to be directed to the Alpine frontier against Italy.  If Russia joined France, it would be of great importance to Germany that Austria, no longer in fear for her Italian frontier, would be able to launch the whole strength of the Dual Monarchy against Russia, and thereby relieve the pressure on Germany’s eastern front.  Even if Italy were unable to provide large fighting forces—both Kálnoky and Bismarck had a very low opinion of Italy’s military strength at this time—it was still highly advantageous to Germany and Austria that Italian forces should face west against France, instead of north upon Austria’s rear.  “Sparing the Austrian forces, rather than winning those of Italy, is our aim,” was Bismarck’s comment.(40)

The Triple Alliance in its wording and in its origin was essentially defensive in character, and designed primarily to preserve the peace of Europe.  This is now clear from the detailed negotiations concerning its formation, which have been revealed by Pribram from the Austrian archives, and by the extensive German documents in Die Grosse Politik.  Its defensive character is now admitted even by French historians who are by no means friendly to Bismarck.(41) Bismarck himself, in a private despatch which he never expected would be made public, referred to it as “our League of Peace.”(42)  Its peaceful and defensive intent was especially marked in the case of Germany.  But it became less so in the case of Italy and Austria, who later wished to use it to support their aggressive intentions.  It was, in fact, not long before Italy sought to make use of her new alliance to promote her ambitions in North Africa, and elsewhere.  Her request for German protection against alleged interference with Italian interests by the French in Morocco caused Bismarck to reply sharply:

I am not without just irritation over this request of Mancini’s, and observe in it a dilettante—confidentially I would even say banausic—ignorance of what is possible and desirable in high diplomacy.  There is again manifest in this incident, to put it mildly, that lack of unselfishness which has already so often betrayed the Italians into sending other people into the water for the sake of Italian interests, without wetting even a finger of their own . . . We are ready to stand by Italy’s side if she is attacked or even seriously threatened by France.  But we cannot hear with indifference the expectation that we should begin trouble with France or place Europe before the possibility of a war of great dimensions, because of vague anxieties about Italy’s interests which are not immediate, but which represent hopes for the future in regard to Morocco, or the Red Sea, or Tunis, or Egypt, or other parts of the world.(43)

In 1885, Italy irritated her new allies by seizing Massowah on the Red Sea without notifying them beforehand of her intentions.  When the time approached for renewing the Triple Alliance, Italy complained that she had gained nothing as a result of the treaty.  Bismarck replied bluntly, but truly, that the Alliance was made to secure the peace of Europe and not to win new conquests for its members.  When Italy hinted that she wanted promises of wider support given her as the price of her renewal, Bismarck at first told her flatly that she could renew it as it stood without modifications, or she could leave it and drop out.  But later, in 1887, when Franco-German relations were strained, and Italy intimated that she would shift to the side of France if her desires were not heeded, Bismarck changed his mind.  He was willing to recognize Italian ambitions in North Africa and even put pressure upon Austria to accept the principle that Italy had the right to share with Austria in the decision of the future fate of the Balkans, the Ottoman coasts, and the islands in the Adriatic and Aegean Seas.(44)

Austrian policy in the Balkans, after 1906, similarly attempted to make use of the Alliance for aggressive rather than peaceful purposes.  But the details of this later perversion of the originally defensive character of the Triple Alliance cannot be discussed here.  They do not alter the fact that Bismarck in no sense intended to use the Triple Alliance for aggressive action by Germany against France.  For him it always remained, as it had been in its origin, a defensive treaty.  Unfortunately it was not easy to convince the French of this.  As its terms were secret, the French not unnaturally suspected that it constituted a menace to themselves.  This suspicion was strengthened by the rapid increase in German and Italian armaments in the 1880s, and by Bismarck’s rather defiant tone during the Boulanger period.  It was this secrecy as to the terms of the Triple Alliance, and the exaggerated suspicions to which it gave rise, which contributed so much toward the embitterment of Franco-German relations and to the formation of the Franco-Russian Alliance in the early 1890s.


Even the Triple Alliance did not complete the circle of, treaties by which Bismarck wished to assure the peace of Europe.  In the summer of 1883 King Carol, the Hohenzollern ruler of Rumania, visited Germany.  Bismarck took the occasion to sound Austria, “whether it would not be desirable and possible to extend our League of Peace [Friedensliga] with Italy to the East, and thereby lead in firm paths the policy of Rumania, and eventually also that of Serbia and the Porte.  Except for Russia and France, there is no state in all Europe today which is not interested in the maintenance of peace.  The firm pivot for the crystallization of any such scheme would always be our own permanent Dual Alliance.”(45)  As Austria responded favorably, Bismarck had two long interviews with the Rumanian premier, whom he found “more declamatory than businesslike.”  M. Bratianu was very eager for the kudos which would come from an alliance with the Great Powers.  He was loud in his denunciation of Russian intrigues in Austria as well as in Rumania and Bulgaria.  At the prospect of Austro-German backing, his chauvinistic imagination began to build castles in the air in which the Italian conquest of Nice, Savoy, and Corsica should be but the prelude to Rumania’s acquisition of the Danubian Delta and Bessarabia.  He had to be brought down to earth by energetic reminders from Bismarck and Kálnoky that the proposal under discussion was to secure peace, not conquests;  the Contracting Powers ought mutually to promise that they would refrain from all acts of provocation which might disturb the peace;  if, contrary to their efforts, any war should break out, it would be time enough later to discuss the division of the spoils.

M. Bratianu thereupon bridled his imagination and on October 30, 1883, signed the purely defensive kind of an alliance which Bismarck had in mind.  The Austro-Rumanian Treaty, which formed the basis of Rumania’s adherence to the Triple Alliance “Treaty of Peace,” provided in substance that if Rumania or Austria were attacked without provocation on their part [by Russia], the two Contracting Powers would mutually assist one another against the aggressor.  Russia was not named in the text of the treaty owing to Emperor William’s wish on this point, and to the danger of adding fuel to Pan-Slav agitation in case the Treaty should leak out later through some indiscretion.  But the negotiations show clearly that Russia was the state which the Contracting Powers had in mind.  Germany, by an agreement signed on the same day, undertook the same obligations respectively toward Austria and Rumania that they had taken toward one another.  The treaty was to be secret and to endure for five years with an automatic extension for three years more if not denounced by any of the parties.  In 1889 Italy, like Germany, adhered to the Austro-Rumanian treaty, and the Quadruple Agreement was usually renewed from time to time (with slight modifications).  The last renewal took place on February 5, 1913, when it was extended to July 8, 1920.(46)


Thus in the period 1871-1890, the peace of Europe was secured by the domination of the Eastern Empires and by the system of genuinely defensive alliances which Bismarck had built up, though during the last three years the system was somewhat less secure.  No Power cared to risk a war against Germany’s overwhelming military force, supported and insured as it was by the secret alliances which had brought Austria, Russia, Italy, Rumania, and even England more or less into coöperation with Germany.  France in her painful isolation did not dare to undertake a war of revanche.  England, though ready to coöperate with the Triple Alliance in the Mediterranean, did not care to depart from her traditional no-alliance policy.(47)  She still preferred to enjoy the Balance of Power between any European coalitions which might arise. No one yet threatened that proud supremacy of the seas, so vital to her commerce and her imperial relations with her colonies.

But the dismissal of Bismarck in March, 1890, brought a change, and opened the way for the formation of an alliance between Russia and France.  Even during the three preceding years, in spite of the Re-insurance Treaty, friction had increased between Germany and Russia, owing to complications in Bulgaria, and to the German newspaper campaign against Russian securities.  But until Bismarck’s dismissal, the loyalty of M. Giers, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the German alliance, and Tsar Alexander’s antipathy to France had prevented a Franco-Russian coalition which had always been Bismarck’s greatest nightmare.(48)

In December, 1889, well in advance of its expiration, Giers considered whether the Re-insurance Treaty of 1887 ought to be renewed by Russia and, if so, in what form.  On the whole, it seemed more useful for Russian interests in the Balkans and for the preservation of peace than an alliance with France.  The latter would endanger peace by encouraging French chauvinists and by embittering relations between France and Germany.  In accordance with this policy, Count Schuvalov had an intimate conversation with Bismarck on February 10, 1890, in which both favored the renewal of the treaty.  “It is a document that defines clearly the policy which we are following and which, in my judgment, ought not to be changed,” said Bismarck.(49)

But the conflict of temperament and policy which had been developing between the aged German Chancellor and his imperious young master was nearing the explosion which took place on March 17.  With Bismarck out of office Schuvalov did not know what to do.  He reported that what was passing at Berlin was more than strange, and that one was forced to ask oneself whether the young Emperor was in a normal state.  On the night of March 21, the Ambassador was awakened by a messenger from Emperor William who requested him to come to His Majesty at eight o’clock in the morning.  Scarcely had he arrived when the Emperor received him with great kindness and cordiality saying, “Sit down and listen to me.  You know how much I love and respect your sovereign.  Your Emperor has been too good to me for me to do otherwise than to inform him personally of the situation created by the events which have just taken place. . . . I beg you to tell His Majesty that on my part I am entirely disposed to renew our agreement, that my foreign policy remains and will remain the same as it was in the time of my grandfather.”(50)  After having read Schuvalov’s despatch the Tsar wrote on it, “Nothing satisfactory could be looked for.  We shall see by the sequel whether deeds correspond to words.”(51)

But there then emerged the malign and super-suspicious influence of Baron Holstein.  He and another counsellor in the German Foreign Office drew up a long memoir of fine spun arguments against the renewal;  with these they won over the Kaiser and the new Chancellor, Caprivi.  It was decided at Berlin on March 27 to drop the negotiations for renewal, because the terms of the Re-insurance Treaty were regarded as contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the Triple Alliance, and also because, “if the treaty became known, either by a deliberate or accidental indiscretion, it would endanger the Triple Alliance and be calculated to turn England away from us.”  Schweinitz, the German Ambassador at St. Petersburg, was hastily summoned back to Berlin for a consultation.  He did not think it likely that Russia would deliberately divulge the treaty; but he recognized the “possibility of indiscretions from some other source,”(52) by which probably he meant no other than Bismarck himself.  When Schweinitz returned to St. Petersburg next day, and reported Germany’s negative decision, the Tsar was content, but his Foreign Minister, Giers, was “in some consternation.”  Already old and feeble, Giers feared that under his successors the Russian militarists and Pan-Slavs might get the upper hand and threaten peaceful relations between Germany and Russia.  He hoped by a treaty to bind his successors.  Six weeks later he again brought up the subject and urged the renewal of the treaty.  He was willing to make any changes Germany wanted, or even to have merely an exchange of notes, or at any rate some kind of a written agreement between the two countries.  Since a further refusal on Germany’s part might tend to drive Russia into the arms of France, Schweinitz advised “some kind of a written agreement which, even if it became known, could not be used against us.”  Just after this advice reached Berlin, Bismarck gave an interview to a Russian journalist, which alarmed the German Foreign Office,(53) and made them fear that even if the Tsar were discreet, the irritated ex-Chancellor might let the dangerous cat out of the bag.  The leading Foreign Office officials—Marschall, Holstein, Kiderlen, and Raschdau—all hastened to write memorials against a renewal of the Re-insurance Treaty, or anything resembling it;  and the Kaiser and Caprivi accepted their view.  Schweinitz was told positively to drop the whole matter.  Thus fell one of the main props of Bismarck’s balance between Russia and Austria.  Russia was left isolated and more ready to listen to the solicitous voice of the republican radicals on the Seine.

Historians have generally exaggerated the non-renewal of the Re-insurance Treaty as a factor in the formation of the Franco-Russian Alliance.  This is due partly to Bismarck himself.  Esteemed by the German people as a demigod, but neglected by the young Emperor and the new Court, the lonely and morose old man at Friedrichsruh filled the columns of the Hamburger Nachrichten with ill-natured articles justifying his own successful policies and bitterly criticizing anonymously those of his successor:  “Least of all is it Germany’s business to support Austria’s ambitions in the Balkans.”(54)  “By following the path upon which she has entered, Germany is in danger of gradually becoming dependent upon Austria, and in the end she may have to pay with her blood and treasure for the Balkan policy of Vienna.”(55)

This was bad taste on Bismarck’s part, and it was very embarrassing to William II and Caprivi.  They winced at his criticisms and descended to his rancorous level by an act of petty-minded folly.  When Bismarck made a triumphal progress to Vienna in 1892 to attend the marriage of his son, Count Herbert, to Countess Hoyos, Caprivi ordered the German Ambassador in Vienna not to attend the wedding and, if possible, to prevent Bismarck’s reception by Emperor Francis Joseph.  Bismarck in revenge reproached Caprivi in the Neue Freie Presse with having lost for Germany the friendship of Russia.  “The wire which connected us with Russia is torn down.”  He implied that the Tsar was therefore turning toward France and that Caprivi was responsible for the danger to Germany of the new coalition which he himself had always skillfully averted.  The implication was strengthened by Caprivi’s apparently self-incriminating statement in the Reichstag six months later (November 23, 1892):  “We exerted all our care to keep the wire up; only we did not want it to draw us out of those connections which bind us with Austria-Hungary and Italy.” The implication was finally accepted as a certainty when Bismarck virtually revealed in the Hamburger Nachrichten (four years later) the existence of the Re-insurance Treaty of 1887, closing with the blunt statement, “So came Kronstadt with the Marseillaise and the first drawing together of the absolutist Tsardom and the French Republic, brought about, in our opinion, exclusively by the mistakes of the Caprivi policy.”(56)  The accuracy of Bismarck’s charge seemed to be finally confirmed by a curt official note a few days later,(57) denouncing his revelation as a “violation of the most confidential secrets of state which constituted a blow at the grave interests of the Empire.”

So the world accepted the idea that the Franco-Russian Alliance was the result of Caprivi’s stupidity in not continuing Bismarck’s juggling feat of “keeping five balls in the air at once.”  But if one looks more closely at the documents now in hand, one can see that historians have been misled by the apparent conjunction of events in 1890-1891 and by Bismarck’s propaganda.  The Franco-Russian Entente did not result simply from Caprivi’s failure to renew the Re-insurance Treaty.  It was due to a number of other factors.  One of these was the growth of German industry, commerce, naval ambition, and colonial expansion which started Germany on “The New Course” to Constantinople and Bagdad, thereby antagonizing Russia.  Emperor William’s desire for a naval base led to the so-called Heligoland Treaty of July, 1890, which made Russia suspect—incorrectly—that Germany would draw closer to England.  A second factor was the growth of Pan-Slavism and of Russia’s determination to dominate the Balkans.  This antagonized Austria and made it impossible for Berlin to continue Bismarck’s policy of maintaining a delicate equipoise between Vienna and St. Petersburg.  William II had eventually to choose between Russia and Austria, and he chose Austria;  whether he chose rightly is another question;  but the choice having been made, Russia became perforce the enemy of the Central Powers.  Therefore, according to a well-informed German writer, the mistake of Bismarck’s successors was not in letting down the wire between Berlin and St. Petersburg—that was perhaps inevitable anyway;  the mistake was in failing to conciliate and win England by playing off England against her natural Russian and French rivals, and by coming to a reasonable understanding with England in regard to naval and colonial questions.(58)  A third factor which made for the Franco-Russian Alliance, was the persistence of the revanche idea and the slow consolidation of power in the French Republic which followed the bursting of the Boulanger bubble.  France had at last sufficiently settled down so that the Tsar was willing to overcome his repugnance to an alliance with the Revolutionary Government which had never forgiven Germany for the cruel wound inflicted in 1871.


In the bitter years after the Franco-Prussian War, France sat alone among the Powers of Europe, like a wall-flower at a dance, watching Germany revolve with many partners.  France was condemned to isolation by her own military weakness after defeat, by the methods which Bismarck adopted to keep her friendless, and by the instability of her Republican form of government which was regarded askance by the old monarchs of Europe.  She had to suffer the humiliation and the inevitable friction of German armies on her soil until the billion dollar indemnity was paid.  It was not until the War Scare of 1875 that France found for the first time that she had honest neighbors who, if they did not take her to their hearts as partners, were at least not willing to sit idly by with hands crossed and see her menaced or crushed.  Tsar Alexander II of Russia gallantly informed General Le Flô, the French Ambassador at St. Petersburg, that “the interests of our two countries are common;  you would know this very quickly and you would know it from us if, as I refuse to believe, you should be some day seriously menaced.”(59)  Queen Victoria likewise let it be known that in this matter she was of one opinion with the Tsar.  But neither of these two Great Powers was yet ready to enter into any closer relations with the French Republic.  Alexander II, with a natural antipathy to republican institutions, preferred the monarchical solidarity represented by the League of the Three Emperors, and his attention was engaged in the Eastern Question where German friendship was of greater value than French support.  Similarly, the English acquisition of the Suez Canal and the resulting occupation of Egypt gave rise to a situation which made close Anglo-French relations virtually impossible for a quarter of a century.

Bismarck, however, in the ten years 1875-1885, made many efforts to win French good-will and induce the French to accept without reserve the settlement of 1871.  He wanted to make them forgive and forget the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, so that Germany would not have to fear a war of revenge.  In the interests of better relations between the two countries he was willing to receive a visit from Gambetta, who was regarded as the chief exponent of revanche in France until his death in 1882.(60)  When St. Vallier succeeded Gontaut-Biron as French Ambassador at Berlin early in 1878, Bismarck overwhelmed him with marks of attention and kindness, and there was talk of “a new era” in the relations of France and Germany.  At the Congress of Berlin, and on many subsequent occasions, he assured France of his readiness to give her diplomatic support if she wished to protect her Algerian frontier by taking Tunis.  As he said to St. Vallier:

“The Tunisian pear is ripe and it is time for you to pick it.  The insolence of the Bey has been like an August sun to this African fruit; which might easily spoil meanwhile, or be stolen by someone else, if you leave it longer upon the tree.  I don’t know whether this tempts you or what you wish to do, but I want to repeat to you what I said in July to M. Waddington, 'It is my desire to give you evidences of good-will in questions which touch you and where there are no German interests opposed to yours.’  This is, in fact, only right, for I appreciate the efforts which you and he have made to calm the feelings and restore security and confidence between our two countries. . . . I believe that the French people, though they are now giving evidence of great good sense, need satisfactions for their pride, and I desire sincerely to see them obtain those which they can find in the Mediterranean basin which is their natural sphere of expansion.  The more success they have in this direction, the less they will be inclined to indulge against us the complaints and sorrows whose legitimacy I will not discuss, but the removal of which is not in our power.”(61)

On later occasions Bismarck encouraged the French in the same way to an extension of their colonial power in other parts of Africa and in China.  The recent publication of his private memoranda leaves no doubt that he hoped that, if France would turn her attention to colonial activities outside Europe, she would be more likely to forget Alsace-Lorraine.  In the Madrid Conference on the Morocco question, he instructed the German representative to “go hand in hand with France who, because of her neighboring Algerian possessions, has rightly founded interests in Morocco,” and for this attitude he received the genuine thanks of the French Ambassador.(62)  In his instructions for the German Ambassador at Paris on July 16, 1881, he wrote:

“There is a wide field in the Mediterranean in which we can leave to the French a wholly free hand.  It is not out of the question to hope that French policy in the end will come to see that a friendly German Empire with 45,000,000 inhabitants is more desirable and a stronger figure among French assets than a million Alsace-Lorrainers.  France can be certain that we shall never oppose her justifiable policy of expansion in the Mediterranean and there is reason to believe that Russia also will take the same attitude as Germany.”(63)

This instruction represents Bismarck’s sincere purpose of trying to secure a genuine reconciliation with France in the half dozen years following the Congress of Berlin.  Similarly he refused to give any support to the family of Abd-el-Kader, the heroic Algerian chieftain who had carried on such a troublesome war of self-defense against French efforts at conquest and colonization in North Africa.(64)  He refused to take notice of ebullitions of French chauvinism.  Some French newspapers, the League of Patriots, and fire-eaters like Paul Deroulede still kept up a violent agitation against Germany.  But Bismarck ordered his Ambassadors and the German Press to ignore them as far as possible.  “It is best that matters of this kind be left in dead silence.” (65)

In his irritation at England’s dilatory action in regard to Southwest Africa and in his desire for a sincere rapprochement with Prance, he was willing to cooperate with the French in a conference on Egypt and other African colonial questions.  By the fall of 1884, there was even talk of Franco-German naval coöperation which might grow into an alliance.  But the French were suspicious of Bismarck’s “Machiavellian motives.”  They suspected that he wished to embroil them with England.(66)  The acceptance of the loss of Alsace and Lorraine as final and unquestioned was just what the French Ambassador always expressly refused:

“A nation, as regards the dismemberments which it has suffered, unless it courts with indifference the fate of Poland, ought never to pardon anything, never forget anything [no, doit jamais rien pardonner, jamais rien oublier].  I have never said a word to the German Chancellor which could encourage him in any illusions as to us. . . . To work for peace for the present and to reserve the future [pacifier le présent, réserver l’avenir], such is the program which I have always had before my eyes. . . . At the beginning of our discussions I specified with Count Hatzfeldt and with the Chancellor himself that neither Alsace nor Lorraine should ever be a question between us, that here was a domain reserved on both sides where we ought to be forbidden to penetrate, because we could never meet in good agreement on it.  I shall never speak of Alsace, I have said;  and on your part, if you sincerely desire an understanding with us on various points, avoid drawing the sword over our wound, because the French nation will not remain in control of her feelings.”(67)

This attitude of proud irreconcilability, asserted by the French Ambassador in 1884, sums up admirably one of the fundamental reasons for the failure of the olive branches which Bismarck had been holding out.  Another reason was the underlying suspicion and distrust with which each side received the suggestions of the other.  The result was that the period of relative friendliness which had characterized Franco-German relations in the decade 1875-1885 came to an end and was succeeded by the tense relations of the Boulanger period.

General Boulanger, who became Minister of War in the Freycinet Cabinet in January, 1886, speedily became for the French masses the symbol of military revival and the hope of revanche.  For fifteen long and bitter years they had borne their isolation and humiliation.  Now they listened eagerly to the man on horseback who declared in chauvinistic speeches and in his organ La France Militaire:  “We remember that they are waiting for us in Alsace and Lorraine.”(68)  For the next fifteen months French Cabinets rose and fell, but public opinion always demanded that Boulanger be included among the Ministers.  During this period he aimed to increase and strengthen the French army by every means.  Lumber was purchased for new barracks, increased quantities of picric acid were imported from Germany for the manufacture of explosives, and French regular troops were gradually brought back from China and Africa.  The Cabinet, though divided, was finally persuaded by Boulanger to approve a trial mobilization of part of the army for the fall of 1887.  When a more cool-headed and responsible French statesman, like Rouvier, had the courage to constitute a Cabinet without Boulanger, in May, 1887, this only increased still further the General’s popularity, and with it the peril to the internal and external peace of the country.  He appeared before the ecstatic crowds on the Paris boulevards.  By repeatedly standing for election to the Chamber of Deputies in the provinces, he gradually began to secure a national plebiscite in his favor.  There were thousands who looked forward to the overthrow of the Republic which had been too yielding and conciliatory toward Germany and who hoped for a strong dictatorship under “le bravgénéral.”  French chauvinism was further stirred by the fiery speeches of Paul Deroulede, by the activities of the League of Patriots, and by the intemperate editorials of the greater part of the French Press.  All these manifestations of French nationalism were duly reported to Bismarck at length by the German Military Attaché in Paris.(69)

The German Ambassador, Count Münster, however, sent moderate and more quieting reports as to conditions in France, though he admitted that there was an extraordinary outburst of revanche feeling among the people.  He believed, nevertheless, that it was artificially stimulated, and that at bottom the French people really did not wan la guerre sainte, however much they might talk about it in the newspapers and public meetings.  The republicans in the provinces, in contrast to Paris, were decidedly peaceful, and Boulanger was not nearly so dangerous as people believed.  He could hardly establish a dictatorship on account of the jealousy of other generals and of the solidity of republican feeling.  Whatever the masses thought, the French Government really wanted peace, because they were afraid of Germany.  Financially also France was too poor to wage war, and military service was unpopular.  The Ambassador was so convinced that there was no real danger of a Boulangist coup d’état or an attack upon Germany, that he took the unusual step of writing his views in a personal letter to Emperor William I.

Bismarck, however, was not at all convinced of the accuracy of Münster’s diagnosis of the French situation.  He covered Münster’s reports with question marks and doubts.  He scolded him for writing a letter direct to the Emperor, which Münster thereupon agreed should not be delivered.  Bismarck’s distrust of France rested partly on his knowledge of French history and of the events of the Second Empire when Napoleon III had talked peace and yet had entered upon one war after another.  It arose also from his futile efforts to come to a better understanding with France during the half dozen years before the rise of Boulanger.  Still another reason for his distrust of the French were the rumors in September, 1886, that Russian agents in Paris had been putting out feelers toward a Franco-Russian alliance.(70)  He instantly made inquiries at St. Petersburg to learn if the rumors had any foundation.  In the negotiations a little later for the Re-insurance Treaty with Russia, he made surprisingly large concessions to Russian ambitions toward Constantinople, with the hope of holding Tsar Alexander III away from France and in firm friendship with Germany.(71)

A further reason why Bismarck was unwilling to accept.  Münster’s optimistic views on France was the fact that he was preparing to lay before the Reichstag the Army Bill of 1887, which would considerably increase the size of the German army.  French chauvinism was one of the best vote-getters possible for the bill.  If Münster was correct, half the argument for the increase of the German army was gone.  So Bismarck took the view of the military attaché instead of the ambassador at Paris.  The German armament bill passed and thereby increased the suspicion and distrust in France and Russia, which always accompanied the growth of German armaments.  New military expenditures on a wide scale were then made in France and Russia, and a still further increase was proposed in Germany in the following year.  So great was the suspense and war-talk on both sides of the Rhine that there developed in the spring of 1888 another war scare not unlike that of 1875.  On January 11, 1888, Bismarck made the famous speech in the Reichstag in which, while increasing Germany’s armaments, he still insisted that Germany had no intention of provoking a war with France or with Russia.

In spite of “incidents” like the German arrest of Schnaebele,(72) which sharpened bitter feelings in both countries, cooler counsels prevailed at Paris.  Boulanger’s credit sank more rapidly than it had risen, and Franco-German tension became less strained.  But it was during this period that the first steps took place which may be regarded as the beginnings of Franco-Russian rapprochement, which later was extended to include England and thus formed ultimately the Triple Entente.  The domination of the Eastern Empires was coming to an end.


1. “Irregulare aliquod corpus et monstro simile,” wrote “Severin de Monzambano” [Pufendorf] in his famous tract, De Statu Imperii Germanici (1667), cap. VI, sec. 9.

2. “Je désire en arriver à ce que vous pardonniez Sedan comme vous avez pardonné Waterloo,” Bismarck said to the French ambassador in December, 1884;  Bourgeois et Pagès, Les Origines et les Responsabilités de la Grande Guerre, Paris, 1921, p. 307.

3. G.P., I, 197.

4. G.P., I. 202.

5. G.P., I. 203.

6. G.P., I, 206-209.

7. Cf. J.V. Fuller. “The War Scare of 1875,” in Amer. Hist. Rev., XXIV, 196-226 (Jan., 1919). The current French version of the war-scare of 1875 needs correction in the light of Die Grosse Politik, I, 245-300;  Radowitz, Aufzeichnungen and Erinnerungen, Stuttgart, 1925, I, 302ff.;  Hajo Holborn, Bismarck’s Europäische Politik zu Beginn der siebziger Jahre and die Mission Radowitz, Berlin, 1925;  and K. Klingenfuss, “Beust and Andrássy and die Kriegsgefahr von 1875.” in Archiv. f. Pol. u. Gesch, IV., 616-643 (1926).

8. Cf. Bismarck, Reflections and Reminiscences, ch. xxvi:  “I reproached Prince Gorchakov sharply. It was not, I said, a friendly part suddenly and unexpectedly to jump on the back of a trustful and unsuspecting friend, and get up a circus performance at his cost;  proceedings of this kind between us, who were the directing ministers, could only injure the two monarchies and states. If he was anxious to be applauded in Paris, he need not on that account injure our relations with Russia;  I was quite ready to assist him and have five-franc pieces struck at Berlin, with the inscription Gorchakov protège la France.”

9. Wertheimer, Graf Julius Andrássy, II, 118.

10. Wertheimer, Graf Julius Andrássy, 11, 259 ff.

11. G.P., I. 207.

12. Bismarck’s Reichstag speech of December 7, 1876.

13. G.P., II 31 ff.

14. Reichstadt “agreement” is a misnomer, since there was a misunderstanding from the outset. No formal document was drawn up, “agreed upon,” and signed at Reichstadt. After the meeting, the Austrian and Russian ministers each dictated his own recollection of the substance of the views exchanged. This explains many marked differences between the Austrian and Russian versions of the “agreement” as printed respectively by Wertheimer (Graf Julius Andrássy, 11, 322 ff.) and by the Bolsheviks in Krasnyi Arkhiv (Moscow, 1922), I, 36. According to the Russian version, for instance, Montenegro was to annex Herzegovina, and Austria was merely to take Turkish Croatia and a small adjacent part of Bosnia contiguous to the Austrian frontier. According to Andrássy’s version, Austria was to annex all of Bosnia and Herzegovina except certain “extensions” allotted to Serbia and Montenegro “to round them off.”  Cf. G.H. Rupp, “The Reichstadt Agreement,” in Amer. Hist. Rev. XXX, 503-510 (April, 1925); and G.P., II, 34-37.

15. G.P., II. 45-47.

16. G.P., II, 72-79;  cf. also II, 108, and VI, 356 f.

17. Bismarck, Reflections and Reminiscences, II, 234.

18. G.P., II. 111-115.

19. G.P., III, 16.

20. Pribram, I, 6-9. For the detailed negotiations by which Bismarck arranged this treaty and overcame his own sovereign’s strong objections to it, see G.P., III, 1-136.

21. St. Vallier to Freycinet, March 22, 1880;  Bourgeois et Pagès, p. 370.

22. Cf. C. Grant Robertson, Bismarck, p. 363 f.

23. G.P., IV, 338; V, 8, 26 ff., 35 f., 136 ff., 149 ff., 194 f.

24. G.P., V, II f.

25. C f. his interesting and friendly conversations with Bismarck at Kissingen in July, 1879, in Krasnyi Arkhiv, I, 68-84.

26. G.P., III, 139-179. J.Y. Simpson, “Russo-German Relations and the Sabouroff Memoirs,” in The Nineteenth Century, LXXXII, 1111-1123;  LXXXIII, 60-75 (Dec. 1917, Jan., 1918).

27. Russian Aide-Mémoire of Feb. 5, 1880, given by Saburov to Bismarck;  G.P., III, 144f. For an excellent historical sketch of the Straits question to 1878, see J.T. Shotwell, “A Short History of Question of Constantinople and the Straits” in International Conciliation, No. 180, Nov., 1922, pp. 463-527;  see also S. M. Goriainov, Le Bosphore et les Dardanelles, Paris, 1910;  P.H. Mishev, La mer noire et les détroits de Constantinople, Paris, 1899;  E. Driault, La Question d’Orient, Paris, 1905;  N. Dascovici, La Question du Bosphore et des Dardanelles, Genève, 1915;  N.E. Buxton and C. Phillipson, The Question of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, London, 1917;  and below, ch. v. especially note 11.

28. S. Goriainov, “The End of the Alliance of the Emperors,” Amer. Hist. Rev.. XXIII, 325 (Jan. 1918).  The full text is printed by Pribam, p. 11, and, with the negotiations leading up to it, in G.P. III, 139-179.

29. G.P. V, 195.

30. Instruction of Dec. 21, 1886;  G.P., V, 211.

31. G.P., VI, 89 ff.

32. G.P., V, 253; Pribram, p. 305.

33. For the text of the treaty and the negotiations leading up to it see G.P., V, 211-268;  and Goriainov, in Amer. Hist. Rev. XXIII. 330-349 Jan., 1918).  Taube, La Politique Russe Avant-Guerre (Paris, 1828), 74-84.

34. Seymour, The Diplomatic Background of the War, 1870-1914, p. 35.  Cf. also Matter, Bismarck et son Temps, III, 445, 512 f.;  Hanotaux, Histoire de la France Contemporaine, IV, 740;  Coolidge, The Origins of the Triple Alliance, 197 ff.  For accounts of the Triple Alliance based on the new material in Die Grosse Politik, and Pribram, see Becker, Bismarcks Bündnispolitik (Berlin, 1923);  Rachfahl, Deutschland and die Weltpolitik, 1871-1914, I, Die Bismarck’sche Aera (Stuttgart 1923), pp. 371-398;  Granfelt, Das Dreibundsystem, 1879-1916 (Stockholm, 1924);  Lenz, Deutschland im Kreis der Grossmächte, 1871-1914 (Berlin, 1925).  The best account of the Tunis Question is by W.L. Langer, “The European Powers and the French Occupation of Tunis, 1878-1881,” in Amer Hist. Rev., XXXI, 55-78, 251-265 (Oct., 1925;  Jan. 1921).

35. G.P., III, 185.

36. G.P., III, 185,198;  cf. also Pribram, I, 128 ff.

37. G.P., III, 207.

38. G.P. III, 208.

39. G.P., III, 245-7; Pribram, 24-28.

40. G.P., III, 224-225.

41.   Cf. Bourgeois et Pagès, p. 197.

42. “Unsere Friedensliga”;  G.P., III, 263;  see below at note 45.

43. Bismarck to Keudell, April 6, 1864;  G.P., III. 410.

44. Arts. I-IV of the separate Italo-German renewal treaty of Feb. 20, 1887;  and Art. I of the Austro-Italian renewal treaty of the same date, which was embodied as the famous “Art. VII” of the last renewal treaty of Dec. 5, 1912.  Cf. Pribram I, 44ff.  103, and passim;  G.P., IV, 179-260.  For the text of these articles and the other concessions eventually made to Italy, see Arts. VI-XI of the 1912 renewal treaty in the Appendix below.

45. Bismarck to Prince Reuss at Vienna, Aug. 19, 1883;  GP., III, 263.

46. G.P., III, 269-282;  Pribram, I, 29-34, 69-77, 85-90, 107-111, 209, 245 f.  In this connection it may be mentioned that Austria had signed a secret treaty with Serbia on June 28, 1881, which virtually placed Serbia under Austria’s protection and domination during the reign of the pro-Austrian ruler, Milan Obrenovitch, i.e., until 1889, thus temporarily bringing still another state within the circle of the Triple Alliance Powers;  Pribram, I, 18 ff.

47. For England’s failure to respond to Bismarck’s feelers for an Anglo-German understanding or alliance in 1887 and in 1889, see GP., IV 376 ff.  The importance of these feelers has been exaggerated by Hammann, Der Missverstandne Bismarck, pp. 20 f., 59, and by Eckardstein, Lebenserinnerungen, II, 282;  III, 1 ff.

48. In December, 1886, Giers said to the German Chargé d’Affaires in St. Petersburg:  “Il n’y a pas de politique raisonable à faire avec ces gens-là [en France]”;  and a week later, “Comment peuvent-ils être assez bêtes, ces Français, pour se figurer que l’Empereur Alexandre marcherait avec les Clemenceaus contre son oncle !  C’est une alliance qui ferait horreur à l’Empereur, qui n’ira pas tirer les marrons du feu pour le Commune”;  and again on October 20, 1887, “Les Français sont le plus infecte des peuples, le gouvernement français est mauvais, bête;  le gâchis à Paris est complet”;  G.P., VI, 107, 108, 118.

49. Goriainov, p. 341;  G.P., VII, 1 ff.

50. Goriainov, p. 343;  cf. G.P., VII, 21.

51. Goriainov, p 344.

52. G.P., VII, 11.

53. G.P., VII, 23, 35.

54. Hamburger Nachrichten, April 26, 1890:  Hofmann, Fürst Bismarck, 1890-1898, 1, 256.

55. January 24, 1892;  Hofmann, Fürst Bismarck, 1890-1898, II, 5

56. Hofmann, Fürst Bismarck, 1890-96, II, 373.

57. Reichsanzeiger, Oct. 27, 1896.

58. Hammann, Der Missverstandne Bismarck, passim.

59. Bourgeois et Pagès, p. 168.

60. G.P. III, 387.

61. St. Vallier to Waddington, Jan. 5, 1879;  Bourgeois et Pagès, p. 365 f.

62. G.P., III, 396 ff.

63. G.P., III, 401.

64. G.P., III, 406.

65. Instruction of September 16, 1882;  G.P., III, 404.

66. G.P., III, 421 ff.;  Bourgeois et Pagès, pp. 190-211.

67. Baron Courcel to Jules Ferry, December 3, 1884;  Bourgeois et Pagès, p. 387;  cf. also pp. 205ff.

68. Report of the German Military Attaché in Paris;  G.P., VI, 133.

69. G.P., VI, 127 ff.

70. G.P., VI, 93 ff.

71. G.P., V, 211 ff.

72. Schnaebele, who had been accused of complicity in an espionage case at Strasbourg, was a French police officer near the Alsatian border.  On April 20, 1887 he was arrested upon German soil while at an interview with a German police agent concerning border questions.  The French Press made a great outcry that he had been enticed over the border in order that he might be seized.  There is no proof of this.  When Bismarck was finally convinced that Schnaebele crossed the border for an official interview upon the invitation of a German customs officer, he at once ordered his release;  G.P., VI, 182-192.  C. Grant Robertson, Bismarck, p. 460, is incorrect in concluding that the Schnaebele incident was deliberately planned to provoke the French into a serious indiscretion in order to assist the passage of the German Army Bill by the Reichstag.  The dates are conclusive.  The Army Bill passed on March 11.  Bismarck knew nothing about the Schnaebele espionage case until March 12.  Schnaebele was not arrested until April 20, and was set free eight days later.  For a French view, see Bourgeois et Pagès, pp. 225-229.