Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
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Visual History of the World
First Empires
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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Modern Era

1789 - 1914

In Europe, the revolutionary transformation of the ruling systems and state structures began with a bang: In 1789 the French Revolution broke out in Paris, and its motto "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite"—Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood—took on an irrepressible force. A fundamental reorganization of society followed the French Revolution. The ideas behind the revolution were manifest in Napoleon's Code Civil, which he imposed on many European nations. The 19th century also experienced a transformation of society from another source: The Industrial Revolution established within society a poorer working class that stood in opposition to the merchant and trading middle class. The nascent United States was shaken by an embittered civil war. The economic growth that set in following that war was accompanied by the development of imperialist endeavors and its rise to the status of a Great Power.



Liberty Leading the People,
allegory of the 1830 July revolution that deposed the French monarchy,
with Marianne as the personification of liberty,
contemporary painting by Eugene Delacroix.



Imperial Germany



After the founding of the Reich, Bismarck pursued an alliance policy meant to create a European balance of power while largely isolating France. Domestically he fought the power of the Catholic Church in the Kukurkampf ("cultural struggle"). He also sought to control the spread of socialism through the carrot-and-stick method of enacting social reforms while banning socialist organizations and literature. After Bismarck's dismissal in 1890, the German Reich found itself hemmed in on two fronts by an allignment between Russia and France as allies—exactly the situation he had always sought to avoid. The Belle Epoque, in both domestic and foreign politics, was an era in which potentially explosive tensions emerged.


European Alliance Policies

The Three Emperors' League, the Triple Alliance, and the Reinsurance Treaty temporarily protected the German Empire within the network of European great powers.


The German Reich that came into existence through the constitution of April 16,1871, comprised 22 individual states and three free cities.

The constitutional monarchy was now governed by an imperial chancellor, who was appointed by the kaiser (emperor) and, as was the case with 3 Bismarck, served as Prussian prime minister and foreign minister.

3 Otto von Bismarck

Alliances forged under Bismarck temporarily protected the German Empire within the network of European powers. In 1873 Bismarck formed the Three Emperors' League with Austria and Russia.

By the time of the 1 Berlin Congress in 1878, however, the alliance was alreadv tottering, and Germany abandoned it in favor of a 5 pact with Austria;
this became the 2 Triple Alliance when Italy joined in 1882.

1 Berlin Congress June 13—July 13, 1878: Bismarck and the Russian deputy Earl Shuvalov

5 German-Austrian pact, signed on October 17, 1879

2 Caricature depicting the Triple Alliance
of Imperial Germany, Austria and Italy,
showing Bismarck as lion tamer

4 Russian-Turkish war, 1877-78

The 4 Balkans remained an area of contention, where the competing interests of Austria and Russia created friction.

To avoid escalation, Germany entered into the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia in 1887, which bound both to neutrality. When Great Britain allied itself to Italy and Austria—and thus indirectly with Germany—through the Mediterranean Entente in 1887, all European major powers except France were now tied with Germany through alliances. However, the Reinsurance Treaty was not renewed after Bismarck's forced dismissal in 1890. Russia instead concluded a military pact with France in 1892, thus placing Germany between the pincers of two major allied powers.


A main objective of Bismarck's was to prevent other major
powers allying with France.


„Die neue Crinoline. Bismarck schneidert der unwilligen Germania
einen modischen Kolonialreifrock.“ Holzschnitt von Gustav Heil
fur die Satirezeitschrift „Berliner Wespen“ vom 13. Marz 1885



Wilhelm II, after Bismarck's Dismissal

"The post of duty officer on the ship of state has fallen to me.

The course stays the old one.

Full steam ahead."

The captain leaves the ship;
caricature about the dismissal of Bismarck by Wilhelm II




Domestic Political Failures

Bismarck was as unsuccessful in his battle against the Catholic Church as he was in his struggle against the labor movement.


Bismarck's free trade policy, aided by the high reparations payments of the French, led to an economic upswing in the founding years of the German Reich marked by building activity and stock speculation, although that slackened after the 8 Viennese stock market crash of 1873.

8 Viennese stock market crash on May 9, 1873

Bismarck then introduced protective tariffs in 1879 that split the 11 National Liberal party, which had stood by him until then.

The National Liberals represented the hopes particularly of the upper middle class for industrial progress and of Protestant, middle-class intellectuals for a stemming of the Catholic influence that was represented in the Reichstag (Parliament) by the 10 Center party; for this reason, they supported Bismarck in the 6 Kulturkampf, or struggle, against the political influence of Catholicism.

11 Rudolph von Benningsen,
leader of the National Liberal party,
wood engraving by A. Neumann, ca. 1880

10 The leader of the Center party:
Windthorst, von Mallinckrodt
and Reichensperger

6 Kulturkampf 1871 -89, Caricature about
Bismarck and Pope Leo XIII


Laws were enacted in the early 1870s disallowing the Catholic clergy from making political statements in office, putting their training under state control, banning the promulgation of the Jesuits, transferring the supervision of schools to the state, and making possible the closing of monasteries. Some of the priests who refused to recognize the laws were prosecuted. The measures, however, remained ineffective and Bismarck was forced to repeal most of them in the 1880s.

Bismarck combated the spread of socialism among the workers with a two-pronged strategy. The antisocialist law of 1878 was meant to "counter the efforts of social democracy, which is a danger to the public": labor movement organizations and pamphleteering were banned. This too proved unsuccessful, however. By the time the law was repealed in 1890, the Social Democratic Party had been formed and its share of voters had tripled.

The gradual introduction of 9 social security from 1883 to 1889 addressed some of the workers' concerns but was meant to preempt more far-reaching political demands.

9 Caricature about the social laws:
The unemployed demand work instead
of social welfare

On June 15,1888, Wilhelm II became kaiser after the death of his father Friedrich III who had ruled for only 99 days following the death of his own father Wilhelm I in the same year. Bismarck was as little in agreement with Wilhelm's desire to conciliate workers with more social reforms as he was with the other ideas of the new kaiser. Consequently, Wilhelm dismissed the "Iron Chancellor" on March 20,1890.



"Year of the Three Emperors"

1888 is called the "Year of the Three Emperors" in Germany. When Kaiser Wilhelm I died on March 9 at age 91, his son Frederick III was already seriously ill with cancer of the larynx and unable to speak. He was only able to breathe through a silver tube that had been inserted into his windpipe. The people had set hope in him because of his liberal political convictions, but he died that summer. His son, Wilhelm II, succeeded him.

Wilhelm I; Frederick III; Wilhelm II




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