LXI. The Rise of Germany to Predominance in Europe
WE have told how after the convulsion of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic adventure, Europe settled down again for a time to an insecure peace and a sort of modernized revival of the political conditions of fifty years before. Until the middle of the century the new facilities in the handling of steel and the railway and steamship produced no marked political consequences. But the social tension due to the development of urban industrialism grew. France remained a conspicuously uneasy country. The revolution of 1830 was followed by another in 1848. Then Napoleon III, a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, became first President, and then (in 1852) Emperor.
He set about rebuilding Paris, and changed it from a picturesque seventeenth century insanitary city into the spacious Latinized city of marble it is to-day. He set about rebuilding France, and made it into a brilliant-looking modernized imperialism. He displayed a disposition to revive that competitiveness of the Great Powers which had kept Europe busy with futile wars during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Tsar Nicholas I of Russia (1825-1856) was also becoming aggressive and pressing southward upon the Turkish Empire with his eyes on Constantinople.
After the turn of the century Europe broke out into a fresh cycle of wars. They were chiefly "balance-of-power" and ascendancy wars. England, France and Sardinia assailed Russia in the Crimean war in defence of Turkey; Prussia (with Italy as an ally) and Austria fought for the leadership of Germany, France liberated North Italy from Austria at the price of Savoy, and Italy gradually unified itself into one kingdom. Then Napoleon III was so ill advised as to attempt adventures in Mexico, during the American Civil War; he set up an Emperor Maximilian there and abandoned him hastily to his fate-he was shot by the Mexicans-when the victorious Federal Government showed its teeth.
In 1870 came a long-pending struggle for predominance in Europe between France and Prussia. Prussia had long foreseen and prepared for this struggle, and France was rotten with financial corruption. Her defeat was swift and dramatic. The Germans invaded France in August, one great French army under the Emperor capitulated at Sedan in September, another surrendered in October at Metz, and in January 1871, Paris, after a siege and bombardment, fell into German hands. Peace was signed at Frankfort surrendering the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to the Germans. Germany, excluding Austria, was unified as an empire, and the King of Prussia was added to the galaxy of European Caesars, as the German Emperor.
For the next forty-three years Germany was the leading power upon the European continent. There was a Russo-Turkish war in 1877-8, but thereafter, except for certain readjustments in the Balkans, European frontiers remained uneasily stable for thirty years.