This is what Bismarck meant with his Blood and Iron speech!

When we talk about Otto von Bismarck then we often talk about him unifying Germany or his Anti-Socialist Laws. But we also often think about his Blood and Iron speech.

But while the term Blood and Iron is well known the meaning and the background of that speech is far less known.

On September 30th, 1862 Bismarck scolded the liberal majority within the Prussian parliament that the problems of the time would not be solved by speeches or decisions of the parliament but by Blood and Iron, meaning the use of the military. The speech was the reaction to the parliament denying the Prussian monarch the money (5 million Taler) for reforming the army.

Let`s find out more.

The meaning of Blood and Iron

On September 24th, 1861 Otto von Bismarck had been appointed Prime minister of Prussia. It is important to emphasize that in 1862 Prussia was still a kingdom and a unified Germany didn`t exist. It wouldn`t be until 1870/71 that the German states were united. More that and the crucial role Bismarck played in my article here.

But the Blood and Iron speech that Bismarck held on September 30th, 1862 was a significant point on the way to increasing Prussia’s military to a point where the unification of Germany under Prussian dominance was even possible.

During his Blood and Iron speech, Bismarck scolded the liberal representatives within the Prussian parliament that the German states would not look to Prussia for its liberalism and that the major questions of the time would not be decided by speeches or parliamentary decisions but by Blood and Iron.

By the way. Otto von Bismarcks Blood and Iron speech and the idea that Prussia would unite the german states through a common war earned him the Nickname Iron Chancellor.

To find out why that statement was so significant we have to look at the political context in which the Blood and Iron speech was given.

The context of the Blood and Iron speech

To find out why Bismarck gave the Blood and Iron speech and what he meant by it we first have to take a look at the person of Otto von Bismarck and the circumstances of him being appointed Prussian prime minister.

The political situation in Prussia before the Blood and Iron speech

After the revolution of the years 1848 and 1849 (the failure of these revolutions drove many Germans to emigrate to the US, more on that here) the different german states had implemented at least some liberal ideas and politicians although their general politics still followed conservative principles.

It wasn`t until the new era (1858 to 1862) that Prussia also started to show first signs of political liberalization. During that new era, the old reactionary parliament was replaced by a liberal majority.

And that should lead to problems, or to be more precise to a fight for power between the Prussian king and the Prussian parliament.

Why was Otto von Bismarck appointed as Prussian prime minister?

By the way.

One major reason why Otto von Bismarck was chosen as Prime minister in 1862 was that he was not only a reactionary royalist but also an anti-parliamentarian. He was a man who would not shrink back from pushing the fight for power with the liberal parliament to the absolute maximum.

And such a man was dearly needed by the monarch.

It was a fight between the liberal parliament and the Prussian king over the expansion of the Prussian army that would cause the need for a man like Bismarck to become Prime minister.

On February 10th, 1860 the Prussian minister of war Albrecht von Roon presented a law to the parliament that would increase the number of annual recruits from 40.000 to 63.000 and also increase the standing army from 150.000 to 250.000 men adding another 49 regiments.

Apart from that, the new law would have also reformed the relationship between the standing army and reserve. Additionally, it would have changed the way officers of the reserve were chosen from being elected to being appointed.

All in all the military law of 1860 had the goal of increasing the significance of the royal Prussian army and its tradition of strictly following orders. On the same hand the significance of the reserves, the so-called Landwehr, with its stronger civil and liberal influences and traditions was reduced.

The parliament with its liberal majority was totally surprised by the law and passed it with 350 against 2 votes. But with the limitation that it would only be active until June 30th, 1861.

It was totally clear that as soon as the liberal majority in the parliament would have organized itself the law would not be prolonged over June 30th, 1860 unless the changes the liberals demanded regarding the time of service and the reserves would be accepted by the monarch.

The stage was set for a political confrontation between the liberal parliament and the Prussian king Wilhelm I, who as a trained officer was heavily invested in passing military law with its reforms.

It took the minister of War August von Roon quite some time to convince the king that Otto von Bismarck, who had made himself a name as a reactionary anti-parliamentarian and royalist (more on that in my article here) was the perfect fit for the job of Prussian prime minister.

On September 22, 1862, the Forty-seven-year-old Otto von Bismarck was granted an audience with the Prussian king Wilhelm I during which he could convince the king to be officially appointed to the prime minister on October 8, 1862.

Until then Bismarck would serve as interim prime minister.

Appointing Bismarck, a man with a clear anti-parliamentarian stance, came at a cost. The parliament denied the 5 million talers that were necessary for reforming the army on September 23, 1862, the same day Bismarck was appointed as interim prime minister.

And that event, the liberal parliament denying the money needed for reforming the army led to Bismarcks Blood and Iron speech in which he scolded the liberal majority within the Prussian parliament that not speeches or parliamentary debates would solve the Prussian problems but Blood and Iron, the use a strong military, would.

Not even four years later Bismarck proofed that concept when Prussia attacked Austria, more on that here.

But there were also direct political consequences to the fight for power between liberal parliament and the Prussian monarch Wilhelm I.

What happened after the Blood and Iron Speech?

As described. The Blood and Iron speech was just a symbol of the fight for power between the Prussian monarch and the parliament with its liberal majority.

And with Otto von Bismarck and his anti-parliamentarian world views in the office of Prime minister several measures were taken.

After the Blood and Iron speech, the Prussian parliament was prematurely dissolved, rigid press censorship was put in place to suppress the liberal opposition, and the money necessary for the military reforms was assigned without the constitutionally necessary approval of the parliament.

So while the new era and its liberalization of Prussian politics had ended in 1862 Otto von Bismarck was now in a position to implement all his goals that until now had only been existed on paper.

His first goal was the repression of Austrian influence among the German states. More on how he used Blood and Iron to archive that in my article here.

But that was only the first step on his way to his final goal: the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. Please feel free to check out my article here on why Bismarck wanted to unify Germany.

And after the goal of unifying Germany was reached Otto von Bismarck would act against another enemy. That enemy was the growing popularity of socialist and social democratic parties. But the reason why Bismarck hated socialism and how he implemented social policies in hope of reducing the socialist influence is a story for another article that you can find here.

Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.

Until next time

Yours truly

Luke Reitzer


F. Herre: Bismarck. Der preußische Deutsche (Köln 1991).

C. Graf von Krockow: Bismarck (Stuttgart 1997).