History Highlights, Notes on German Culture, prussia, Second Reich...1871 to 1918

Quality of life in the new German Empire compared favorably to America

Bismarck was the leading politician who created a new united German nation in 1871…a nation that became an economic powerhouse with a benevolent social policy. For example, he created safety nets such as the Sickness Insurance Law of 1883, the Accident Insurance Law of 1884, and the Old Age and Disability Insurance Law of 1889.

March 1884, Bismarck declared:

The real grievance of the worker is the insecurity of his existence; he is not sure that he will always have work, he is not sure that he will always be healthy, and he foresees that he will one day be old and unfit to work. If he falls into poverty, even if only through a prolonged illness, he is then completely helpless, left to his own devices, and society does not currently recognize any real obligation towards him beyond the usual help for the poor, even if he has been working all the time ever so faithfully and diligently. 

As a result of Bismarck’s efforts, emigration to the United States was dramatically reduced. The quality of life in the new German Empire compared favorably to America, where social safety nets were not available. Although a staunch conservative, Bismarck created the first welfare state in the modern world.

Bismarck, a devout Lutheran who was loyal to his Prussian King and Kaiser, promoted a strong Prussian style bureaucracy that was well-trained and a model of honesty and efficiency. During his 19 years as Chancellor of the German Empire he was proudly hailed by Germans as “Our Bismarck”.

German Empire 1871 Eagle with banner “Unser Bismarck”…”Our Bismarck”

In this 19th century image, Otto von Bismarck is presented in heroic fashion, celebrated as the architect of German unification and the creator of the Second Reich in 1871.

Portrait of Otto von Bismarck flanked by symbolic German warriors of north and south who fought the serpents and are presenting the ancient First Reich crown to Germania.

Historians have praised Bismarck as a statesman of moderation and balance who was primarily responsible for the unification of the German states in 1871. As a German statesman he was a dominant figure in world affairs. Although he used wars with Denmark, Austria and France to achieve German unification, afterwards he used balance-of-power diplomacy to keep Europe peaceful in the 1870s and 1880s.

German Chancellor Bismarck speaking with the defeated French Emperor Napoleon III
Bismarck at age 75, August 1890…portrait by Franz von Lenbach.
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