Reflections and Reminiscences

Date: 1899

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Bismarck and the Unification of Germany



"Blood and Iron"


In the beginning of October, 1862, I went as far as Jüterbogk to meet the king, who had been at Baden-Baden for September 30, his wife’s birthday, and waited for him in the still unfinished railway station, filled with third-class travelers and workmen. My object, in taking this opportunity for an interview, was to set his Majesty at rest about a speech made by me in the Budget Commission on September 30, which had aroused some excitement, and which, though not taken down in shorthand, had still been reproduced with tolerable accuracy in the newspapers.

For people who were less embittered and blinded by ambition, I had indicated plainly enough the direction in which I was going. Prussia — such was the point of my speech — as a glance at the map will show, could no longer wear unaided on its long narrow figure the panoply which Germany required for its security; that must be equally distributed over all German peoples. We should get no nearer the goal by speeches, associations, decisions of majorities; we should be unable to avoid a serious contest, a contest which could only be settled by blood and iron. In order to secure our success in this, the deputies must place the greatest possible weight of blood and iron in the hands of the king of Prussia, in order that, according to his judgment, he might throw it into one scale or the other. . . .

Roon, who was present, expressed his dissatisfaction with my remarks on our way home, and said, among other things, that he did not regard these "witty digressions" as advantageous for our cause. For my part, I was torn between the desire of winning over members to an energetic national policy, and the danger of inspiring the king, whose own disposition was cautious and shrank from violent measures, with mistrust in me and my intentions. My object in going to meet him at Jüterbogk was to counteract betimes the probable effect of press criticisms.

I had some difficulty in discovering from the curt answers of the officials the section in the ordinary train in which the king was seated by himself in an ordinary first-class carriage. The after-effect of his conversation with his wife was an obvious depression, and when I begged for permission to narrate the events which had occurred during his absence, he interrupted me with the words, "I can perfectly well see where all this will end. Over there, in front of the Opera House, under my windows, they will cut off your head, and mine a little while afterward."

I guessed, and it was afterward confirmed by witnesses, that during his week’s stay at Baden-Baden his mind had been worked upon with variations on the theme of Polignac,1 Strafford,2 and Louis XVI.3 When he was silent, I answered with the short remark, "Et a près, Sire?" "A près, indeed; we shall be dead," answered the king. "Yes," I continued, "then we shall be dead; but we must all die sooner or later, and can we perish more honorably? I, fighting for my king’s cause, and your Majesty sealing with your own blood your rights as king by the grace of God; whether on the scaffold or the battlefield makes no difference in the glory of sacrificing life and limb for the rights assigned to you by the grace of God. Your Majesty must not think of Louis XVI; he lived and died in a condition of mental weakness, and does not present a heroic figure in history. Charles I, on the other hand, will always remain a noble historical character, for after drawing his sword for his rights and losing the battle, he did not hesitate to confirm his royal intent with his blood. Your Majesty is bound to fight, you cannot capitulate; you must, even at the risk of bodily danger, go forth to meet any attempt at coercion."

As I continued to speak in this sense, the king grew more and more animated, and began to assume the part of an officer fighting for kingdom and fatherland. In presence of external and personal danger he possessed a rare and absolutely natural fearlessness, whether on the field of battle or in the face of attempts on his life; his attitude in any external danger was elevating and inspiring. The ideal type of the Prussian officer who goes to meet certain death in the service with the simple words, "At your orders," but who, if he has to act on his own responsibility, dreads the criticism of his superior officer or of the world more than death, even to the extent of allowing his energy and correct judgment to be impaired by the fear of blame and reproof — this type was developed in him to the highest degree. . . . To give up his life for king and fatherland was the duty of an officer; still more that of a king, as the first officer in the land. As soon as he regarded his position from the point of view of military honor, it had no more terror for him than the command to defend what might prove a desperate position would have for any ordinary Prussian officer. This raised him above the anxiety about the criticism which public opinion, history, and his wife might pass on his political tactics. . . . The correctness of my judgment was confirmed by the fact that the king, whom I had found at Jüterbogk weary, depressed, and discouraged, had, even before we arrived at Berlin, developed a cheerful, I might almost say joyous and combative disposition, which was plainly evident to the ministers and officials who received him on his arrival.

1 , translated by A. J. Butler. 3 vols. Leipzig, 1899 Bernhard Tauchnitz.

2 Bismarck, , vol. i, pp. 74–77.

1 One of the French ministers held responsible for the policy which led to the deposition of Charles X and the revolution of July, 1830.

2 See page 5.

3 See page 233.


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Chicago: A. J. Butler, ed., "Blood and Iron," Reflections and Reminiscences in Readings in Modern European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1926), 322–324. Original Sources, accessed September 29, 2023,

MLA: . ""Blood and Iron"." Reflections and Reminiscences, edited by A. J. Butler, Vol. i, in Readings in Modern European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, D.C. Heath, 1926, pp. 322–324. Original Sources. 29 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: (ed.), '"Blood and Iron"' in Reflections and Reminiscences. cited in 1926, Readings in Modern European History, ed. , D.C. Heath, Boston, pp.322–324. Original Sources, retrieved 29 September 2023, from