Otto von Bismarck

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Politics is not an exact science... but an art.

Prince Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg (1 April 181530 July 1898), was a German aristocrat and statesman; he was Minister President of Prussia (1862–1890), and the first Chancellor of Germany (1871–1890). Nicknamed the Iron Chancellor, he is noted for his laconic remarks.



  • I am of opinion that the idea of the Christian State is as old as the ci-devant Holy Roman Empire, as old as all the European States, that it is the soil in which these States have taken root, and that a State, if it would have an assured permanence, if it would only justify its existence, when it is disputed, must stand on a religious foundation. ... I believe I am right in calling that State a Christian State which seeks to realise the teaching of Christianity.
    • Speech to the Prussian United Diet (15 June 1847), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), pp. 23–24
  • I grant that I am full of prejudices; I sucked them in with my mother's milk, and I cannot possibly argue them away.
    • Speech to the Prussian United Diet (15 June 1847), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), p. 27
  • The social insecurity of the worker is the real cause of their being a peril to the state.
    • Speech to the Landtag (18 October 1849), quoted in Henry E. Sigerist, 'From Bismarck to Beveridge: Developments and Trends in Social Security Legislation', Journal of Public Health Policy, Vol. 20, No. 4 (1999), p. 484


A conquering army on the border will not be stopped by eloquence.
Politics is the art of the possible.
Preventive war is like committing suicide for fear of death.
The truth is that with a gentleman I am always a gentleman and a half, and when I have to do with a pirate, I try to be a pirate and a half.
Your map of Africa is really quite nice. But my map of Africa lies in Europe. Here is Russia, and here... is France, and we're in the middle — that's my map of Africa.
  • Haut doch die Polen, daß sie am Leben verzagen; ich habe alles Mitgefühl für ihre Lage, aber wir können, wenn wir bestehn wollen, nichts andres tun, als sie ausrotten; der Wolf kann auch nicht dafür, daß er von Gott geschaffen ist, wie er ist, und man schießt ihn doch dafür totd, wenn man kann.
  • I shall soon be compelled to undertake the conduct of the Prussian Government. My first care will be to reorganise the army, with or without the help of the Landtag. ... As soon as the army shall have been brought into such a condition as to inspire respect, I shall seize the first best pretext to declare war against Austria, dissolve the German Diet, subdue the minor States, and give national unity to Germany under Prussian leadership. I have come here to say this to the Queen's Ministers.
    • Remarks to Benjamin Disraeli (1862), quoted in William Flavelle Monypenny and George Earle Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield. Volume II: 1860–1881 (1929), p. 75
Not by speeches and votes of the majority, are the great questions of the time decided … but by iron and blood.
  • Nicht durch Reden und Majoritätsbeschlüsse werden die großen Fragen der Zeit entschieden — daß ist der große Fehler von 1848 und 1849 gewesen — sondern durch Eisen und Blut.
    • Not by speeches and votes of the majority are the great questions of the time decided — that was the error of 1848 and 1849 — but by iron and blood.
  • Variant translations :
It is not by speeches and majority vote that the great questions of our time will be decided — as that was error of 1848 and 1849 — but rather by iron and blood.
The great questions of the time are not decided by speeches and majority decisions — that was the error of 1848 and 1849 — but by iron and blood.
The great issues of the day are not decided through speeches and majority resolutions — that was the great error of 1848 and 1849 — but through blood and iron.
The great questions of the day will not be decided by speeches and the resolutions of majorities — that was the great mistake from 1848 to 1849 — but by blood and iron.
The great questions of the day will not be settled by means of speeches and majority decisions … but by iron and blood.
Auswärtige Conflicte zu suchen, um über innere Schwierigkeiten hinwegzukommen, dagegen müsse er sich verwahren; das würde frivol sein; er wolle nicht Händel suchen ; er spreche von Conflicten, denen wir nicht entgehen würden, ohne daß wir sie suchten.
I must protest that I would never seek foreign conflicts just to go over domestic difficulties; that would be frivolous. I was speaking of conflicts that we could not avoid, even though we do not seek them.
  • Die Reden des Ministerpräsidenten von Bismarck-Schönhausen im Preußischen Landtage 1862-1865 (1903) edited by Horst Kohl, p. 31
  • Die Politik ist keine exakte Wissenschaft.
    • Politics is not an exact science.
    • Speech to Prussian upper house (18 December 1863)
    • Variant: Die Politik ist keine Wissenschaft, wie viele der Herren Proffessoren sich einbilden, sondern eine Kunst.
      • Politics is not a science, as the professors are apt to suppose. It is an art.
        • Expression in the Reichstag (1884), as quoted in The Quote Verifier : Who Said What, Where, and When (2006) by Ralph Keyes
  • I ask you what right had I to close the way to the throne against these people? The kings of Prussia have never been by preference kings of the rich. Frederick the Great said when Crown Prince: “Quand je serai roi, je serai un vrai roi des gueux.” He undertook to be the protector of the poor, and this principle has been followed by our later kings. At their throne suffering has always found a refuge and a hearing. ... Our kings have secured the emancipation of the serfs, they have created a thriving peasantry, and they may possibly be successful—the earnest endeavour exists, at any rate—in improving the condition of the working classes somewhat. To have refused access to the throne to the complaints of these operatives would not have been the right course to pursue, and it was, moreover, not my business to do it. The question would afterwards have been asked: “How rich must a deputation be in order to its reception by the King?”
    • Speech to the Prussian United Diet in answer to the petition of Wüstegiersdorf weavers (1865), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), p. 31
  • Faust complains of having two souls in his breast. I have a whole squabbling crowd. It goes on as in a republic.
  • Faust klagt über die zwei Seelen in seiner Brust; ich beherberge aber eine ganze Menge, die sich zanken. Es geht da zu wie in einer Republik... Das meiste, was sie sagen, teile ich mit. Es sind da aber auch ganze Provinzen, in die ich nie einen andern Menschen werde hineinsehen lassen.
  • Bismarck traveling in an open carriage through the green valley of Hofgastein to Salzburg with Vortragender Rat Robert von Keudell and Geheimrat Heinrich Abeken on 18 August 1865 after the Gastein Convention had been signed on 14 August 1865 (as reported by Keudell). Bismarck: Die gesammelten Werke, Band 7 Gespräche, 1924, p. 101
  • Only a country's most vital interests justify its embarking on war. ... Aye, I made the war of 1866, fulfilling my harsh duty with a heavy heart, because without it the nation would have bogged down politically, soon to fall prey to avaricious neighbors; and if we stood in the same place where then we stood, I should resolutely make war again. Never, you may be sure, shall I counsel His Majesty to wage war unless the innermost interests of the fatherland request it.
    • Speech during the Luxembourg Crisis (1867), quoted in Gerhard Ritter, The Sword and the Sceptre: The Problem of Militarism in Germany, Volume I: The Prussian Tradition, 1740–1890 (1972), p. 244
  • Mein lieber Professor, ein solcher Krieg hätte uns wenigstens 30,000 Mann brave Soldaten gekostet, und uns im besten Falle keinen Gewinn gebracht. Wer aber nur ein Mal in das brechende Auge eines sterbenden Kriegers auf dem Schlachtfeld geblickt hat, der besinnt sich, bevor er einen Krieg anfängt.
    • My dear Professor, a war would have cost us at least 30,000 brave soldiers, and at best we should have gained nothing by it. Besides, anyone who has once looked into the glassy eyes of a dying warrior on the battle-field would think twice before beginning a war.
  • Die Politik ist die Lehre vom Möglichen.
  • A conquering army on the border will not be stopped by eloquence.
    • Speech to North German Reichstag (24 September 1867)
  • Setzen wir Deutschland, so zu sagen, in den Sattel! Reiten wird es schon können.
    • Let us lift Germany, so to speak, into the saddle. Surely when that is achieved, it will succeed at riding as well.
    • Speech to Parliament of Confederation (1867)
  • Wer den Daumen auf dem Beutel hat, der hat die Macht.
    • He who has his thumb on the purse has the power.
    • Speech to North German Reichstag (21 May 1869), Stenographische Berichte p. 1017 (left)


  • Seien Sie außer Sorge, nach Kanossa gehen wir nicht, weder körperlich noch geistig.
    • Be assured, we shall not go to Canossa, either bodily or spiritually.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (14 May 1872), Ausgewählte Reden des Fürsten von Bismarck: p. 176, referring to the controversy over the Imperial envoy to the Holy See, Prince Hohenlohe, who had been rejected by Pope Pius IX, which marked the beginning of the Prussian Kulturkampf. The expression highlighted an era of political struggle between the Catholic Church and various secular governments, especially severe throughout the 1870s.
  • Preventive war is like committing suicide for fear of death.
    • Quoted as a remark of Bismark without quotation marks, in Thinking About the Unthinkable in the 1980s (1984) by Herman Kahn, p. 136, a paraphrase of what Bismarck told the Reichstag on Feb. 9, 1876. Referring to March 1875, when the French National Assembly had decided to strengthen their army by 144,000 additional troops, Bismarck asked the deputies to imagine he had told them a year ago that one had to wage war without having been attacked or humiliated: „Würden Sie da nicht sehr geneigt gewesen sein, zunächst nach dem Arzte zu schicken (Heiterkeit), um untersuchen zu lassen, wie ich dazu käme, dass ich nach meiner langen politischen Erfahrung die kolossale Dummheit begehen könnte, so vor Sie zu treten und zu sagen: Es ist möglich, dass wir in einigen Jahren einmal angegriffen werden, damit wir dem nun zuvorkommen, fallen wir rasch über unsere Nachbarn her und hauen sie zusammen, ehe sie sich vollständig erholen – gewissermaßen Selbstmord aus Besorgniß vor dem Tode" (Would you not have been inclined very much to send for a physician in the first place and let him find out, how I with my long experience in politics could commit the colossal stupidity of [...] telling you: It is possible that in some years we might be attacked; to pre-empt that, let us overrun our neighbors and smash them before they have fully recovered [from the war of 1870/71] - in a way [commit] suicide from fear of death) 1875/76,2 p. 1329-30
  • They treat me like a fox, a cunning fellow (Schlaukopf) of the first rank. But the truth is that with a gentleman I am always a gentleman and a half, and when I have to do with a pirate, I try to be a pirate and a half.
    • Talking to Gyula Andrássy in Salzburg on 18 September 1877. As quoted in Disraeli, Gladstone, and the Eastern Question. A Study in Diplomacy and Party Politics (1935) by Robert William Seton-Watson, p. 224; "Schlaukopf" is translated elsewhere as "clever dick" or "smart aleck."
    • With deal (instead of do) with a pirate, in Prime Minister Gyula Andrássy's influence on Habsburg foreign policy during the Franco-German War of 1870-1871 (1979) by János Decsy, p. 21
  • „Man behandelt mich wie einen Fuchs, wie einen Schlaukopf erster Klasse. Die Wahrheit aber ist, qu'avec un gentleman je suis toujours gentleman et demi, et que quand j'ai affaire à un corsaire, je tâche d'etre corsaire et demi"
Eduard von Wertheimer: Graf Julius Andrássy. Sein Leben und seine Zeit. Vol. III. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt Stuttgart 1914 pp. 42-43
  • I will further every endeavour which positively aims at improving the condition of the working classes. ... As soon as a positive proposal came from the Socialists for fashioning the future in a sensible way, in order that the lot of the working-man might be improved, I would not at any rate refuse to examine it favourably, and I would not even shrink from the idea of State help for the people who would help themselves.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (9 October 1878), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), p. 45
  • I leave undecided the question whether complete mutual freedom of international commerce, such as is contemplated by the theory of Free Trade, would not serve the interests of Germany. But as long as most of the countries with which our trade is carried on surround themselves with customs does not seem to me justifiable, or to the economic interest of the nation, that we should allow ourselves to be restricted in the satisfaction of our financial wants by the apprehension that German products will thereby be slightly preferred to foreign ones. ... The minority of the population, which does not produce at all, but exclusively consumes, will apparently be injured by a customs system favouring the entire national production. Yet if by means of such a system the aggregate sum of the values produced in the country increase, and thus the national wealth be on the whole enhanced, the non-producing parts of the population...will eventually be benefited.
    • Letter to the Bundesrath committee on tariff revision (15 December 1878), quoted in Percy Ashley, Modern Tariff History: Germany–United States–France [1904] (1970), pp. 45–46
  • In all these questions [of economics] I pay as little regard to science as I do in any other judgment of organic institutions. Our surgery has made splendid progress during the last two thousand years; but medical science has made no progress in regard to the internal conditions of the body, into which the human eye cannot see, and here we stand face to face with the same riddles as before. So it is with the organic formation of States. In this respect the abstract doctrines of science do not influence me: I judge according to the experience which we have. I see that the countries which protect themselves prosper, that the countries which are open are declining, and that great and powerful England, that strong combatant, who, after strengthening her muscles, entered the market and said: “Who will contest with me? I am ready for any one,” is gradually going back to protective duties, and will in a few years adopt them so far as is necessary to preserving at least the English market.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (2 May 1879), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), p. 27
  • Let us close our doors and erect somewhat higher barriers and let us thus take care to preserve at least the German market to German industry. The chances of a large export trade are nowadays exceedingly precarious. There are now no more great countries to discover. The globe is circumnavigated, and we can no longer find any large purchasing nations. Commercial treaties, it is true, are under certain circumstances favourable to foreign trade; but whenever a treaty is concluded, it is a question of Qui trompe-t-on ici?—who is taken in? As a rule one of the parties is, but only after a number of years is it known which one.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (2 May 1879), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), p. 52
  • Der alte Jude, das ist der Mann.
    • The old Jew, he is the man.
    • A conversation in 1879 on who was the centre of gravity at the Congress of Berlin, referring to Benjamin Disraeli, as quoted in Seven Great Statesmen in the Warfare of Humanity with Unreason (1912) by Andrew Dickson White, p. 482


  • For me there has been but one compass, one pole-star, after which I have steered: Salus publica. Since I entered public life I have often, perhaps, acted rashly and imprudently. But when I have had time for reflection I have always been guided by the question,—what is most beneficial, most expedient, and proper for my dynasty so long as I was only in Prussia, and nowadays for the German nation? I have never in my life been doctrinaire. All systems by which parties are divided and bound together are of secondary moment to me. My first thought is of the nation, its position abroad, its independence, our organisation in such a way that we may breathe freely in the world.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (24 February 1881), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), p. 25
  • In the development of our tariff I am determined to oppose any modification in the direction of Free Trade, and to use my influence in favour of greater protection and of a higher revenue from frontier duties.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (28 March 1881), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), p. 54
  • I should like to see the State, which for the most part consists of Christians—although you reject the name Christian State—penetrated to some extent by the principles of the religion it professes; especially as concerns the help one gives to his neighbour, and sympathy with the lot of old and suffering people.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (2 April 1881), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), p. 24
  • I do not comprehend with what right we acknowledge the commands of Christianity as binding upon our private dealings, and yet in the most important sphere of our duty—participation in the legislation of a country having a population of forty-five million people—push them into the background and say, here we need not trouble. For my part I confess openly that my belief in the consequence of our revealed religion, in the form of moral law, is sufficient for me, and certainly for the position taken up on this question by the Emperor, and that the question of the Christian or non-Christian State has nothing to do with the matter. I, the minister of the State, am a Christian, and as such I am determined to act as I believe I am justified before God.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (9 January 1882), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), p. 24
  • Many measures which we have adopted to the great blessing of the country are Socialistic, and the State will have to accustom itself to a little more Socialism yet. ... I am glad that this Socialism was adopted, for we have as a consequence secured a free and very well-to-do peasantry, and I hope that we shall in time do something of the sort for the labouring classes. ... The establishment of the freedom of the peasantry was Socialistic; Socialistic, too, is every expropriation in favour of railways; Socialistic to the utmost extent is the aggregation of estates—the law exists in many provinces—taking from one and giving to another, simply because this other can cultivate the land more conveniently; Socialistic is expropriation under the Water Legislation, on account of irrigation, etc., where a man's land is taken away from him because another can farm it better; Socialistic is our entire poor relief, compulsory school attendance, compulsory construction of roads, so that I am bound to maintain a road upon my lands for travellers. That is all Socialistic, and I could extend the register further; but if you believe that you can frighten any one or call up spectres with the word “Socialism,” you take a standpoint which I abandoned long ago, and the abandonment of which is absolutely necessary for our entire imperial legislation.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (1882), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), pp. 63–64
  • I am not antagonistic to the rightful claims of capital; I am far from wanting to flourish a hostile flag; but I am of opinion that the masses, too, have rights which should be considered.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (14 June 1882), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), p. 32
  • The whole matter centres in the question, Is it the duty of the State, or is it not, to provide for its helpless citizens? I maintain that it is its duty, that it is the duty not only of the “Christian State,” as I ventured once to call it when speaking of “practical Christianity,” but of every State. It would be foolish for a corporation to undertake matters which the individual can attend to alone; and similarly the purposes which the parish can fulfil with justice and with advantage are left to the parish. But there are purposes which only the State as a whole can fulfil. To these belong national defence, the general system of communications, and, indeed, everything spoken of in article 4 of the constitution. To these, too, belong the help of the necessitous and the removal of those just complaints which provide Social Democracy with really effective material for agitation. This is a duty of the State, a duty which the State cannot permanently disregard.
    • Speech to the Reichstag on the Accident Insurance Bill (15 March 1884), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), p. 118
  • If an establishment employing twenty thousand or more workpeople were to be ruined...we could not allow these men to hunger. We should have to resort to real State Socialism and find work for them, and this is what we do in every case of distress. If the objection were right that we should shun State Socialism as we would an infectious disease, how do we come to organise works in one province and another in case of distress—works which we should not undertake if the labourers had employment and wages? In such cases we build railways whose profitableness is questionable; we carry out improvements which otherwise would be left to private initiative. If that is Communism, I have no objection at all to it; though with such catchwords we really get no further.
    • Speech to the Reichstag on the Accident Insurance Bill (May 1884), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), p. 119
  • Give the working-man the right to work as long as he is healthy, assure him care when he is sick; assure him maintenance when he is old. If you do that, and do not fear the sacrifice, or cry out at State Socialism directly the words “provision for old age” are uttered,—if the State will show a little more Christian solicitude for the working-man, then I believe that the gentlemen of the Wyden (Social-Democratic) programme will sound their bird-call in vain, and that the thronging to them will cease as soon as working-men see that the Government and legislative bodies are earnestly concerned for their welfare.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (9 May 1884), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), pp. 34–35
  • Peasants and large landed proprietors recognise more and more that they form one and the same class, the class of land-owners, and follow one and the same industry of agriculture. ... The land-owners are, on the whole, a support of the monarchy, and their entire disposition is favourable to the existing Government; and you try to sow discord amongst them because you are displeased that the unification is proceeding gradually and unceasingly. This is the salutary effect of legislation which at first was painfully felt by many of the privileged class: the abolition of all the legal and axiomatic prerogatives of the greatest land proprietors, and especially of the earlier knighthood. We larger land-owners are in our industry to-day nothing more than the largest peasants, and the peasant is nothing more than the smaller land-owner. Indeed, most peasants call themselves land-owners, while some call themselves husbandmen and others countrymen.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (16 February 1885), quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), pp. 33–34
  • Wir Deutsche fürchten Gott, aber sonst nichts in der Welt - und die Gottesfurcht ist es schon, die uns den Frieden lieben und pflegen lässt.
    • We Germans fear God, but nothing else in the world; and it is the fear of God, which lets us love and foster peace.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (6 February 1888) 1887/88,2 p. 733 (D)
  • Your map of Africa is really quite nice. But my map of Africa lies in Europe. Here is Russia, and here... is France, and we're in the middle — that's my map of Africa.
„Ihre Karte von Afrika ist ja sehr schön, aber meine Karte von Afrika liegt in Europa. Hier liegt Rußland, und hier" - nach links deutend - "liegt Frankreich, und wir sind in der Mitte; das ist meine Karte von Afrika."
Eugen Wolf: Vom Fürsten Bismarck und seinem Haus. Tagebuchblätter. 2nd edition Berlin 1904, p. 16


  • The German who is still free from all Slav or Celtic alloy has a distinctive character and vies with all his equals. When he is allied with other races, provided he has the necessary patience and endurance he always succeeds in becoming, the chief, the directing will, as the husband must be in a household. I have no desire to offend the Slavs, but it is very necessary to recognise that their character has much of the feminine in it: they have charm, intelligence, artifice, address, and often the Germans appear heavy and clumsy beside them. But we always carry the day, and that is why I would like to say to you: when you are doing business with your Slav rivals, even at moments of the most violent anger and in the most critical situations, always retain the profound conviction, the most profound but secret conviction, that you are fundamentally their superiors, and that you always will be so.
    • Speech to a Deputation from Styria (15 April 1895), quoted in W. W. Coole (ed.), Thus Spake Germany (1941), p. 104

Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman[edit]

Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman, Being the Reflections and Reminiscences of Otto Prince von Bismarck, Written and Dictated by Himself After His Retirement from Office (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1898).
  • The interests of the state alone have guided me, and it has been a calumny when publicists, even well-meaning, have accused me of having ever advocated an aristocratic system. I have never regarded birth as a substitute for want of ability; whenever I have come forward on behalf of landed property, it has not been in the interests of proprietors of my own class, but because I see in the decline of agriculture one of the greatest dangers to our permanence as a state. The ideal that has always floated before me has been a monarchy which should be so far controlled by an independent national representation—according to my notion, representing classes or callings—that monarch or parliament would not be able to alter the existing statutory position before the law separately but only communi consensu; with publicity, and public criticism, by press and Diet, of all political proceedings.
    • Volume I, pp. 17–18
  • I received the first intelligence of the events of March 18 and 19, 1848, while staying with my neighbour, Count Wartensleben, at Karow. ... I thought the King would soon be master of the situation if only he were free; I saw that the first thing to be done was to liberate him, as he was said to be in the power of the insurgents. On the 20th I was told by the peasants at Schönhausen that a deputation had arrived from Tangermünde with a demand that the black, red, and gold flag should be hoisted on the tower, as had already been done in the above-named town; threatening, in case of refusal, to visit us again with reinforcements. I asked the peasants if they were willing to defend themselves. They replied with a unanimous and brisk “Yes,” and I advised them to drive the townspeople out of the village; which was attended to, the women zealously co-operating. I then had a white banner with a black cross in the shape of the Iron Cross, which happened to be in the church, hoisted on the tower, and ascertained what supply of weapons and ammunition was available in the village.
    • Volume I, p. 22
  • I went the round of the villages and found the peasants already eager to march to the help of the King in Berlin. Especially enthusiastic was an old dyke-surveyor named Krause of Neuermark, who had been a sergeant in my father's regiment of carabineers. Only my next-door neighbour sympathised with the Berlin movement, accused me of hurling a firebrand into the country, and declared that if the peasants really prepared to march off, he would come forward and dissuade them. I replied, “You know that I am a quiet man, but if you do that I shall shoot you.” “I am sure you won't,” said he. “I give you my word of honour that I will,” I replied, “and you know that I keep my word: so drop that.”
    • Volume I, p. 23
  • I immediately went quite alone to Potsdam, where, in the railway station, I saw Herr von Bodelschwingh. ... It was plain that he had no desire to be seen in conversation with me, the reactionary. He returned my greeting in French, with the words, “Do not speak to me.” “The peasants are rising in our part,” I replied. “For the King?” “Yes.” “That rope-dancer!” said he, pressing his hands to his eyes while the tears stood in them. ... I [then] visited in the ‘Deutsches Haus’ General von Mollendorf, whom I found still stiff from the treatment he had suffered when negotiating with the insurgents, and General von Prittwitz, who had been in command in Berlin. I described to them the present temper of the country people. ... Prittwitz, who was older than I, and judged more calmly, said: “Send us none of your peasants, we don't want them. We have quite enough soldiers. Either send us potatoes and corn, perhaps money too, for I do not know whether the maintenance and pay of the troops will be sufficiently provided for. If auxiliaries came up I should receive, and should have to carry out, an order from Berlin to drive them back.” “Then fetch the King away,” I said. He replied: “There will be no great difficulty about that; I am strong enough to take Berlin, but that means more fighting. What can we do after the King has commanded us to play the part of the vanquished? I cannot attack without orders.”
    • Volume I, pp. 23–24
  • It was not then possible to forecast with certainty whether and how long the Czar's friendship would remain a realisable political asset. In any case, however, simple common sense enjoined us not to let it fall into the possession of our enemies, whom we might discern in the Poles, the philo-Polish Russians, and, ultimately, probably in the French.
    • Volume I, pp. 338–339
  • An agreement between Russia and the German foe of Pan-Slavism for joint action, military and political, against the Polish ‘Bruderstamm’ movement was a decisive blow to the views of the philo-Polish party at the Russian court. ... The convention said ‘checkmate’ in the game which anti-Polish monarchism was then playing against philo-Polish Panslavism within the Russian cabinet.
    • Volume I, pp. 342–343
  • Even in 1864 it certainly cost us much trouble to loosen the threads by which the King, with the co-operation of the Liberalising influence of his consort, remained attached to that camp. Without having investigated the complicated legal questions of the succession, he stuck to his motto: “I have no right to Holstein.” ... At that time, however, the acquisition of the duchies by Prussia was regarded as an act of profligacy by all those who, since 1848, had set up to play the part of representatives of national views. My respect for so-called public opinion—or, in other words, the clamour of orators and newspapers—has never been very great, but was still further materially lowered as regards foreign policy in the two cases compared above. How strangely, up to this time, the King's way of looking at things was impregnated with vagabond Liberalism through the influence of his consort and of the pushing Bethmann-Hollweg clique.
    • Volume II, pp. 12–14
  • A decision, memorable in the world's history, of the secular struggle between the two neighbouring peoples [France and Germany] was at stake [in 1870], and in danger of being ruined, through personal and predominantly female influences with no historical justification, influences which owed their efficacy, not to political considerations but to feelings which the terms humanity and civilisation, imported to us from England, still rouse in German natures. ... [I]f the conclusion of the French war had been a little less favourable to Germany, then would this mighty war, with its victories and its enthusiasm, have remained without the effect it produced on our national unification. I never doubted that the victory over France must precede the restoration of the German kingdom, and if we did not succeed in bringing it this time to a perfect conclusion, further wars without the preliminary security of our perfect unification were full in view.
    • Volume II, p. 120


A statesman cannot create anything himself. He must wait and listen until he hears the steps of God sounding through events; then leap up and grasp the hem of his garment.
  • Austria was no more in the wrong in opposing our claims than we were in making them.
    • As quoted in A. J. P. Taylor, Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman (1955), p. 87
  • A statesman cannot create anything himself. He must wait and listen until he hears the steps of God sounding through events; then leap up and grasp the hem of His garment.
    • As quoted in A. J. P. Taylor, Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman (1955), p. 115
  • I have always found the word Europe on the lips of those politicians who wanted something from other Powers which they dared not demand in their own names.
    • As quoted in A. J. P. Taylor, Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman (1955), p. 167
  • Struggle is everywhere, without struggle no life, and if we want to go on living, we must be ready for further struggles.
    • As quoted in A. J. P. Taylor, Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman (1955), p. 203
  • I have never judged international disputes by the standards which prevail at a student's duel.
    • As quoted in A. J. P. Taylor, Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman (1955), p. 228
  • In the domain of political economy the abstract doctrines of science leave me perfectly cold, my only standard of judgment being experience.
    • As quoted in W. H. Dawson, Bismarck and State Socialism: An Exposition of the Social and Economic Legislation of Germany since 1870 (1891), p. 54
  • If we really came to a position in which we could no longer produce the grain which we must necessarily consume, then in what state would we be if in wartime we had no Russian grain imports and perhaps simultaneously were blockaded along our coasts – in other words, if we had no grain at all?
    • Speech to the Reichstag advocating protective tariffs, quoted in Paul Kennedy, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860–1914 (1980), p. 51
  • Concerning the blunders which had been made in our foreign policy public opinion is, as a rule, first enlightened when it is in a position to look back upon the history of a generation, and the Achivi qui plectuntur are not always immediately contemporary with the mistaken actions.
  • The Kaiser vs. Bismarck. Suppressed Letters by the Kaiser and New Chapters from the Autobiography of the Iron Chancellor. Translated by Bernard Miall. Harper New York & London 1921, p. 183 Achivi qui plectuntur refers to the proverbial verse "Quidquid delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi" from Horace's Epistles Liber I Epistula II la.wikisource: Whatever their kings are raging the Achaeans have to pay for.
Ueber die Fehler, welche in der auswärtigen Politik begangen wurden, wird sich die öffentliche Meinung in der Regel erst klar, wenn sie auf die Geschichte eines Menschenalters zurückzublicken im Stande ist, und die Achivi qui plectuntur sind nicht immer die unmittelbaren Zeitgenossen der fehlerhaften Handlungen.


  • Who is master of Bohemia is master of Europe.
    • Reported as frequently quoted but unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989), which states, "it cannot be found in the official writings and pronouncements of Bismarck. It is possible that he said it, and it was passed on orally rather than being recorded, or that he expressed the sentiment in other terms and the idea took this form as others tried to quote him".
  • Crowned heads, wealth and privilege may well tremble should ever again the Black and Red unite!
    • Frequently quoted in online leftist circles. Refers to the split of the First Internationale (between anarchists and socialists). The earliest mention is on page 95 of American radicalism, 1865-1901, essays and documents (1946) by Chester McArthur Destler, but as of now the German original could not be found.
    • In German political parlance, "black" more often referred to Catholic interests than to anarchism; it is possible that if Bismarck did say this, it referred rather to a union between the Catholic Center and the Socialist "reds" against the German nationalist/Protestant "blues."
  • Europe today is a powder keg and the leaders are like men smoking in an arsenal … A single spark will set off an explosion that will consume us all … I cannot tell you when that explosion will occur, but I can tell you where … Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans will set it off.
    • No record of this quotation appears to exist in German.
    • In The World Crisis, Vol I: 1911-1914 (originally published in 1923), Winston Churchill asserted that during the July Crisis, German shipping magnate and diplomat Albert Ballin told him that Bismarck had said to him, "that one day the great European War would come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans" a year before his death.
    • The full quote above appears in "European Diary" by Andrei Navrozov, in Chronicles Vol. 32 (2008) as a comment during the Congress of Berlin in 1878. "European Diary" is a series of excerpts from Navrozov's unpublished (as of 2017) novel in English, Earthly Love: A Day in the Life of a Hypocrite.


  • There is a special providence for drunkards, fools, and the United States of America.
    • This saying appears as early as 1849 in the form "the special providence over the United States and little children", attributed to Abbé Correa. There is no good evidence that Bismarck ever repeated it. See talk page for more details.
  • Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made (Gesetze sind wie Würste, man sollte besser nicht dabei sein, wenn sie gemacht werden).
    • Though similar remarks are often attributed to Bismarck, this is the earliest known quote regarding laws and sausages, and is attributed to John Godfrey Saxe University Chronicle. University of Michigan (27 March 1869) and "Quote... Misquote" by Fred R. Shapiro in The New York Times (21 July 2008); according to Shapiro's research, such remarks only began to be attributed to Bismarck in the 1930s.
    • Variants often attributed to Bismarck:
      • If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.
      • Laws are like sausages — it is best not to see them being made.
      • Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made.
      • Laws are like sausages. You should never see them made.
      • Laws are like sausages. You should never watch them being made.
      • Law and sausage are two things you do not want to see being made.
      • No one should see how laws or sausages are made.
      • To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.
      • The making of laws like the making of sausages, is not a pretty sight.
      • Je weniger die Leute darüber wissen, wie Würste und Gesetze gemacht werden, desto besser schlafen sie nachts.
        • The less the people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they'll sleep at night.
          • No citation exists for where this German phrase or this translation originated.
  • At no time there is more lying than before the elections, during the war and after the hunt. (Original: "Es wird niemals so viel gelogen wie vor der Wahl, während des Krieges und nach der Jagd.")
    • The earliest attestation is: A representative of the "Löwe faction" also aptly remarked: "There is never more lying than before the elections, during the war and after the hunt.", in: Im neuen Reich. Wochenschrift für das Leben des deutschen Volkes in Staat, Wissenschaft und Kunst. Volume 9 (1879), 1st semivolume, p. 199
    • The witticism was first attributed to Bismarck in printed form, as far as it is clear, in Zeitschrift für Bekämpfung der Geschlechtskrankheiten. Im Auftrage der Deutschen Gesellschaft zur Bekämpfung der Geschlechtskrankheiten. Volume 2 (1904) p. 283 "[...] when Bismarck would have repeated his well-known word about the instances in which the most lying occurs, out of the three mentioned by him (before an election, during a war, after a hunt), he would certainly have to put pelvic inflammatory disease in women first."
    • Before this, it always went without naming an author as a "witticism" in 1895, as "the proverbial answer to the question when the most lying occurs" in 1897, as "an old story" in 1898 and as "what one usually says" in 1901. Die Neue Zeit - Wochenschrift der deutschen Sozialdemokratie even spoke of a "self-admission" of Bismarck in 1906; however, the fellow social democratic magazine Das freie Wort attributed it to an unnamed representative of the Zentrumspartei in that same year.
  • I am firmly convinced that Spain is the strongest country of the world. Century after century trying to destroy herself and still no success
    • A Spanish politician in a political meeting said it for the first time and attributed to Bismarck [1]

Quotes about Bismarck[edit]

When asked what was the greatest political fact of modern times, Bismarck is reported to have responded, that it was "the inherited and permanent fact that North America speaks English." ~ George Beer
  • He trusted to the levelling effect of time and to the pressure exercised by the process of evolution, the steady action of which appeared more effective than an attempt to break the resistance which the individual states offered at the moment. By this policy he showed his great ability in the art of statesmanship. And, as a matter of fact, the sovereignty of the Reich has continually increased at the cost of the sovereignty of the individual states.
  • The era of Bismarck (1861-90) saw the Concert of Europe at its best. In two decades immediately following Germany's rise to the status of a Great Power, she was the chief beneficiary of the peace interest. She had forced her way into the front ranks at the cost of Austria and France; it was to her advantage to maintain the status quo and to prevent a war which could be only a war of revenge against herself. Bismarck deliberately fostered the notion of peace as a common venture of the Powers, and avoided commitments which might force Germany out of the position of a peace Power. He opposed expansionist ambitions in the Balkans or overseas; he used the free trade weapon consistently against Austria, and even against France; he thwarted Russia's and Austria's Balkan ambitions with the help of the balance-of-power game, thus keeping in with potential allies and averting situations which might involve Germany in war. The scheming aggressor of 1863-70 turned into the honest broker of 1878, and the deprecator of colonial adventures. He consciously took the lead in what he felt to be the peaceful trend of the time in order to serve Germany's national interests.
    • Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (1944), Ch. 1 : The Hundred Years' Peace
  • Let us celebrate Bismarck's memory by making the great idea of his life, devotion to the Fatherland, the guiding star of our own lives. Each of us in the place where he can do his best work. Each of us is responsible for helping the country rise again to that greatness for which Bismarck, who also knew an Olmuetz, prepared the way.
    • Gustav Stresemann, speech on Bismarck's birthday (1 April 1928), quoted in W. M. Knight-Patterson, Germany from Defeat to Conquest 1913-1933 (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1945), p. 417
  • It's hard to be emperor under such a chancellor.
    • Kaiser Wilhelm: Die Wendung, die derselbe einmal einem Vertrauten gegenüber gebraucht haben soll: „Es ist nicht leicht, unter einem solchen Kanzler Kaiser zu sein", klingt glaubhaft. - Ludwig Bamberger: Bismarck postumus. 1899. S. 8

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