As time went on the state of affairs between Prussia andAustria grew no better. The Emperor called together a Congress of German Princes, and Prussia would have nothing to do with it. The King of Prussia, on his side, proposed to call together an assembly, and Austria would have nothing to do with that. But Bismarck, who was fast becoming the greatest statesman in Germany, had no faith in any peaceful means. "It is not by talk that the great questions of the day must be decided," he said, "but by blood and iron." And so he became known as the Man of Blood and Iron. And he made up his mind to force a quarrel between the two great powers.
Austria and Prussia had joined in fighting Denmark for possession of Schleswig-Holstein and Lauenburg. And having defeated Denmark and won these duchies, they at once began to quarrel about what was to be done with them. Austria wanted one thing, Prussia another, and soon it became plain that the quarrel would end in war, and both sides began to prepare for it.
Many people looked upon this as little less than civil war, and they did their best to stop it. But nothing could stop it. It had to come. And although the quarrel over Schleswig-Holstein was given as the reason, it was not the real reason but only the excuse.
Ever since the days of Frederick the Great, jealousy had been going on between Prussia and Austria, and the question which was to be leader in the affairs of Germany had to be settled. Talk had been tried to no purpose; now, as Bismarck said, it was to be settled by blood and iron. Bismarck hurried Prussia into war. But he had little doubt how it would end. For Prussia was ready, her King was a soldier, and he had Von Moltke, one of the greatest generals the world has ever known, by his side.
Yet although Bismarck at this time hurried his country into war, he was not always for war. Later on he did his best to prevent a war. When he was asked why he had done so, he answered, "We thought of the terrible losses, and of the sorrow and misery it would bring to thousands of homes. You stare at me! Do you think that I have no heart? Believe me, I have one which beats just like your own. War will always be war. There will always be the horror of desolated lands, the cries of the widow and the orphan. It is so terrible that I for one would never turn to it but as a last necessity."
This "brothers' war" began in June, and on July 3 the great battle of Königgratz, or Sadowa, as it is someimes called, was fought. Here the greatest hosts that had ever faced each other on any modern battlefield were met together. The Prussian army was commanded by Prince Frederick Charles, the King's brother, but the King himself was there also. At seven o'clock the fight began, and for hours it raged fiercely, neither side gaining any advantage.
But the loss was terrible. Anxiously the Prince looked and listened for sight or sound of the second army under the Crown Prince Frederick which was marching to his aid. He waited and watched even as fifty-one years before Wellington had waited and watched for Blücher. Would he come in time? the Prince wondered. At last Frederick came, and with his coming the doubtful battle was turned into a victory.
The Austrians fled, the Prussians in hot pursuit. The King himself led the cavalry, and as he rode along he was greeted with thunderous shouts of applause. Officers pressed round him to kiss his hands while cannon roared, and muskets cracked and crashed about them. But the King seemed to have a charmed life, and he rode along, thanking and cheering his men, heedless of danger.
After the battle of Königgratz the Prussians were everywhere successful, and soon Austria asked for peace. On August 23 the Peace of Prague was signed, and the Seven Weeks' War was at an end. Never has so short a war had such great results, for by the Peace of Prague, Austria was parted from Germany for ever, and Prussia became the undisputed head of the German Confederation.
Now at length a united Germany was not far off. The South German states, indeed, still remained independent, but the northern states all joined together into the North German Confederation acknowledging Prussia as their head. A few months later the first Parliament of the North German Confederation met at Berlin, and began to form a constitution.
The friends of union rejoiced greatly, but they were not yet satisfied. They could not be satisfied until all South Germany had joined the Confederation, and they worked hard to bring this about.