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Treaty of Versailles (1871): Wikis

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The Treaty of Versailles of 1871 ended the Franco-Prussian War and was signed by Adolphe Thiers, of the French Third Republic, and Otto von Bismarck, of the German Empire on February 26, 1871. This was a preliminary treaty used to solidify the initial armistice of January 27, 1871 between the two states. It was later ratified by the Treaty of Frankfurt on May 10 of the same year. The 1871 Treaty of Versailles made the decline of France obvious to the rest of the continent, and at the same time demonstrated the strength of a unified German empire.

Paris's governing body, the Government of National Defense, initiated the armistice by surrendering to the Germans after the siege of Paris. Jules Favre, a prominent French politician, met with Otto von Bismarck in Versailles to sign the armistice to be put into effect January 28, 1871. Adolphe Theirs then emerged as the new French leader as the country began reconstructing its government.

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Disruption of the French Government

In the first few months of 1871, German forces experienced several great military successes against the struggling French government, including the capture of the current French emperor, Louis Napoleon of the French Second Empire, at the Battle of Sedan. This caused the collapse of Louis Napoleon's empire, which was replaced by the French Third Republic in 1870. The Government of National Defense served as an interim governing body before the Third Republic could hold elections, and received unfavorable responses from Parisians as it was unable to break the siege. Statesmen evacuated to establish offices in Bordeaux and Tours, which left French government officials unable to communicate, further upsetting the structure of the state and weakening the government.

German Unification

While the French government deteriorating, Otto Von Bismarck succeeded in achieving German Unification on January 18, 1871 creating the German Empire. King Wilhelm I of Prussia was declared Kaiser of the newly created empire in the Hall of Mirrors in the Versailles Palace. The new German command structure wanted to sign a peace treaty to gain France's colonial possessions; however, Bismark opted for an immediate truce as his primary reason for war, German unification, had already been accomplished, and he was concerned that further violence would render more German casualties and draw French resentment. He was also wary of drawing attention from other European nations, fearing that they might be moved to intervene if the new German state appeared power-hungry. Both sides were eager to sign a treaty by the beginning of February 1871.

Provisions of the treaty

The terms of the treaty included a war indemnity of five billion Francs to be paid by France to Germany. The German army would continue to occupy parts of France until the payment was complete. The treaty also recognized Wilhelm I as the Kaiser of the newly united German Empire. Preliminary discussion began on the cession of Alsace and the Moselle region of Lorraine, to Germany. These two regions were the final critical pieces to Bismarck's unified Germany, and their acquisition was one of his primary goals in the Franco-Prussian war. The annexable portion of Alsace-Lorraine was later reduced at the Treaty of Frankfurt, allowing France to retain the Territory of Belfort.

Further reading

  • Abrams, Lynn. Bismarck and the German Empire, 1871-1918. New York: Routledge, 1995.
  • Howard, Michael Eliot. The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France, 1870-1871. New York: Routledge, 2001.
  • Hozier, Henry Montague and Adams, William Henry Davenport. The Franco-Prussian War: Its Causes, Incidents, and Consequences. London: W. Mackenzie, 1872.
  • Wawro, Geoffrey. The Franco-Prussian War: the German conquest of France in 1870-1871. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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