Frankfurt, Treaty of

Frankfurt, Treaty of
   The diplomatic settlement concluding the Franco-Prussian War. The war was effectively over after the German victory at Sedan in September 1870. With the fall of the empire, however, Napoleon III (see Bonaparte, Louis Napoleon ) left the Germans with no recognized government with which to negotiate terms of surrender. It took the protracted siege of Paris to convince the provisional government that the cause was lost and to agree to an armistice in late January 1871. Elections held across France in early February led to a victory of the pro-peace factions. Louis Adolfe Thiers was chosen to head the new government and to serve as chief negotiator. The preliminary negotiations were held in Versailles, February 21–26, with the final treaty signed at Frankfurt on May 10.
   The chief goal of the German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, was to leave France too weakened to wage a war of revenge in the foreseeable future. He pursued two means to achieve this: territory from France to be annexed to the newly created German Empire and a financial indemnity of 5 billion francs to keep the French treasury from financing rearmament. Bismarck demanded all of the province of Alsace and most of Lorraine, including the fortress of Metz. Much of this territory contained a mixture of French and German peoples, but the area around Metz was French. For that reason Bismarck wanted to exclude it from the German Empire, but both the kaiser and general staff insisted that Metz and its fortress become German territory in order to secure the frontier and to deprive France’s border of a key component of its defenses. Furthermore, the German public believed that the peace should punish France. Faced with the combined determination of king, military, and public, Bismarck gave way and made Metz a condition of the settlement.
   Thiers had little leverage. With significant portions of France already occupied, it would have required little effort from the Germans to take compensation from the occupied territory. As well, Bismarck could threaten to let the armistice lapse and permit the resumption of hostilities against a French government, army, and people no longer capable or willing to fight. As a result, Thiers accepted Bismarck’s demands and the provisional government ratified them. The treaty has been blamed as a source of the heightening tensions in Europe ultimately leading to World War I. In particular, the desire to restore the “lost provinces” of Alsace and Lorraine served as a rallying point for French nationalists keen on another war with Germany. The indemnity was paid in full in three years and thus failed to scupper French rearmament. In 1919, finally, the punitive nature of the treaty served as model for diplomats who sought to impose a similar peace of Germany after World War I, featuring both territorial losses and reparations.
   See also <>; <>; <>.
    Giesberg, Robert I. The Treaty of Frankfort: A Study of Diplomatic History, September, 1870-September 1873. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 1966;
    Pflanze, Otto. Bismarck and the Development of Germany. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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