Germany lets France keep Alsace-Lorraine in 1871

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
15,749
SoCal
#1
What if Germany would have let France keep Alsace-Lorraine in 1871 in exchange for having Alsace-Lorraine be permanently demilitarized?

Would France have been much less hostile to Germany in the late 19th and early 20th century in this scenario? Or would France--in spite of it keeping Alsace-Lorraine--still dream about further expansion to the east? (Historically, France's goal was to advance all of the way to the Rhine.) Also, would a France which wasn't as humiliated in 1871 have been less eager to engage in large-scale colonial expansion afterwards?

If France would have been less hostile to Germany, would France have still allied with Russia and Britain or might France have been receptive to the idea of a Franco-German alliance? Also, without a hostile France, are the odds of World War I ever breaking out going to go way down?

Any thoughts on all of this?
 

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
2,869
Las Vegas, NV USA
#2
Bismarck was apparently willing to do this. He understood that France would be an enemy as long as AL was under German rule and another war would have been inevitable at some point. Having said that, it's not clear if other issues might have clouded Franco German relations. For Bismarck, Germany was "sated" and not interested more territory in Europe or colonies. So if his policies were followed, Franco-German relations would likely have been much better. For Germany AL was just a buffer. For France, it was much more. I doubt republican France would have sought the boundaries of Napoleon I. If they couldn't do with a divided Germany, it's not likely it would try against a united Germany. If France and Germany had a treaty, Germany at some point might go against Russia and expand eastward.

Of course, in the real world even Bismarck had to give way to the General Staff.
 
Last edited:

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,523
Dispargum
#3
France and Britain would have fallen out over African expansion. If Britain and Russia remained rivals over the Great Game, Russia could still ally with France against Britain. Russia and Austria-Hungary would still be rivals over the Balkans. Germany would be a genuine free agent, choosing to ally with anyone they wanted to. Italy would also have freedom to choose whichever alliance they wanted to join. Bismarck had no problem with lopsided alliances so long as Germany was on the strongest side. Balance of power would require Germany to ally with Britain.

France/Russia/Italy
vs
Britain/Ottoman Empire/Austria-Hungary/Germany

WW1 would still begin with a crisis in the Balkans drawing in Russia and A-H. Germany would still attack France. What changes is the Royal Navy blockading France, not Germany, and Britain invading Northern France in support of Germany's Schlieffen Plan. The British Army is small, but the switch from one side to the other might be enough to make the Schliefen Plan work. Little bit of a problem allying Britain to Belgium's invader, but this is not insurmountable. Maybe the Royal Navy transports half of the German Army to Calais.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
15,749
SoCal
#4
Bismarck was apparently willing to do this. He understood that France would be an enemy as long as AL was under German rule and another war would have been inevitable at some point. Having said that, it's not clear if other issues might have clouded Franco German relations. For Bismarck, Germany was "sated" and not interested more territory in Europe or colonies. So if his policies were followed, Franco-German relations would likely have been much better. For Germany AL was just a buffer. For France, it was much more. I doubt republican France would have sought the boundaries of Napoleon I. If they couldn't do with a divided Germany, it's not likely it would try against a united Germany.

Of course, in the real world even Bismarck had to give way to the General Staff.
Agreed that France would be unlikely to go for a Rhine border after Germany unified. Still, this fear would have been in the heart of Germans for a while--at least until Germany's population will grow rapidly for a long time period while France's population will stagnate (which will ensure that Germany's population would decisively overtake France's population).
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
15,749
SoCal
#5
France and Britain would have fallen out over African expansion.
Couldn't they have quickly reconciled, though?

If Britain and Russia remained rivals over the Great Game,
Yep.

Russia could still ally with France against Britain.
If France and Britain remain hostile towards each other, then Yes.

Russia and Austria-Hungary would still be rivals over the Balkans. Germany would be a genuine free agent, choosing to ally with anyone they wanted to. Italy would also have freedom to choose whichever alliance they wanted to join. Bismarck had no problem with lopsided alliances so long as Germany was on the strongest side. Balance of power would require Germany to ally with Britain.
Was Germany actually the strongest side in the Three Emperors' League?

France/Russia/Italy
vs
Britain/Ottoman Empire/Austria-Hungary/Germany
I strongly doubt that Italy would ally against the Brits since it imported 90% of its coal from Britain during this time.

Also, I'm still not sold on France allying with Russia in this scenario. Sure, it might want some British colonies, but it would know that it and Russia would stand no chance against Britain and Germany at sea. The only way to get Britain's colonies would be to decisively win in Europe and then offer to trade some of their European gains in exchange for British (and German) colonies. A decisive win in Europe by France and Russia would be unlikely if both Britain and Germany are fighting them, IMHO.

WW1 would still begin with a crisis in the Balkans drawing in Russia and A-H. Germany would still attack France. What changes is the Royal Navy blockading France, not Germany, and Britain invading Northern France in support of Germany's Schlieffen Plan. The British Army is small, but the switch from one side to the other might be enough to make the Schliefen Plan work. Little bit of a problem allying Britain to Belgium's invader, but this is not insurmountable. Maybe the Royal Navy transports half of the German Army to Calais.
If these alliance systems are going to be as you say they are, then there is no way in Hell that France and Russia would be willing to fight Britain and Germany as early as 1914. Maybe in 1950, but not in 1914.
 
Apr 2018
743
Upland, Sweden
#6
Let's look at what the domestic consequences of such a move would be, and how it could have happened.

We know that Bismarck wanted such a policy, and that as @stevev mentioned, he was stopped by members of the general staff, notably Moltke (and arguably the Kaiser). So, the way I see it, for such an event to be realistic it seems that it has to imply one of two things:

1) Bismarck manages to get his will through somehow

2) Somebody else does it for or with him

How could all this have happened? Well, maybe Bismarck actually resigns, no doubt to great disgrace should he do so, "Evacuate, in our moment of triumph?!?! - etc.". This is not likely. Otherwise maybe the Kaiser pushes the idea through. Given that the Kaiser and Bismarck weren't best friends at the time from what I've gathered (with the Kaiser being mad that he was to be known as Deutsche Kaiser rather than Kaiser von Deutschland etc.). Ultimately we would need some kind of change in the balance of power in the Prussian or newly formed German government.

Just out of curiosity, for anyone more knowledge:able than me, what was the attitude of the German princes to acquiring Elsass-Lothringen? My gut reflex leaves me empty here, I can both see for examples the Bavarians not favouring such annexation as it would further increase Prussia's economic and political dominance - or I can see them favouring it for domestic reasons. I just don't know enough about the period to be sure. Perhaps that angle could have been pushed by Bismarck?


The consequences are very interesting. Quite likely Franco-German relations would have improved considerably. Whether well enough that Wilhelm II couldn't screw them up a quarter of a century later or not is an open question...
 
Likes: Futurist

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
15,749
SoCal
#7
Let's look at what the domestic consequences of such a move would be, and how it could have happened.

We know that Bismarck wanted such a policy, and that as @stevev mentioned, he was stopped by members of the general staff, notably Moltke (and arguably the Kaiser). So, the way I see it, for such an event to be realistic it seems that it has to imply one of two things:

1) Bismarck manages to get his will through somehow

2) Somebody else does it for or with him

How could all this have happened? Well, maybe Bismarck actually resigns, no doubt to great disgrace should he do so, "Evacuate, in our moment of triumph?!?! - etc.". This is not likely. Otherwise maybe the Kaiser pushes the idea through. Given that the Kaiser and Bismarck weren't best friends at the time from what I've gathered (with the Kaiser being mad that he was to be known as Deutsche Kaiser rather than Kaiser von Deutschland etc.). Ultimately we would need some kind of change in the balance of power in the Prussian or newly formed German government.

Just out of curiosity, for anyone more knowledge:able than me, what was the attitude of the German princes to acquiring Elsass-Lothringen? My gut reflex leaves me empty here, I can both see for examples the Bavarians not favouring such annexation as it would further increase Prussia's economic and political dominance - or I can see them favouring it for domestic reasons. I just don't know enough about the period to be sure. Perhaps that angle could have been pushed by Bismarck?

The consequences are very interesting. Quite likely Franco-German relations would have improved considerably. Whether well enough that Wilhelm II couldn't screw them up a quarter of a century later or not is an open question...
I think that the best way for Germany to avoid annexing Alsace-Lorraine in 1871 would have been for the German Kaiser to insist that A-L not be annexed. This might be possible. (Also, I'm unsure as to just how hostile the Kaiser was to Bismarck. After all, he kept Bismarck as Chancellor until his death--as in, for over 25 years!)

As for the thoughts of the other German states on the A-L annexation, I would think that Bavaria and Baden would have favored it since it ensured that they would not have a common border with France. Had they had a common border with France, they would have needed Prussian military protection--and they don't appear to have wanted Prussian troops to undermine their sovereignty. At least, that's what I previously read on Wikipedia. Also, another reason that Catholic German states might have supported this annexation would be to increase Catholic political power in Germany. The more Catholics there are in Germany, the more political power that they will have.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
15,749
SoCal
#8
As for Kaiser Bill, please keep in mind that he didn't run all of Germany's foreign relations. After all, relations with the Austro-Hungarians and the Ottoman Turks remained pretty good during his reign to my knowledge.
 
Apr 2018
743
Upland, Sweden
#9
I think that the best way for Germany to avoid annexing Alsace-Lorraine in 1871 would have been for the German Kaiser to insist that A-L not be annexed. This might be possible. (Also, I'm unsure as to just how hostile the Kaiser was to Bismarck. After all, he kept Bismarck as Chancellor until his death--as in, for over 25 years!)

As for the thoughts of the other German states on the A-L annexation, I would think that Bavaria and Baden would have favored it since it ensured that they would not have a common border with France. Had they had a common border with France, they would have needed Prussian military protection--and they don't appear to have wanted Prussian troops to undermine their sovereignty. At least, that's what I previously read on Wikipedia. Also, another reason that Catholic German states might have supported this annexation would be to increase Catholic political power in Germany. The more Catholics there are in Germany, the more political power that they will have.
His hostility was a passing thing! It subsided, but from what I've understood the Kaiser felt that he had been outmaneuovered by Bismarck and left unconsulted about a lot of symbolic formulations and functions about the role of the Prussian King/ German Emperor in the newly formed Kaiserreich. A lot of things were happening at the same time in 1871 after all... The Old Man and the Iron Chancellor had their fights over the years, which often took the form of Bismarck throwing a temper tantrum and embarassing the first guy by starting to cry - "A grown man :eek::neutral:o_O" (you just have to love those Prussians) and threatening to resign, thereby winning the argument.

Interesting thoughts, and generally good points. It does unfortunately argue against the initial scenario taking place however. Perhaps the Kaiser could have been convinced somehow, by pushing this angle? If Bismarck could have spun not annexing EL (I will insist on the German spelling :cool:) as something maximizing Prussia's longterm influence inside the newly formed Kaiserreich, maybe... maybe he would have, if he hadn't have had so much on his plate - winning a war, forming a unified German state, keeping everyone happy, enjoying his victory - etc.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,523
Dispargum
#10
France/Russia/Italy
vs
Britain/Ottoman Empire/Austria-Hungary/Germany

WW1 would still begin with a crisis in the Balkans drawing in Russia and A-H. Germany would still attack France. What changes is the Royal Navy blockading France, not Germany, and Britain invading Northern France in support of Germany's Schlieffen Plan. The British Army is small, but the switch from one side to the other might be enough to make the Schliefen Plan work. Little bit of a problem allying Britain to Belgium's invader, but this is not insurmountable. Maybe the Royal Navy transports half of the German Army to Calais.
Couldn't [Britain and France] have quickly reconciled, though?
Britain and France did quickly reconcile after 1898 because France was desperate for an ally against Germany. Remove the rivalry between France and Germany, and France no longer has a need to reconcile with Britain.

Was Germany actually the strongest side in the Three Emperors' League?
I wasn't actually thinking of the Three Emperor's League. I was thinking of Bismarckian Europe with Germany, Austria, and Italy allied vs France with Britain and Russia neutral. Bismarck was fine with that and it kept the peace so long as the Central Powers did not want war. It was Britain's desire for a balance of power that gave both alliances a chance at victory and made eventual war somewhat inevitable.

I strongly doubt that Italy would ally against the Brits since it imported 90% of its coal from Britain during this time...
Also, I'm still not sold on France allying with Russia in this scenario. Sure, it might want some British colonies, but it would know that it and Russia would stand no chance against Britain and Germany at sea. The only way to get Britain's colonies would be to decisively win in Europe and then offer to trade some of their European gains in exchange for British (and German) colonies. A decisive win in Europe by France and Russia would be unlikely if both Britain and Germany are fighting them, IMHO... If these alliance systems are going to be as you say they are, then there is no way in Hell that France and Russia would be willing to fight Britain and Germany as early as 1914. Maybe in 1950, but not in 1914.
Yes, I was aware of Italian reluctance to go to war with Britain. If you prefer:
France/Russia/Austria-Hungary
vs
Britain/Germany with Italy and/or the Ottoman Empire as neutrals
I can play with that, too. France, Russia, and A-H would have a fair chance to overwhelm Germany before Britain got mobilized. Germany deluded themselves into thinking they could keep their colonies in a war against Britain and France. If France could delude themselves into thinking Plan 17 would work, they can delude themselves about their colonies, too. If Germany was allied to Britain, Germany would be unlikely to expand their navy.