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Britain’s Second Reform Act (1867), the Russia (1861), and the adoption of free trade by the major European states all seemed to justify faith in the peaceful evolution of Europe toward liberal institutions and prosperity.
International peace also seemed assured once Otto von Bismarck declared the new German Empire a satisfied power and placed his considerable talents at the service of stability.
The European map and world politics were less confused in the decades after 1871 than at any time before or since.
The unifications of Italy and Germany removed the congeries of central European principalities that dated back to the Holy Roman Empire, while the breakup of eastern and southeastern Europe into small and quarreling states (a process that would yield the term ) was not far advanced.
The next Balkan crisis, which erupted in Bulgaria in 1885, again tempted Russia to expand its influence to the gates of Constantinople.
Bismarck dared not oppose the Russians lest he push them toward an alliance with vengeful France.
Bismarck achieved a compromise at the Congress of Berlin (1878), but Austro-Russian amity was not restored.The chancellor knew Germany to be a military match for any rival but feared the possibility of a coalition.Since France would never be reconciled to her reduced status and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine imposed by the treaty ending the Franco-German War, Bismarck strove to keep France isolated.Thus, the cabinets of the European great powers were at the zenith of their influence.Europe itself, by 1871, seemed to be entering an age of political and social progress.
Apparently a federal empire, Germany was in fact dominated by Prussia, which was larger in area and population than all the other states combined.