Leo von Caprivi

Orfeas Katsoulis | May 24, 2024

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Georg Leo, count von Caprivi de Caprara de Montecuccoli, born Georg Leo von Caprivi, made count in 1891 (born February 24, 1831 in Charlottenburg and died February 6, 1899 on the estate of Skyren near Crossen-on-the-Oder) was a Prussian infantry general and statesman.

After his military training at the Prussian War Academy, he climbed the hierarchical ladder and distinguished himself in particular during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Appointed Chief of the Navy, he quickly came into conflict with Emperor Wilhelm II, who saw the Navy as an offensive part of his military plans, and eventually resigned. In 1890, he succeeded Otto von Bismarck as Chancellor of the German Empire and remained so until 1894.

Caprivi then inaugurated his "New Course" policy. On the domestic front, it was marked by a desire for appeasement among the various strata of the population. Caprivi tried to reconcile the antagonisms by engaging, for example, in social reforms concerning the labour code or working hours. On the external front, Caprivi's policy was synonymous with a rapprochement with the United Kingdom and an offensive trade policy. He thus put an end to the protectionist policy put in place by his predecessor.

His policies, both domestic and foreign, met with strong resistance, both from extreme nationalists and from the large landowners, the Junkers. He was accused of not defending Germany's interests firmly enough. It was the school reform providing for the confessionalization of the school that caused the fall of the chancellor in 1894.

Dismissed by William II, he immediately retired from political life. The figure of Caprivi has not been the subject of much scientific study. If his contemporaries have long relayed the image of a clumsy and incapable chancellor - Bismarck having greatly contributed to propagating it - the majority of current historians agree on a more nuanced image of Caprivi's action, seeing him as an ambitious politician but lacking support in the political world.

Although some researches present him as coming from northern Italy and descending from the Caprara family of Montecucculi, the documents do not allow to attest this ancestry. The Neue Deutsche Biographie does not contain any reference to this surname either. However, there is evidence that Caprivi belongs to a family from Carniola whose earliest known ancestor is Andreas Kopriva, a knight who died around 1570 (kopriva means "nettle" in Slovenian). In the 17th century, the family moved to Silesia. In 1653, Ferdinand III, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, granted the family the rank of knight, and then again in Austria, for services rendered in the wars against the Turks. At the end of the same century, the family took the name "von Caprivi".

A great-grandson of the historian and poet Julius Leopold von Caprivi, Leo von Caprivi was the eldest son of Leopold von Caprivi, a member of the Prussian Supreme Court, a trustee and a member of the Prussian House of Lords, and of Emilie Köpke. His mother was a member of an "educated" bourgeois family. She was the daughter of Gustav Köpke, who was a professor of theology and director of the Berlin high school of the Franciscan monastery. The von Caprivi family included a number of military men. Leo's younger brother Raimund was a lieutenant general. His nephew, also named Leo, was a Flügeladjutant (military rank) of Emperor Wilhelm II. The fact that Caprivi was not a large landowner clearly differentiates him from most other members of the Prussian elite.


Caprivi studied at the Friedrichswerder Gymnasium in Berlin where he obtained his Abitur in 1849. On April 1, 1849, he volunteered to join the 1st Company of the 2nd Guards Grenadier Regiment. He was appointed second lieutenant (Secondeleutnant) on September 19, 1850 when he entered the Prussian Military Academy from which he graduated on May 31, 1859 with the rank of first lieutenant. He then served in the topographical department of the general staff as a captain. During the Second Duchy War in 1864, he was a member of the 5th division command. In 1865 he became company commander of an infantry regiment. During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, he was again a member of the staff with the rank of major, which allowed him to lead the 1st army together with Frederick Charles of Prussia.

Later he joined the command of the Guards Corps, and in 1870 he became, at first temporarily, chief of staff of the 10th Army Corps (de). Caprivi was considered Moltke's most talented pupil. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, he was confirmed as commander of the 10th Corps with the rank of lieutenant colonel. This decision to appoint such a young officer to the head of an army corps was particularly noticed. He fulfilled the expectations placed on him by contributing several times to the victory: at Mars-la-Tour, during the siege of Metz, as well as at Beaune-la-Rolande, which the commentators of the time described as the "laurel leaf in the crown of the Xth Corps". For his services, he was named colonel in 1872 and then decorated with the Order of Merit. First appointed director of a department within the War Ministry, he was responsible for the drafting of a law on barracks and the introduction of new rifles produced by Mauser. Promoted to Major General (Generalmajor) in 1877, he subsequently commanded several divisions, each time for very short periods. Thus, he commanded an infantry brigade in Stettin in 1878, a division in Metz in 1882, until he became chief of the Admiralty in 1883.

Chief of the Navy

In 1883, Caprivi became head of the Imperial German Navy after the resignation of Albrecht von Stosch. At the same time, he obtained the rank of vice-admiral. According to some biographers, this decision was taken against the explicit wishes of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who did not want to deprive the imperial army of one of its best officers. Thomas Nipperdey writes, on the contrary, that Caprivi was "put on the shelf" by being sent to the navy, especially since Caprivi had not had any job in this field until then. Caprivi did not welcome this decision. However, he proved to be a good administrator by reforming the navy and strengthening it.

From 1884 onwards, his policy was marked above all by the development of torpedo boats for the defence of the coast. Together with Alfred von Tirpitz, he wrote a memorandum that allowed him to defend the interests of the fleet before the Reichstag. For him, defense was indeed crucial: "I cannot shake off the idea that the aspirations and beliefs of our officer corps are still not sufficiently directed towards the war and towards what it will require in particular of the German navy. But apart from the highest moral qualities, it is necessary to be victorious - and this is fully the case for a reduced Navy - to be fully aware of the rightness of the means employed. Whoever wants to have a predominant place in the war, must, if he does not want to expose himself to dangerous surprises, have already made up his mind in peacetime what can happen." He wants to consolidate the empire in its status as a continental power and the country is increasingly dependent on maritime trade, he sees the possibility of a Western blockade in a very bad light. Advocating the professionalization of the Navy, he did not hesitate to exceed the budget allocated to it on several occasions.

In 1888, shortly after the accession to power of William II, who had a very high regard for his own naval skills, disputes arose between the two men. The emperor wanted to separate the administrative and military command of the fleet, which until then had been under the direction of the Admiralty. But it is above all on the new strategic orientations that the division is deep. Caprivi defended a traditional and continental military doctrine, the fleet should have a purely defensive role. William, on the contrary, dreamed of building a fleet with an offensive vocation capable of competing on the high seas with British power. Caprivi, to mark his disagreement, resigned from his position without being able to hinder the armament of the German navy. He then became general of the 10th army corps.

Caprivi's appointment as Imperial Chancellor and Minister-President in 1890 in place of Otto von Bismarck came as a surprise in view of his previous relations with the Emperor. The latter decided to appoint him because he saw in him a man who went against Bismarck on the subjects of anti-socialist laws, the Kulturkampf and minorities. Thus, he initially pursued a policy of reconciliation. On the other hand, Caprivi was a proven general who, the emperor was convinced, could turn the domestic political situation around with bold measures. After taking office, Caprivi told the Berliner Tageblatt that his main task would be to "bring the nation, after a bygone era of great men and great achievements, back to a certain normality. Caprivi took many political initiatives independently. This policy became known as the "New Course" (Neuer Kurs), a term used in 1890 by Wilhelm II. It was initially successful, which confirmed the emperor in his choice.

Historian Robert K. Massie describes him at the time of his rise to power: "Caprivi, 59, was the archetypal Prussian officer. He led a Spartan life, was not married, did not smoke, had few close friends and few enemies. He read history and spoke English as well as French. His movements were calm, his approach open and friendly, his diction clear.

Caprivi promised at the beginning of his governance to "take good ideas, no matter where or from whom they come, as long as they are compatible with the good of the state. This marked the beginning of the new course in both domestic and foreign policy. The broad outlines of his economic program, however, came from Johannes von Miquel, the leader of the National Liberals. Reforms were announced, for example in the field of social policy. The most influential members of the Prussian cabinet were the Minister of Trade Hans Hermann von Berlepsch, the Minister of the Interior Ernst Ludwig Herrfurth and the Minister of War Hans Karl Georg von Kaltenborn-Stachau. In his imperial cabinet, the Secretaries of State Karl Heinrich von Boetticher and Adolf Marschall von Bieberstein also had their say. This policy of rebalancing did not, however, lead to a diminution of state authority, whether it came from the government or the monarch. Thus, strict control over freedom of association was maintained, discipline, especially at the political level, was strengthened vis-à-vis civil servants, and judges with conservative views were appointed to deal with these cases. Thomas Nipperdey describes this policy as "enlightened conservatism" for the administration.

To be able to impose his political plans, Caprivi, like Bismarck before him, had to deal with the approval of the Reichstag. The change came from the position of the new emperor, who wanted to take a greater place on the political scene than his predecessor. His changing positions and absolutist demands became a central factor in German politics from this time on. On the other hand, one should not underestimate the influence and the power of nuisance opposed by the former chancellor, somewhat resentful of his forced resignation. Another difficulty for Caprivi was the management of the relationship between Prussia and the Empire. He adopted a collegial style within the Prussian ministerial cabinet, unlike his predecessor. He made this known to the Prussian Chamber of Representatives in his opening speech. The fact that he did not ask to be systematically present when one of his ministers wanted to talk to the emperor was also a major change in the way he exercised the office of chancellor. However, this led him to encounter many difficulties in imposing his political line. In Prussia, for example, his Minister of Finance, Miquel, acquired total power in his field.

Foreign Policy

Although Caprivi was a military man, he did not consider war as an option. He refused to wage a preventive war against Russia with the help of Austria-Hungary, as Field Marshal Alfred von Waldersee had advised him. His foreign minister von Bieberstein, like the eminence grise Friedrich von Holstein, advised him against extending the reinsurance treaty with Russia. Indeed, as Holger Afflerbach points out, if Austria-Hungary had become aware of the existence of this treaty, which had been secret until then and which stipulated that Germany would remain neutral in the event of a Russian-Austrian war, there would have been a considerable deterioration with the Austrian ally. Moreover, the antagonism between England and Russia being at its height at the time, an alliance with Russia seemed to prevent a rapprochement with Great Britain. Kaiser Wilhelm II finally accepted the arguments presented to him and the treaty of reassurance was not extended. Relations between the German and Russian empires cooled. This political decision, if it is supported by the emperor, causes on the other hand a sharp reaction on the side of Bismarck, who was the craftsman of the treaty, when it is made public.

In the press, Caprivi was attacked for negligence in foreign policy. The thesis that Caprivi thus sealed the encirclement of the German Empire, which subsequently led to a war on two fronts in the First World War is widespread among historians. However, it should be noted that Russian-German relations had begun to deteriorate by the end of Bismarck's rule, particularly because of the new strict trade rules put in place to combat grain exports from Russia. In addition, many influential groups within the Russian government had been advocating a rapprochement with France since the late 1880s. A renewal of the contract would therefore not necessarily have been sufficient to prevent this change of alliance. Moreover, the expiration of the contract was not synonymous with a crisis between the two countries. Holstein was convinced that the antagonism between Russia and England was so strong that the latter had to ally itself with Germany sooner or later. This did not happen, on the contrary: Russia did indeed form an alliance with France between 1893 and 1894. As a result, Germany became even closer to Austria. Thus, we are witnessing the constitution of well-marked competing blocs in Europe.

Caprivi relied on the Triplice between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy to compensate for the loss of the Treaty of Reassurance and tried to get closer to the United Kingdom by nurturing German-British relations. The German Empire then decided to withdraw from Zanzibar and Swahililand, which were dominated by the British in East Africa. The signing of the Heligoland-Zanzibar treaty, already in preparation at the time of Bismarck, made it possible to exchange the island of Heligoland in the North Sea for Zanzibar and a part of Bechuanaland. In addition, Germany received the Caprivi region, which was added to the German South West Africa, now Namibia. The acquisition of Heligoland made it possible to secure the German coasts. The treaty also allowed Germany to signal to the British that it did not question their position as the dominant colonial power. Caprivi hoped that this contract would lead in the medium term to an alliance between the two states. Hopes were dashed, largely because of divergent interests regarding the Ottoman Empire and because of Britain's fear of being locked into an alliance, preferring the policy of "splendid isolation. William Ewart Gladstone, Salisbury's replacement in 1892, was very suspicious and even hostile to German railway and armament projects in Turkey.

Caprivi had even less difficulty making concessions on the colonial question because he was not a supporter of colonial expansion. He knew, like Bismarck before him, that the German military forces would not be sufficient to protect the colonial empire in the event of an extended war against the United Kingdom. He did not hesitate to mock the supporters of colonialism in the Reichstag itself, emphasizing that having colonies, however many, was not synonymous with power. In 1896, two years after Caprivi's resignation, Georg Alexander von Müller, head of the naval cabinet, indirectly pointed out that the chancellor's policy was rather well received at the time of its implementation, since it worked to establish German continental power: "General von Caprivi did not believe for a moment in the possibility of Germany becoming a world power, and the policy linked to his name did not cease to ensure this position of strength on the European continent It proceeded quite logically in the field of domestic policy by working to strengthen the army, to reduce the navy in the strict sense to its role of coastal defense, and to seek to establish good relations with England, the natural ally against Russia, which threatens German power in Europe. " However, he insists that in 1896, this same policy is vilified because it went against what had been done so far in expansionist policy.

One of the hallmarks of Caprivi's policy is its aggressive trade strategy: "Either we export goods or we export people. With this growing population, we would not be able to continue to live without an industry that would grow proportionately." For him, the preservation of a competitive industry is the prerequisite for any lasting aspiration to the status of a great power, and all the more so because Germany is increasingly dependent on its imports. Between 1889 and 1893, they represented 17.1% of the gross national product. At the same time, customs barriers were lifted, including those on cereals, which until then had protected the large landowners from competition.

The recovery of the economy in the 1890s after the Great Depression was also favorable to him. In the long term, his policy resulted in a decline in agriculture in the empire in favor of industrial development. Thus the German trade surplus in finished industrial products went from 1,167 million marks in 1890 to 1,044 in 1894, then 1,381 in 1898, 1,783 in 1900, to 1986 in 1902, and to 2,725 in 1906. The time of governance thus seemed to mark a new impetus for this industrial take-off. On the other hand, the balance of trade in food products was in deficit. This deficit increased with time, and in 1890 it was 926 million marks, in 1894 1023, then 1315 in 1898, 1542 in 1902 and 1745 in 1906.

Caprivi's trade policy is also a means of diplomatic pressure on other countries. A "united economic fabric of 130 million people" should be a barrier against the outbreak of war. It also takes into account the rise of the United States and other states outside Europe. Long-term contracts were concluded with Austria-Hungary, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium. Other contracts were signed with Serbia, Romania and Spain. These decisions put an end to Bismarck's legacy in terms of customs policy, but the Empire was still far from pursuing a free trade policy, and this allowed Caprivi to keep his majority in the Reichstag. The treaties signed were based on a simple mechanism: Germany lowered its tariffs and its partners lowered theirs on German exports.

To reward him the emperor gave him the title of count. Caprivi also put an end to the trade war with Russia, which was not without resistance in parliament. This allowed Germany to export industrial goods again and Russia to export grain again, which also improved diplomatic relations between the two countries. Domestically, however, the decision was not well received by the agricultural community.

Domestic Policy

Caprivi conceived the state as a monarchical and social power, based on Christian traditions. He tried to reduce internal social differences and tensions by involving all parties. "The government can repress, it can beat up, but this does not solve anything, the problems must be cured from within, in depth. This means that the well-being within the state, the feeling of being a member of this state, the participation in the duties of the state with heart and mind must be spread to other social strata. This declaration was well received by the public and by the parliament. Caprivi saw himself as a kind of intermediary between the king and the Reichstag. He could not, however, rely on a party in parliament that served him, and he had to deal regularly with the opposing forces in order to obtain a majority. Nevertheless, his policy had encouraging results at first.

He did not try to win over the major political forces of liberals and conservatives to his cause. On the contrary, he tried to win the votes of the Poles and the representatives of the former kingdom of Hanover in the parliament by means of compensations. The payment of interest on the Welfs funds made it possible to improve relations with the loyalists of the house of Hanover. With regard to the Poles, Caprivi was conciliatory both because of their votes in parliament and because he knew that in the event of conflict with Russia, Germany needed their support. He also made concessions in the debate on the use of Polish as a language in Posenian schools, on the work of the Polish collective bank, which was simplified, and on the appointment of Polish archbishops in Posen and Gniezno, which became possible. However, these changes did not last beyond Caprivi's term of office.

He also approached the Zentrum and the Social Democrats. For the former, he compensated the church for the non-disbursement of public funds during the so-called Kulturkampf period. For the latter, he reformed the three-class electoral system and refused to renew the anti-socialist laws. However, this did not change the fact that the administration, the judiciary and the police did not need laws to continue to attack the Social Democrats.

The aim of the reforms was to find a solution to social problems. The emperor openly supported this policy, the so-called "social empire" (sozialen Kaisertums). Caprivi also wanted to reduce the risk of revolution by reducing social tensions and thus weakening the Social Democrats. The main architect of these reforms was the Minister of Trade Hans Hermann von Berlepsch. For example, Sunday work was banned, as was work by children under 14 in factories, and the working hours of teenagers and women were limited. A labor code and associated courts were also drafted to settle disputes between workers and employers. Moreover, being a social democrat was explicitly allowed since the anti-socialist laws of 1878 were not renewed. A new amendment to the Prussian mining law was drafted to require the construction of housing for workers. However, this social policy quickly lost its momentum and at the end of Caprivi's rule, the situation returned to a standstill.

Miquel's tax reform introduced a progressive income tax. It was favourable to the poorest but also to landowners who benefited from it. At the same time, a law on rural municipalities was passed in parliament. It gave 200,000 citizens the right to vote for the first time. However, the conservatives managed to empty the law of most of its content, so that most agricultural estates were not affected by the law. Similarly, they succeeded in defeating plans to reform the three-class system. They also demanded the resignation of the Minister of the Interior Ernst Ludwig Herrfurth, and the conservative Botho zu Eulenburg took over.


His policy of conciliation, his commercial and foreign policy earned Caprivi a large opposition.

One of Caprivi's main opponents was Otto von Bismarck, who described his successor's policies as left-wing, relying on the praise that the new chancellor received from the revolutionary parties. Moreover, Bismarck was helped by the certain clumsiness of Caprivi, who prohibited a meeting between the former chancellor and Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. Bismarck, who had become unpopular at the end of his term of office, then regained prestige and legitimacy to lead the center and right opposition.

The supporters of colonialism reproached Caprivi for having sold out German interests when signing the Treaty of Zanzibar. Bismarck also voiced strong criticism, although he was in favour of colonial expansion only in rare cases. The Pangermanist League also opposed the chancellor, especially because of his timid colonial policy. His trade policy made the agricultural world another enemy of Caprivi. The opposition was organized around the large landowners and grew in numbers. In 1893, shortly before the formation of the Farmers' Federation, the following appeal was made: "We must shout, to be heard up to the throne! I propose nothing more and nothing less, that we join the social democrats to make a front against the government, to show them that we are not prepared to continue to let ourselves be treated like this, to show them our power."

The conservative newspaper Kreuzzeitung spoke on December 20, 1893, of an "unbridgeable gap between the chancellor and the conservatives. Among the latter, the criticisms were mainly about the reform of the rural communities, the trade contract of 1891 with Austria and the failure of the school reform, which had stumbled over the confessional question. All these criticisms ended up bringing down the party leadership, which had previously been in favour of the chancellor. They were replaced during the Tivoliparteitag (party day in Tivoli) by the supporters of Adolf Stoecker and the anti-Semites.

It was for very different reasons that Caprivi attracted the wrath of the parties he usually courted: the national liberals, the radicals and the free conservatives. In Prussia he presented a school reform, the main content of which was to introduce a confessional basis to the school. The aim was to get closer to the conservatives and the Zentrum. Unexpectedly, the presentation of this bill provoked a harumph in the benches of the liberals and moderate conservatives. Wilhelm II distanced himself from the law. This led in 1892 to the resignation of the Minister of Education Robert von Zedlitz-Trützschler. Caprivi also resigned. In the end, he only lost his position as Minister President of Prussia to Botho zu Eulenburg. However, he remained imperial chancellor but was weakened by the conflict. The fact that the imperial power and the Prussian power are occupied by opposing politicians causes certain blockages. Paradoxically, this internal conflict strengthened the role of the emperor in German political life, and there was talk of a personal regime. Caprivi also lost some of the emperor's confidence.

The previous crisis was partially overshadowed by the controversy over the organization of the army. Caprivi succeeded in imposing a new organization which, in parallel with an increase in the armed forces, provided for a reduction in the length of military service from three to two years. This last decision was strongly criticized by some of the emperor's military advisors, while other reformers welcomed the initiative because it increased the number of reservists. Caprivi lost the overall support of the military, and Wilhelm II was reluctant, but was eventually convinced. The Reichstag, however, rejected the project because it was too costly, which led to its dissolution and the elections of 1893. A majority of the new parliament agreed with the reform, which made it possible to vote on it. This issue, however, divided the left-liberal camp: while Eugen Richter and the Radical People's Party firmly rejected the project, the Radical Union sought an agreement with the chancellor. The Zentrum, which was initially prepared to support Caprivi, distanced itself because of the conflict over school reform.


In 1893, the position of Caprivi was very weakened. He no longer had a stable majority in parliament; Prussia had become a counter-power. In public opinion, the right-wing opposition was making the chancellor angry, as he was less and less supported by the emperor. The fall of the Chancellor was caused by his position towards the Social Democrats. Under the growing influence of Carl Ferdinand von Stumm-Halberg, the emperor had long since turned away from his original social policy and ended up asking for a law against the revolutionary parties. Eulenburg therefore announced that he wanted to propose an imperial law on "revolutionary tendencies". It was then obvious that the Reichstag would not give its approval. Consequently, it would have to be dissolved and new elections held. It is also foreseeable that the new parliament, no more than the first one, will not pass the law. Then a new electoral law will have to be passed to achieve a stable majority. This is at least the plan of the government. It must make it possible to get rid of Caprivi who cannot survive the vote of a law similar to the anti-socialist laws. In addition, Wilhelm II made the fight against the revolutionary parties a personal matter. Caprivi opposed these aspirations and offered his resignation.

The emperor initially tried to keep him and turned against Eulenburg, who nevertheless managed to convince William II that Caprivi was responsible for the leaks and publications of certain conversations between the chancellor and the monarch. As a result, on October 26, 1894, the latter decided to dismiss both Caprivi and Eulenburg.

On October 29, 1894, Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst was appointed both Imperial Chancellor and Minister President of Prussia. On the evening of his resignation, Caprivi burned his personal papers and retired to Montreux where he stayed for months. His withdrawal from politics is complete. He lived near his nephew in the vicinity of Frankfurt (Oder) and refused to answer any questions about his time in power, as this could have political repercussions.

By his contemporaries

Caprivi's contemporaries judged him in various ways. The Social Democratic historian Franz Mehring wrote in retrospect in Die Neue Zeit that Caprivi "put an end to the worst excesses and the vilest corruption, which were the norm in Bismarck's time...as long as this society remains in place, it will not deliver a better chancellor than Caprivi was." Karl Bachem, a history expert at the Zentrum, judged Caprivi positively.

Otto von Bismarck initially praised Caprivi: "He is clear-headed, kind-hearted, generous and hard-working. All this makes him a man of the first rank. But he soon became one of his most vocal opponents. He and his supporters quickly succeeded in making Caprivi look like a "political dwarf" (politischen Zwerg) with the help of suitable propaganda. Philipp zu Eulenburg, a close friend of the emperor, humorously described Caprivi as "a mixture of a non-commissioned officer and an accountant". In the United Kingdom, unlike his successors, Caprivi was held in high esteem.

Influenced by Bismarck's declarations, Caprivi's image was for a long time summed up in the non-extension of the reinsurance treaty, which is often considered as a mistake. This decision, which had catastrophic consequences, seemed to be at odds with the foreign policy that Bismarck had pursued. The memoirs of General von Schweidnitz, published in the 1920s, are often quoted to show Caprivi's incompetence in foreign policy. He was German ambassador to Russia during Caprivi's rule. He writes: "Humble, honest and serious as he was, he explained to me one day that he was in a difficult situation because of the question of the renewal of the Russian contract, unlike Bismarck, who as William I metaphorically said, could juggle with five glass marbles, Caprivi could only juggle with two."


Since Caprivi burned his archives, there are very few personal documents about him and there is no complete scientific biography about him to this day. The only biography that is fairly complete but limited to the events of the chancellor's life is the one by Georg Gothein published in 1917.

Caprivi has long been described by historians as a hard-working, honest, but also somewhat limited general who had to take over the difficult task of unifying Germany. In recent decades, this image has been somewhat nuanced. The non-renewal of the contract is now seen by historians not as a catastrophe, but rather as a necessity of the moment. Heinrich Otto Meisner describes him as an honest talker, but somewhat lacking in persuasiveness in negotiations. He was also discourteous and even rude to the empress. According to Meisner, Caprivi was only a chancellor in uniform with limited political skills and instincts. He had a meticulous personality, who wanted to convince and be convinced, a hard worker, who wanted to understand things in depth that most others only touched upon.

In contrast to these unflattering portraits, Golo Mann portrayed him in the late 1950s in a much more complimentary manner. For Mann, Caprivi had clear ideas and great tenacity. He was unprejudiced and incorruptible: "In the line of chancellors between 1890 and 1918, he was the best. He was, according to Mann, well-intentioned but lacked political experience. He counted on the support of the common sense of his colleagues, but he did not understand that in politics there are only a few well-intentioned people, and even fewer who can follow through on their intentions.

Today's historians perceive him as a timid person, but attribute a number of qualities to him. Klaus Rüdiger argues that the transition from an agrarian Germany to a truly industrial country is to the chancellor's credit, while trying to make the transition as smooth as possible with parallel social and trade laws. He was also capable of compromise and self-criticism. His persistence in achieving his goals was also above average. The failure of his policy of conservative and liberal reforms was due to his powerlessness on the diplomatic stage and his opponents at home. Heinrich August Winkler also explains that Caprivi and his ministers had a real will to reform. But the chancellor still had to make up for his "big mistakes", especially in school reform and the reorganization of the army.

Nipperdey saw the policy of the new course as an attempt to restructure the system in depth, which might have produced good results, but which ostensibly involved a reorientation of the Empire's policy. He failed in his policy of conservative reforms, both bureaucratic and rational, in the face of the constellation of political parties, the resistance of interest groups such as the Farmers' Federation, the tensions between Prussia and the Empire, the superiority of the feudal conservative farmers, and finally in the face of the semi-absolutist military monarchy set up by Wilhelm II. The latter, by his "explosiveness" (understand "impulsiveness"), and his aspirations for a personal regime, definitively condemned Caprivi. Hans-Ulrich Wehler, for his part, saw in the ambitious program of the new course a policy that broke with Bismarck's, but which could not succeed without solid political support.


A region of Namibia is named after him. The strip of land connecting this region to the rest of the country is called the Caprivi Strip. By extension, a separatist group in the region, created in 1994, took the name of Caprivi Liberation Army, the war that pitted it against the central Namibian government is called Caprivi conflict.

Various German cities have named streets in his honor: in Hamburg, Osnabrück and Kiel in particular. An unincorporated area in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania (USA) also has this name.

A passenger steamer, launched in 1890, also bore the name Caprivi (de).


  1. Leo von Caprivi
  2. Leo von Caprivi
  3. « Ich kann mich des Eindrucks nicht erwehren, daß das Sinnen und Denken unseres Offizierkorps immer noch nicht genug auf den Krieg und das, was er insbesondere von der deutschen Marine fordern wird, gerichtet ist […] Zum Siegen gehört aber außer der höchsten moralischen Eigenschaften, vollends für eine kleine Marine, das klare Bewußtsein von der Richtigkeit der gewählten Mittel. Wer im Kriege führen will, muß, wenn er nicht gefährlichen Überraschungen ausgesetzt sein will, sich ein Bild von dem, was kommen kann, schon im Frieden gemacht haben. »
  4. « die Nation nach der vorangegangenen Epoche großer Männer und Taten in ein Alltagsdasein zurückzuführen. »
  5. Metze, Caprivi, S. 41, Meisner, S. 134.
  6. Nipperdey, Machtstaat, S. 699.
  7. Metze, S. 42.
  8. ^ a b c d Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Caprivi, Georg Leo, Graf von" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  9. ^ John C. G. Röhl (1967). Germany Without Bismarck: The Crisis of Government in the Second Reich, 1890–1900. University of California Press. pp. 77–90.
  10. ^ J. Alden Nichols, Germany after Bismarck, the Caprivi era, 1890-1894 (1958) online pp 367–377.
  11. ^ Patrick J. Kelly, Tirpitz and the Imperial german Navy, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2011, pag. 104
  12. ^ Francesco Crispi, Crispi per un antico parlamentare: col suo diario della spedizione dei Mille, Roma, Edoardo Perino editore, 1890 - pp. 222-225
  13. ^ La Civiltà cattolica, volume 2, 12, 1883.
  14. ^ Rudolf Arndt, Die Reden des Grafen von Caprivi im Deutschen Reichstage, Preußischen Landtage und bei besonderen anlässen. 1883-1893. Mit der Biographie und dem Bildnis, Hamburg, SeVerus Verlag, 2011- pag. 15

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