Caprivi De Caprera De Montecuccoli, Georg Leo Von
CAPRIVI DE CAPRERA DE MONTECUCCOLI, GEORG LEO VON, Count (1831-1899), German soldier and statesman, was born on the 24th of February 1831 at Charlottenburg. The family springs from Carniola, and the name was originally written Kopriva; in the 18th century one branch settled in Wernigerode, and several members entered the Prussian service; the father of the chancellor held a high judicial post, and was made a life member of the Prussian House of Lords. Caprivi was educated in Berlin, and entered the army in 1849; he took part in the campaign of 1866, being attached to the staff of the ist army. In 1870 he served as chief of the staff to the 10th army corps, which formed part of the 2nd army, and took part in the battles before Metz as well as in those round Orleans, in which he highly distinguished himself. One of the most delicate strategical problems of the whole war was the question of whether to change the direction of the 10th corps on the morning of the 16th of August before Vionville, and in this, as well as in the actual manoeuvres of the corps on that day, Caprivi, as representative of, and counsellor to, his chief, General v. Voigts-Rhetz, took a leading part. At the battle of Beaune-la-Rolande, the turning-point of the Orleans campaign, the 10th corps bore the brunt of the fighting. After the peace he held several important military offices, and in 1883 was made chief of the admiralty, in which post he had to command the fleet and to organize and represent the department in the Reichstag. He resigned in 1888, when the command was separated from the representation in parliament, and was appointed commander of the 10th army corps. Bismarck had already referred to him as a possible successor to himself, for Caprivi had shown great administrative ability, and was unconnected with any political party; and in March 1890 he was appointed chancellor, Prussian minister president and foreign minister. He was quite unknown to the public, and the choice caused some surprise, but it was fully justified. The chief events of his administration, which lasted for four years, are narrated elsewhere, in the article on Germany. He showed great ability in quickly mastering the business, with which he was hitherto quite unacquainted, as he himself acknowledged; his speeches in the Reichstag were admirably clear, dignified and to the point. His first achievement was the conclusion in July 1890 of a general agreement with Great Britain regarding the spheres of influence of the two countries in Africa. Bismarck had supported the colonial parties in Germany in pretensions to which it was impossible for Great Britain to give her consent, and the relations between the two powers were in consequence somewhat strained. Caprivi adopted a conciliatory attitude, and succeeded in negotiating terms with Lord Salisbury which gave to Germany all she could reasonably expect. But the abandonment of an aggressive policy in East Africa and in Nigeria, and in the withdrawal of German claims to Zanzibar (in exchange for Heligoland) aroused the hostility of the colonial parties, who bitterly attacked the new chancellor. Caprivi had, however, by making the frontiers of the Congo Free State and German East Africa meet, "cut" the Cape to Cairo connexion of the British, an achievement which caused much dismay in British colonial circles, regular treaties having been obtained from native chiefs over large areas which the chancellor secured for Germany. In Nigeria also Caprivi by the 1890 agreement, and by another concluded in 1893, made an excellent bargain for his country, while in South-West Africa he obtained a long but narrow extension eastward to the Zambezi of the German protectorate (this strip of territory being known as "Caprivi's Finger"). In his African policy the chancellor proved far-sighted, and gained for the new protectorates a period for internal development and consolidation. The Anglo-German agreement of 1890 was followed by commercial treaties with Austria, Rumania, etc.; by concluding them he earned the express commendation of the emperor and the title of count, but he was from this time relentlessly attacked by the Agrarians, who made it a ground for their distrust that he was not himself a landed proprietor; and from this time he had to depend much on the support of the Liberals and other parties who had been formerly in opposition. The reorganization of the army caused a parliamentary crisis, but he carried it through successfully, only, however, to earn the enmity of the more old-fashioned soldiers, who would not forgive him for shortening the period of service. His position was seriously compromised by the failure in 1892 to carry an education bill which he had defended by saying that the question at issue was Christianity or Atheism, and he resigned the presidency of the Prussian ministry, which was then given to Count Eulenburg. In 1894, a difference arose between Eulenburg and Caprivi concerning the bill for an amendment of the criminal code (the Umsturz Vorlage), and in October the emperor dismissed both. Caprivi's fall was probably the work of the Agrarians, but it was also due to the fact that, while he showed very high ability in conducting the business of the country, he made no attempt to secure his personal position by forming a party either in parliament or at court. He interpreted his position rather as a soldier; he did his duty, but did not think of defending himself. He suffered much from the attacks made on him by the followers of Bismarck, and he was closely associated with the social ostracism of that statesman; we do not know, however, in regard either to this or to the other events of his administration, to what extent Caprivi was really the author of the policy he carried out, and to what extent he was obeying the orders of the emperor. With a loyalty which cannot be too highly praised, he always refused, even after his abrupt dismissal, to justify himself, and he could not be persuaded even to write memoirs for later publication. The last years of his life were spent in absolute retirement, for he could not return even to the military duties which he had left with great reluctance at the orders of the emperor. He died unmarried on the 6th of February 1899, at the age of sixty-eight.
See R. Arndt, Die Reden des Grafen v. Caprivi (Berlin, 1894), with a biography.
(J. W. He.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)