Germany and Italy were two important nations which emerged as united, independent states in the 19th century.
Germany had been fragmented into as many as 300 separate states in the 18th century. Some of these states were very small and did not extend beyond the limits of a city. The division of Germany into a number of states had hampered the economic development of Germany. The social and political system in these states was also very backward.
Napoleonic wars had inadvertently done Germany two favors in the process of his rule. Besides instilling a sense of nationalism in its people, he had also consolidated Germany into 38 states, a giant step toward unification.
Blood and Iron is the title of a speech by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck given in 1862 about the unification of the German territories. In 1862, when the Prussian Landtag (Parliament) was unwilling to approve an increase in military spending, Bismarck appeared before the Committee and stressed the need for military preparedness. He concluded his speech with the following statement: ” Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided – that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 – but by iron and blood.”
Although Bismarck was an outstanding diplomat, the phrase “blood and iron” has become a popular description of his foreign policy partly because he did on occasion resort to war in a highly effective manner to aid in the unification of Germany and the expansion of its continental power.
Each state tried to preserve its independence and its oppressive political and social system. In 1848 revolts occurred in every German state and the rulers were forced to grant democratic constitutions. To unite Germany and to frame a constitution for the united Germany, a constituent assembly met in Frankfurt.
The initial success of the revolts had made the German democrats and nationalists think that victory had been achieved. While they debated the clauses of the constitution, the rulers prepared themselves to suppress the movement. Prussia was the most powerful in militarily and in extent and was also the most reactionary. The big landlords of Prussia known as Junkers formed the dominant section in Prussian society. Prussia was also one of the leaders of the Holy Alliance. The Frankfurt Assembly proposed the unification of Germany as a constitutional monarchy under the King of Prussia who would become emperor of Germany.
However, the King of Prussia declined the offer. He did not wish to accept the crown from the elected representatives of the people. Repression soon followed and even the rights that people had won in the initial stages of the revolution were taken away. Thousands of German revolutionaries had to flee the country and live in exile.
With the failure of the revolution of 1848 to unify Germany, one phase in the struggle for unification came to an end. Now Germany was to be unified not into a democratic country by the efforts of revolutionaries but by the rulers into a militaristic empire.
The leader of this policy was Bismarck who belonged to a Prussian aristocratic family. He wanted to preserve the predominance of the landed aristocrats and the army in the united German state and to achieve the unification of Germany under the leadership of the Prussian monarchy.
Described his policy of unification as one of ‘blood and iron’. The policy of ‘blood and iron’ meant a policy of war. The first aim he pursued was the elimination of Austria from the Germanic Confederation. He aligned with Austria in a war against Denmark over the possession of Schleswig and Holstein. After Denmark’s defeat, he entered into an alliance with Italy against Austria, defeated Austria and dissolved the Germanic Confederation. Thus Austria was separated from other German states.
In place of the old Confederation, he united 22 states of Germany into North German Confederation in 1866.
The unification of Germany was completed as a result of a war between Prussia and France.
In 1870, Louis Bonaparte, whose power had begun to collapse, declared war on Prussia in the hope of maintaining his empire through a military victory. The
French armies were defeated and the French emperor was captured. After her defeat, France finally became a republic. Germany’s unification was completed as a result of the war which enabled Bismarck to absorb the remaining German states into a united Germany.
After her unification, Germany emerged as a very strong power in Europe. It underwent heavy industrialization in a very short period and soon joined the scramble for colonies.