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The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

Unification Of Germany Compared With That Of Italy As Regards Methods And Principles

  • The history of Germany in the nineteenth century seems at first sight to be very like that of Italy. In both cases the central theme was the same viz., the struggle for, and attainment of national unity. Both countries began the period in disunity, made unsuccessful attempts to attain their end in 1848, and finally secured it almost at the same moment and as the result of the same military operations. In both the cases, one state stronger than the others assumed the guidance of the national movement — Piedmont in Italy, and Prussia in Germany. In both, the achievement of the desired goal was chiefly due to the ability of their respective ministers—Cavour and Bismarck. Lastly, both had to conquer the resistance of Austria is a necessary preliminary to the accomplishment of their task.
  • These resemblances were, however, superficial. They were matched by wide differences. The problems which the two countries had to face were different, as also the principles and methods by which each solved them. On the whole Cavour’s task was more difficult. The weakness of Piedmont made it impossible that Italian unity could be achieved without foreign aid for which the price had to be paid. Bismarck, on the other hand, required no more than the neutrality of other Powers to permit the realisation of his schemes. Piedmont was only one of the many petty states of Italy, and Cavour had a very hard task to make it worthy of the role he wanted it to play. Prussia, on the other hand, already occupied a commanding position in Germany. She had effected an economic unification by means of the Zollverein which accustomed men to the idea of looking up to her, instead of Austria, for leadership. Thus in many respects Bismarck had the start of Cavour. Lastly, it should be noted that Germany had a greater measure of unity than Italy. There was no foreign rule to be over-thrown, no influence of the Pope to create difficulties in the way of union. Over against these advantages enjoyed by Bismarck must be set the limitations under which he had to work. He had stronger local forces to overcome than Cavour in that German particularism was more deep-rooted than its Italian counterpart. He had to work against the popular will and to force unity upon a reluctant nation, while Cavour gave effect to that the people ardently desired. Again, Austria had a much longer connection with Germany and so was more deeply entrenched there than in Italy. Hence her expulsion from Germany was likely to create greater commotion in Europe than her expulsion from Italy. So the diplomatic difficulties of Bismarck were greater than those of Cavour. Besides, Bismarck had not the advantage of the moral influence of a kindling prophet like Mazzini whose inspiration was a valuable asset to Cavour. Neither had he by his side a romantic figure like Garibaldi whose very name was one to conjure with. What Bismarck did, he did with his unaided efforts while Cavour built with stones quarried largely by others. Lastly, Bismarck had to experience much greater difficulty than Cavour in securing the approval of his king for his policy. William I grudgingly supported Bismarck in many of his schemes, while Victor Emmanuel II gave almost unstinted support to Cavour.
  • As regards principles and methods Cavour and Bismarck differed widely from each other. Cavour was a liberal and an ardent believer in parliamentary government. Hence as far as possible he worked by means of parliaments and plebiscites. He took care that the will of the people should always be expressed before annexations were made, so that each stage of the union of Italy was marked by plebiscites. Bismarck, on the other hand, was a reactionary, a hater of parliaments and a votary of force. With him the will of the people counted for nothing in politics. He firmly believed that German unity could be achieved only by the action of the Prussian king acting upon a policy of “blood and iron”. Thus while, Cavour looked to Piedmont’s liberalism and enlightenment for attracting the other states of Italy, Bismarck proclaimed, “Germany is looking not to Prussia’s liberalism, but to her power”. Lastly, Cavour was an Italian first and then a Sardinian. To achieve his end he could easily have sacrificed the primacy of Piedmont. But Bismarck was first a Prussian and then a German. He was not prepared to merge Prussia in Germany but was determined to effect its unification by subjecting all its rulers and peoples to Prussia. Hence his methods were more violent, his strokes more resounding and there was too great an element of brute force in his creation. He achieved success by trampling not merely on other nations, but also on the liberal and democratic elements in Germany. Cavour’s methods smacked much less of force and much more of finesse and subtlety.

Position of affairs in Germany | The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

  • It has already been noticed how the high hopes of the German nationalists had been dashed to the ground by the collapse of the Frankfurt Parliament. Failure was writ large upon every effort at national unity which was made in 1848, the year of revolutions, and in the years immediately following. In 1849 Prussia was offered the headship of a united Germany but she refused it. In 1850 she tried to assert headship on her own account as against Austria by a scheme for a less complete union, but had to flinch before the determined attitude of Austria. The cup of Prussian humiliation was completed by the ignominious surrender of her claim at Olmutz. Austria had proved strong enough to maintain her policy of status quo in Germany and behind Austria was reactionary Russia ready to support her. Thus was Germany given over to reaction, and the very ideals of liberty and national unity seemed banished forever. Austria had once more regained her influence and had postponed all plans of German unity by restoring the Confederation with its Federal Diet. For a time Prussian influence sank to a low ebb both in the domestic affairs of Germany and in matters of European concern.
  • But though the nationalist efforts had failed they were not without their lessons. They had destroyed many illusions and prepared the way for more practical measures. By this time it was abundantly clear that the reformation of Germany through the Federal Diet in which Austrian influence was supreme, was an idle dream. Austria, with numerous dependent nationalities under her control, could never honestly support nationalism in Germany. Nor could the princes of the German states be expected to favour a movement which would endanger their own positions. Lastly, it was made clear by the failure of the Frankfurt Parliament that no new Germany could be created by a popular movement undirected by princes. Thus the pre-requisites of the German unification had been singled out, and it became obvious that the German Confederation must be dissolved, the meddling of Austria in German affairs prevented and new adjustment of relations with the princes effected, before Germany could become politically united.
  • For such an arduous task Prussia alone, of the German states seemed fitted, and in spite of her recent failure she was looked up to as the natural leader of German unity. Prussia had a record of great achievements to her credit. She had stimulated the national resistance to the great Napoleon, and the important part she had played in the War of Liberation had covered her with glory and linked her name with national victory. By her acquisition of the Rhine territories in 1815 she stood forth as the guardian of Germany against the hereditary enemy, France. Austria on the other hand, by the weight of her non-German possessions, had definitely turned her back on Germany and was absorbed deeply in extra-German concerns. Prussia, likewise, had already succeeded, where Austria had failed, in affecting an important measure of economic unification by means of the Zollverein. This comprehensive customs union had already established the economic headship of Prussia in Germany and bound the smaller states to her by strong ties of material interests. Lastly, Prussia had granted a constitution and created a Parliament and had thereby stimulated the hopes of the Liberals. From Austria they had nothing to expect in that direction.

A New Era in Prussia | The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)   

  • Although reaction had triumphed in Germany the sky began to brighten up before the fifties ended. Abroad the situation was becoming more favourable. The Crimean war weakened Russia, the champion of absolutism in Europe, and brought about an estrangement between her and Austria. Hence no more could Austria count upon Russian support in opposing German unity. Prussia made the fullest use of this estrangement between Russia and Austria, and secured the neutrality of the former in her designs against the latter. Secondly, the rising star of Bonapartism in France was more friendly to national movements. The known sympathy of Napoleon III with the success of national cause everywhere was exploited by Prussia to the best advantage.
  • At home the change was equally significant. The humiliating situation to which Prussia had been reduced was largely due to the timid and vacillating policy of her king, Frederick William IV. He was a man without strong convictions, and in his romantic and imaginative temperament, was quite unlike a ruler of the Hohenzollern type. He never recovered from the shock of 1848-49. He became insane and his brother William first became regent in 1858, and then, king in 1861.
  • With the accession of William I a new epoch was opened in the history of Prussia. Unlike his brother William I had a mind of his own which though not quick and brilliant, was solid and sound. A soldier by training, he had a soldierly love for direct methods, practical issues and firm resolves. He was a strong believer in autocracy and- an uncompromising upholder of the prerogatives of the crown. He was a Prussian to the core, and believed in the destiny and mission of his country. He showed a rare combination of firmness and flexibility and, above all an unerring judgment of men. He had the gift to select good servants for the state and the wisdom to repose full confidence in them, and it was with their help that he was destined to achieve greater triumphs than even Frederick the Great. With his advent to the throne there was a new vigour in Prussian policy both at home and abroad.

Struggle over the Army Reform | The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)  

  • William I was a true Hohenzollern in his belief that Prussia’s destiny was dependent upon her army and so he was bent upon strengthening military forces of his kingdom. The humiliation of Olmutz had impressed upon him the necessity of military preparations, if Prussia was to succeed in her competition with Austria for the headship of Germany. He appointed as chief of the General Staff Helmuth von Moltke, who was later to achieve fame as the greatest strategist of his time. Next he appointed as his war minister Von Roon who proved to be an organiser of remarkable ability. Both appointees especially the latter, were extremely conservative in politics and they strongly encouraged William’s natural tendencies in the direction of autocracy and militarism. Both shared with Bismarck the credit of making Prussia the most powerful state in Europe.
  • The Prussian army had not been reorganised since 1814, and in spite of the fact that the population had nearly doubled, the number of annual recruits remained stationary. William was resolved on a radical reorganization of the army. His military schemes involved increased taxation and expenditure, for he wanted nearly to double the army. The liberals who dominated the Prussian Diet, were determined to have constitutional reforms before military, and so threw over his proposals. Despite the opposition of the Diet, William went on with his programme of army reform. A deadlock ensued and matters headed towards a crisis when in 1862 the Diet by an overwhelming majority refused to vote the necessary money for the army. The struggle developed into a constitutional conflict of the highest magnitude in which the issue at stake was whether the king or the Diet was to be ultimate authority in the state. The king was determined to have his own way. He would abdicate rather than abandon his cherished reform. As a last resort he sent for Bismarck, a resolute adherent of the royal cause, and placed him at the head of the ministry. It proved to be the most momentous step he ever took. Bismarck accepted office, pledged to earn out the king’s policy from the teeth of the Diet.

Early Career of Bismarck | The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

  • Born in 1815 Bismarck belonged to the old landed aristocracy of Prussia. His early career gave no special promise of greatness. In the universities he made no mark as a scholar, but on the contrary acquired notoriety for boisterousness, high spirits and disregard of any kind of discipline. He joined the Prussian civil service on its judicial side, but soon developed distaste for the drab life which quill driving (A quill driver is a person who does a great deal of writing) entailed. He resigned his post and for a time busied himself with the management of his family estate.
  • In 1847 he made his debut in politics as a member of the United Prussian Diet which was summoned by Frederick William IV. Throughout the trouble period that followed he was always on the anti-revolutionary side and made himself prominent as a fierce reactionary. He denounced democracy and liberalism in the strongest terms and defended the cause of Prussian monarchy with equal vehemence. He set his face against any plan which was likely to merge Prussia in Germany, or would commit the Prussian monarchy to a policy of compromise with democracy or constitutionalism. Hence he scoffed at the efforts of the Frankfurt Parliament to unify Germany on a constitutional to democracy basis. He supported the refusal of the king to accept the Frankfurt crown, rejoiced in the failure of the Erfurt union and even approved of the Austrian triumph at Olmutz. His ultra-royalist policy was rewarded by his appointment as Prussian representative at the Federal Diet at Frankfurt in 1851.
  • The Period of eight years for which Bismarck represented Prussia in the Federal Diet at Frankfurt proved to be the real formative period of his political life. There he studied and practised the art of diplomacy, in which later he was to win many sweeping victories. He acquired thorough knowledge of German politics, which enabled him to take a larger view of the problems that confronted Prussia. To his annoyance he found in Frankfurt that Prussia counted very little more than any other petty state in Germany, and that Austria had no real intention of treating her as an equal. He also found that the smaller states of Germany were disposed to lean upon the support of Austria whose policy was the maintenance of status quo. Bent upon preserving their particular individualities they looked with suspicion and fear upon Prussia which had adopted a policy of German union in which they might be submerged. Hence in Frankfurt Bismarck developed a strong anti-Austrian sentiment and came to the conclusion that “Germany is too narrow for Austria and Prussia.” He realised that the fundamental problem of the German question was the expulsion of Austria; a secondary one was the attitude of the smaller German states. Hence from the beginning of his Frankfurt career he set himself to assert the equality of Prussia and to adopt an attitude which was irritating to Austria. He prevented Austria from entering the Zollverein and thwarted the pro-Austrian policy of Frederick William IV during the Crimean War. His attitude soon became too bold and independent for King William who wished to continue on good terms with Austria, and so he was transferred to St. Petersburg as Prussian ambassador to Russia. There he secured the goodwill of the Czar which was to be of invaluable help to Prussia later on. Next for a short time he was ambassador to France, where he secured an accurate

insight into the complexities of the character of Napoleon III. This experience also proved to be very helpful. In 1862 he was summoned to Berlin to head the ministry.

Bismarck as Minister-President of Prussia  | The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

  • It was at a critical stage of Prussian history that Bismarck was called upon to assume the direction of affairs. King and Parliament confronted each other in angry deadlock and Bismarck, a “bully and an absolutist”, had been expressly summoned to tame the self-willed parliament. He was in heavy sympathy with the Kings military policy; for he had by that time come to the definite conclusion that a powerful army was essential to the role which he wanted Prussia to play in the unification of Germany. He looked at the constitutional conflict in Prussia as part of the larger problem which was to be settled abroad by war and diplomacy. He realised that the victory of Parliament would be fatal to the end he had in view, for the Progressives, as the liberals were called would not support his ambitions schemes and risky enterprises.
  • Hence he entered into conflict with Parliament, determined to cam out the scheme of army reform. In words which have become classic he declared that Germany was looking not to Prussia’s liberalism but to her power and said “Not by speeches and resolutions of the majorities are the great questions of the day to be decided, but by blood and iron.” Bismarck had come to office with clear-cut views and definite aims. Germany must be united but the unification must be effected under the dominant leadership of Prussia. To him a united Germany meant a Prussianised Germany. But Prussia would never be able to assume the leadership of Germany so long as there was Austria to thwart her projects. Hence Austria must go and as she would not go voluntarily, war was necessary. This was the inescapable conviction of the loyal Prussian minister and he was determined to act upon it.
  • For four years Bismarck had to struggle against a hostile majority in Parliament which hindered his policy by continually refusing supplies. But Bismarck never faltered in his determination and rode roughshod over the constitution. He continued to levy and collect the taxes without parliamentary grant and fully carried out the military reforms. For his high-handed and unconstitutional procedure he came to be bitterly hated by the liberals, but he stuck to his course, heedless of insults and unpopularity. He trusted to the future success- of his general policy in Germany for the vindication of his conduct.

Bismarck’s Diplomatic Preparations | The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

  • While boldly handling a very difficult situation at home Bismarck was concurrently pursing his great diplomatic schemes abroad. He realised the necessity of securing the friendship of the neighbouring powers if he was to succeed in his plan of expelling Austria from the German Confederation. To fight Austria it was essential to isolate her diplomatically. He began by courting the friendship of Napoleon III, the recent enemy of Austria, and, for the purpose, concluded a commercial treaty with France, giving her favourable terms. Next in 1863 he took advantage of a revolt in Russian Poland to win the goodwill of the Czar. The feeling in Germany was strongly on the side of the Poles, while the great Powers like England, France and Austria sympathised with them and warned Russia against any violation of Polish rights. But Bismarck took up a different attitude. Much to the indignation of his own countrymen he offered help to the Czar in suppressing the Polish revolt. It was a master stroke, for it secured to Prussia the goodwill of the Czar at a time when Austria lost it by her pro-Polish attitude.
  • Even while thus engaged in foreign affairs, Bismarck was preparing for a breach with Austria. He insisted that King William of Prussia should not attend the Congress of German princes which Austria had summoned in attempts at 1863 to consider proposals for the reform of the German confederation. Bismarck feared that any scheme of federal reform sponsored by Austria might strengthen her position in Germany, and so with great difficulty persuaded the king not to attend. Bismarck’s attitude mined all hopes of reform by which Austria had sought to consolidate her leadership of Germany. It was the last throw of Austria and it ended in failure. But the time for a definite breach with Austria had not yet come. Bismarck was willing to act with Austria so long as she was useful to his ultimate ends. Joint action might give him a good pretext for a quarrel, and his opportunity came in 1863, when the revival of the Schleswig-Holstein question convulsed Germany.

The Schleswig-Holstein Question  | The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

  • The two duchies of Schleswig and Holstein forming the southern half of the peninsula of Jutland, had long been united with Denmark by bonds of personal union. That is, the king of Denmark was also the duke of the two duchies; but they retained their separate laws and institutions which the Danish king was bound to observe. Schleswig was a fief of Denmark while Holstein was member of the German Confederation: but the two duchies were regarded as indissolubly linked together. Since the population of the duchies were partly Danish and partly German, the rising nationalist feeling in both Denmark and Germany gave rise to serious complications. The Danes desired the complete incorporation of the duchies with Denmark, while the Germans wanted them to be included in the German confederation. In 1848 the king of Denmark made an attempt to amalgamate the local institutions of the duchies with those of his kingdom. But this provoked a rising which was encouraged by the national feeling throughout Germany. The Duke of Augustenburg who had strong claims upon the duchies, also resisted the Danish attempt at closer incorporation, while Prussia took up arms in defence of German nationalism. The position of Denmark became highly critical but she was saved by the intervention of the powers who attempted a compromise by the Treaty of London in 1852. It recognised the integrity of Denmark, confirmed her possession of the duchies but forbade their absolute incorporation into the Danish kingdom. The Duke of Augustenburg was induced to sell his claims to the Danish king.  The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)
  • The Treaty of London preserved peace for about a decade but troubles arose in 1863 when a new king, Christian IX, ascended the Danish throne. Unable to resist the pressure put upon him by Danish nationalists he in 1863 published a new constitution, organically incorporating Schleswig with Denmark and binding Holstein with closer ties. This was a violation of the London agreement as also of the theory of the indissolubility of the two duchies. There were loud protests in the duchies as well as in Germany. The Duke of Augustenburg revived his claims and offered to put himself at the head of the resistance to Denmark. Thus was the Schleswig-Holstein question reopened and Bismarck got a splendid opportunity for fishing in troubled waters. He saw in the situation a chance for a possible aggrandisement of Prussia as also an opportunity of forcing a war upon Austria. He proceeded to tackle the question with great caution, displaying all the while that mixture of foresight, unscrupulousness and of opportunism concealing a fixed aim, which constituted the chief feature of his policy. He wanted that the duchies should go neither to Denmark, nor to the Duke of Augustenburg whose claim the Federal Diet supported, but to Prussia. To secure this object Austria must be hood-winked, the Powers outwitted and his own king converted to his policy. For William I might set his face against a scheme which involved the violation of the Treaty of London to which Prussia had been a signatory.

Bismarck’s first move was to use Austria as an ally in order to act jointly against Denmark. If he had acted alone he might have to face the opposition of the Federal Diet of which Austria was the President, as well as the intervention of the Powers. So an alliance with Austria was necessary and it was Bismarck’s great triumph to have achieved it, for the two Powers were not on good terms at that time. It was agreed that Prussia and Austria should settle the matter of the duchies without the interference of Diet. The two Powers then entered strong protests against the infringement by Denmark of the arrangement of 1852 and delivered an ultimatum to her demanding the repeal of the constitution recently proclaimed. But as the Danish king refused to consider the ultimatum, Prussia and Austria declared war. An Austro-Prussian army invaded Denmark and completely defeated the Danes. By the Treaty of Vienna which followed, the Danish king ceded all his rights in the two duchies to Austria and Prussia jointly, and agreed to recognise any arrangement that they should make of them (1864).  The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

The sequel to the Danish war turned out to be what Bismarck had anticipated. The victors could not agree as to the disposition of spoils. The essential difficulty of the situation lay in the fact that Prussia coveted the duchies, whereas Austria did not. Bismarck began to put all sorts of obstacles in the way of the Austrian proposal that the duchies should be handed over to the Duke of Augustenburg. A conflict seemed imminent, and this was what Bismarck wanted. He realised that Austria would never consent to the acquisition of the duchies by Prussia, and so war was necessary. But as his diplomatic preparations were not as yet ready he arranged a temporary, compromise by the Convention of Gastein in 1865. The terms agreed upon were that pending a final settlement, Austria was to occupy and administer Holstein, and Prussia Schleswig. Lauenburg another small duchy, was absolutely handed over to Prussia in return for a money payment. It was also agreed that the question of the duchies should not be brought before the Diet. The Convention of Gastein was a great diplomatic triumph for Bismarck. It put out of the way the Duke of Augtstenburg whose claim Austria had supported. Besides, by giving Holstein which was encircled by Prussian territory, to Austria it gave Bismarck a splendid opportunity to engineer irritating plots against Austrian rule.

The Austro-Prussian War, 1866 | The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

  • The Convention of Gastein was highly disadvantageous to Austria and so was not likely to last long. As Bismarck himself said it merely “papered over the cracks” and that was exactly what Bismarck wanted. He did not like that the outstanding causes of friction between Austria and Prussia should be permanently removed by any satisfactory settlement. For he never forgot that war with Austria was necessary for the fulfilment of his great design – the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. The Gastein arrangement contained many seeds of discord out of which Bismarck deliberately set himself to provoke a war which would give Prussia the hegemony of Germany. Austria herself provided him with the opportunity lie was looking for. She had no intention of keeping Holstein which was sandwiched in between Prussian territory and was separated from her dominion by the whole length of Germany. Hence she began to encourage the claims of the Duke of Augustenburg and announced her intention of referring the whole question of the two duchies to the Federal Diet. It was a definite bid for popularity in Germany. But this attitude on the part of Austria amounted to a violation of the Convention of Gastein, and so it gave Bismarck an opportunity of accusing her of ill-faith. Here was a specious pretext for the war he was determined upon.  The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)
  • But before precipitating the conflict Bismarck took care to safeguard Prussia against the danger of foreign intervention. The expulsion of Austria and the reorganisation of Germany which he contemplated, meant the tearing up of the Vienna treaties and so the Powers might legitimately intervene to prevent any change in the political structure of Germany. Hence he set about marking his diplomatic manoeuvres to secure the support and goodwill of the Powers. In 1865 he paid a visit to Napoleon III at Biarritz to make sure of French neutrality. By playing upon the French Emperor’s sympathy with nationalist aspirations, and holding out vague prospects of territorial gain either on the Rhine or in Belgium, he secured the neutrality of France. Next he negotiated a treaty of alliance with Italy, which provided that if Prussia could provoke a war within three months, Italy would co-operate with Prussia against Austria and would receive Venetia as the reward of the help. Before these diplomatic arrangements with France and Italy, Bismarck had already secured the goodwill of Russia by his offer of help to the Czar to suppress the Polish insurrection of 1863.  The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)
  • Having isolated Austria diplomatically, Bismarck proceeded to overcome the opposition of the Prussian king. Austria was the traditional ally of Prussia and William I regarded any war with her as fratricidal. Bismarck, however, was equal to the occasion and educated the king to the necessity of the course of action he was determined to take. Next he proceeded to provoke a conflict with Austria. In answer to Austria’s demand that the question of the disposition of the duchies should be brought before the Federal Diet Bismarck declared that the Convention of Gastein had ceased to exist and sent troops into Holstein and expelled the Austrians. This was sufficient provocation to the Austrians who as a protest began to mobilise their troops. But it was not enough for Bismarck that Austria should be provoked into war. It was necessary that the cause of the war should involve the whole of the German question. His next move, therefore, was to propose the reform of the German Confederation on the basis of universal suffrage, with Austria excluded. He thus made Prussia appear not merely as an aggrieved party in regard to the Schleswig-Holstein question, but as the champion of national unification. By shifting the ground of dispute he hoodwinked the Powers and averted their intervention. Austria naturally turned down the Prussian proposal of reform and prevailed upon the Diet to mobilise the Federal forces to punish Prussia for the infraction of Austrian rights in Holstein. Prussia, thereupon, seceded from the Confederation and declared war upon Austria, appearing to take up arms in self-defence.
  • The war which broke out was of surprisingly brief duration and so came to be called “Seven Weeks’ War”. The odds seemed against Prussia, for Austria was supported by Bavaria, Saxony and almost all the minor German states, whose rulers feared the designs of Prussia. But Prussia had the advantages of superior military organisation which was of thoroughness and efficiency. The Prussians struck with amazing swiftness. They overran Hesse- Cassel, Hanover and Saxony in ten days and within two weeks crushed the resistance of the smaller states. Then they made a converging attack on the Austrians and obtained an overwhelming victory over them at Sadowa or Koniggratz the Bohemian plan (1866). The defeat of the Italians-at Custozza and in a naval action off Lissa had very little effect on the course of the war. The campaign of Sadowa had proved decisive. Austria was at the end of her resources and appealed to Nepolean III. Bismarck, fearing the intervention of Powers, pressed speedy negotiations with Austria overruling the desire of the king to march upon Vienna. His will prevailed and the war was brought to a close by the Treaty of Prague signed in 1866. By it Austria accepted her exclusion from Germany, consented to the dissolution of the German Confederation, ceded Venetia to Italy and her share in Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia, and agreed to recognise any reconstruction of Germany to be made by Prussia.  The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)
  • Having excluded Austria from Germany, Bismarck proceeded to make a new organisation of the German states on the basis of Prussian supremacy. Schleswig-Holstein and some of the hostile states of the north such as Hanover, Nassau and the free city of Frankfurt were outright annexed to Prussia. The result was that Prussian territory, till now scattered and divided, became a continuous stretch running across North Germany. All the other states north of the river Main were organised into a new confederation of which the Prussian king was to be the President. Thus was formed the North German Confederation. A federal council, called Bundesrat was set up to which the different states were to send delegates. There was also to be a popular assembly or Reichstag chosen directly by the people. The South German states were left free to act as they chose. These were Bavaria, Baden and Wurtemburg. Thus was Germany partially unified under the dominant leadership of Prussia.

Results of the Austro-Prussian War | The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

  • Prussia emerged from the war with her position immensely strengthened and her territory greatly enlarged. The exclusion of Austria from Germany assured her supremacy in Central Europe. The North-German Confederation, which she organised, enabled her to advance more than half-way towards the unification of Germany under her own leadership. This dominance she asserted by new annexations in North Germany, which linked up her scattered territories and gave her a scientific frontier as well as an invaluable site for the construction of a naval base at Kiel. All on a sudden she sprang to the front as a great military power and her astounding victory profoundly altered the historic balance of power. The hegemony of Europe was within her sight.
  • Equally great were the effects of the war on the internal politics of Prussia. The success of the war closed the constitutional struggle over the army reform, and struck a shattering blow at the Prussian liberals from the effects of which they never recovered. Militarism was justified by success and liberal opposition to the Government sank into insignificance. A large section of the liberals gave up their claim for self-government in return for the greater political unity they desired for Germany, as also for Prussian leadership in German affairs. These helped to form a new political party known as the National Liberal party whose programme was Bismarck’s, that is to uphold Bismarck in his national endeavours. Bismarck, the “best-hated” man in Prussia became the popular idol.  The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)
  • Outside Germany the Austro-Prussian War had far-reaching effects. By the terms of the Treaty of Prague, Italy had acquired Venetia and had thereby advanced one step further towards her complete union. She had got rid of her greatest enemy and was within sight of the national goal—the acquisition of Rome.
  • In Austria also important changes took place. The Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph had to abandon the policy of centralisation and to substitute in its place a policy of dualism. In other words, he had to recognise the nationalism of the Magyars of the Hungary and to admit them, to equal partnership in the supreme power. The expulsion of the Austrians from Italy, followed by their exclusion from Germany after Sadowa, convinced the Emperor of the necessity of conciliating the Magyars who formed the dominant race in Hungary. It was necessary for the monarch to increase its strength at home now that its influence was so reduced abroad. Accordingly in 1867, the Emperor acting upon the plan of the great Magyar statesman Ferenc Deak, divided the Austrian dominions into distinct halves which were made independent of each other in all matters except war and diplomacy. Vienna became the capital of Austria, and Budapest of Hungary. Both were to have the same ruler, who in Austria would bear the title of Emperor, in Hungary that of king. Each half was to have its own separate constitution, legislature and administration and each was to control its internal affairs without interference from the other. There was to be a joint ministry for the departments of foreign affairs, war and finance. Joint delegations composed of the selected members of the Parliaments of the two States were to decide imperial questions and to supervise the work of the joint ministry. This settlement was called the Ausgleich or Compromise and it formed the basis of the Dual Monarch of Austria-Hungary. It lasted till the end of the First Great War when the Austrian Empire fell to pieces. The compromise satisfied the two dominant races of the Austrian Empire, viz., the Germans of Austria and the Magyars of Hungary. But the other subordinate race, especially Slavs, refused to acquiesce in this system and demanded the same privileges as were accorded to the Hungarians. They wanted a federal and not a dual empire.

The Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) | The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

Attitude of Bismarck

  • The results of the Austro-Prussian War had vindicated Bismarck’s policy of “blood and iron”. Prussia established her portion of Germany under her dominant control. Now that unity had been partially achieved, Bismarck set himself to bring it to completion. He realized that France was the greatest obstacle in his way. For more than two centuries a divided Germany had been the first principle of French statesmen whose diplomacy had persistently striven for the maintenance of German disunion. Hence Bismarck wrote in his Memoirs that “a war with France lay in the logic of history”. In other words, regard being had to the past relations between France and Germany, it was clear that France would not allow Germany to be united without a war. Secondly, the South German states could not be prevailed upon to join the German union without a common crisis—a common effort in which all Germany would take part. A war with France, the hereditary enemy of Germany, would provide the necessary unifying force, and bloodshed in a common cause against the common enemy would cement the union.
  • Convinced, that a war with France was inevitable Bismarck took care to isolate France “‘diplomatically so that she might not get help from any quarter. The international situation was highly favourable to his plan and Bismarck did his best to take advantage of it. Russia had not forgotten Napoleon Ill’s part in the Crimean War nor his efforts on behalf of the rebellious Poles. At the same time she remembered with gratitude Bismarck’s offer of help during the Polish troubles. Thus Russia was hostile to France and friendly to Prussia. Bismarck improved this good relation by encouraging Russian designs against Turkey and consenting to the repudiation by Russia of the Black Sea clauses of the Treaty of Paris (1856). He had also taken care to secure the goodwill of Austria by treating her with great leniency and moderation after Sadowa. He had acted upon the principle that the present enemy might be the ally of the future. Hence he had not penalized Austria with any loss of territory and had spared her the humiliation of the triumphal entry of Prussian troops into Vienna, though he was strongly urged to do so by his king and colleagues. Lastly, he retained the friendship of Italy by holding out to her the prospect of acquiring Rome where the position of the Pope was being defended by French troops. Defeat of France would lead to the withdrawal of the French troops’ from Rome which could then be easily occupied by the king of Italy. Having thus secured the goodwill of the neighbouring powers Bismarck cast about for a pretext for a war. The attitude of France supplied the desired pretext.

Attitude of Napoleon III | The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

  • The Austrian defeat at Sadowa burst like a thunder-clap upon Napoleon III. The rapidity and completeness of the Prussian victory upset all the calculation of the French Emperor. He had expected a long-drawn and evenly contested struggle which would permit his intervention at the right moment, and enable him to extract some territorial gain from the exhaustion of the combatants. He had also counted upon Prussian defeat which would leave Germany more hopelessly weakened and divided than ever. But Sadowa dissipated all these hopes. Hence it has been aptly remarked that “It was France that was defeated at Sadowa”. It had been the traditional policy of France to keep Germany week and divided. But that policy had been defeated by Prussia. She had made a startling demonstration of her strength and had effected the unification of the greater part of Germany. The French people become furious with Napoleon III whose weak and vacillating policy was largely responsible for that neutral attitude of France which largely contributed to Prussian success. A great political event had taken place, far-reaching changes had been accomplished in Germany and in none of these France had a share. The very thought of this touched the French people at a tender point—their love of glory and prestige. They felt that France had lost her predominant position in Europe. They looked upon the military success of Prussia as an unmistakable challenge to France and even as a menace to her security.  The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)
  • Napoleon III realised that clouds were gathering round him. His failure to bring French influence to bear upon Russia during the Polish rising of 1863 had shaken the prestige of France. The collapse of his Mexican schemes compromised his position at home and was a further revelation of the weakness of French diplomacy. On the top of these events came his failure to exploit the recent happenings in Germany to the advantage of France. All these reacted upon his popularity and weakened his position. He realised that something must be done to stabilise his tottering throne, something which would restore the lost prestige of France and save his face with the French people. He began by demanding territorial compensations to offset the growth of Prussia, compensations to which he felt himself entitled as the result of his agreement with Bismarck at Biarritz. He was however uncertain as to what he really wanted, and flitted from one proposal to another. First he wanted some territory on the left bank of the Rhine such as Mainz and the Bavarian Palatinata. But Bismarck, now that peace had been concluded with Austria, roundly refused an inch of German territory. Napoleon III then turned to Belgium. Bismarck temporised for a time and then put him off. Thereupon the French Emperor made his last bid, demanding to purchase Luxemburg from the king of Holland. Luxemburg occupied a curious international position. Ruled by the king of Holland it had been a member of the German Confederation, until the latter was dissolved in 1866, and was garrisoned by Prussian troops. The Dutch king was willing to sell it but the news of its impending transfer to France produced such a strong feeling in Germany that the proposal had to be dropped. The Powers then neutralised Luxemburg under an international guarantee. Thrice thwarted in his efforts to secure compensation, Napoleon Ill realised that war with Prussia was the only means by which he could save his position. The Franco-Prussian rivalry immediately flashed out. The French people talked of revenging Sadowa. The Prussians, on the other hand resented this attitude on the part of the French and regarded their demand for compensations as outrageous interference with Germany’s national right to development. Thus both the people wanted war, the French to restore their prestige and pre-eminence, the Prussians to complete the process of nation-making in Germany. When both countries were in this bellicose temper a slight pretext was sufficient to produce an explosion.  The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

Immediate Pretext for the War | The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

  • The pretext which both Prussia and France were looking for, soon presented itself. In 1868, the Spanish people, tired of the rule of their dissolute Bourbon queen, Isabella, rose in revolt and expelled her. The Spanish crown was then offered to Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern. But as he was a relative of the king of Prussia, his candidature caused great indignation in Paris. So Leopold withdrew his acceptance of the crown. Not satisfied with this, Napoleon III demanded of King William of Prussia an assurance that he would never in future permit a renewal of Leopold’s candidature. This demand the Prussian King refused and Bismarck made an unscrupulous use of his incident. He received from the king who was then at Elms, a telegram containing an account of his interview with Benedetti, the French ambassador. He altered the telegram and published it so as to convey the impression that the French ambassador had been insulted by the King of Prussia. The indignation of the French people rose to a feverish heat and France declared war against Prussia in 1870.  The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)
  • Before the outbreak of hostilities Bismarck took care to damage France in the eyes of Europe so as to prevent her from securing the sympathy of the Powers. He published Napoleon Ill’s written proposals embodying his demand for compensations in order to convince Europe that a new era of French aggression was likely to begin. The result was that France came to be looked upon as an aggressor with an insatiable territorial appetite. Public opinion thus became universally anti-French. In particular, the English people became positively angry when they learnt that Napoleon ill sought to secure Belgium -whose integrity it was the traditional policy of England to maintain. The international situation was also unfavourable to the French empire. Napoleon III expected that Austria and Italy would join him. But Austria was held in check by Russia who never forgot the hostile intervention of Napoleon III during the Polish revolt of 1863. Italy was alienated by the French occupation of Rome. Lastly, Napoleon III had calculated that the South German States, ever hostile to Prussia’s ambition, would side with him. But the knowledge that Napoleon III had desired to compensate himself at the expense of German territory alienated them from France. They looked upon France as the aggressive enemy of German independence and made common cause with Prussia who was out to chastise the national enemy. The German nation was at last united. For the first time in centuries a united Germany marched out to meet the hereditary enemy.

Chief Events | The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

  • The French were beaten at Worth and Graveloth. Next the crash came at Sedan where the whole French army surrendered to Von Moltke, and Napoleon III was taken prisoner. At the news of the disaster of Sedan, the French people declared France a republic and organised a provisional Government of National Defence under the leadership of Gambetta. The victorious Germans then besieged Paris. The city made a brave resistance but was forced to capitulate. France had to accede to Bismarck’s demand and by the Treaty of Frankfurt, had to give up Alsace and Lorraine to Germany, to pay a large war indemnity and to allow the German troops to hold a part of France until it was paid.  The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

Results of the Franco-Prussian War | The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

  • This war led to important results in Germany, Italy and France—results which completely unsettled the settlement of the Congress of Vienna.
  • In Germany, the most important consequence of the war was the completion of the unification of Germany, and the creation of the German Empire which lasted till the Second World War. The great victories, won by the united efforts of the states of the North and South, created the desire for a permanent union. Accordingly on January 18, 1871, in the royal palace of Versailles, King William of Prussia was proclaimed German Emperor. The constitution of the North German confederation was so widened as to include all the German states. Germany was reorganised as a federal government with an Upper House (Bundesrat) composed of the delegates of the several states, and a second house called the Reichstag, elected by the people on the basis of direct and universal suffrage.  The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)
  • The international effects of the war were still more important. Germany from being the weakest state in Europe suddenly became the strongest military and political power on the Continent.
  • This war led to the final completion of the Italian unity. The Pope had been supported in Rome by a French garrison. But this war compelled France to withdraw her troops from Rome which was then easily occupied by Victor Emmanuel. The temporal power of the Pope came to an end. Rome became the capital of unified Italy.
  • In France this led to the creation of a republic. For a few months following the Treaty of Frankfurt, France went through a terrible crisis. The communistic party in Paris as well as some lawless elements made an attempt to set up a government of their own, which they called the Commune. They seized Paris and held it for two months, doing enormous damage before they could be subdued. Then followed a period of arrest and executions after which France settled down to a peaceful and orderly life. The Third Republic of France had now passed through several crises in safety and had proved successful, offering a stable government to that long distracted country.
  • (4) Lastly, Russia took advantage of this war to tear up those clauses of the Treaty of Paris which had neutralised the Black Sea, and began to refortify Sevastopol. At a conference held in London the Powers recognised this infraction of the Treaty by Russia.

Summary—Unification of Germany | The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

  • In Germany the dawn of the sense of nationality is to be traced to the struggle with Napoleon. After the Battle of Waterloo the German liberals looked forward to the reorganization of Germany on a national basis. But their hopes of a free, united Germany were shattered when the reactionary Congress of Vienna made Germany a confederation of thirty-nine states with the Emperor of Austria as its president. The disappointment of the liberals was intense.
  • But the spirit of freedom and nationality when once aroused cannot be repressed by any reactionary settlement. For half a century after the Congress of Vienna the history of Germany is the history of two movements, one democratic and the other national in character. The aim of the first movement was the establishment of popular government, while the aim of the second was German unity.    The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)
  • But for a time the forces of reaction were triumphant in Germany. Most of the rulers of the States were opposed to any scheme of reforms, and under the influence of Metternich they did all in their power to check popular movements, thus, when the July Revolution of 1830 in Paris sent a sympathetic thrill throughout Germany, the popular movements were crushed by the reactionary princes. But something was gained for the causes of liberalism as several of the minor states granted constitutions to their subjects.
  • It was during this revolutionary epoch that the first step towards German unity was taken through the creation of Zollvereins or Customs Unions. These were in the nature of commercial treaties by which the different states of the German Confederation except Austria agreed to adopt a policy of free trade, among themselves, by removing the customs duties that used to be levied on goods passing from one state to another. Thus long before German political unity had come within the range of practical politics, nearly the whole of Germany had achieved a commercial unity from which Austria was excluded. This commercial union taught the people to think of a more perfect national union.
  • The successful French Revolution of 1848 roused new hopes in Germany, but these were dashed to the ground by the refusal of the Prussian King Frederick William who ascended the throne of Prussia as William IV, to accept the crown of united Germany, offered by a revolutionary parliament which had met at Frankfurt. A subsequent attempt made by the Prussian king to unite the states of North Germany by a federal constitution under the presidency of Prussia was foiled by the threatening attitude of Austria. But though the movement fizzled out, the Prussian king granted a constitution to the people.
  • Thus the great obstacle to German unity was the jealousy of Austria who was bitterly opposed to any reorganisation of Germany calculated to give predominance to Prussia. But things took a different turn when on the death of Frederick William his brother ascended the throne of Prussia as William I. The new monarch was keen upon army reform but his plan was opposed by the Prussian Assembly. So William I appointed Bismarck, a resolute supporter of monarchy, as his chief minister, and thereby opened a new chapter in German history.
  • Bismarck fully approved of the king’s plan of army reform. He held that it was Prussia’s mission to unify Germany and this could be accomplished only by means of war, by a policy of “blood and iron”. First he effected a reform in the army and obtained money for the purpose by over-riding the opposition of the Assembly. This army, reorganised and improved, he used with great effect in three wars which resulted in the unification of Germany.
  • The first of these wars was with Denmark. It arose out of what is known as the Schleswig-Holstein question. The king of Denmark who was also the Duke of these two duchies, wanted to annex them permanently to his kingdom. Bismarck opposed this plan, and in conjunction with Austria declared war against Denmark and forced her to resign her claim to the duchies (1864). Straightway, the duchies became a bone of contention between the victors, Austria and Prussia. Bismarck was bent on annexing while Austria was determined that her rival should not get them.            The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)
  • The endless disputes that followed were adroitly handled by Bismarck to declare war against Austria. The Austro-Prussian war that followed was no longer for the two duchies but, for the leadership of Germany. At Sadowa or Koniggratz the Austrians were defeated. By the peace which followed, Austria retired from Germany and agreed to allow Prussia to reorganise the German states as she might wish.
  • The exclusion of Austria removed the chief obstacle to German unity and Bismarck set to work to reorganise Germany. Those states of the North which had resisted Prussia were annexed to Prussia. The other states of North Germany retained their independence but were joined together in the North German Confederation under the presidency of Prussia. Thus was taken a long step towards German unity.
  • The states of the South were yet wanting to complete the unification of Germany. There were two obstacles in the way. First the Southern States were jealous of Prussia and were averse to entering a confederation in which Prussia dominated. Secondly, there was the opposition of France which viewed with ill concealed jealousy the rise of the new Prussian power. Bismarck’s policy was to overcome these obstacles by a deliberately provoked war with France. He wanted to wage a national war so as to create a national feeling which would bind together all the German states, northern and southern, in a common cause. His opportunity came when in 1869, the Spanish throne became vacant, and Leopold of Hohenzollem, a distant relative of the Prussian king, was offered the crown. Napoleon III of France protested against such a measure and Leopold withdrew his candidature. Not satisfied with this Napoleon III demanded of the Prussian king an assurance that no member of the Hohenzollern family should ever, without his consent become a candidate for the Spanish throne. The Prussian king politely refused such a demand but Bismarck, by a falsified telegram, produced the impression that the French ambassador had been insulted and rudely dismissed by the Prussian king. This inflamed the war passion of the French people and the war which Bismarck so earnestly desired, came about. The French were terribly defeated at Sedan and the patriotic pride created by this success, led the Southern States of Germany to join the North German Confederation. Thus the king of Prussia became the Emperor of united Germany.
  • The Unification Of Germany (1850-1871)

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