German Unification BY Sleesa98 “The Second Reich was proclaimed in 1871. It was war – nothing more and nothing less – that was responsible for its creation” In January 1871 King William first of Prussia became Kaiser William the first of the new German empire. The creation of the empire was one of the most important developments of the nineteenth century. However, the process by which Germany came to be unified has been and area of heated historical debate ever since.
There are many people and events to consider in weighing up contributions to unification, but no one man was more central to the process of unification than Otto Von Bismarck. Bismarck became chancellor of Prussia in 1962 and his main aim was to unify the 39 German states under Prussian rule. Some historians believe that Bismarck realized his goal of a Kleindeutsch German empire by taking advantage of skilful diplomacy and clever manipulation of situations that presented themselves to him between 1862 and 1871.
Others believe that German unification was inevitable and that “Bismarck’s’ task was made easier by circumstance”. There were many more significant factors before Bismarck’s time and indeed during his time out with his nfluence that contributed greatly to the eventual unification in 1871. German nationalism grew and grew throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It had its roots in all sorts of cultural, political and intellectual developments that had nothing to do with the ‘Iron chancellor’. The development of German arts in the eighteenth century stirred national consciousness a great deal.
While the invasion of Napoleon made the inhabitants of the 39 German states very aware of their military weakness as independents, and the effort to eventually drive he French armies out drew the German people together. Together these factors began to generate pressure for unification even before Bismarck became involved in politics in any serious way. Another hugely significant factor contributing to unification was the Zollverein. The Zollverein was unquestionably the greatest single economic factor in Germany at the time.
It was a voluntary customs union among German states which avoided trade barriers caused by customs duties imposed by each of the 39 states. The union gave some protection to the German home industries while making trade easier for them. It drew the German states together and stimulated there economic growth, and as it was started by Prussia it firmly established them as the economic leader in Germany. However, there is still a wealth of factors that Bismarck was responsible for. In 1859 king William decided that the Prussian army should be modernized.
Unfortunately the king could not pass his reform through the lower house of parliament. Bismarck was appointed chancellor and found a solution to the kings problem. A loophole in the constitution allowed the reform to pass. This incident is a prime example of a ituation where Bismarck’s involvement had provided Prussia with a tool that would not draw up the army reforms originally, his passion and effort in modernizing the army is evidence to suggest that he knew war would be a necessary part of the unification process.
Then in 1862 Bismarck saw an opportunity to embarrass and undermine the Austrians; as he saw them as an obstacle to the kind of unification he desired. The Austrians proposed to reform the Bund by strengthening its military, economic and legal powers. They called a conference of all the Bund members to discuss proposals. Bismarck persuaded the king to ignore the conference and without the Prussian presence there were no decisions taken and the conference collapsed. As well as embarrassing Austria the incident enhanced Prussian prestige and set them apart as the main German state.
This early example of ‘realpolitik in Bismarck’s foreign policy isolated the power which Bismarck perceived as the biggest obstacle to German unification at the same time as allowing a notion of an empire under Prussian control to creep further into German national consciousness as the success of the Zollverein had done in the early nineteenth century. The duchies crisis was the next situation that Bismarck could – potentially – turn to his advantage. Bismarck persuaded the Prussian king to try and restore what was known as the London Protocol.
This meant supporting the Danish kings claim to the duchies, but keeping both Schleswig and Holstein separate from Denmark. The Austrians also agreed with this course and signed and alliance with Prussia in 1863. However, the smaller states in the Bund did not agree with this course. They supported the Austenberg claim and Prussian and Austria lost popularity with the small German states. Prussia were never popular with the small German states so it did not matter to them, but prior to the crisis Austria had been seen as a protector of small German states so they lost a lot of credibility.
This was all a result of Bismarck’s actions: in that he persuaded the Prussia king to support the London protocol; knowing that Austria would agree to that course as well. On the first of February 1864 war began and by August the treaty of Vienna was signed by losers Denmark who gave up there claim to the Duchies. The war would have ended sooner, but Bismarck knew that if settlement had been reached in April it ould have been out of his hands and would not suit his aims. The following year Bismarck came up with a way to fix the problems caused by Austria and Prussians Joint rule of the Duchies; which was really a way of provoking Austria.
The convention of Gastein stated that Prussia should rule Schleswig and Austria should rule Holstein. The only way into Holstein was through the hostile territory of Prussia and Bismarck had deliberately planned the convention of Gastein to aggravate the Austrians in the way. Obviously Bismarck wanted a war with Austria – it was a necessary step. However Bismarck had to be careful as he suspected that France would become involved in with Napoleon the third in October 1965.
Napoleon left the meeting with the impression he would receive territory if France remained neutral during the war with Austria. Also, to be certain of victory Bismarck wanted to gain some allies for the war – he turned to Italy. The Prussians signed a treaty with the Italians in April 1866 that stated: Austria had to declare war; Italy would declare war after Prussia; Italy would get Venetia without question and the war was to start within three months. This is trong evidence to support the theory that Bismarck was master planner who targeted Austria long before the war began.
Bismarck then proceeded to draw Austria into war by in invading Holstein and declaring it a ‘German state’. Austria did declare war on Prussia as a result and the two great German nations were finally going head to head. Austria’s army was slightly bigger than Prussia’s. Prussia won the war in seven weeks and signed a peace treaty with Austria. Bismarck made sure the treaty was not too harsh on the Austrians as he knew they could be useful allies in the future. As he said in a letter to his king: “We have to avoid wounding Austria too severely… e ought to keep the possibility of becoming friends again. ” This is a clear example of Bismarck’s diplomacy working to benefit the cause of a strong Prussia and united Germany. However, all things considered Bismarck’s contribution to unification was clearly hugely significant. However, examples such as the Em’s telegram (which led to the Franco Prussian war; which led to the unification of the north and south German confederations) show how the actions of Bismarck alone contributed to one of the ost important developments on the nineteenth century.
If Prussia, the biggest most powerful German state, had fallen chaos then there is no telling how long the unification process would have taken; that is if we can actually say it would have happened at all without Bismarck’s influence at later stage: “The common view of German nationalism is an irresistible current sweeping down the decades to fulfillment in 1870 is a fiction… Only under the stimulation provided by Bismarck for his own political ends did German nationalism begin to move the masses. ” (Bismarck and the development of German”