The final staged in the unification of Germany began with the rise of Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck was appointed Chancellor by the new Prussian King William I at the crucial time in the history of Prussia.

He was a staunch conservative and had no sympathy for parliamentary democracy. He was a firm believer in a strong and enlightened monarchy. As the chancellor, his aims and views were in perfect consonance with those of his king.

His aim was twofold. They are:

a) Prussia must take the lead in the matter of the unification of Germany and oust Austrian from the German confederation by France.

(b) Germany must be conquered by Prussia, Germany must be Prussianised, rather than that Prussia should lose its identity to Germany. Prussian cultures, traditions, administrative machinery and armed should extent to the whole of Germany.

Bismarck knew well that he cannot achieve his aims by peaceful means. Therefore, to realize them he initiated a policy of ‘Blood and Iron’. In a memorable speech in Parliament 1862, he said, “The German problem cannot be solved by parliamentary decrees, but only by blood and iron”.

This policy, therefore, demanded that Prussia should build up an irresistible army whose striking power should be swift and certain. The army alone could help him to achieve his subjective and so it was his chief interest and it was to be his engine for the unification of Germany and hence the army reforms must continue.

At first, he tries to woo the liberal members of the parliament, but when they did not respond favorably, he continues to build up the army in the teeth of bitter opposition. He governs the state without a legal budget. The liberals bark but did not bite. But Bismarck undaunted went along with his scheme.

Having built up an army and assured himself of Russian neutrality, Bismarck set about to achieve his cherished aim. He was fully aware that the process of unification of Germany could be achieved only if Denmark, Austria, and France were defeated. Hence he got ready for the three wars namely the Danish War, the Austro-Prussian War, and the Franco-Prussian War.

The Danish War (1864)

In 1863, Fredrick VII the new Danish king declared a new constitution by which he annexed German populated Schiewig into his own kingdom and established closer ties with Holstein, a member of the German confederation. By this act, he violated the protocol signed in London in 1852.

Prussia had always looked upon these two Dutchies as rightfully belonging to her. So Bismarck plans his strategy in such a way that Prussia should involve Austria in a war with Denmark. But, after victory picks up a quarrel with her over the sharing of the spoils.

Immediately he called upon Austria as the leader of the German confederation to joined Prussia in sending a combined military expedition against Denmark. Austria and Prussia sent an ultimatum to the king of Denmark to withdraw his refusal, sent a joint expedition in 1864. The combined forces of Austria and Prussia inflicted a crushing defeat upon Denmark and her ruler signed the Treaty of Vienna in 1864.

According to the terms of the treaty, the king surrendered his control over these two German Dutchies to Austria and Prussia. Bismarck thus succeeded in ousting Danish influence from the German confederation.

The Austro-Prussian War (1866)

Bismarck next turned his entire attention to a conflict with Austria; she must be expelled from the German confederation. The question soon aroused as to whom should the control over the two Dutchies which had been handed over jointly to Austria and Prussia be given. Austria proposed that the Duke of Augustenburg should take over their control. But Bismarck was not willing. There was about to be a war between Prussia and Austria but it was averted by the “Convention of Gastein (1865)”.

By this convention, it was agreed that Austria should administer Holstein and Prussia should control Schleswig. The agreement arrived at Gastein certainly patched up the quarrel between Austria and Prussia, but there was no final settlement to the dispute.

Bismarck was sure that the settlement arrived at Gastein would be short live. Hence he began to make preparation for the final struggle with Austria. He desired to isolate Austria and make sure that no foreign power would come to her rescue. The attitude of Great Britain towards German nationalism was one of sympathy and by introducing the policy of free trade, Bismarck timber won over British support.

Russia proves to be friendly because Bismarck had supported her when she decided to suppress the Poles who rose in revolt in 1863. The Czar was also annoyed with Austria for not helping Russia in the Crimean War. Bismarck was not certain of the French attitude.

He wanted to make sure of French neutrality in the event of a war between Austria and Prussia. So he met Napoleon III at Biarritz in 1865. Neither of them was frank with each other. There was no third person present at the meeting and Bismarck, the master in diplomacy, made sure that “nothing was made precise, nothing was committed to paper”.

Napoleon’s apparent neutrality was gain. Bismarck also wanted to have the active support of Italy in a conflict with Austria. Through a treaty of alliance with Italy in 1866, he promised the Italian ruler the state of Venetia where he too succeeded in a war with Austria. He urged them to open a new front by attacking Austria from the south if the war began.

Having isolated Austria, Bismarck set about to find an excuse for war. In the first place, Bismarck protested against the Austrian method of administration in Holstein. He further accused her of supporting the claims of the Duke of Augustenburg. He also attacked Austria for carrying on propaganda in her favor in the Dutchy Schleswig.

Thereby violating the convention of Gastein. Austria resented this criticism and the relations between the two countries became very strained. However Bismarck did not want to declare war on Austria on the issue of the two dutchies, instead, he preferred to be fighting for the question of the reforms of the German confederation and therefore in April 1866, Bismarck proposed the following reforms in the German Diet:

  1. The German national parliament should be elected on universal suffrage.
  2. Austria should be excluded from it.
  3. The new confederation should negotiate a special treaty with Austria.
  4. The supreme command of the army of the new confederation should be vested in Prussia and Bavaria.

Bismarck knew very well that such a scheme of reforms would be rejected by the Diet and then he would get an excuse to declare war on Austria. Austria retaliated by bringing the question of the dutchies before the Diet and by asking the Diet to reject the Prussian proposal.

Prussian asserted that the administration of the two dutchies was purely an affair between Prussia and Austria and that she would not accept any interference by the Diet. She accused Austria of violating the convention of Gastein and send troops to occupy Holstein. Austria, therefore, asked the Diet to authorize a general mobilization against Prussia. In June 1866 Prussia declared a Defensive War on Austria. Italy joined her according to her commitment.

Being the leader of the German confederation, Austria got the support of most of the German states to meet the Prussian challenge. However, the Prussian troops were able to overcome all the resistance. The war was over within seven weeks with Prussia achieving splendid victory over her enemy in the Battle of Sadowa.

Bismarck offered lenient terms to Austria by the Treaty of Prague (1866). Austria recognized the dissolution of the German confederation and she was excluded from the German political system. Venetia was added by Austria to Italy. A very small war indemnity was imposed on Austria. Prussia annexed the two dutchies of Schleswig and Holstein, Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, Nassau, and the free city of Frankfort on Maine. All German states lying north of the river Maine were to join the North German confederation formed and led by Prussia.

The Franco-Prussian War (1870-71)

Though Austria had been ousted from the German confederation, the unification of Germany was yet incomplete. The 16 South German states were still out of it and were suspicious of Bismarck’s design and intention. They must be either Cajole into joining it or annexed by force. In either case, there was a strong danger of French intervention as these states lay in between France and the North German Confederation.

Napoleon would never allow Prussia to annex them. Already the French were clamoring for revenge on Sadowa. So if German unity was to be accomplished, a war with France was inevitable to Bismarck and his military friend “it was clear they could not reckon on completing the half finish fabric of German unity without a violent clash with France.” As before Bismarck secured the neutrality of Prussia. Austria remained friendly with Prussia because the latter had offered generous terms in the treaty of Prague. Britain’s neutrality was taken for granted. Thus France remained isolated.

Bismarck scored another diplomatic victory over Napoleon III and having isolated France, he now waited for a suitable opportunity to show her as an aggressor before he declared war on her. The question of Spanish succession provided him the chance.

The throne of Spain felt vacant and the Spanish statement offered it to prince Leopold, a relative of the Prussian king. Bismarck forces the prince to accept it which he had rejected earlier. France reacted very sharply and indignantly to the acceptance. A possible alliance between Prussia and Spain would be a great menace to France and Napoleon II protested to both Spain and Prussia.

Therefore France demanded the Prince’s rejection. Not satisfied with this, France ordered her ambassador to see the Prussian king who was at Ems to get official confirmation and to secure an assurance that his relatives would not again offer himself as a candidate.

The Prussian king politely refused to give the assurance. He also sent a telegraph to Bismarck at Berlin a description of the event and left it to him how to publish the fact of the interview. Bismarck decided to publish the report of the interview between the king and the French ambassador in the North German Gazzette in such a way that to the French it appeared that their ambassador was insulted by the Prussian king and to the Prussians as if the French ambassador had been very rude to their king.

There was great excitement in Paris at the publication of the report. Passion rose high and newspapers in both countries added fuel to the fire. Napoleon III was ill at that time but under popular Prussia, he declared war on Prussia in July 1870. The French army was no match for the Prussian, the Prussian army proceeded to Paris to force a new treaty upon the newly formed Republican Government.

Paris put up stiff resistance to the invaders but it was of no avail. He finally surrendered. In May 1871 France signed the humiliating treaty of Frankfort by which she ceded to Prussia Alsace and part of Lorraine. She also agreed to pay a war indemnity amounting to 200 million pounds and agreed with Prussian army occupation on her soil until the indemnity was paid.

In the general enthusiasm and patriotism all over Germany, the princely jealousies were forgotten and the South German states which had fought side by side with Prussia decided to join the North German states to form a United Germany.

On 18th January 1871, while the seize of Paris was still going on, the United German empire was inaugurated and proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Bismarck crowned William I of Prussia as the emperor of united Germany. The unification of Germany had been achieved and the dream of German patriots had come true.

What are the factors which led to the growth of nationalism in Germany?

The history of Germany after the congress of Vienna was the history of a nationalist movement for unification. The rise of nationalism in Germany was the result of several factors. In spite of a common language and many other common features, the German people continued to be Split up into a large number of states.

For many centuries there was a rivalry for the leadership of the German people between Austria and Prussia. Napoleon subdued them both. As a consequence, German nationalism gained strength and hold in the final defeat of Napoleon. Thus Napoleon indirectly gives an impetus to the spirit of nationalism and the idea of freedom.

Another factor that led to the rise of nationalism in Germany was the fact that the Congress of Vienna had reorganized Germany into a confederation of 39 states with the Emperor of Austria as a president.

Another factor responsible for the rise of nationalism in Germany was the work of German writers and paintings of artists and thinkers who glorified the past history of Germany. One of the leading German nationalists of the Napoleonic period was a philosopher named Fichte, Hegel, and Kant wrote on German unity culture, and patriotism. Their writing greatly influence the mind of the young German people and aroused their national consciousness.

The creation of custom union or Zollverein was another cause leading to the rise of German nationalism. The customs union of Zollverein consisted of commercial treaties between the German state for free trade among themselves. This commercial unity not only helps the growth of trade and industry but also led to the growth of national-political unity.

The revolution of 1830 and 1848 in France also encouraged the growth of nationalism in Germany. Soon after the revolution of 1848, the Frankfort Assembly was authorized by the confederation to offered the crown of united Germany to Frederick William IV King of Prussia. The Prussian king refused to accept the crown in fear that it might lead to a war with Austria. The Prussian king, however, granted a liberal constitution to the people.

The unification of Germany was affected by the next Prussian king William I who appointed Otto von Bismarck as his Prime Minister in 1862. Bismarck believed the great questions of the time will be decided, not by speeches and resolution of majorities but by “Iron and Blood”.

His policy was a clear reflection of these words; he wanted Germany to become a Modern Nation, based on military efficiency which would dominate the continent of Europe. Bismarck policy is a remarkable example of diplomacy in international politics.

He realized that the unification of Germany can be achieved only through Prussia and German unity could be realized by the conquest of Austria. This was essential to put an end to the old rivalry for leadership of the German people, and this had to settle in favor of Prussia. Bismarck, therefore, had to fight three wars to bring about the unification of Germany – The Danish War (1864), the Austro-Prussian War (1866), and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71).

B.A. History
Paper III
History of Modern World
(15th Century to World War II)

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