1871 - 1914
Background Uniﬁcation of Germany
The Congress of Vienna at the end of the
Napoleonic Wars in 1815 redrew the map
of Europe and established the
Confederation of German States (39 of
them) which were under the control of
Prussia, the largest of these
states, wanted to end Austrian
domination and unite the
states into a new German
Empire under her own control.
Count Otto von
Chancellor of Prussia from
1862 - he was determined
to achieve the uniﬁcation
Opposition to Uniﬁcation
To achieve this aim he knew he would have
to deal with the neighbouring powers of
France and Austria-Hungary.
Austria still regarded itself as being in
control of the German states and resented
Prussia’s growing challenge to its power.
Both these countries distrusted and feared
the creation of a strong German state in
Europe in 1815
Bismarck ﬁrst built a very strong Prussian
He defeated Austria-Hungary very easily
in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 (The
Seven Weeks War). Bismarck was very
careful to treat Austria leniently as he did
not want to alienate her so as to ensure
her neutrality in the forthcoming war
Franco-Prussian War 1870
The Prussian army then defeated France and this removed the last obstacle to the uniﬁcation of Germany. The new German Empire was created in January 1871.
France was humiliated and now felt threatened by a powerful
German state on her borders.
France also lost the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany and had to pay Germany 5 billion francs and suffer an army of occupation until the money was paid. The fortress towns of
Strasbourg and Metz were also lost to Germany.
The Prussians had further humiliated the French by staging a triumphalist march through Paris.
The Black Spot
This painting shows French children being taught about ‘The Black Spot.’ The teacher is pointing to Alsace and Lorraine and telling the pupils that it is a stain on France’s history and that one day France will get revenge and retake these provinces.
Consequences of German Uniﬁcation
France’s humiliation created a very strong desire for revenge against the hated Germany (Revanchism). This would last and was even a contributing factor to the outbreak of World War I.
Change in the European Balance of Power. Previously there had been four major powers in Europe - Britain, France, Austria-Hungary and Russia which made an even balance of force possible. Now there was ﬁve powers, which made it very difﬁcult to achieve a balance of power.
Furthermore, all the countries realised that Germany was now the most powerful military force in Europe (Britain remained dominant at sea). Germany was also a very strong and growing economic and industrial power. All the countries were now in a race to keep up and the period from 1871, and particularly from 1890, to 1914 was one of intense competition between the major powers characterised by Imperialism (building overseas empires) and an Arms Race. This was to play a major part in the escalation of rivalry and tension which would lead to the outbreak of the First World War.
Foreign Policy 1871-1914
The period divides very clearly into two
sharply contrasting parts:
1871-1890, when Bismarck as German
Chancellor was in control of foreign
1890-1914, when Kaiser Wilhelm II took
personal control of foreign policy
Bismarck’s Foreign Policy
Bismarck had waged two wars to unite
Germany and has been accused of being
But now that he had achieved his longterm aim his main priority was to keep Germany and Europe at peace.
He wanted peace in Europe to give his
precious new creation time to establish
itself and become secure.
“It is in our...
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