How important was the role of Bismarck in the unification of Germany?
It has been said by several historians that the second half of the nineteenth century was the ‘Age of Bismarck.’ In the mid 1800’s Bismarck provided dynamic leadership- a trait which had been lacking during the events of 1848-89. Ian Mitchell stated “Bismarck was everywhere.” However, there has been a considerable degree of debate concerning the role of Bismarck in the unification of Germany. Some argue that unification would have been inevitable and had nothing to do with Bismarck, although others argue that the unification was solely down to Bismarck’s role. There are differing opinions on whether Bismarck was a planner or an opportunist or whether he was merely just a catalyst. Bismarck also provoked neighbouring states which led to wars of unification against: Denmark and Austria. Other factors such as the role of the Prussian military, the Zollverein and Austrian weakness all had an input in the unification of Germany, as did cultural nationalism.
Bismarck’s long term aim was to unite Germany under Prussian leadership. In Prussia, King William wanted to improve his army but due to the cost of this request, the King’s plans were blocked by the Prussian Progressive Party. The King considered abdication because his request was denied; this worried many of the King’s ministers. They feared this abdication would result in the triumph of the parliament over the king. Von Roon, Minister of War suggested that Otto Van Bismarck be recalled from Paris to help solve this constitutional crisis. Bismarck resolved this crisis by announcing that since Parliament could not agree with the King that the King had power to rule himself. Bismarck claimed that the loophole in the constitution that he did not cover this kind of crisis and so the logical thing to do was to let the King decide. The budget was passed. The King was very grateful to Bismarck who was then appointed Minister-President of Prussia. Bismarck knew an efficient and powerful army would be necessary in the near future. After the failure of the 1848 revolution, he wrote ’Germany does not loot to Prussian liberalism, but to its power...not by speeches and majority verdicts will the great decisions of the time be made but by iron and blood.’ Bismarck provoked surrounding foreign powers into war, the result of this being an increase in the power and the unification of Germany which were his main aims. So Bismarck’s role was relatively important at this stage of in the unification of Germany.
The first war of unification was against Denmark. The Prussians fought Denmark in an attempt to weaken Austria’s power. A crisis developed within Denmark between the duchies and Denmark, the dispute broke out over Schleswig and Holstein. Bismarck used this row to his advantage. Bismarck suggested that a combined Prussian and Austrian force should attack Denmark. Denmark was quickly defeated and Prussia gained the glory as defender of German interests. As Bismarck used this row to his advantage, this makes it evident that he was an opportunist. He merely used this dispute for his benefit and seized an opportunity which had the potential to move one step closer towards the unification of Germany. The second war of unification was against Austria in 1866. Bismarck used the unresolved situation left after the convention of Gastein in Schleswig and Holstein to complain that Austria was not running Holstein properly. Bismarck seized this opportunity which represents him as being an opportunist. He took advantage of an opportunity which could help him achieve his main aim; unification. Aronson states; “Bismarck was an opportunist…” Bismarck complained that Austria was stirring up anti-prussian feelings in Schleswig. On July 3 1866 a battle which has also been named the “Battle of Sadowa” the Austrian army was defeated. 24 000 Austrians were killed and 13 000 were captured. . A Kleindeutsch was created, this was a...
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