Within the Context of Germany 1789 – 1890 How Important a Role Did Bismarck Play in the Unification of Germany?

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On 23 September 1862, Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck was appointed Minister-President and Foreign Minister of Prussia . Within nine years a new German nation state was created by the unification of the numerous independent German-speaking states in central Europe. The creation of Germany as a cohesive political and integrated country occurred on 18 January 1871 at the palace of Versailles in France. Following the military defeat of France by Prussia in the Franco/Prussian war, (July 1870 to January 1871), the leaders of the existing Germanic states attended a ceremony there to proclaim Wilhelm I of Prussia as Emperor Wilhelm of the German Empire .

Otto von Bismarck is widely recognized as the statesman who engineered the unification of Germany in this period, via astute political awareness, cunning diplomacy and the use of effective military power. However many historians have different views with regard to Bismarck’s real influence and even whether he wanted German unification or just expansion of the power and influence of his home state of Prussia. Bismarck has been described a great statesman, but also an autocrat who resented any opposition to his views . In contrast it has also been suggested that he was merely an astute politician who enhanced the position of his home state of Prussia, through clever management of the internal and external political circumstances that he lived through . This enquiry will attempt to assess the importance of Bismarck’s role in the unification of Germany by identifying and reviewing key historical events in the period 1789-1890.

In order to assess the impact that Bismarck had on the unification of Germany it is necessary to look at the status of the Germanic states at the start of the nineteenth century. Before 1815 Germany was a central European region consisting of numerous small independent states sharing a common language and culture. These states formed part of the Holy Roman Empire a medieval institution controlled by the Hapsburg dynasty of Austria. .

From the 1790 to 1814 French troops successively conquered and occupied German lands. The expansionist and military undertakings of the French gradually reduced the number of individual states. This consolidation process eventually led to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire on the 6th August 1806, when Napoleon defeated the last independent and defiant German state of Prussia . French control of German speaking Europe continued to 1813, however after Napoleon’s disastrous Russian campaigns, the hold that the French had on territory east of the river Rhine weakened. Anti-French sentiment erupted when the Russian armies, pursuing Napoleon's defeated invasion force approached Germany at the end of 1812. Numerous popular uprisings by the German population helped to drive Napoleon out of the Germany states in 1813 . This common fight of people from different German speaking states against the same enemy gave rise to strong feelings of nationalism. Immediately after emancipation there was a wave of popular sentiment for the unification of all German-speaking lands. However this sentiment was not realized as the two strongest states Prussia and Austria saw an opportunity for their own national expansion .

After Napoleon's final defeat, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 created a new European political-diplomatic system based on a balance of power. This system suppressed the aspirations of some nations such as Prussia and Italy, and enhanced others such as Great Britain Austria and Russia . Prussia and the 38 other German states were confederated with Austria in a German confederation under Austrian patronage. This assertion of Austrian dominance failed to take into account Prussia's emerging aspirations in European politics. The Prussian army had been a vital part of the military alliance that defeated the French at the battle of Waterloo, however the Prussians felt that the congress of Vienna did not reflect...
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