To what extent was Bismarck responsible for the unification of Germany?

Topics: Otto von Bismarck, Prussia, Germany Pages: 5 (1733 words) Published: February 23, 2004
Under the guidance of Bismarck, the Prussian chancellor, the unification of a Kleindeutsch (small Germany) took place in 1871 after Prussia defeated France. There is often historical debate over who was responsible for the unification of Germany. Controversy is caused amongst those who believe that Bismarck was fully responsible for German unification and those who believe other factors played an equally or even more important part. The historian Pflanze is an example of someone who considers Bismarck to be solely responsible, as opposed to Bohme, who gives full credit to economic factors in unifying Germany. However, there is also a middle view, supported by historians such as Medlicott, who argue that Bismarck and other relevant factors caused unification. The aim of this essay is to firstly examine the importance of Bismarck in the unification of Germany and then to look at other factors which played a part, to eventually reach a balanced conclusion.

The strong and determined leadership displayed by Bismarck played a very important part in uniting the German states. An example of this is when Bismarck illegally raised money for army reforms, boldly ignoring the opposition of the Prussian parliament who refused to vote the sum of money needed. In a speech to the parliament in 1863, he claimed that: "Whoever has the power in hand goes ahead with his views". Despite the outrage of the Prussian parliament at his arrogance, Bismarck was able to collect enough money to enable him to build up the army, which was essential in helping Germany to become united. Bismarck's forceful approach was also essential in unifying Germany. After the failure of the Frankfurt Parliament in 1848, he believed that idealism and talking were not going to result in the unification of Germany and that force had to be used. Bismarck stated that: "The great questions of the day are not decided by speeches and resolutions of majorities - that was the mistake of 1848 and 1849 - but by iron and blood". His "iron and blood" speech was important, as it tried to encourage parliament to take firm action instead of discussing issues and getting nowhere. The historian Pflanze believed that Bismarck was responsible for uniting Germany as he turned the German people over to German nationalism. He claims that Germany was unified: "only under the stimulation provided by Bismarck". This proves that Bismarck's effective and forceful leadership was important in the unification of Germany.

Bismarck's previous political experience and knowledge of foreign and domestic affairs later helped him in his role of unifying Germany. He represented Prussia in the German parliament, which helped him to gain a better knowledge of German politics. Bismarck was then transferred to St. Petersburg in Russia, where he was very popular with the Russian court. A good relationship between Bismarck and the Russian Tsar was established here, which later ensured Russian neutrality in the Prussian war with Austria. He went to Paris, where he gained a better knowledge of European politics. He also measured up the strengths and weaknesses of the French Emperor, Louis Napoleon. Bismarck later played on these weaknesses to ensure French neutrality in the war with Austria - Napoleon's guilt in abandoning Italy in a previous war against Austria and his desire for France to be the leading European power. Bismarck also played on Napoleon's temperament during the lead up to the Franco-Prussian war by editing a telegram, which he knew would anger Napoleon into declaring war against Prussia. This demonstrates the importance of Bismarck's previous political experience in the unification of Germany.

The political cleverness displayed by Bismarck and his sense of opportunism was valuable to him in his role of unifying Germany. He demonstrated this when he took the initiative in declaring war against Denmark and persuading Austria to follow on. Denmark was defeated and Prussia was given full...
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