Unification of Germany
Unification of Germany
Economic success, political failure, and diplomatic tension marked the idea of a unified Germany in the period after the Napoleonic Wars. It was not clear around which power, Austria or Prussia, Germany could achieve national unification (Merriman 2010). Prussian merchants, with the support of the Prussian crown, established the customs and trade union known as the Zollverein in 1834 (AP Central - German Unification 2013). The Zollverein freed trade between most of the German states, with the exception of Austria. The upper class were wary of any change that might threaten the status quo and feared the strong nationalist feeling unleashed by the revolution, the expansion of which might lead to, they reasoned, the proclamation of the equality of all citizens (Merriman 2010). Industrialists and merchants thus brought liberal politics into German nationalism. During the Revolution of 1848, liberals met in the Frankfurt Assembly and drafted a constitution modeled on the ideals of the French Revolution of 1789 (AP Central - German Unification 2013). The assembly offered to share power under a constitutional monarchy and offered the crown of a unified Germany to Frederick William IV of Prussia. The Revolution of 1848 brought some liberal reforms to Prussia, such as the ability of the parliament to obstruct certain forms of taxation. However, the Prussian leadership, which was thoroughly conservative, rejected the Frankfurt constitution, preferring reform and unification directed from above. Austria's resistance of attempts to unify Germany under Prussian leadership further obstructed unification. One of the major questions concerning German unification centered on this Prussian-Austrian rivalry, which was both diplomatic and cultural. Supporters of Greater Germany insisted that Prussians and Austrians, with a common language naturally, should be part of one nation. However, proponents of Lesser Germany argued that Austria should be excluded from unification due to dynastic rivalry between the Hohenzollerns and the Hapsburgs and the cultural differences between a mostly Protestant Prussia and Catholic Austria (AP Central - German Unification 2013).
Figure 1 : Kaiser Wilhem I German Emperor (18 January 1871 – 9 March 1888)
The Wars of German Unification
The path to unification for Germany came through diplomacy and war. The French defeat at the Battle of Sedan and annexation of Alsace-Lorraine brought Bavaria into the German Confederation, and William I became the first monarch of the German Empire (AP Central - German Unification 2013). In 1862, Wilhelm I of Prussia appointed Otto von Bismarck prime minister. Bismarck’s name became closely identified with the term Realpolitik, or “the politics of realism” (Muntone 2011). Bismarck was a very able man, both pragmatic and determined. Bismarck’s focus was on a united Germany with a strong monarch. Bismarck’s belief in a strong monarchy made him a political conservative and in the 1860’s he was faced with a hostile liberal majority in Parliament (Muntone 2011). Therefore, Bismarck directed the nation’s attention to foreign affairs. This would allow him to maintain control of the domestic policy, since civilian populations always accepted special government controls and restrictions during wartime. In 1864 Bismarck trumped up charges against the Danish government for their treatment of Germans living in the Danish province of Schleswig-Holstein. Prussia's defeat of Denmark and annexation of Schleswig-Holstein set Prussia on a collision course with Austria for dominance of central Europe. Following the defeat of the Austrian Empire in 1866, the German states allied with Prussia, with the notable exception of Catholic Bavaria, forming the North German Confederation. In his first two wars, Bismarck balanced Russian and French concerns over the growing power of...
References: Merriman, J. M. (2010). A history of modern Europe: 2 (3rd ed.). New York: W W Norton & Company Incorporated, 2009.
Muntone, S. (2011, January 1). The Unification of Germany | Education.com. Education.com | An Education & Child Development Site for Parents | Parenting & Educational Resource. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from
AP Central - German Unification. (2013). German unification. Retrieved June 5, 2013, from
Halsall, P. (1998, July). Modern History Sourcebook: Documents of German Unification, 1848-1871. Primary Source. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/germanunification.asp
World History at KMLA (2008). WHKMLA : History of Germany : German Unification under Bismarck, 1862-1871. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/germany/bismarck.html
Figure 1: http://www.worldwar1.com/photos/gkais.jpg
Figure 2: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~wggerman/map/germanempire.htm
Figure 3: http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/imperialism/images/bismarck.jpg
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