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16. Unification of Germany

  • The unification of Germany into a politically integrated nation state officially occurred on 18 January 1871 at the Versailles Palace's Hall of Mirrors in France.
  • Like Italy, Germany was also divided into many states. At the end of Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815 there were 38 independent states in Germany.
  • In 1815, the German states along with the Austria were organized into a Germanic confederation.
  • Prussia was one of the most powerful states.
  • A strong minority in the National Assembly in Frankfurt advocated the exclusion of Austria from the German nation state and the foundation of a smaller (kleindeutsch) Empire under Prussian leadership (kleindeutsch meaning "smaller German," as opposed to großdeutsch).
  • National Assembly tried to save national unity at least of the "kleindeutsch" mold by offering a German crown to the Prussian king. The king, however, refused to accept a crown from revolutionaries (which he called a "crown from the gutter").
  • Prussian troops disbanded the National Assembly, and the bloody failure of the revolution made many liberals conclude that military power would be necessary to unite Germany.
  • The failed revolution was a drawback for the national cause, but the demand for unification revived in the late 1850s as a consequence of industrial and economic development.
  • After 1850 the industrial revolution in Germany entered its decisive phase (take-off). New factories were built at a breath-taking rate, the production of textiles and iron soared, railroads grew and started to connect many distant regions, and coal production and export reached record levels every year.
  • The man who would lead Prussia in Germany's unification was its chancellor (prime minister), Otto von Bismarck (1815-94).
  • In the 1850s and 60s Austria, caught in its double role as a multi-national empire and German state, still hoped to preserve a loosely united confederation in Germany.
  • The Otto von Bismarck, became Prussian Minister President in 1862, accepted the necessity of national unification without Austria and was determined to bring united Germany under the hegemony of the conservative, anti-liberal Prussian monarchy.
  • To Bismarck, unity might be a good thing if it strengthened Prussia and took the wind out of the sails of the liberals, who he had provoked by funding army increases in defiance of the Prussian parliament's liberal majority.
  • Bismarck adopted universal and equal suffrage in his constitutional settlements of 1867 and 1871; but this step, welcomed by democrats and many socialists, was meant to work as a weapon against the liberal bourgeoisie and also against conservative aristocrats and the Austrians. This strategy was inspired by the French Emperor Napoleon III.
  • "Not by speeches and majority resolutions are the great questions of the day decided—that was the mistake of 1848 and 1849—but by blood and iron." — Otto von Bismarck
  • In 1858, Wilhelm I had succeeded Frederick William IV.  The new king wanted to build up and reform the Prussian army.  But one obstacle stood in the way: the Prussian Reichstag (parliament), formed as a result of the revolutions of 1848, refused to grant Wilhelm the needed money.
  • In 1863 the Danish government, aiming to consolidate its lands, proceeded to make Schleswig an integral part of Denmark.
  • The violated international conventions and provoked the diet of the German Confederation to call for an all-German war against Denmark.
  • Bismarck, though unwilling to wage war in the name of the German Confederation, had the Prussian army fight side by side with the Austrians against Denmark.
  • In a constitutional quarrel with the Prussian liberals over military expenses, Bismarck had earlier ignored the Prussian parliament and increased the army without necessary parliamentary approval.
  • After a quick victory against Denmark, which did indeed mitigate liberal criticism of his high-handed practices, Bismarck signed a settlement that let Prussia govern Schleswig and Austria Holstein.
  • Two years later, however, conflicts between Austria and Prussia over occupation rights escalated.
  • Bismarck ordered Prussian troops to occupy Holstein in 1866.
  • Austria demanded a German Confederation expedition against Prussia, and most German states joined Austria against Prussia.
  • Within seven weeks the Prussians defeated all enemies due to their own superior military organization and equipment. Prussia smashed the German Confederation, annexed many German states north of the Main River and formed a new union with the remaining ones: the North German Confederation (1867).
  • Bismarck drafted a constitution that granted universal and equal manhood suffrage to the parliament of the North German Confederation.
  • The parliament got the right to vote the budget, but the government remained responsible only to the Prussian king, who headed the North German Confederation.
  • This constitution was a precursor to the settlement of 1871.
  • To win his enemies as future allies, Bismarck imposed mild peace treaties on Austria and the South German states
  • The outcome of the Prussian war against Austria and its South German allies came as a bad surprise mainly to France.
  • For centuries French policy-makers had aimed to keep Germany divided and weak; suddenly a strong German power had been allowed to expand through much of Germany.
  • France tried to renew its traditional ties with the South German states, but to no avail. Even the relatively liberal and anti-Prussian South Germans had become too nationalistic and economically involved with Prussia to ally with a foreign power against it.
  • Napoleon III, hoping for a military victory to stabilize his weakening régime, declared war on Prussia on 19 July 1870 - the biggest mistake of his life.
  • France was isolated, and its declaration of war compelled the South German states to aid Prussia according to the defense treaty.
  • The well-organized Prussian army with its allies destroyed the main French army in early September and took Napoleon prisoner. While the German troops were beleaguering Paris, Bismarck won the consent of the other princes to unite Germany (excluding Austria) with the Prussian king as German emperor.
  • Several princes, mainly the kings of Bavaria and Württemberg, insisted on retaining some autonomy, and Bismarck granted them their own postal service, railroads, and foreign representation.
  • At Versailles on 18 January 1871 Bismarck had his king proclaim the German Empire.
  • The war with France was concluded by the Treaty of Frankfurt in May 1871. France had to cede its eastern provinces Alsace and Lorraine to the new empire and pay high reparations until 1875.


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