German unification


German unification

The Zollverein helped to unite Germany. This forged a sense of economic unity.

The Prussian Finance Minister, Count von Bulow, had the idea for the Zollverein. There was a customs union in 1818 in Prussia. Prior to that there had been tariffs within Prussia.

The Zollverein reduced tariff barriers and protectionism. Raw materials and manufactures became cheaper and more easily available.

It became cheaper to buy, sell and transport goods.

The Rhineland, the Saar and the Ruhr valleys became centres of industrial growth.

The inland states joined Zollverein sooner. That was because coastal states: they could trade by sea. They traded with other countries more than within Germany.

By 1836 all states south of Prussia had joined Zollverein except Austria.

Coastal states had tariff free access to international commerce. They did not wish to burder consumers and producers with import taxes. They would have to pay these if they were in the Zollverein.

Hanover had a steuerverein – tax union – in 1834 with Brunswick. Oldenburg then joined. External tariffs on incomplete goods and overseas raw materials were under the rates of the Zollverein.

Brunswick joined the Zollverein in 1842. Hanover and Oldenburg in 1854.

In 1866 Schlwesig, Holstein and Lauenburg were absorbed into Prussia.


In the early 19th century the roads were in a parlous state. People said the roads were terrible. They had been kept in decent condition in the Napoleonic Wars so the army could use them.

After the 1820s road improvements began. Prussia increased its hard road surfaces from 3 400 km to 16 600 km by 1852.

Heinrich von Gagern said that the roads were ”the veins and arteries of the body politic.”

Travel meant people came into contact with other Germans. This stimulated trade. People met at inns, restaurants, markets and stations. Symposia and conferences became more common. It became easier to have musicians, actors and writers travel.

Baden Baden became more important as a spa. Water transport ameliorated. There had been blockades on the Rhine. These were removed under Napoleon.

By the 1820s steam engines were on the rivers. Previously there had been barges. Men and horses had towed boats.

In 1846 there were over 180 paddle steamers on German rivers and lakes.

Canals were built in the 19th century. These linked to the rivers Danube, Weser and Elbe.

Some boats had to unload goods so they could be taxed, reload the goods and then unload against a few kilometres down the river to be taxed again. This was very time consuming. The Zollverein put an end to this.

The railway was vital. The train was invented in 1835 in the UK.

The German economist Friedrich List said that railways and thw Zollverein were Siamese twins,.

August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben composed a poem extolling the Zollverein.

The poet said that commodities had done more to build German unity than politics or diplomacy.

Some said that railways made the stated united.

The novelist Wilhelm Raabe wrote, ”the German empire was founded by the construction of the railway.”

Not everybody liked trains. They ruined coachmen. Some people were Luddites. Some said that trains were noisy, filthy, dangerous and unnatural. Some called trains ”iron monsters”.

King Frederick William III of Prussia said that there was no point in taking the train even though it was faster than a coach.

Prince Metternich (the Austrian Chancellor) said he would never take the train.

Nikolaus Lenau wrote a poem in 1838 called Tp Spring. In it he said that railways had ruined the placidity of the wilderness.

The Bavarian Ludwig Railway was the first railway in Germany. It was built between Nuremberg and Furth in 1835. It ws 6 km long and rain only in daytime. It was a hit. It expanded to 144 km within 3 years.

By 1840 there were 141 km of track.

by 1860 there were 11 000 km of track.

The railways were in webs. There was no capital of Germany so interconnectedness was limited. Railways served regions rather than the whole country.

Rail made it cheaper to transport goods and people. It also helped forged national unity despite the shortcomings of the unco-ordinated system.

Timetables meant that Germany had to all have the same time. Previously town clocks were set by the sun.

The cost of transporting a ton by rail fell from 18 pfennigs in 1840 to 5 in 1870.

Ran materials could travel faster. Transport was no longer stopped by flooded or frozen rivers.

There was a new demand for wood and coal. Commodities were transported faster and more affordably.

In 1850 inland shipping transported 3 times more freight than railways. By 1870 it was the other way around.

Cities were rebuilt to accommodate railways.

By the 1890s the railways had reached every market town in the country.


Travel became quicker.

The Borthers Grimm wrote their dictionary known as the Grimm. It compiled oral literature. They noted that many of the same stories existed throughout Germany but were told in different versions.

Karl Baedeker wrote guide books to German and foreign cities. He wrote a history and description of all notable buildings. He also provided transport and accommodation info.

Hoffman von Fallersleben said that geography mattered as much as language. He wrote the Song of the Germans which became the national anthem. He wanted everyone to unite.

Watch on the Rhine was another famous nationalistic song. It cites German characteristics. He disputed France’s claim that the Rhine was France’s eastern boundary.

Nickolaus Becker wrote the Rhine Song saying that Germans must defend Germany.

People had their identity formed by the landscape, ancient castles and historic places.


Austria and Prussia were police states. They censored a lot.

The period before 1848 was later called the pre-March.

Nationalism and liberalism began to spread. Nationalists usually wanted unification on a liberal basis – with greater rights. They wanted German unity because most people wanted it. They believed in giving people what they want.

Liberals wanted elected legislatures. They wanted votes for the upper class and middle class.


iN 1832 a festival was held in the ruins of Hambach Castle. 32 000 Nationalists students and intellectuals paraded there. Women attended as well as men. They bore aloft a banner which later became the German Flag. They formed the Burschenschaft – a nationalist secret organisation.

Popular sovereignty is the notion that ordinary people have the right to decide the future of the nation such as whether Germany should unite or not. The notion of unity was fairly popular.

Hambach was presented as a fair. Those who took part promoted fraternity, liberty and unity. They gathered in the Bavarian town of Hambach. There were musical events and a march. There were orations by nationalist thinkers. Some were radical, some liberal and a few conservative.

The German nationalist wanted to educate their people. Literacy in Germany was high. But Germans needed to be taught to think of themselves as German first and foremost.

The authorities were suspicious. To them Hambach smacked of France 1789. France had had another revolution in 1830. Therefore, hereditary rulers were jittery. Despite the presence of a few conservatives at Hambach, the preponderance of conservatives were hostile to the festival and its goals. Conservatives tended to emphasise state identity. They were negative about major changes.

At Hambach, speakers underscored that German unity was to be accomplished peacefully. They wanted a union of hearts and minds before political union was perfected.

Austria was the arch-conservative force in Germany. Vienna felt menaced by nationalism. It could lead to the breakup of the empire and the downfall of the monarchy.

The Chancellor of Austria, Metternich, was perturbed by Hambach. Prince Clemens von Metternich was a reactionary. Although he was Austrian Chancellor he was from the Rhineland. That did not make him sympathetic to German nationalism though. He used Hambach as a justification for the Six Articles: these were proclamations about the inviolability of the monarchy, the integrity of the Austrian Empire, the privileged position of the Catholic Church and so forth.

In July 1832 the Diet at Frankfurt voted for another 10 articles. These repeated that censorship would be exercised on publications or public speeches that caused disharmonious relations. The rules limiting political organisations were also reaffirmed. The states said that they would dispatch soldiers to any state that faced an insurrection.

Prince Wrede commanded half the Bavarian Army in marching to the Palatinate. He wanted to dissuade people there from any demonstrations. Some of those who had orated at Hambach were arrested. They were charged with sedition. One speaker, Heinrich Bruggemann, was sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment but released several years later. Several others received lenghty terms of incarceration.


The Carlsbad Decrees deprived people of free expression were ridiculed by liberals.

There were a multitude of factors concerning nationalism. There were asperities between the states in the German Confederation. Austria and Prussia had fought against each other many times. Austria had often been an all of France. if there was to be a united Germany who was to lead it? Would it be Germany or Austria? Could both be accommodated? The idea of having both in Germany was called Grossdeustchland.

There was business competition between the states. Industry and agricultures viewed each other as almost enemies. Cottage industries disliked factories. Handicrafts were going out of business because they could not compete with the low costs and standardisation of manufactured goods.

The Zollverein created losers as well as winners. Some people went bankrupt due to it. Taxes on incomes had to rise as import taxes were scrapped.

Landowners felt threatened by the new found wealth of factory owners and the mercantile class.

There was drought in the 1830s. This caused serious hardship.

In 1840 potato blight struck Germany.

There was considerable internal migration. As agriculture became more efficient and it needed fewer workers. Countryside people moved to cities where they found jobs in factories, coal mines, railways and the service sector.

The countryside and the city were not separate from each other. City dwellers often returned to their birth villages in the countryside on the weekend.

Governments were disturbed by growing discontent. They believed that seditionists were making people unhappy. Government feared a revolution.

Agitators were punished with fines and prison terms. Sometimes they were exiled to other states.

The intelligentisa was ever more alienated from the status quo. Undergraduates, professors, teachers, lawyers, architects, doctors, engineers, accountants and sometimes even clergy were becoming dissatisfied with the authoritarian nature of most German states. The highly educated people travelled the country the most and corresponded with each other. They had often studied in states other than their own. The intelligentsia had a more pronounced German identity than any other class.

Businessmen tended to travel to. Some of them were starting to have a distinct German identity and perceive the benefits that a united Germany would bring in its train.

Some of the aristocracy was attracted to German nationalism. They too had the time and money to travel. However, most of them saw the perils attendant on unification. It could be accompanied by revolution and that would threaten the position of the aristocracy. What would Poles in East Prussia say? They would wanted a united and independent Poland if there was a united and independent Germany.


In 1817 there had been the Wartburg rally in 1817. This had been the first public call for unification. It has prefigured Hambach.

At Hamback the varying views of the speakers had proved that there was no coherent nationalist movement. Nationalists had very different visions of a united Germany. They disagreed sharply on how to achieve a united Germany. They placed their faith in educating or indoctrinating the common people into nationalism. This was condescending. Some highly educated people were totally opposed to nationalism.

High flown rhetoric achieved little. Flaunting flags was no substitues for action nor was a banquet for nationalist windbags. Some proposed writing a German Constitution. But before 1848 no one did it.


In February 1848 a revolution broke out in Paris. King Louis Philippe was overthrown. That was the end of the Orleanist dynasty in France.

In Vienna, Prince Metternich was aghast. He opposed any upset to the Congress of Vienna settlement that he had painstakingly set up in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. Metternich saw Austria as the policeman of Europe. He therefore decided that military action was needed to quell the French Revolution and put the King of the French back on his throne. If revolution was not nipped in the bud then it would spread – that was Metternich’s reasoning.

In Austria taxes were raised to fund a war. Austria called on other states in Europe to join the counter revolutionary cause. Austrians were horrified that they were going to be taxed more. It also seemed like another unnecessary war against France. Austria had had over 20 years of those at enormous cost. Many people went to the banks to withdraw all their money. They feared that the government would simply confiscate money from banks as a way of taxing people.

Queues at banks turned into rowdy demonstrations. The situation grew so alarming that the Hasburgs fled to Innsbruck. Crowds demanded that Metternich be sacked. The emperor dismissed Metternich. He then moved to London.

The revolution spread to Hungary, Ireland, Venezuela, Poland and other countries.

The Frankfurt Parliament met at St Paul’s Church. They decided that a proper national parliament needed to be elected. Radicals wanted every man to be able to vote. Liberals wanted educational and property qualifications in order to vote.

The German Revolution was intended to bring about unification and a constitution. Revolutionaries were not that revolutionary at first. They petitioned the states to allow an elected assembly for the whole of Germany. The revolutionaries thought that relatively liberal states in the Rhineland might agree.

Some revolutionaries thought that the King of Prussia ought to be the German head of state. It stood to reason. Prussia was the largest mainly German state. Prussia had done more to beat France than any other state. Prussia was not as hostile to German nationalism as Austria was.

There was some debate just how integrated a united Germany should be. How much autonomy should states retain.

Prussia had a three class voting system. Those who paid a third of the tax elected a third of the deputies to the landtag (parliament). The richest 5% therefore had 33% of the representation. The next richest 20% had a third and the rest had another third. Every man in Prussia could vote but not on an equal basis.

For the first time German nationalism spread out of the upper middle class. Significant numbers of working class people became excited by the idea of unification. It was a very dangerous moment for reactionaries.

In March 1849 the Frankfurt Parliament passed the Constitution. It offered the emperorship of Germany to Frederick William IV. The King of Prussia declined scornfully. He would only accept such an offer from the heads of states. Prussia knew that if its king had accepted the crown from the Frankfurt Parliament the other states including Austria would have declared war. Even Russia might have stepped in. A united Germany would be too mighty; It would be perceive as an existential threat by its neighbours.

The Frankfurt Parliament proposed kleindeutschland – i.e. Germany excluding Austria. This disappointed many. Some Austrians were German nationalists. Though the Austrian Government was adamantine in its opposition to nationalism not all Austrians were against it.

Some German states were amenable to unification. They negotiated with the Frankfurt Parliament. A few even encouraged it. This was a mixture of genuine conviction and a belief that unification was happening anyway so it was wise to be on the winning side.

The defeat of all the other revolutions (except the French one) demoralised the Frankfurt Parliament.


Liberals in Frankfurt failed to accomplish nationalism their way. Therefore it fell to conservatives to do it their way. That is one viewpoint. The liberals had also made perhaps too many concession to land owners.

Germany is said to have followed the sonderweg (separate path) in its historical development after 1848.

People say that the failure of 1848 led to Germany being an authoritarian satte when it eventually united. Some said this ultimately led to Nazism.

Some German bourgeois wanted to be upper class. The failure of 1848 was largely a middle class failure. They began to believe that only the upper class could accomplished what the middle class could not.


More recent scholarship has rejected this idea, claiming that Germany did not have an actual “distinctive path” any more than any other nation, a historiographic idea known as exceptionalism.[52] Instead, modern historians claim 1848 saw specific achievements by the liberal politicians. Many of their ideas and programs were later incorporated into Bismarck’s social programs (e.g., social insurance, education programs, and wider definitions of suffrage). In addition, the notion of a distinctive path relies upon the underlying assumption that some other nation’s path (in this case, the United Kingdom’s) is the accepted norm.[53] This new argument further challenges the norms of the British-centric model of development: studies of national development in Britain and other “normal” states (e.g., France or the United States) have suggested that even in these cases, the modern nation-state did not develop evenly. Nor did it develop particularly early, being rather a largely mid-to-late-19th-century phenomenon.[54] Since the end of the 1990s, this view has become widely accepted, although some historians still find the Sonderweg analysis helpful in understanding the period of National Socialism.[55][56]

Problem of spheres of influence: The Erfurt Union and the Punctation of Olmütz[edit]

This depiction of Germania, also by Philipp Veit, was created to hide the organ of the Paul’s Church in Frankfurt, during the meeting of the Parliament there, March 1848–49. The sword was intended to symbolize the Word of God and to mark the renewal of the people and their triumphant spirit.

After the Frankfurt Parliament disbanded, Frederick William IV, under the influence of General Joseph Maria von Radowitz, supported the establishment of the Erfurt Union—a federation of German states, excluding Austria—by the free agreement of the German princes. This limited union under Prussia would have almost entirely eliminated Austrian influence on the other German states. Combined diplomatic pressure from Austria and Russia (a guarantor of the 1815 agreements that established European spheres of influence) forced Prussia to relinquish the idea of the Erfurt Union at a meeting in the small town of Olmütz in Moravia. In November 1850, the Prussians—specifically Radowitz and Frederick William—agreed to the restoration of the German Confederation under Austrian leadership. This became known as the Punctation of Olmütz, but among Prussians it was known as the “Humiliation of Olmütz.”[57]

Although seemingly minor events, the Erfurt Union proposal and the Punctation of Olmütz brought the problems of influence in the German states into sharp focus. The question became not a matter of if but rather when unification would occur, and when was contingent upon strength. One of the former Frankfurt Parliament members, Johann Gustav Droysen, summed up the problem:

We cannot conceal the fact that the whole German question is a simple alternative between Prussia and Austria. In these states, German life has its positive and negative poles—in the former, all the interests [that] are national and reformative, in the latter, all that are dynastic and destructive. The German question is not a constitutional question but a question of power; and the Prussian monarchy is now wholly German, while that of Austria cannot be.[58]

Unification under these conditions raised a basic diplomatic problem. The possibility of German (or Italian) unification would overturn the overlapping spheres of influence system created in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna. The principal architects of this convention, MetternichCastlereagh, and Tsar Alexander (with his foreign secretary Count Karl Nesselrode), had conceived of and organized a Europe balanced and guaranteed by four “great powers“: Great Britain, France, Russia, and Austria, with each power having a geographic sphere of influence. France’s sphere included the Iberian Peninsula and a share of influence in the Italian states. Russia’s included the eastern regions of Central Europe and a balancing influence in the Balkans. Austria’s sphere expanded throughout much of the Central European territories formerly held by the Holy Roman Empire. Britain’s sphere was the rest of the world, especially the seas.[59]

This sphere of influence system depended upon the fragmentation of the German and Italian states, not their consolidation. Consequently, a German nation united under one banner presented significant questions. There was no readily applicable definition for who the German people would be or how far the borders of a German nation would stretch. There was also uncertainty as to who would best lead and defend “Germany”, however it was defined. Different groups offered different solutions to this problem. In the Kleindeutschland (“Lesser Germany”) solution, the German states would be united under the leadership of the Prussian Hohenzollerns; in the Grossdeutschland (“Greater Germany”) solution, the German states would be united under the leadership of the Austrian Habsburgs. This controversy, the latest phase of the German dualism debate that had dominated the politics of the German states and Austro-Prussian diplomacy since the 1701 creation of the Kingdom of Prussia, would come to a head during the following twenty years.[60]

External expectations of a unified Germany[edit]

Other nationalists had high hopes for the German unification movement, and the frustration with lasting German unification after 1850 seemed to set the national movement back. Revolutionaries associated national unification with progress. As Giuseppe Garibaldi wrote to German revolutionary Karl Blind on 10 April 1865, “The progress of humanity seems to have come to a halt, and you with your superior intelligence will know why. The reason is that the world lacks a nation [that] possesses true leadership. Such leadership, of course, is required not to dominate other peoples but to lead them along the path of duty, to lead them toward the brotherhood of nations where all the barriers erected by egoism will be destroyed.” Garibaldi looked to Germany for the “kind of leadership [that], in the true tradition of medieval chivalry, would devote itself to redressing wrongs, supporting the weak, sacrificing momentary gains and material advantage for the much finer and more satisfying achievement of relieving the suffering of our fellow men. We need a nation courageous enough to give us a lead in this direction. It would rally to its cause all those who are suffering wrong or who aspire to a better life and all those who are now enduring foreign oppression.” [61]

German unification had also been viewed as a prerequisite for the creation of a European federation, which Giuseppe Mazzini and other European patriots had been promoting for more than three decades:

In the spring of 1834, while at Berne, Mazzini and a dozen refugees from Italy, Poland and Germany founded a new association with the grandiose name of Young Europe. Its basic, and equally grandiose idea, was that, as the French Revolution of 1789 had enlarged the concept of individual liberty, another revolution would now be needed for national liberty; and his vision went further because he hoped that in the no doubt distant future free nations might combine to form a loosely federal Europe with some kind of federal assembly to regulate their common interests. […] His intention was nothing less than to overturn the European settlement agreed [to] in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna, which had reestablished an oppressive hegemony of a few great powers and blocked the emergence of smaller nations. […] Mazzini hoped, but without much confidence, that his vision of a league or society of independent nations would be realized in his own lifetime. In practice Young Europe lacked the money and popular support for more than a short-term existence. Nevertheless he always remained faithful to the ideal of a united continent for which the creation of individual nations would be an indispensable preliminary.[62]

Prussia’s growing strength: Realpolitik[edit]

Further information: Helmuth von Moltke the Elder § Moltke’s Theory of WarThe convergence of leadership in politics and diplomacy by Bismarck, left, reorganization of the army and its training techniques by Albrecht von Roon (center), and the redesign of operational and strategic principles by Helmuth von Moltke (right) placed Prussia among the most powerful states in European affairs after the 1860s.

King Frederick William IV suffered a stroke in 1857 and could no longer rule. This led to his brother William becoming Prince Regent of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1858. Meanwhile, Helmuth von Moltke had become chief of the Prussian General Staff in 1857, and Albrecht von Roon would become Prussian Minister of War in 1859.[63] This shuffling of authority within the Prussian military establishment would have important consequences. Von Roon and William (who took an active interest in military structures) began reorganizing the Prussian army, while Moltke redesigned the strategic defense of Prussia by streamlining operational command. Prussian army reforms (especially how to pay for them) caused a constitutional crisis beginning in 1860 because both parliament and William—via his minister of war—wanted control over the military budget. William, crowned King Wilhelm I in 1861, appointed Otto von Bismarck to the position of Minister-President of Prussia in 1862. Bismarck resolved the crisis in favor of the war minister.[64]

The Crimean War of 1854–55 and the Italian War of 1859 disrupted relations among Great Britain, France, Austria, and Russia. In the aftermath of this disarray, the convergence of von Moltke’s operational redesign, von Roon and Wilhelm’s army restructure, and Bismarck’s diplomacy influenced the realignment of the European balance of power. Their combined agendas established Prussia as the leading German power through a combination of foreign diplomatic triumphs—backed up by the possible use of Prussian military might—and an internal conservatism tempered by pragmatism, which came to be known as Realpolitik.[65]

Bismarck expressed the essence of Realpolitik in his subsequently famous “Blood and Iron” speech to the Budget Committee of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies on 30 September 1862, shortly after he became Minister President: “The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions—that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849—but by iron and blood.”[66] Bismarck’s words, “iron and blood” (or “blood and iron”, as often attributed), have often been misappropriated as evidence of a German lust for blood and power.[67] First, the phrase from his speech “the great questions of time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions” is often interpreted as a repudiation of the political process—a repudiation Bismarck did not himself advocate.[68] Second, his emphasis on blood and iron did not imply simply the unrivaled military might of the Prussian army but rather two important aspects: the ability of the assorted German states to produce iron and other related war materials and the willingness to use those war materials if necessary.[69]

Founding a unified state[edit]

There is, in political geography, no Germany proper to speak of. There are Kingdoms and Grand Duchies, and Duchies and Principalities, inhabited by Germans, and each [is] separately ruled by an independent sovereign with all the machinery of State. Yet there is a natural undercurrent tending to a national feeling and toward a union of the Germans into one great nation, ruled by one common head as a national unit.

—article from The New York Times published on July 1, 1866[70]

By 1862, when Bismarck made his speech, the idea of a German nation-state in the peaceful spirit of Pan-Germanism had shifted from the liberal and democratic character of 1848 to accommodate Bismarck’s more conservative Realpolitik. Bismarck sought to link a unified state to the Hohenzollern dynasty, which for some historians remains one of Bismarck’s primary contributions to the creation of the German Empire in 1871.[71] While the conditions of the treaties binding the various German states to one another prohibited Bismarck from taking unilateral action, the politician and diplomat in him realized the impracticality of this.[72] To get the German states to unify, Bismarck needed a single, outside enemy that would declare war on one of the German states first, thus providing a casus belli to rally all Germans behind. This opportunity arose with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Historians have long debated Bismarck’s role in the events leading up to the war. The traditional view, promulgated in large part by late 19th- and early 20th-century pro-Prussian historians, maintains that Bismarck’s intent was always German unification. Post-1945 historians, however, see more short-term opportunism and cynicism in Bismarck’s manipulation of the circumstances to create a war, rather than a grand scheme to unify a nation-state.[73] Regardless of motivation, by manipulating events of 1866 and 1870, Bismarck demonstrated the political and diplomatic skill that had caused Wilhelm to turn to him in 1862.[74]From north to south: The Danish part of Jutland in purple and terracotta, Schleswig in red and brown, and Holstein in lime yellow. The Schleswig-Holstein Question was about the status of those territories.

Three episodes proved fundamental to the unification of Germany. First, the death without male heirs of Frederick VII of Denmark led to the Second War of Schleswig in 1864. Second, the unification of Italy provided Prussia an ally against Austria in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Finally, France—fearing Hohenzollern encirclement—declared war on Prussia in 1870, resulting in the Franco-Prussian War. Through a combination of Bismarck’s diplomacy and political leadership, von Roon‘s military reorganization, and von Moltke‘s military strategy, Prussia demonstrated that none of the European signatories of the 1815 peace treaty could guarantee Austria’s sphere of influence in Central Europe, thus achieving Prussian hegemony in Germany and ending the dualism debate.[75]

The Schleswig-Holstein Question[edit]

Main article: Second Schleswig War

The first episode in the saga of German unification under Bismarck came with the Schleswig-Holstein Question. On 15 November 1863, Christian IX became king of Denmark and duke of SchleswigHolstein, and Lauenburg, which the Danish king held in personal union. On 18 November 1863, he signed the Danish November Constitution which replaced The Law of Sjælland and The Law of Jutland, which meant the new constitution applied to the Duchy of Schleswig. The German Confederation saw this act as a violation of the London Protocol of 1852, which emphasized the status of the Kingdom of Denmark as distinct from the three independent duchies. The German Confederation could use the ethnicities of the area as a rallying cry: Holstein and Lauenburg were largely of German origin and spoke German in everyday life, while Schleswig had a significant Danish population and history. Diplomatic attempts to have the November Constitution repealed collapsed, and fighting began when Prussian and Austrian troops crossed the Eider river on 1 February 1864.

Initially, the Danes attempted to defend their country using an ancient earthen wall known as the Danevirke, but this proved futile. The Danes were no match for the combined Prussian and Austrian forces and their modern armaments. The needle gun, one of the first bolt action rifles to be used in conflict, aided the Prussians in both this war and the Austro-Prussian War two years later. The rifle enabled a Prussian soldier to fire five shots while lying prone, while its muzzle-loading counterpart could only fire one shot and had to be reloaded while standing. The Second Schleswig War resulted in victory for the combined armies of Prussia and Austria, and the two countries won control of Schleswig and Holstein in the concluding peace of Vienna, signed on 30 October 1864.[76]

War between Austria and Prussia, 1866[edit]

Main article: Austro-Prussian WarSituation at the time of the outbreak of the war:  Prussia  Austria  Austria’s allies  Prussia’s allies  Neutral  Under joint administration (Schleswig-Holstein)

The second episode in Bismarck’s unification efforts occurred in 1866. In concert with the newly formed Italy, Bismarck created a diplomatic environment in which Austria declared war on Prussia. The dramatic prelude to the war occurred largely in Frankfurt, where the two powers claimed to speak for all the German states in the parliament. In April 1866, the Prussian representative in Florence signed a secret agreement with the Italian government, committing each state to assist the other in a war against Austria. The next day, the Prussian delegate to the Frankfurt assembly presented a plan calling for a national constitution, a directly elected national Diet, and universal suffrage. German liberals were justifiably skeptical of this plan, having witnessed Bismarck’s difficult and ambiguous relationship with the Prussian Landtag (State Parliament), a relationship characterized by Bismarck’s cajoling and riding roughshod over the representatives. These skeptics saw the proposal as a ploy to enhance Prussian power rather than a progressive agenda of reform.[77]

Choosing sides[edit]

The debate over the proposed national constitution became moot when news of Italian troop movements in Tyrol and near the Venetian border reached Vienna in April 1866. The Austrian government ordered partial mobilization in the southern regions; the Italians responded by ordering full mobilization. Despite calls for rational thought and action, Italy, Prussia, and Austria continued to rush toward armed conflict. On 1 May, Wilhelm gave von Moltke command over the Prussian armed forces, and the next day he began full-scale mobilization.[78]

In the Diet, the group of middle-sized states, known as Mittelstaaten (BavariaWürttemberg, the grand duchies of Baden and Hesse, and the duchies of Saxony–WeimarSaxony–MeiningenSaxony–Coburg, and Nassau), supported complete demobilization within the Confederation. These individual governments rejected the potent combination of enticing promises and subtle (or outright) threats Bismarck used to try to gain their support against the Habsburgs. The Prussian war cabinet understood that its only supporters among the German states against the Habsburgs were two small principalities bordering on Brandenburg that had little military strength or political clout: the Grand Duchies of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz. They also understood that Prussia’s only ally abroad was Italy.[79]

Opposition to Prussia’s strong-armed tactics surfaced in other social and political groups. Throughout the German states, city councils, liberal parliamentary members who favored a unified state, and chambers of commerce—which would see great benefits from unification—opposed any war between Prussia and Austria. They believed any such conflict would only serve the interests of royal dynasties. Their own interests, which they understood as “civil” or “bourgeois”, seemed irrelevant. Public opinion also opposed Prussian domination. Catholic populations along the Rhine—especially in such cosmopolitan regions as Cologne and in the heavily populated Ruhr Valley—continued to support Austria. By late spring, most important states opposed Berlin’s effort to reorganize the German states by force. The Prussian cabinet saw German unity as an issue of power and a question of who had the strength and will to wield that power. Meanwhile, the liberals in the Frankfurt assembly saw German unity as a process of negotiation that would lead to the distribution of power among the many parties.[80]

Austria isolated[edit]

Prussian Prince Friedrich Carl ordering his enthusiastic troops to attack at the Battle of Königgrätz

Although several German states initially sided with Austria, they stayed on the defensive and failed to take effective initiatives against Prussian troops. The Austrian army therefore faced the technologically superior Prussian army with support only from Saxony. France promised aid, but it came late and was insufficient.[81] Complicating the situation for Austria, the Italian mobilization on Austria’s southern border required a diversion of forces away from battle with Prussia to fight the Third Italian War of Independence on a second front in Venetia and on the Adriatic sea.[82]Aftermath of the war:  Prussia  Territories annexed by Prussia  Prussia’s allies  Austria  Austria’s allies  Neutral members of the German Confederation

In the day-long Battle of Königgrätz, near the village of SadováFriedrich Carl and his troops arrived late, and in the wrong place. Once he arrived, however, he ordered his troops immediately into the fray. The battle was a decisive victory for Prussia and forced the Habsburgs to end the war,[83] laying the groundwork for the Kleindeutschland (little Germany) solution, or “Germany without Austria.”

Realpolitik and the North German Confederation[edit]

Further information: North German Confederation

A quick peace was essential to keep Russia from entering the conflict on Austria’s side.[84] Prussia annexed HanoverHesse-KasselNassau, and the city of FrankfurtHesse Darmstadt lost some territory but not its sovereignty. The states south of the Main River (Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria) signed separate treaties requiring them to pay indemnities and to form alliances bringing them into Prussia’s sphere of influence. Austria, and most of its allies, were excluded from the North German Confederation.[85]

The end of Austrian dominance of the German states shifted Austria’s attention to the Balkans. In 1867, the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph accepted a settlement (the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867) in which he gave his Hungarian holdings equal status with his Austrian domains, creating the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary.[86] The Peace of Prague (1866) offered lenient terms to Austria, in which Austria’s relationship with the new nation-state of Italy underwent major restructuring; although the Austrians were far more successful in the military field against Italian troops, the monarchy lost the important province of Venetia. The Habsburgs ceded Venetia to France, which then formally transferred control to Italy.[87] The French public resented the Prussian victory and demanded Revanche pour Sadová (“Revenge for Sadova”), illustrating anti-Prussian sentiment in France—a problem that would accelerate in the months leading up to the Franco-Prussian War.[88] The Austro-Prussian War also damaged relations with the French government. At a meeting in Biarritz in September 1865 with Napoleon III, Bismarck had let it be understood (or Napoleon had thought he understood) that France might annex parts of Belgium and Luxembourg in exchange for its neutrality in the war. These annexations did not happen, resulting in animosity from Napoleon towards Bismarck.

The reality of defeat for Austria caused a reevaluation of internal divisions, local autonomy, and liberalism.[89] The new North German Confederation had its own constitution, flag, and governmental and administrative structures. Through military victory, Prussia under Bismarck’s influence had overcome Austria’s active resistance to the idea of a unified Germany. Austria’s influence over the German states may have been broken, but the war also splintered the spirit of pan-German unity: most of the German states resented Prussian power politics.[90]

War with France[edit]

Further information: Causes of the Franco-Prussian War

By 1870 three of the important lessons of the Austro-Prussian war had become apparent. The first lesson was that, through force of arms, a powerful state could challenge the old alliances and spheres of influence established in 1815. Second, through diplomatic maneuvering, a skillful leader could create an environment in which a rival state would declare war first, thus forcing states allied with the “victim” of external aggression to come to the leader’s aid. Finally, as Prussian military capacity far exceeded that of Austria, Prussia was clearly the only state within the Confederation (or among the German states generally) capable of protecting all of them from potential interference or aggression. In 1866, most mid-sized German states had opposed Prussia, but by 1870 these states had been coerced and coaxed into mutually protective alliances with Prussia. In the event that a European state declared war on one of their members, they all would come to the defense of the attacked state. With skillful manipulation of European politics, Bismarck created a situation in which France would play the role of aggressor in German affairs, while Prussia would play that of the protector of German rights and liberties.[91]

Spheres of influence fall apart in Spain[edit]

At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Metternich and his conservative allies had reestablished the Spanish monarchy under King Ferdinand VII. Over the following forty years, the great powers supported the Spanish monarchy, but events in 1868 would further test the old system. A revolution in Spain overthrew Queen Isabella II, and the throne remained empty while Isabella lived in sumptuous exile in Paris. The Spanish, looking for a suitable Catholic successor, had offered the post to three European princes, each of whom was rejected by Napoleon III, who served as regional power-broker. Finally, in 1870 the Regency offered the crown to Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a prince of the Catholic cadet Hohenzollern line. The ensuing furor has been dubbed by historians as the Hohenzollern candidature.[92]

Over the next few weeks, the Spanish offer turned into the talk of Europe. Bismarck encouraged Leopold to accept the offer.[93] A successful installment of a Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen king in Spain would mean that two countries on either side of France would both have German kings of Hohenzollern descent. This may have been a pleasing prospect for Bismarck, but it was unacceptable to either Napoleon III or to Agenor, duc de Gramont, his minister of foreign affairs. Gramont wrote a sharply formulated ultimatum to Wilhelm, as head of the Hohenzollern family, stating that if any Hohenzollern prince should accept the crown of Spain, the French government would respond—although he left ambiguous the nature of such response. The prince withdrew as a candidate, thus defusing the crisis, but the French ambassador to Berlin would not let the issue lie.[94] He approached the Prussian king directly while Wilhelm was vacationing in Ems Spa, demanding that the King release a statement saying he would never support the installation of a Hohenzollern on the throne of Spain. Wilhelm refused to give such an encompassing statement, and he sent Bismarck a dispatch by telegram describing the French demands. Bismarck used the king’s telegram, called the Ems Dispatch, as a template for a short statement to the press. With its wording shortened and sharpened by Bismarck—and further alterations made in the course of its translation by the French agency Havas—the Ems Dispatch raised an angry furor in France. The French public, still aggravated over the defeat at Sadová, demanded war.[95]

Military operations[edit]

Further information: Franco-Prussian WarEmperor Napoleon III (left) at Sedan, on 2 September 1870, seated next to Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, holding Napoleon’s surrendered sword. The defeat of the French army destabilized Napoleon’s regime; a revolution in Paris established the Third French Republic, and the war continued.

Napoleon III had tried to secure territorial concessions from both sides before and after the Austro-Prussian War, but despite his role as mediator during the peace negotiations, he ended up with nothing. He then hoped that Austria would join in a war of revenge and that its former allies—particularly the southern German states of Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria—would join in the cause. This hope would prove futile since the 1866 treaty came into effect and united all German states militarily—if not happily—to fight against France. Instead of a war of revenge against Prussia, supported by various German allies, France engaged in a war against all of the German states without any allies of its own.[96] The reorganization of the military by von Roon and the operational strategy of Moltke combined against France to great effect. The speed of Prussian mobilization astonished the French, and the Prussian ability to concentrate power at specific points—reminiscent of Napoleon I’s strategies seventy years earlier—overwhelmed French mobilization. Utilizing their efficiently laid rail grid, Prussian troops were delivered to battle areas rested and prepared to fight, whereas French troops had to march for considerable distances to reach combat zones. After a number of battles, notably SpicherenWörthMars la Tour, and Gravelotte, the Prussians defeated the main French armies and advanced on the primary city of Metz and the French capital of Paris. They captured Napoleon III and took an entire army as prisoners at Sedan on 1 September 1870.[97]

Proclamation of the German Empire[edit]

Further information: Proclamation of the German Empire

The humiliating capture of the French emperor and the loss of the French army itself, which marched into captivity at a makeshift camp in the Saarland (“Camp Misery”), threw the French government into turmoil; Napoleon’s energetic opponents overthrew his government and proclaimed the Third Republic.[98] “In the days after Sedan, Prussian envoys met with the French and demanded a large cash indemnity as well as the cession of Alsace and Lorraine. All parties in France rejected the terms, insisting that any armistice be forged “on the basis of territorial integrity.” France, in other words, would pay reparations for starting the war, but would, in Jules Favre’s famous phrase, “cede neither a clod of our earth nor a stone of our fortresses”.[99] The German High Command expected an overture of peace from the French, but the new republic refused to surrender. The Prussian army invested Paris and held it under siege until mid-January, with the city being “ineffectually bombarded”.[100] Nevertheless, in January, the Germans fired some 12,000 shells, 300–400 grenades daily into the city.[101] On 18 January 1871, the German princes and senior military commanders proclaimed Wilhelm “German Emperor” in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.[102] Under the subsequent Treaty of Frankfurt, France relinquished most of its traditionally German regions (Alsace and the German-speaking part of Lorraine); paid an indemnity, calculated (on the basis of population) as the precise equivalent of the indemnity that Napoleon Bonaparte imposed on Prussia in 1807;[103] and accepted German administration of Paris and most of northern France, with “German troops to be withdrawn stage by stage with each installment of the indemnity payment”.[104]

Importance in the unification process[edit]

18 January 1871: The proclamation of the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of VersaillesBismarck appears in white. The Grand Duke of Baden stands beside Wilhelm, leading the cheers. Crown Prince Friedrich, later Friedrich III, stands on his father’s right. Painting by Anton von Werner

Victory in the Franco-Prussian War proved the capstone of the nationalist issue. In the first half of the 1860s, Austria and Prussia both contended to speak for the German states; both maintained they could support German interests abroad and protect German interests at home. In responding to the Schleswig-Holstein Question, they both proved equally diligent in doing so. After the victory over Austria in 1866, Prussia began internally asserting its authority to speak for the German states and defend German interests, while Austria began directing more and more of its attention to possessions in the Balkans. The victory over France in 1871 expanded Prussian hegemony in the German states (aside from Austria) to the international level. With the proclamation of Wilhelm as Kaiser, Prussia assumed the leadership of the new empire. The southern states became officially incorporated into a unified Germany at the Treaty of Versailles of 1871 (signed 26 February 1871; later ratified in the Treaty of Frankfurt of 10 May 1871), which formally ended the war.[105] Although Bismarck had led the transformation of Germany from a loose confederation into a federal nation state, he had not done it alone. Unification was achieved by building on a tradition of legal collaboration under the Holy Roman Empire and economic collaboration through the Zollverein. The difficulties of the Vormärz, the impact of the 1848 liberals, the importance of von Roon’s military reorganization, and von Moltke’s strategic brilliance all played a part in political unification.[106] “Einheit – unity – was achieved at the expense of Freiheit – freedom. The German Empire became, in Karl Marx’s words, “a military despotism cloaked in parliamentary forms with a feudal ingredient, influenced by the bourgeoisie, festooned with bureaucrats and guarded by police.”11 Indeed many historians would see Germany’s “escape into war” in 1914 as a flight from all of the internal-political contradictions forged by Bismarck at Versailles in the fall of 1870.[107]

About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

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