UNIFICATION OF GERMANY
Unification of Germany
Bismarck Unites Germany: Like Italy, Germany also achieved national unity in the mid-1800s. Beginning in 1815, 39 German states formed a loose grouping called the German Confederation. The Austrian Empire dominated the confederation. However, Prussia was ready to unify all the German states.
Prussia Leads German Unification: Prussia enjoyed several advantages that would eventually help it forge a strong German state. First of all, unlike the Austro- Hungarian Empire, Prussia had a mainly German population. As a result, nationalism actually unified Prussia. In contrast, ethnic groups in Austria-Hungary tore the empire apart. Moreover, Prussia’s army was by far the most powerful in central Europe. In 1848, Berlin rioters forced a constitutional convention to write up a liberal constitution for the kingdom, paving the way for unification.
Bismarck Takes Control: In 1861, Wilhelm I succeeded Frederick William to the throne. The liberal parliament refused him money for reforms that would double the strength of the army. Wilhelm saw the parliament’s refusal as a major challenge to his authority. He was supported in his view by the Junkers (YUNG•kuhrz), strongly conservative members of Prussia’s wealthy landowning class. In 1862, Wilhelm chose a conservative Junker named Otto von Bismarck as his prime minister. Bismarck was a master of what came to be known as realpolitik(This German term means “the politics of reality.” The term is used to describe tough power politics with no room for idealism.)
Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) : To some Germans, Bismarck was the greatest and noblest of Germany’s statesmen. They say he almost single- handedly unified the nation and raised it to greatness. To others, he was nothing but a devious politician who abused his powers and led Germany into dictatorship. His speeches, letters, and memoirs show him to be both crafty and deeply religious. At one moment, he could declare, “It is the destiny of the weak to be devoured by the strong.” At another moment he might claim, “We Germans shall never wage aggressive war, ambitious war, a war of conquest.”
With realpolitik as his style, Bismarck would become one of the commanding figures of German history.With the king’s approval, Bismarck declared that he would rule without the consent of parliament and without a legal budget. Those actions were in direct violation of the constitution. In his first speech as prime minister, he defiantly told members of the Prussian parliament, “It is not by means of speeches and majority resolutions that the great issues of the day will be decided—that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849—but by blood and iron.”
Prussia Expands: In 1864, Bismarck took the first step toward molding an empire. Prussia and Austria formed an alliance and went to war against Denmark to win two border provinces, Schleswig and Holstein.A quick victory increased national pride among Prussians. It also won new respect from other Germans and lent support for Prussia as head of a unified Germany. After the victory, Prussia governed Schleswig, while Austria controlled Holstein.
Seven Weeks’ War:Bismarck purposely stirred up border conflicts with Austria over Schleswig and Holstein. The tensions provoked Austria into declaring war on Prussia in 1866. This conflict was known as the Seven Weeks’ War. The Prussians used their superior training and equipment to win a devastating victory. They humiliated Austria. The Austrians lost the region of Venetia, which was given to Italy. They had to accept Prussian annexation of more German territory.
With its victory in the Seven Weeks’ War, Prussia took control of northern Germany. For the first time, the eastern and western parts of the Prussian kingdom were joined. In 1867, the remaining states of the north joined the North German Confederation, which Prussia dominated completely.
The Franco-Prussian War :By 1867, a few southern German states remained independent of Prussian control. The majority of southern Germans were Catholics. Many in the region resisted domination by a Protestant Prussia. However, Bismarck felt he could win the support of southerners if they faced a threat from outside. He reasoned that a war with France would rally the south.
Bismarck was an expert at manufacturing “incidents” to gain his ends. For example, he created the impression that the French ambassador had insulted the Prussian king. The French reacted to Bismarck’s deception by declaring war on Prussia on July 19, 1870. The Prussian army immediately poured into northern France. In September 1870, the Prussian army surrounded the main French force at Sedan. Among the 83,000 French prisoners taken was Napoleon III himself. Parisians withstood a German siege until hunger forced them to surrender.
The Franco-Prussian War was the final stage in German unification. Now the nationalistic fever also seized people in southern Germany. They finally accepted Prussian leadership. On January 18, 1871, at the captured French palace of Versailles, King Wilhelm I of Prussia was crowned kaiser (KY•zuhr), or emperor. Germans called their empire the Second Reich. (The Holy Roman Empire was the first.) Bismarck had achieved Prussian dominance over Germany and Europe “by blood and iron.”
A Shift in Power: The 1815 Congress of Vienna had established five Great Powers in Europe— Britain, France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia. In 1815, the Great Powers were nearly equal in strength. The wars of the mid-1800s greatly strengthened one of the Great Powers, as Prussia joined with other German states to form Germany.
By 1871, Britain and Germany were clearly the most powerful, both militarily and economically. Austria and Russia lagged far behind. France struggled along somewhere in the middle. The European balance of power had broken down. This shift also found expression in the art of the period. In fact, during that century, artists, composers, and writers pointed to paths that they believed European society should follow.