At the end of the Napoleonic wars the area now known as Germany comprised of 39 separate states of different sizes.
At the congress of Vienna, the international gathering that reshaped Europe after Napoleon’s defeat, the Great Powers created a new framework for the region, the German Confederation. The Confederation excluded parts of the largest German states Austria and Prussia and included within its borders members of other nationalities, such as Danes in the north and Czechs in the south. The governing body of the new structure was the Federal Diet meeting in Frankfurt, which contained one representative nominated by the government of each member of state. The Diet’s presidency was permanently held by Austria.In Germany support for ideas of national unity came mainly from a relatively small, educated middle class, composed of uni professors and students, who formed academic guilds or unions known as Burschenschaften. To the ultra-conservative Metternich, nationalism was no less dangerous for being the creed of a minority.Carlsbad decrees stemmed from the murder of an anti liberal writer Kotzebue, banned the Burschenschaften and introduced extensive curbs on free political discussions. In spite of these police state measures Metternich did not succeed in holding back the tide of change and the Burschenschaften simply went underground.
Otto von Bismarck saw himself primarily as the defender of the Prussian monarchy and the interest of the Prussian state. He had little sympathy with the aims of the German nationalist movement, once declaring that, “this kind of emotional sentimental policy is totally alien to me…I would as soon make war against the kings of Bavaria of Hanover as against France.” His real objective was the elimination of Austrian power in northern and central Germany. In the Schleswig-Holstein crisis of 1863-64 German nationalists wanted the absorption of the two duchies into the Confederation, under a German prince, the Duke of Augustenburg. Bismarck, on the other hand, straightforwardly aimed to annex them to Prussia.
To this end he fought against Denmark, in alliance with Austria. In the Seven Weeks War of 1866, Prussia’s ability to mobilise its troops rapidly, and to deploy superior military hardware brought rapid defeat of Austria.Schleswig-Holstein crisis of 1863-64:- these two duchies were under personal rule of the King of Denmark. The population of Holstein was wholly German and that of Schleswig was partly German.
When the Danish king tried to tighten his control over the duchies it caused an outcry from nationalists.Bismarck was an imaginative conservative, prepared to use modern methods to support traditional power structures.After 1866 Bismarck once again showed an awareness of how nationalism could be harnessed for his own ends.
The Southern states, such as Bavaria and Baden, were largely Catholic, whereas Prussia was distinctly Protestant, and they were anxious to maintain their independence. Bismarck pressured them to enter into military and economic agreements with Prussia. This left the door open to their possible future absorption into a united German state. In 1870, French aggression, cleverly exploited by Bismarck in his doctoring of the Ems Telegram, brought about a war that could be presented as one of national defence, waged on behalf of all Germany.
Victory over France enabled Bismarck to bring the Southern states into union with the North German Confederation, through the creation of the German empire.In the 1870s Bismarck undertook a campaign against Catholics known as the Kulturkampf, after German Catholics joined with their Polish and French co-religionists to form the Centre Party. Bismarck feared the Catholic Church, with its links to Polish nationalism as a threat to German unity.
The Prussian king was also the German Kaiser or emperor. He controlled the armed forces and determined crucial issues of war and peace without reference to the elected representative of the people.Germany’s new ruler took national unity as an established fact and aimed unreservedly to expand his country’s power. He had Bismarck’s intolerance of minority groups with the more aggressive, Social Darwinian spirit of German nationalism.From 1897, Wilhelm’s Germany pursued a strategy known as Weltpolitik (world policy), in an attempt to acquire an overseas empire alongside its British and French rivals.
Under the guidance of Admiral Tirpitz (secretary of state for the Navy 1897-1916), the building of a large battle fleet became an integral part of this approach.Nationalism was therefore important as ideological ‘cement’ holding together a progovernment coalition of forces. Nationalism in the Wilhelmine period was a substitute for the imperial system’s failure to integrate the competing political parties.The national unity induced by the outbreak of war in 1914 – the so-called ‘spirit of August’ proved impermanent. The nature of Germany’s war aims became a source of conflict within the political system. The army supreme command wanted extensive territorial gains for Germany at the end of the war, while a majority in the Reichstag voted in July 1917 for a compromise peace without forced annexations.
The Kaiser’s government collapsed in November 1918, amid a revolutionary situation marked by working-class protests and a mutiny in the imperial fleet. By embarking on a war that they could not win they sealed the fate of the German empire that had been created in 1871.Germany had changed significantly as a result of 1848-49 revolutions. First the rebellions had uncovered a middle class that was increasingly politically aware. The Frankfurt Assembly of 1848-49 was finally obliged to construct a German constitution, which encouraged liberals and rulers alike. Second the revolutions exposed Prussia’s underlying hostility to Austria. While Austria and Russia were crushing unrest in the Hasburg lands, Prussia was free to develop its aims and plans.
Austria was weaker in 1850 having crushed the widespread unrest of 1848-49. The rebellions had revealed Austria’s vulnerability to liberal and national movements in the wide-ranging empire and they left Austria indebted. Austria’s weak economy and inefficient administration prevented repayment of this debt.The Prussian economy was a huge asset in the struggle for hegemony in Germany, since the relative strengths of Austria and Prussia were increasingly determined by their industrial performance. Prussia was able to forge ahead of Austria because a strong manufacturing base and trade network brought in tax revenues to finance both army and infrastructure improvements.* The Prussian economy took off in the 1850s* Coal production rose from 3.
2 to 12.3 million tonnes in 1846-60* The number of joint stock companies grew by over 100 in 1850-58* Several banks such as the Darmstadster Bank encouraged more investment* The 1860 Army Bill increased the total number of soldiers to 750,000 (4.5% of population)* Increased tax revenues cover the 9.5 million thaler the army cost in the first year* The new railway system increased military mobility in 1866 and 1870-71* The manufacturing base built up in the Saar and Rhineland produced heavy weapons in large numbers; the Krupps’ engineering works at Esser produced much of the artillery* Austria experienced sluggish growth and failure* The was a financial crisis in 1857* A military defeat in 1859 led to the loss of Lombardy on the empire’s most prosperous provinces.Clearly, there was a close relationship between Prussia’s economic modernisation and its role in German unification.
Bismarck possessed the political will to use these resources coupled with the diplomatic skill to exploit the new balance of forces in Europe. When the Reichstag refused to grant more taxes to pay for the 1862 Army Bill reforms, Bismarck simply ignored it collecting taxes illegally to 4 years. Bismarck had no intentions of maintaining cooperation with Austria.
From 1862-1871 Bismarck achieved what is usually described as German unification, though he himself aimed only to expand Prussia’s frontiers and ensure it’s security. He despised nationalists, though he was to harness the idea to his own ends. Bismarck was indeed a Junker and a Prussian.Bismarck had taken care to appear to act legally against Denmark. He claimed that Austria and Prussia were merely upholding the 1852 Treaty of London which had settled the duchies’ future.
In 1866 he again claimed to be acting legally as the injured party when he claimed the Austrians had breach their treaty obligations over the duchies and launched the Austro-Prussian war.The Prussian advance was so quick that Bismarck had difficulty in preventing the now enthusiastic king and his generals from ordering a march on Vienna. Austria had to accept defeat under the Treaty of Prague.