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What does the period 1848-51, tell us about the attitude of the Austrian and Prussia government towards the Unification of Germany

The period 1848-51 is generally considered by many historians as a period of consolidation after the 1848 but this does not necessarily mean that consolidation was the only outcome of this period. Also many historians are fond of describing the 1850’s as a disaster for Prussia, this may be true on first glance but beneath the foundation stone for a united Germany had been laid. This period of consolidation did not just stabilize Germany but began a serious rivalry between Prussia and Austria that could end in war at the slightest provocation, the showdown at Hesse-Cassel a prime example of this fierce rivalry.Between 1848-51, Prussia and Austria both wanted to dominate but in practice only one could, again this caused friction between these great powers. Austria restored the Bund so the Habsburgs could exert their traditional dominance over the German States. Prussia formed the Erfurt Union, a way of dominating states or rulers that had signed up to the scheme. Throughout this period there way other underhand attempts to dominate Germany by both sides an example of this was the ‘Dreikonigsbundnis’ which technically united the large states of Prussia, Hanover and Saxony under the Prussians, this could be seen as a Prussian attempt to exclude Austria by uniting with two of the other large states.Also although Fredrick William IV had declined the crown of Germany in 1849 from the Frankfurt parliament he spent these three years trying to unite Germany under him by using the Princes, this is seen in the Erfurt Union in which a new federation of German states would be created under the Hohenzollen monarch. The Austrian Empire would never join the Erfurt Union under Prussia so she was excluded.Also the Schleswig Holstein Crisis, which began in 1848 did not help relations between Austria and Prussia either in fact they just descended from peaceful friends into fierce rivals. For a unification of Germany to take place either Austria and Prussia would have to unite or one of them would be defeated in a war and therefore excluded from a united Germany. As you can see by the examples, unifying Austria and Prussia was almost inconceivable at this time and neither side wanted a war at this time so unification was out of the question.Prussia, or more precisely, Fredrick William IV, wanted to become the ruler of a new Germany but only with the consent of Austria and the Princes, Austria would never consent so Germany would never unite under Fredrick William IV. Austria wanted to take Germany back to before 1848 where she was unchallenged in her dominance, the dominance that the Habsburgs had inherited for centuries, unification would spell the end of this dominance, so Austria would never willingly consent to unification. These were the general attitudes of the Prussian and Austrian governments and I will introduce more evidence to state these attitudes and then demonstrate, through evidence, the reason why Prussia and Austrian conflicted in attitude when it came to uniting Germany.Austria and the Habsburgs in general had no desire for unification and their foreign policy of this period emphasised this for example the restoration of the Bund emphasises the fact that they still wanted to dominate the German states. The Habsburg had dominated and effectively ruled Germany under the Holy Roman Empire since the accession of Maximilian I in 1493, after being in power for over 350 years the Habsburgs would be unwilling to let Germany unite unless it was under Habsburg control. For hundreds of years the Habsburgs had many duchies, archduchies and kingdoms in their family, the Habsburg were meant to rule in the eyes of the German Princes, including Fredrick William IV. Every successor of the Habsburg Empire believed he was the King of Kings, you can see this through the way the Habsburgs treated the Bund, unification would mean that they would be put in a difficult position, because many German Princes did not want a ‘GroBdeutschland’, they wanted Austria but not their Empire and Austria would not sacrifice its power base just for the crown of a unified Germany. This being the case Austria just ignored the idea of unification and when they needed a response the proposed a ‘GroBdeutschland’.The Bund was essential to Austria’s control over Germany, it needed to Bund to maintain its influence and interests throughout the German States. If Austria did not renew its dominance over Germany through the Bund, Prussia would become dominate through the Erfurt Union. By bringing back the Bund it shows that Austria wanted to restore central Europe to the Vormarz period, with Austria leading the way. Also with a restoration of the Bund it would show that Austria was still powerful and it would not let go of its dominance.This also shows that although Metternich had been dismissed there was still many conservatives throughout the Austrian Empire who still resist change despite the events of 1848. The restoration of the Bund shows Austria’s attitude to German Unification clearly, it would support a united Germany under Habsburg control which included all Austrian territory but would completely dismiss any other proposals of a unified Germany.In response to the opposition for a GroBdeutschland and for a Kleindeutschland. Schwarzenberg tried to turn this into Austria’s favour, he suggested the idea of a ‘Mitteleuropa’ which basically would be an extension of the Bund to include all the Austrian dominions e.g. Hungary for example and would be dominated by Austria. This was an obvious attempt to increase Austrian dominance in order to combat the rise of Prussia. The German Princes saw this for what it was and chose that if there was ever going to be a united Germany it would have to be a ‘Keindeutschland’ because Austria would always want to dominate if she was included. This show Austria’s attitude to German Unification once again because it shows that Austria wanted to dominate not unify and she would only unify if she could dominate.After the 1848 Revolutions, Austria had appointed more conservative ministers after the rise of Liberalism throughout the revolution. One of these Conservatives was Schwarzenberg, he was devoted to the interests of Habsburg Austria and as chief minister he had the authority to promote Austria’s interest in the Bund. By the nature of conservatism it means that someone does not want change, this is true about the Austrian government between 1848-51, it was a conservative government headed by a conservative Emperor both of which respected the status quo, so you could say that because a unification proposal was never considered before it should not have been considered then. Although unified Germany was never considered a Germany under Austrian dominance had always been so Schwarzenberg’s idea of creating a Mitteleuropa appealed to the status quo synthesisers because although it was a way of uniting Germany it considered one crucial Austrian conservative goal, retaining Austria’s dominance.The Prussian attitude towards the unification of Germany was a more ambitious plan. Fredrick William IV aimed to unify Germany through the princes and through the consent of Austria. There was fatal flaw to this plan, Austria would never agree to a united Germany dominated by Prussia. Without Austrian support Prussia would have to exclude Austria from the Bund and this would require force, in the period 1848-51, Austria’s military was more powerful so this was out of the question. Prussia had an attitude of unify Germany through the Princes and pronounce Fredrick William IV ‘Kaiser’, this was their attitude but it wasn’t necessarily a practical plan.The first example of Prussia’s pro-unification attitude is seen by the proposal of General von Radowitz. Interestingly, Radowitz was a nationalist but also a friend of Fredrick William IV. It could be said that much of Fredrick William IV’s idea to unite Germany through Princes stems from advice given by Radowitz. In 1849, Radowitz proposed the Prussian Union plan which said that their would be a second Reich that would exclude Austria, but Austria and the 2nd Reich would have a very close relationship also Austria and Prussia would be equals, and would have a strong central government headed by the Prussian monarch. This met with approval from Fredrick William IV, who wanted to rule Germany but not as a constitutional monarch, like the Frankfurt Parliament proposed. Generally, the idea of a Kleindeutschland headed by Prussia with a strong government would have been greeted with enthusiasm if it wasn’t for the influence and power of the Habsburg Empire.If Habsburg influence and power had been obviously in decline then I think Germany could have been unified in 1849 under Fredrick William IV, but because of conservative Austria, it had no chance of succeeding, the Union Plan tried to form a Germany with Kleindeutschland borders but a GroBdeutschland relationship with Austria. Although, Germany did not unify in 1849, the Prussian Union Plan did show that the Prussian attitude to unification had changed, it was no longer staunchly devoted to the status quo like it had been in the Vormarz period but had began to seriously consider unification as a practical option. You could even say that the Prussian Union plan was the start of the period in which Prussia grew in stature, it had proposed, unifying Germany, something directly against the status quo and against Austria, and more importantly Prussia took some active steps to try and turn this proposal into reality. Also it showed how Prussia could take the lead in German affairs.Another example of the Prussians trying to become the dominate power of Germany was the Erfurt Union, this was a union in which 17 other German Princes joined or were bullied into joining a union dominated by Prussia. The Erfurt was an obvious successor to the Dreikonigsbundnis, which united Prussia, Hanover and Saxony in a similar union. Prussia is actively trying to promote a united Germany but with her as the leader. The Erfurt Union was formed when Austria was pre-occupied with revolution at home so she was distracted from German affairs, this is when Prussia tried to assert her authority. This was a poor decision because Austria was bound to get back to her feet at some point or another and any organisation that was against her interests and the Erfurt Union was a direct conflict to the Conservative Austrian government, so Austria then would use her power to destroy the Erfurt Union, this is exactly what happened. The period 1848-51 tells us that the Erfurt Union shows that Prussia wanted to unite Germany and make herself the dominant power. The Erfurt Union was a direct conflict to Austria because Prussia was trying to become the dominant power and Germany already had a dominant power, Austria.In 1849, before the Erfurt Union, Fredrick William IV followed Radowitz’s advice and went to meet the Elector of Hanover and the King of Saxony and convince them to join in union with Prussia. He did this because combining Prussia with two other large states would make Prussia more powerful, also Saxony and Hanover are on the border with Prussia so political geography says that an alliance with these two countries would make Prussia more secure if there ever was a war also increased trade between these countries. Although there is no evidence to suggest the King Fredrick William IV intended to damage Austrian dominance, in fact Fredrick William IV was a traditionalist and believed in the divine right of Kings.Prussia’s attitude towards the Unification of Germany was that she wanted to rule a united Germany through the individual rulers of the states and Fredrick William IV would not accept the crown of Germany under democratic conditions or at the anger of Austria. This is the main reason why Germany was not unified in this 3 year period, because Fredrick William IV did not want to anger Austria through unifying Germany.I have described the attitudes of Prussia and Austria towards a unified Germany but how did these attitudes interact on the stage of German politics, how could two states with different political opinions hope to get on in a area of Europe dominated by co-operation.Prussia and Austria conflicted in attitude because Austria did not want a unified Germany because it would cause the Habsburg Empire to lose power, something that they were not willing to do, but Prussia wanted to unify Germany and put herself as head of a second Reich. This showed that Prussia wanted to become dominant and Austria did not want to lose her dominance. This was the nature of the Prussia and Austrian rivalry from 1849 up until the Seven Weeks War.Hesse-Cassel is an example where Austrian and Prussian attitude clashed with potentially lethal consequences. Hesse-Cassel was part of the Erfurt Union, in 1850 the ruler of Hesse-Cassel was overthrown by a liberal mob. Instead of calling for Prussian aid to re-establish his power, he went to the Federal Diet for assistance. I think he did this because Austria was the traditional leader of the German states and therefore she would have more power and more authority to get his throne back. By summoning the Diet’s support, Austria believed that it was her responsibility to help but as Hesse-Cassel was part of the Erfurt Union Prussia claimed it was her responsibility to help.This was clearly not about who would rule Hesse-Cassel but who would dominate Germany. Prussia mobilised its army and sent its army to Hesse-Cassel and Austria did the same. It seems as it would be war that would decide the fate of a united Germany, in Hesse-Cassel, Prussian troops began skirmishing with Confederate troops. Neither Austria or Prussia desired war with the other, luckily for both sides particularly Prussia, Prussia withdraw and the crisis was over. This event showed that these policies demonstrated earlier by Austria and Prussia would not be able to co-exist together in a united Germany.At Olmutz, 1850, Prussia was forced to concede to Austria and accept Austrian authority over the German states. The Erfurt Union was abolished and the Bund was re-established. This shows that Austria was in control no matter how much Prussia had changed. Conservatism had triumphed over Nationalism.The Restoration of the Bund was a direct conflict to Prussia’s plan for unification because as long as the Bund existed Austria’s dominance in Germany existed and there could never be two dominant powers in Germany.Also the Prussian attitude towards unification was still very traditional despite Radowitz and Fredrick William IV’s ideas. An example of this traditionalism was at Hesse-Cassel when Prussia backed down in front of Austria. This demonstrated that where Austria led Prussia followed on the outside Fredrick William IV may have wanted to unify Germany under his rule but on the inside he still respected Austrian authority and was willing to fall into line is the Habsburgs wanted it. How could a leader of a unified Germany be held to account by a foreign Duke?To conclude, Austria had the same attitude from 1815 to the Seven Weeks War, she wanted to dominate the German states and wanted to always dominate like she always had. Austria was not interested in a democratic unification, she was only interested in a Habsburg controlled united Germany. It was only Prussia’s attitude towards a united Germany that changed in the period 1848-51, the Prussians wanted to challenge Austria for dominance and by dominating Prussia could unite Germany under her banner. Prussia was not willing to fight for this privilege though, she hoped, naively, that Austria would grant a request for Prussia to dominate and this would never happen.I think this hope of uniting Germany with Austrian consent stems from Fredrick William IV, he was a nationalist but also a traditionalist, unfortunately these attitudes become oxymoron’s for a Prussian King because he couldn’t be both and he respected traditional more highly. Austria’s attempt to restore the Bund demonstrates her attitude that she still wanted to dominate and the Erfurt Union shows Prussian aim of unifying Germany and Olmutz shows the limits of Prussian power. No matter how enthusiastic King Fredrick William IV was in unifying Germany he would never be able to with his traditionalist values, unification would have to take place without Fredrick William IV, the Bund and Austrian dominance over the German states.

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