The Unification of Germany

In 1871 the thirty-eight states of what was once the Holy Roman Empire,
re-united to become what was known in the early twentieth century as simply, The German Empire, united under the rule of the German Emperor, or Kaiser. There are many factors which led to the unification of the German states; liberalism, nationalism, Otto Von Bismarck, fear of another Napoleon’, the Prussian King William I, and the three wars Prussia fought.

One of the key factors which led to the Unification was nationalism. Nationalism is the idea that certain things such as race, culture, religion, language or territory set them apart from those around them, and they could identify their interests with a group of people not just a local monarch. This idea created the belief that one’s loyalty was first to the nation’ not the monarch. On 23 February 1848, there was a demonstration in Paris that resulted in the abdication of King Louis Philippe. Then on 13 March students in Vienna staged a rebellion which later that day forced Prince Metternich to resign as Austrian Foreign Minister. Prussian King, Frederick William IV, stood against reform and used troops to break up demonstrations. But on hearing of Metternich’s resignation he lost his nerve and called together a Diet, granting a constitution. When a crowd gathered at the Palace in Berlin the royal guard opened fire. The resulting revolution ended by November of that year as the people began to fear the consequences of prolonging it. The failure of this revolution, and the failure to achieve national unity, broke the link between liberalism and nationalism. In the end it was the nationalistic ideals of the German aristocracy, not the general populace that brought about the Unification of the German States in 1871.

(1) ** I remember to have been so entirely absorbed by what was happening that I could hardly turn my thoughts to anything else. Like many of my friends, I was dominated by the feeling that at last the great opportunity for giving the German people the liberty which was their birthright and to the German fatherland its unity and greatness, and that it was now the first duty of every German to do and to sacrifice everything for this sacred object. We were profoundly, solemnly in earnest. **
Liberalism was an important factor of the German Unification. Liberalism, the philosophy which promotes the idea of leaving an individual as unrestricted as possible in terms of self-expression and self-fulfilment, was more important in terms of the monarchs wanting to crush this idea than in terms of the importance of the idea itself. It was the main reason for the aforementioned 1848 Revolution and although it was separated from nationalism after the revolution, the aristocracy still feared any possible threat to their remaining in power. As a result any form of liberalism that began to form was quickly and decisively crushed, and the unification ensured that Liberalism did not arise again, or at least for quite a significant amount of time.

After Napoleon was crushed, following his return, there was a general fear throughout Europe that another might arise and the Napoleonic wars would be re-enacted. This was important as this fear was a key reason for the Unification. After the struggles of the Napoleonic Wars, no ruler in Europe wanted to go through that all over again. This fear was especially present in Germany where Napoleon had crushed their once proud and powerful Holy Roman Empire. This was important as it was like liberalism, another threat to the power of the absolute monarchs of Germany and as such was another reason for them to unify under the more powerful Prussia to ensure a strong German state that could crush any such uprising’.

William I was an important figure as he was the Prussian King and the person Bismark intended to rule the united Germany. He was a strong absolutist monarch and despised all those desiring liberal reforms. He came to power in 1858 when Frederick William IV suffered a stroke and could no longer carry out his duties as King. Prince William (Frederick’s Brother) became regent until Frederick died in 1861 when he took the throne. At this point William was 70 years of age and had been an army officer since 17. When William attempted to introduce army reforms that would double army size, increase the period of service and remove the Landwehr (citizen militia). The Prussian parliament would not pass this bill as it would give the Junker’ class (aristocracy) more power. As William tried alternative means of obtaining his reforms, there was constitutional crisis as the liberals would not support the King’s bill and he had sworn to uphold the constitution and as such refrained from using force on the liberals, and even considered abdication. Instead he appointed Otto Von Bismarck as his new Chief Minister in September of 1862. This proved to be an excellent decision on William’s part as it resulted in the implication of his reforms and the Unification of the German states under his rule.

Otto Von Bismarck, the man who really set the ball rolling, and ensured it landed in the right hole, is one of the main reasons Germany was unified. He was the Prussian foreign minister and although his actual reason for wanting to unify Germany was to increase the power of Prussia, still he was the main reason for why Germany was united under the rule of the Kaiser. When Bismarck was brought into office in September 1862 he resolved the constitutional crisis in Prussia by simply ignoring Parliament. He ordered the Prussian civil service to continue collecting taxes and recruiting and sacked all who didn’t follow his directive. With this temporary solution in place Bismarck turned to foreign affairs and began to work towards two goals. One; to support the King’s army reforms by successful use of the Prussian army in a war, two; to unify the German states under Prussian leadership.
(2) ** Put the strongest possible military forces, in other words, as much “blood and iron” as possible, in the hands of the King of Prussia. Then he will be able to make the policy you want. Policy is not made with speeches and shooting-matches and songs. It is made solely with “blood and iron.” **
There were three short Prussian wars during the nineteenth century which resulted in the unification of the German states. The war against Denmark (1864), The Austro-Prussian War (1866), and The Franco-Prussian war (1870-1871). The importance of the war against Denmark was that it was a means of gaining the support of the Prussian people towards the new army reforms. The war against Austria resulted in the final defeat of liberalism in Germany and the removal of Austria in all German affairs such as the unification. It also ended with Austria having a large reduction in power, and it was forced to create the joint Austro-Hungarian monarchy as it was no longer powerful enough to hold its sway over Hungary. Finally the war with France ended with the unification, as Bismarck had obtained the support of the other German states for the war against the French, and the neutrality of the other European powers left France surrounded and supremely outmatched. These three wars achieved Bismarck’s goals of obtaining support for the army reforms and unifying Germany under Prussian leadership (which meant the expulsion of Austria from Germany’s affairs).

So, the unification of Germany in 1871 was achieved through a combination of factors; the idea held by the German people of a unified nation (nationalism), the fear held by the German aristocracy of anything which may result in a reduction to their power, such as liberalism and the Napoleonic Fear’, the Prussian King William the first whose most important roles were appointing Bismarck and the introduction of the army reforms, and of course, Otto Von Bismarck. Bismarck was the reason for the three wars against Austria, France and Denmark, the implication of the Prussian army reforms and he made sure that the German states finally unified under the rule of a Prussian monarch, or German Kaiser’, ruler of the newly founded German Empire in 1871. ASLevel_History/unificationofgermany.htm courses/wc2/lectures/germanunif.html

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