Economic success, political failure, and diplomatic tension marked the idea of a unified Germany in the period after the Napoleonic Wars. It was not clear around which power, Austria or Prussia, Germany could achieve national unification (Merriman 2010). Prussian merchants, with the support of the Prussian crown, established the customs and trade union known as the Zollverein in 1834 (AP Central – German Unification 2013). The Zollverein freed trade between most of the German states, with the exception of Austria.
The upper class were wary of any change that might threaten the status quo and feared the strong nationalist feeling unleashed by the revolution, the expansion of which might lead to, they reasoned, the proclamation of the equality of all citizens (Merriman 2010). Industrialists and merchants thus brought liberal politics into German nationalism. During the Revolution of 1848, liberals met in the Frankfurt Assembly and drafted a constitution modeled on the ideals of the French Revolution of 1789 (AP Central – German Unification 2013).
The assembly offered to share power under a constitutional monarchy and offered the crown of a unified Germany to Frederick William IV of Prussia. The Revolution of 1848 brought some liberal reforms to Prussia, such as the ability of the parliament to obstruct certain forms of taxation. However, the Prussian leadership, which was thoroughly conservative, rejected the Frankfurt constitution, preferring reform and unification directed from above. Austria’s resistance of attempts to unify Germany under Prussian leadership further obstructed unification.
One of the major questions concerning German unification centered on this Prussian-Austrian rivalry, which was both diplomatic and cultural. Supporters of Greater Germany insisted that Prussians and Austrians, with a common language naturally, should be part of one nation. However, proponents of Lesser Germany argued that Austria should be excluded from unification due to dynastic rivalry between the Hohenzollerns and the Hapsburgs and the cultural differences between a mostly Protestant Prussia and Catholic Austria (AP Central – German Unification 2013).
Figure 1 : Kaiser Wilhem I German Emperor (18 January 1871 – 9 March 1888) The Wars of German Unification The path to unification for Germany came through diplomacy and war. The French defeat at the Battle of Sedan and annexation of Alsace-Lorraine brought Bavaria into the German Confederation, and William I became the first monarch of the German Empire (AP Central – German Unification 2013). In 1862, Wilhelm I of Prussia appointed Otto von Bismarck prime minister. Bismarck’s name became closely identified with the term Realpolitik, or “the politics of realism” (Muntone 2011).
Bismarck was a very able man, both pragmatic and determined. Bismarck’s focus was on a united Germany with a strong monarch. Bismarck’s belief in a strong monarchy made him a political conservative and in the 1860’s he was faced with a hostile liberal majority in Parliament (Muntone 2011). Therefore, Bismarck directed the nation’s attention to foreign affairs. This would allow him to maintain control of the domestic policy, since civilian populations always accepted special government controls and restrictions during wartime.
In 1864 Bismarck trumped up charges against the Danish government for their treatment of Germans living in the Danish province of Schleswig-Holstein. Prussia’s defeat of Denmark and annexation of Schleswig-Holstein set Prussia on a collision course with Austria for dominance of central Europe. Following the defeat of the Austrian Empire in 1866, the German states allied with Prussia, with the notable exception of Catholic Bavaria, forming the North German Confederation. In his first two wars, Bismarck balanced Russian and French concerns over the growing power of Prussia.
In the former, Bismarck manipulated long-standing Russian mistrust of Austria to form an alliance. With France, Bismarck benefited from Emperor Napoleon III’s failed campaign in Mexico, which distracted the French from European affairs. This was only temporary and the Franco-Prussian War began in 1870. Figure 2: Otto Von Bismarck Prime Minister of unified Germany The opportunity for the final step in German unification arrived in 1870. Bismarck decided to go to war with France, believing that the other German states would come to Prussia’s aid.
He changed the wording of a press release so that it gave the appearance of a deliberate insult from the Prussian king to the French emperor (Muntone 2011). On reading the statement, Napoleon III immediately declared war on Prussia. As Bismarck had calculated, the southern German states allied themselves with Prussia against their common enemy, France (Muntone 2011). The war can accurately be describe as “Franco-German” rather than “Franco- Prussian” because many German states besides Prussia played a major role in defeating the French(Muntone 2011).
The efficiency and superior strategy of the German military brought the French to a speedy surrender. The peace treaty gave Germany control of Alsace and Lorraine, and provided for a compensatory payment to Prussia of 5 billion francs. Although Prussia had provoked the war, France had technically been the aggressor, and at any rate was on the losing side (Muntone 2011). Figure 3: German Empire of 1871 Conclusion On January 18, 1871, Wilhelm I of Prussia was officially crowned emperor of Germany.
Below is a copy of the imperial proclamation on January 18, 1871 that unified Germany as a nation: The Imperial Proclamation, January 18, 1871 Whereas the German princes and the free cities have unanimously called upon us to renew and to assume, with the restoration of the German Empire, the German imperial office, which has been empty for more than sixty years; and Whereas adequate arrangements have been provided for this in the constitution of the German Confederation;We, Wilhelm, by the grace of God King of Prussia, do herewith declare that we have considered it a duty to ur common fatherland to answer the summons of the united German princes and cities and to accept the German imperial title. In consequence, we and our successors on the throne of Prussia will henceforth bear the imperial title in all our relations and in all the business of the German Empire, and we hope to God that the German nation will be granted the ability to fashion a propitious future for the fatherland under the symbol of its ancient glory.
We assume the imperial title, conscious of the duty of protecting, with German loyalty, the rights of the Empire and of its members, of keeping the peace, and of protecting the independence of Germany, which depends in its turn upon the united strength of the people. We assume the title in the hope that the German people will be granted the ability to enjoy the reward of its ardent and self-sacrificing wars in lasting peace, within boundaries which afford the fatherland a security against renewed French aggression which has been lost for centuries.
And may God grant that We and our successors on the imperial throne may at all times increase the wealth of the German Empire, not by military conquests, but by the blessings and the gifts of peace, in the realm of national prosperity, liberty, and morality. Wilhelm I, Kaiser und Konig (Halsall 1998). In a final insult to the French, the Germans held the ceremony in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Nationalism was a major force in the creation of the German Empire. Both the nobles and the common people supported unification.
In contrast to the treatment given to Austria in 1866, the conditions imposed on France in 1870 and 1871 were very harsh (World History at KMLA 2008). For the following decades, the recovery of Alsace-Lorraine was a political goal of French diplomacy, and one of the roots for World War I (World History at KMLA 2008). Unification was accomplished with the approval of most, but not of all Germans. Especially in Hannover, annexed in 1866, the aversion of Prussia remained strong and Hannover’s representatives in Germany’s Reichstag, the Welfen, were in constant opposition (World History at KMLA 2008).
The Catholic Bavarians remained skeptical of the new Empire. The army had been the most visible instrument by which unification had been achieved. In the German Empire, the defense forces were revered. The state failed to establish a mechanism ensuring state control over the army. When World War I began, military reasoning (crossing Belgium to get into France, the Schlieffen-Plan) won out over political reasoning (World History at KMLA 2008). The breach of Belgium’s neutrality was the main reason for charging Germany with sole responsibility for World War I.