Nationalism and Statebuilding for AP European History (page 3)

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

The Unification of Germany

Forces Against Unity in Germany

Unlike Italy, Germany in the middle of the nineteenth century was free of direct foreign domination. It existed as a loose confederation of independent states. Within that loose confederation, several forces worked against national unity:

  • cultural differences between the rural, conservative, Protestant north and the urban, liberal, Catholic south
  • a long history of proud independence on the part of the individual German states
  • the powerful influence of Hapsburg Austria, which controlled or influenced a large portion of the German Confederation

Prussian Leadership

With the failure of the liberal Frankfort Assembly in 1848, leadership in the German nationalist movement passed to Prussia. Prussia was a strong northern kingdom ruled by the Hohenzollern dynasty and supported by a powerful class of landed aristocrats known as Junkers. Prussia also had the strongest military in Germany, and led the way in establishing the Zollverein, a large free-trade zone. This combination of military and economic power led many Germans to look to Prussia for leadership.

Bismarck and War with Denmark and Austria

In 1861, Prussia's new monarch, William I, wanted to reorganize and further strengthen the military, but the liberal legislature resisted, and a power struggle between the monarch and the legislature ensued. William turned to the conservative Junker Otto von Bismarck to be his prime minister. Bismarck forced a showdown, and it quickly became apparent that the support of the Prussian people was with the king, the army, and Bismarck. With the power of the army and the government fully established, Bismarck set out on a policy to unify Germany under the Prussian crown that has come to be known as Realpolitik, which asserted that the aim of Prussia policy would be to increase its power by whatever means and strategies were necessary and useful. Bismarck asserted that the unification of Germany would be accomplished by a combination of "blood and iron."

Bismarck quickly concluded that a war with Austria was inevitable, and he engineered one in an episode that has come to be known as the Schleswig–Holstein Affair. He began by enlisting Austria as an ally in a war with Denmark over two duchies, Schleswig and Holstein, that had a large German-speaking population. Once Denmark was forced to cede the two duchies, Bismarck provoked an argument with Austria over control of them. Bismarck's next moves were a perfect illustration of Realpolitik in action:

  • First, Bismarck obtained Italian support for a war with Austria by promising Italy the province of Venetia.
  • Next, he ensured Russian neutrality by supporting Russia's actions against its rebellious Polish subjects.
  • Then, he met secretly with Napoleon III of France and persuaded him that a weakening of Austrian power was in the best interests of France.
  • Finally, and only after those preparations were in place, he carried out a series of diplomatic and military maneuvers that provoked Austria into declaring war.

In the resulting Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Prussian troops surprised and overwhelmed a larger Austrian force, winning victory in only seven weeks. The result was that Austria was expelled from the old German Confederation and a new North German Confederation was created, which was completely under the control of Prussia.

War with France

All that remained was to draw the south German states into the new Confederation. But the south (which was predominantly Catholic and liberal) feared being absorbed by the Protestant and authoritarian Prussians. Bismarck concluded that only one thing would compel the south Germans to accept Prussian leadership: a war with a powerful foreign enemy. So he set about engineering one.

The opportunity came when both France and Prussia got involved in a dispute over the vacant throne in Spain. Bismarck, with the support of the Prussian military leadership, edited a communication between Napoleon III and William I (a communication that is now known as the Ems telegram) to make it seem as though they had insulted one another, and Bismarck released this telegram to the press. Tempers flared, and France declared war. The south German states rallied to aid Prussia. Combined German forces quickly routed the French troops, capturing Napoleon III, and taking Paris in January of 1871.

The Second Reich

On January 18, 1871, the unification of Germany was completed. The heads of all the German states gathered in the Hall of Mirrors in the palace of Versailles outside Paris and proclaimed William I Kaiser (emperor) of the German Empire (formally the Second Reich, honoring the old Holy Roman Empire as the first Reich). The new empire took the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine from France and billed the French 5 billion francs as a war indemnity.

Nationalism in the Hapsburg Empire

In an age of nation-building, the Hapsburg Empire, with its Austrian minority dominating an Empire consisting of Hungarians (also known as Magyars), Czechs, Serbs, Romanians, and other ethnic groups, was an anachronism. The forces of nationalism, therefore, worked to tear it apart. After Austria's defeat by Prussia in 1866, the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph attempted to deal with what has come to be called "the nationalities problem." By agreeing to the Compromise of 1867, he set up the dual monarchy of Austria–Hungary, where Franz Joseph served as the ruler of both Austria and Hungary, each of which had its own parliament. This arrangement essentially set up an alliance between the Austrians and the Hungarians against the other ethnic groups in the empire.

View Full Article
Add your own comment