Germany's Unification and Bismarck’s Diplomacy

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Germany's Unification and Bismarck’s Diplomacy

Roughly from 1850 to 1870 the Unification of Germany took place. After the unification, Germany rose as a dominant power in Europe until World War 2. The process of the unification was mainly spread over three wars. But to a great extent, the unification was due Herr Otto Von Bismarck’s diplomacy. However, to a small extent, it was due to other factors such as the formation of the Zollverein, revolutions, nationalism and assemblies and congresses held in the past.

From the 1790s to 1814 French troops successively conquered and occupied the area that later constituted the German Empire. French domination helped to modernize and consolidate Germany by introducing reforms in economy, society and government. Finally, towards the end, sparked the first upsurge of German nationalism. Nationalist ideas began to form among the intellectuals in Germany. Therefore, to a small extent, in different ways, unintentionally, the French emperor Napoleon I helped German unification. It was also important that he encouraged many of the middle-sized German states to absorb huge numbers of small independent territories, mostly bishoprics, church lands, and local principalities. The more powerful German princes, often in alliance with France, seized this chance to enlarge their territories and refused to restore the annexed units to independence after Napoleon's defeat. The number of independent and semi-independent German states had been around one thousand in 1792 but twenty-five years later, only about thirty remained.

The Congress of Vienna in 1814-15 dissolved the Confederation of the Rhine and created the German Confederation under Austrian and Prussian hegemony. The German Confederation consisted of 39 independent and individual states and almost everywhere, the original monarch rulers repressed the nationalist movement, which was mainly composed of students and professors after 1815. Although, there was a parliament with representatives from every state, this diet was weak and powerless and it could only deal with common affairs of the Confederation. An Austrian always led this diet. Later, the German princes realized that nationalism required a reform or even destruction of the traditional monarchic states.

After several decades of repression, a strong desire for reforms, constitutions and parliaments had developed among the educated and wealthy bourgeoisie, while the peasants resented the still present feudal dues. These liberal demands from the nationalists alarmed the foreign princes and their aristocratic supporters. Unemployment among small artisans made them join the revolutionary cause in hopes of secure jobs and economic improvement. These problems within each state led to the revolutions of the 1848. Inspired by an uprising in France, German liberals and peasants started to push for their claims with violence in March 1848. The princes, frightened and poorly prepared for revolution, granted constitutions and parliamentary assemblies and appointed liberal ministries all over Germany. They also pacified the peasants by canceling the remaining feudal dues. German nationalists called a National Assembly in Frankfurt to prepare the unification of Germany as a liberal, constitutional state. Liberal hopes for German unification were not met during the politically turbulent 1848-49 period. A Prussian plan for a smaller union was dropped in late 1850 after Austria threatened Prussia with war. Despite this setback, desire for some kind of German unity, either with or without Austria, grew during the 1850s and 1860s. It was no longer a notion cherished by a few, but had proponents in all social classes. An indication of this wider range of support was the change of mind about German nationalism experienced by an obscure Prussian diplomat, Otto von Bismarck. He had been an adamant opponent of German nationalism in the late 1840s. During the 1850s, however, Bismarck had concluded that Prussia would have to harness German nationalism for its own purposes if it were to thrive. He believed too that Prussia's well-being depended on wresting primacy in Germany from its traditional enemy, Austria.

In 1862 King William I of Prussia chose Bismarck to serve as his minister president. Descended from the Junker, Prussia's aristocratic landowning class, Bismarck hated parliamentary democracy and championed the dominance of the monarchy and aristocracy. However, gifted at judging political forces and sizing up a situation, Bismarck contended that conservatives would have to come to terms with other social groups if they were to continue to direct Prussian affairs. The king had summoned Bismarck to direct Prussia's government in the face of the Prussian parliament's refusal to pass a budget because it disagreed with army reforms desired by the king and his military advisers. Although he could not secure parliament's consent to the government's budget, Bismarck was a tactician skilled and ruthless enough to govern without parliament's consent from 1862 to 1866.

Under Bismarck, the economy grew rapidly and soon, Prussia became the most powerful and dominant in economy. Through the Vienna peace settlement Prussia had received areas that turned out to be enormously precious for industrialization (the Ruhr district, the Rhineland, and parts of Saxony - all with rich coal deposits). Prussia now started to dominate many of the smaller German states economically, and the smaller states, often hesitantly, adapted their economies to Prussia. Decisive for this inconspicuous economic unification of Germany was the expansion of a customs union, Zollverein, which was set up in 1818 but in 1834, central and south German states joined in. This customs union excluded Austria and Bohemia. Railroad building followed the lines of trade after 1837. To put it in a nutshell, Germany -- roughly in the borders of the later Second Empire -- was economically and, to a lesser degree, culturally united before 1871.

The Zollverein. This allowed the Prussians to have huge free trade zone in the middle of central Europe. The Prussian-controlled German Confederation now had a monopoly on trade in the most desirable trade zone on the continent. Although designed to remove tariff barriers and facilitate trade within the German confederation, the Zollverein also had a political effect in isolating Austria. The Austrians were committed to trade tariffs to protect their agriculture and industry; thus their inability to join the Zollverein served to increase Prussian power in the confederation. This economic unity also brought to social and political unity in the disunited German states.

“By blood and iron.” Bismarck used this phrase to describe the method by which a unified German state would be created. The Frankfurt Assembly of 1848, which attempted to unify Germany through constitutional means, had been crushed. Bismarck knew that the chances of peaceful revolution were nonexistent: Germany could be created only through war. Bismarck was the architect of a policy that came to be known as realpolitik, which means "practical politics." He was determined to strengthen Prussia by any means necessary. Alliances were merely convenient and could be dissolved to exploit an opportunity. Bismarck supported democracy to gain internal support, but had no true interest in liberal reform. He watched international events closely, waiting for the proper moments to advance his agenda.

After 1850, the industrial revolution in Germany entered its decisive phase. New factories were built at a breath-taking rate, the production of textiles and iron soared, railroads grew and started to connect many distant regions, and coal production and export reached record levels every year. These advances profited from a high level of education, the result of an advanced school and university system. For a long time Prussia had the highest literacy rate and exemplary schools. This was partly a consequence of the reforms in the wake of the Prussian defeat against Napoleon.

Industrialization was accompanied by rapid population growth and urbanization, the expansion of the middle classes and of the proletariat, which began to constitute independent organizations. After having lagged behind Western Europe for three hundred years, Germany caught up within two decades.

From 1773 the kings of Denmark held both duchies, Schleswig as full sovereigns, Holstein as princes of the Holy Roman Empire. Both duchies were in personal union with, but not part of, Denmark. The Congress of Vienna (1814-15) did not change the status of the two duchies, except that the German Confederation had succeeded the Holy Roman Empire in its suzerainty over Holstein. The German Confederation later guaranteed a constitution for Holstein. On November 1863, just before Frederick's death, a common constitution for Denmark and Schleswig was drawn up. His successor, Christian IX, signed the constitution, which the German diet declared in violation of the protocol. In January 1864, Prussia and Austria declared war on Denmark, which was easily defeated.

Bismarck, who was guiding Prussian policy, had already resolved to annex the duchies and had encouraged the Danish War with that end in view. By the Treaty of Gastein (1865) with Austria, Bismarck deliberately imposed a solution that was bound to create friction with Austria. Schleswig was placed under Prussian administration and Holstein under Austrian administration, while the duchy of Lauenburg (also lost by Denmark in 1864) went to Prussia in return for a money payment to Austria. The dual administration led, as Bismarck had anticipated, to such tension that Austria could easily be maneuvered into a war with Prussia.

This war against Denmark gave Bismarck a chance to test out the strength of the Prussian army and the Austrian army. Prussian power and influence in Northern Germany had been extended. Austria had been forced to give the initiative in leading the German Confederation to Prussia.

Bismarck realized that if Prussia were to become the main power in Germany Austria had to be dealt with sooner or later. The confrontation would come about partly as a result of arguments over the administration of Schleswig and Holstein. He also felt that the Danish war showed that Britain and Russia would be unlikely to interfere in a war between Prussia and Austria. Bismarck then crafted an alliance with Napoleon III of France, receiving assurances that the French emperor would remain neutral in the event of military conflict between Austria and Prussia. Bismarck promised Venetia to the Italians in exchange for their support of Prussia. Tensions mounted, and in June 1866 Austria declared war on Prussia. Austria was no match for Prussian armed forces, which used the telegraph and rail links in its mobilization.

As an ardent and aggressive Prussian nationalist, Bismarck had long been an opponent of Austria because both states sought primacy within the same area--Germany. Austria had been weakened by reverses abroad, including the loss of territory in Italy, and by the 1860s, because of clumsy diplomacy, had no foreign allies outside Germany. Bismarck used a diplomatic dispute to provoke Austria to declare war on Prussia in 1866. Against expectations, Prussia quickly won the Seven Weeks' War (also known as the Austro-Prussian War) against Austria and its south German allies. Bismarck imposed a lenient peace on Austria because he recognized that Prussia might later need the Austrians as allies. But he dealt harshly with the other German states that had resisted Prussia and expanded Prussian territory by annexing Hanover, Schleswig-Holstein, some smaller states, and the city of Frankfurt. The German Confederation was replaced by the North German Confederation and was furnished with both a constitution and a parliament. Austria was excluded from Germany. South German states outside the confederation--Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria--were tied to Prussia by military alliances. For Prussia to win this war, to a great extent, Bismarck’s diplomacy and reforms were crucial. The Treaty of Prague of August 1866 officially ended the Seven Weeks' War, resulting in Prussia's control of both Schleswig and Holstein. Once again, this war succeeded with Bismarck’s clever diplomacy to a great extent.

The emergence of Prussia as the leading German power and the increasing unification of the German states were viewed with apprehension by Napoleon III after the Prussian victory in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Bismarck, at the same time, deliberately encouraged the growing rift between Prussia and France in order to bring the states of South Germany into a national union. He made sure of Russian and Italian neutrality and counted-correctly-on British neutrality. War preparations were pushed on both sides, with remarkable inefficiency in France and with astounding thoroughness in Prussia.

The immediate pretext for war presented itself when the throne of Spain was offered to a prince of the house of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a branch of the ruling house of Prussia. The offer, at first accepted on Bismarck's advice, was rejected (July 12) after a strong French protest. But the aggressive French foreign minister, the Duke de Gramont, insisted on further Prussian assurances, which King William I of Prussia (later Emperor William I) refused. Bismarck, by publishing the famous Ems telegram to the press, inflamed French feeling, and on July 19,1870 France declared war.

This war would become known to history as the Franco-Prussian War. Nationalistic fervor was ignited by the promised annexation of Lorraine and Alsace, which had belonged to the Holy Roman Empire and had been seized by France in the seventeenth century. With this goal in sight, the south German states eagerly joined in the war against the country that had come to be seen as Germany's traditional enemy. Bismarck's major war aim: the voluntary entry of the south German states into a constitutional German nation-state, occurred during the patriotic frenzy generated by stunning military victories against French forces in the fall of 1870. In the end, France was defeated and The Treaty of Frankfurt was signed. France had to then pay indemnity and lost Alsace and Lorraine to Germany. Months before the peace treaty was signed with France in May 1871, a united Germany was established as the German Empire, and the Prussian king, William I, was crowned its emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. To a great extent, this war was again due to Bismarck’s plans and diplomacy especially shown through the Ems Telegram Incident.

As a conclusion, without Bismarck’s help from his reforms to his clever diplomacy, the unification of Germany might not have been successful. He was an aggressive leader, which reshaped Europe in the nineteenth-century; they also tended to write national histories. He also dominated explanations of German unification. Bismarck finished the unification of Germany more effectively and economically than other unifications, with short and limited wars and after the unification in 1971, he prevented all further wars. As Kaiser Wilhelm I once said, "It isn't easy to be an emperor under a chancellor like this one [Bismarck]". Politically, Bismarck was undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with, with an aggressive foreign policy. His diplomacy of blood and iron was a great force that called for an active foreign policy, which emphasized that Prussia had to keep its power together always because the people of Germany did not look at Prussia’s liberalism, but at its power.

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