German Unification Essay, Research Paper
Events in history often become associated with single individuals, such as Hitler and World War II, or Cavour, Mazzini and Garibaldi with Italian unification. The same seems to be true for German unification, with which Prince Otto Edward Leopold von Bismarck is generally associated. It is often argued that it was due to Bismarck?s foresighted and planed actions that Germany became unified. Although Bismarck?s action undoubtedly played a most fundamental role in German unification, it would give a distorted picture of history to assume that Bismarck had planned these from the beginning of his courier. It would also be false, to state that Bismarck achieved ultimate German unification for although he was able to unite much of ?German? territory, this was by no means a full-fledged unification.
Even before the Vienna Settlement in 1815, Germany was divided. With the Vienna Settlement, the German Confederation came into existence, being made of 39 states including Austria and Prussia. This confederation was basically little more that an alliance between independent states, each determined to keep their sovereignty. The Diet which met in Frankfurt, was a assembly with delegates from each of the members of the confederation. Head of the Diet was Austria. This, and the fact that virtually all leaders of the members states wished to keep there independence made a unified German seem unlikely. Although politically, unification seemed unlikely, it should be considered that the ?Zollverein? (customs union) provided a economic backbone for the unification that would follow. The Zollverein was initially only established under Prussian territory but by 1834, it included 17 members and in the next ten years nearly all other members joined. Most notable of those not to join was Austria. This would play a major role later.
In 1848, a tide of nationalist movements swept through Europe including Germany. Although the uprisings failed, it demonstrated the wish of the ?German? people for unification. But it also showed the reluctance of the leaders of each of the small kingdoms to give up their sovereignty. With this nationalistic movement and the increasing economic ties due to the Zollverein the first step to unification had taken place. Considering that Bismarck was not to take his influential office until 1862, it seems obvious that Bismarck had no role in this early stage. But with ?Germany?s? economic ties to Prussia and political ties to Austria (as Austria was head of the Bund), German unification was stuck. This was to be resolved by Bismarck. It is unclear whether Bismarck pre-planned German unification as he was later to state in his memoirs, but this seems very unlikely. But if planned or not, Bismarck?s actions did in fact unite ?klein Deutschland? (small Germany) under a common government. Bismarck achieved this through the manipulation and creation of several European incidents.
For Bismarck to be able to incorporate the states of the German confederation into Prussia, action against Austria was necessary. The first event in which Bismarck was able to further his cause for unification between Prussia and the states of the German confederation came with the Danish-Prussian conflict in 1863. The Danish king attempted to further incorporate the province of Schleswig under the Danish Crown. Bismarck raised protest against this. Under the Treaty of London in 1852, Schleswig was to be ?inseparably? united with its twin province of Holstein, which was also a member of the German Confederation. Bismarck, wanting to take advantage of this dispute, persuaded the Austrian Emperor, Francis Joseph I, to join Prussia in upholding the terms of the Treaty of London. This was to be done by forcing Denmark to abandon its control over the two provinces. Austrian and Prussian forces then invaded and, with Denmark defeated in August, the Danish king was forced to transfer Schleswig and Holstein to the two victors. A joint Austro-Prussian military occupation of Schleswig-Holstein was the result. Although the territories of Schleswig and Holstein had no significant value in themselves, they were crucial to Bismarck. Although Bismarck would have to go to war with Austria at one time or another, he realised that the Prussian army was not ready to do so in 1863. With the joint Austro-Prussian action, Bismarck had achieved two goals. Firstly, he had been able to postpone a military conflict with Austria which provided the necessary time to build up the Prussian army. And secondly, he had been able to establish a conflict which would later give him a justification for military action against Austria.
This generally unsolved conflict came back later and provided Bismarck with his second major action to promote German unification. The future of the two provinces: clearly Bismarck wanted them to be annexed by Prussia, a solution which Austria firmly opposed. Various efforts were made to settle the issue. First a conference in London of the Great Powers, but this failed as did the direct Austro-Prussian negotiations that followed. This finally lead to war breaking out between Prussian and Austria on June 14, 1866. Austria was supported by several members of the German Confederation. Prussia, to distract Austria by a war on two fronts, signed an alliance with Italy, promising her the Austrian controlled province of Venetia if the two countries defeated Austria. The German states allied with Austrian were quickly defeated by Prussia. On July 3, 1866 the Austrian army was decisively crushed at K?niggr?tz (Sadowa) in Bohemia. Austria was forced to sign a peace treaty under the terms of which she relinquished all her former powers in Germany. Although the treaty forced Austria to give up a large part of it?s control over the German confederation, it was still rather mild. This was once again a measure taken by Bismarck to allow for greater diplomatic action later. As a result, Prussia annexed territory in north Germany and went on to form the North German Confederation. Italy, although generally defeated by Austria secured itself Venetia as promised by Bismarck. In 1867 Bismarck instituted a constitution for the North German Confederation. Prussian and its king would dominate the new state. Bismarck made himself Chancellor. A Reichstag, elected by universal male suffrage, was set up, but its powers were limited. The government ministers were selected by the king. The Prussian liberals were now, as a result of his recent successes, supporters of Bismarck, and the Prussian Diet passed an act of indemnity which condoned his illegal actions since 1862 (mainly being military action without consent by the Diet). This military action had only been possible because of Bismarck?s precautions to ensure the neutrality of the other great powers. But these two were surprised at the extent of Austria?s defeat. With this Bismarck had brought Germany another step closer to unification. Once again Bismarck?s vital role in driving forward German unification can be observed.
Napoleon III, Emperor of France, was looking for compensation in return for his neutrality during the Austro-Prussia war. It seems parts of the Rhineland, Belgium, or Luxembourg were possible territories for this. This played a role in the last major action that Bismarck took towards further incorporation of German territory. Towards the end of the 1860s, Spain, having recently deposed its queen, offered Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern, a relative of William I of Prussia, the Spanish throne. Napoleon III, fearing encirclement by Prussia, protested, and Leopold withdrew his candidature under pressure from William. Napoleon then insisted that the King of Prussia provide assurances that the Hohenzollern candidacy would never be renewed. Accordingly, the French ambassador to Prussia visited King William at Ems. William, after his meeting with the ambassador sent a telegraph to Bismarck known as the Elms telegraph. In this, William stated that he had refused to give the French ambassador further assurances and had sent the ambassador away. Once again Bismarck took advantage of the situation and deleted sections of the telegraph making it seem
as if the king had been insulted, and published it in the press. This led to the France being aroused and finally declaring war on Prussia on July 19. Bismarck also published details of Napoleon’s claims to Belgium and Luxembourg, which assured Great Britain?s neutrality. The south German states, angered by Napoleon’s intent on Rhenish territory, which Bismarck also leaked to the press, began to favour with Prussia. Napoleon’s armies were defeated at the Battle of Sedan and Metz and the Prussian troops moved on to besiege Paris. After the French defeat by the Prussian troops, Napoleon abdicated. The last resistance had been beaten by January 28, 1871 at which point the French were forced to sign an armistice with Prussia. Under the Treaty of Prague, France lost her provinces of Alsace-Lorraine to Prussia and was forced to pay heavy reparations. The war with France allowed Bismarck to unify the rest of the territories in ?klein Deutschland?. The southern territories where now ready to join the northern confederation. In January 1871 the Prussian king, William I, was proclaimed German Emperor by the other German princes at Versailles. Once again this was mainly due to Bismarck.
Without his action German unification may well have taken place, put it seems unlikely that it would have happened with such speed. Bismarck played no role in creating the initial situation that was vital to allow German unification but he did act as a catalyser, accelerating the process. As mentioned before, it must be noted that it is unlikely that Bismarck had planned his action before hand, rather it seems more likely that he was able to manipulate the events that occurred to benefit his cause. It must also be considered that the unification that had taken place by ?71 was by no means complete. Germany still faced many problems reaching from economical through to political, and the resolution of these was by no means due to Bismarck.