• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Why did Prussia rather than Austria lead the unification of Germany?

Extracts from this document...


Why did Prussia rather than Austria lead the unification of Germany? Before the Napoleonic Wars, Germany had been a conglomeration of around one thousand independent and semi-independent states. Barely twenty-five years later only a little over thirty remained following the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. The next fifty years would see further restructuring that would ultimately result in only two independent states - Germany (formerly Prussia) and Austria. Europe had long seen Austria to be the stronger state, indeed throughout the Metternich period Austria played the leading role while Prussia followed. Yet Prussia was to become the dominant German state and eventually lead the unification of Germany. How did this switch come about, and why? Following the creation of the German Confederation in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, Prussia and Austria had existed in a state of dualism. Both knew the distinct advantage it would be to have Germany under their direct control and, following the revolutions of 1848, an increasing tension mounted.1 Initially Prussia over-played her hand resulting in an embarrassing political defeat over General von Radowitz's "Union Plan" of 1849. This idea of a Kleindeutschland would be essentially a German Federal Reich excluding only Austria; further to this would be Gro�deutschland - a union of all the Germanic states with no central government or parliamentary assembly. Though rejected furiously by Austria, Kleindeutschland was initially accepted by some German states with many more following suit when it was apparent that Austria was preoccupied with a rebellion in Hungary. However, by September the rebels were overcome and Austria returned her attention to German affairs. ...read more.


This is first seen when Bismarck expertly capitalises on a wave of nationalistic support from nationalists and liberals alike during the Danish War. He was then able to ride this wave to bolster Prussia's position in Europe. Considering a military showdown with Austria as inevitable (perhaps even desirable), Bismarck proceeded to woo Napoleon III of France by promising him concessions in the Rhineland if France would stay out of an Austro-Prussian war. Napoleon also tried to twists circumstances to favour France by secretly negotiating a treaty with the Habsburgs. Bismarck's next step was to certify that Italy would not be a threat, and he ensured her cooperation in return for Venetia on the event of Austria's defeat. The last country that Prussia had cause of concern over was Russia. Luckily Austria had already alienated her over the Crimean War and Russian neutrality was easily assured by the Alvensleben Convention of 1863. In this way we can see Bismarck systematically isolating Austria, while all around, at the same time, the two states were desperately endeavouring to outmanoeuvre each other over the question of the duchies.9 It seems that Bismarck showed a calculated moderation and clemency in his treatment of Austria after victory by restraining the officer corps from pushing on to Vienna and by not placing large reparations or territorial losses upon the defeated country.10 It may be that he realised he would need the support of the south German states (many of which had been allied with Austria); furthermore an over-exertion of power may have provided France and Russia with a reason to enter the conflict - something Bismarck had taken careful steps to avoid. ...read more.


Austrian minister Schwarzenberg, realising the political implications of an economically superior Prussia, attempted to extend the customs union into a Zollunion in 1849. Failing in this, he attempted to create an alternative trade area but was unsuccessful in this too. The exemption from western European economy was a considerable burden to bear, and the Austrian economy soon descended into difficulties, particularly following the Crimean War in 1856, ultimately dooming her to a back-seat in the future developments of the European theatre of diplomacy.20 It seems clear that Bismarck played an integral part in securing Prussia's dominance over Austria and ultimately in bringing about the unification of Germany. But the question of 'how much' is a topic of great historiographical debate. John Breuilly argues that Bismarck was an 'outsider' and that circumstances changed in his favour, rather than them being brought about by his diplomatic genius and manoeuvring. A.J.P. Taylor propounds a similar story suggesting that although Bismarck was a great statesman, he was not a 'system-maker in the sense that Metternich had been', but was rather a man of the laissez-faire age: a man that took every opportunity that showed itself.21 It is also sometimes easy to overlook the fact that Bismarck was a patriot of Prussia and not Germany. Throughout his time in power, his first priority was always Prussia - the unification was a means to glorify Prussia. Prussia's tactical needs had encouraged Bismarck to adopt German nationalism and the resultant rivalry with France meant he had to complete the nationalist agenda. Austria's time had come to an end two decades earlier at the end of the Metternich era: doomed to a period of unclear leadership, muddled direction and a complete lack of the nationalist identity required to excite such unification. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Modern European History, 1789-1945 section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Modern European History, 1789-1945 essays

  1. Assess the view that the failures of the Congress of Vienna outweighed the successes.

    the tiny former republic of Lucca: "Everyone is hungry, and I need to eat too; and it is better that I should eat you than another."46 The pursuit of nationalistic interests is most evident in the issue of Poland and Saxony.

  2. What were the obstacles to German Unification immediatly before the 1848 Revolutions

    Most people who lived in the area we know as Germany today held more loyalty to their individual states rather than the concept of a greater Germany. For example the people of the Rhineland- Westphalia, held a strong sense of identity towards the region they inhabited and they were proud to be called Rhinelander's.

  1. How Successfully in the period 1870 to 1914 did the ruling elites of Germany ...

    diplomatic relations with the Vatican and the removal of Catholic influence from society. The campaign in the main failed and was abandoned at the end of the 1870s, as Bismarck turned his attention to what he viewed as the menace of socialism and sought an defensive alliance with Austria.

  2. Leni Riefenstahl The Propagandist or Artist? A Historiographical Debate.

    shot with the appropriate camera angles, music, moving the cameras as well as the action, experimenting with different film stocks and having a balance between short takes and long sequences which became her trademarks and made her films so unique and special.

  1. To what extent was Bismarck responsible for German unification?

    Germany was not unified, yet, as the southern states were still separate. Bismarck�s` most opportunistic point was when he provoked a war with France he done this by editing a telegram from essaybank.co.uk from the King to the French. He edited it so that it sounded as if the king insulted the French.

  2. Assess the success of Bismarck's foreign policy with reference to: a) Keeping France isolated ...

    Due to the Pan-slavist movement in Russia, and their strong desire for countries like Serbia to be independent, Russia declared war on Turkey, a war that they easily won. The war led to the signing of the treaty of San Stefano in March 1878.

  1. Why was Prussia able to win the war with Austria in 1866?

    placed wanted more power but refused to fight for it, so in the period 1848-62 nothing critically changed. Bismarck, Von Roon and William I are the real forces of change in central Europe, with there ascendancy to power a new era in Prussian history begins.

  2. Hitlers Germany

    he had built six thousand feet up on the Kehlstein, above the Berghof, approached only by a mountain road blasted through the rock and a lift guarded by doors of bronze. There he would elaborate his fabulous schemes for a vast empire embracing the Eurasian Heartland of the geopoliticians; his

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work