How Significant Was Bismarck In Securing the Unification of Germany 1862-1871?
HOW SIGNIFICANT WAS BISMARCK IN SECURING THE UNIFICATION OF GERMANY 1862-1871?
Bismarck was minister-president of Prussia from 1862 to 1871. He was brought into power in 1862 by king William of Prussia to try to resolve various conflicts, which were happening at the time. He was still in power in 1871 when Germany was finally unified. Bismarck was a significant factor in the Unification of Germany but this essay will try to asses to what degree he was responsible for the unification of Germany. The key word in the title of the essay is “securing”. When this is taken to mean, “to succeed in obtaining or achieving” it is clear that Bismarck was very significant in securing the unification of Germany. However some historians may interpret the word “securing” differently. Bismarck claimed in his memoirs that he was planning all along to unify Germany. However many historians such as Lee argue that he didn’t, but instead manipulated events to his advantage. Some historians like M. John believe that the unification of Germany was nothing to do with Bismarck.
Prior to Bismarck’s appointment Prussia was already growing as a European power. By 1815 Prussia had started to become a more powerful country and the second most powerful in the German confederation after Austria. From 1815 onwards Prussia was becoming more powerful and beginning to become a threat to Austria. The Zollverein was set up in 1818 and it was a customs union within Prussia’s own territories. However by 1834 an all-German customs union had been established under Prussian leadership. The Zollverein allowed trade between 39 German states by lowering tax. This excluded Austria, which meant that Prussia had influence in the German states and Austria, were cut-off.
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In the 1850’s and 1860’s Prussia went through an industrialisation, which led to further growth. In the 1860’s about two thirds of Germanys ironworks lay in Prussian territory. The balance of economic power was shifting in favour of Prussia. Railways were also built for transport of goods and future movements of troops. During the industrialisation Prussia’s exports increased whilst Austria’s decreased. This indicates that even before the appointment of Bismarck, Prussian leadership was successful in increasing the economy. Prussia’s military was also ever increasing and by 1860 Prussia already had the edge over Austria with more reserves in the army and superior weaponry. When Bismarck came to power he only had the problem of solving the political crisis as other events pre 1862 had put Prussia in a good position.
Some historians suggest that German unification came about due to a nationalist mass movement. Michael John argues that although Bismarck influenced German nationalist feeling, German nationalist feeling influenced him on a greater scale. By 1866 Bismarck had succeeded in unifying a large part of Germany and this gained him a great deal of support even from liberals. With this support Bismarck introduced an indemnity bill in 1866, which made his previously illegal tax collections of the previous 4 years, legal. The indemnity bill of 1866 split liberal opinion and moderate liberals who supported Bismarck united with liberals in other parts of the country to form the national liberal party who supported Bismarck. Bismarck was not a nationalist or liberal but used the support to his advantage. A nationalist feeling spread through Prussia and there were celebrations for the anniversaries of victories over Napoleon. It could be argued that this nationalist feeling could have led to the German unification rather than Bismarck’s desire for unification. However it is clear that rather than a unified Germany, Bismarck wanted to expand Prussia, but this led to the same result and the nationalist feeling made the job a lot easier.
Bismarck claims in his memoirs that he wanted to unify Germany and that he was in full control of events, which indicates that he thought he was significant in securing the unification. However it is more likely that from 1862 to 1971 he just controlled events to his advantage rather than creating the m. This view is supported by S. Lemieux who said, when referring to Bismarck “He skillfully used diplomacy and alliances in pursuit of this goal”. This goal was the expansion of Prussia. There are a number of events, which support this argument. Bismarck was not in control of the Hohenzollern crisis of 1868. He could not have predicted that queen Isabella of Spain would be forced to leave Spain because of a revolt. Bismarck, however was able to take advantage of this event by convincing William 1 to try to make prince Leopold accept the Spanish throne. This made Spain one of Prussia’s growing list of allies. The news of this was then accidentally leaked and Napoleon III of France found out. He was not happy to hear this news as it meant that Prussia would be dominating the area around France and king William I got Leopold to withdraw. Then Bismarck edited a letter from the William, which was sent to him after a meeting in France. He edited it so that it sounded as if the king insulted the French. This made the French declare war on Prussia just as Bismarck had wanted. The southern states declared their support for the Prussians. The Prussians won the war and made the treaty harsh on the French as it was a hard fought war and he wanted to weaken them. This has shown that Bismarck did not create events but made the most of them.
From 1862-1871 Bismarck was able to slowly create a Prussian dominated Germany with very little resistance. There was a power vacuum throughout Europe and very few countries were bothered about what Bismarck was doing as they were dealing with there own problems. Bismarck’s main aim when coming into power was to make Prussia more dominant in Germany and this involved weakening Austria and removing competition between the two sides. This phase of the unification had already began before Bismarck came into power with the Zollverein. War between Prussian and Austria looked likely if Germany was to unify. However Bismarck wanted to be able to decide when the war took place. Between 1864 and 1865 Bismarck promoted an alliance with Austria to give Prussia more time to get ready for the likely conflict. In the Schleswig-Holstein crisis the two countries worked together. This came about because Frederick VII of Denmark attempted an annexation of the duchies which went against the London protocol. At the Gastein convention it was decided that Austria would get Holstein and Prussia would get Schleswig. In Bismarck’s mind this was just a short-term solution. Bismarck was always preparing for the conflict with Austia, which he believed, was drawing ever closer. He prepared for this by securing a number of allies which further excluded Austria. Bismarck’s first potential ally was Russia who he had offered help to, to suppress the polish revolt. Next was France and Bismarck did this by hinting to napoleon that France would get some of the Rhineland if they stayed neutral in the case of an Austro-Prussian war. Bismarck also made an alliance with Italy promising Venetia for help in the event of a war. The Austro-Prussian war did eventually break out in 1866 and Prussia won with considerable ease, but Bismarck did not give France any land. Although Germany was one step closer to unification France still caused a problem. Bavaria and Wuttemburg were still under French influence. This meant that Bismarck had to exclude France as he had done with Austria. He did this by announcing that Napoleon had made demands for the territory in the Saarland. France were also unlikely to get help from Italy unless they remover troops from Rome which was not likely. Bismarck then waited for his opportunity and when France tried to take Luxemburg, Bismarck opposed. France received no support and a conference took place to resolve the problem. Luxemburg was guaranteed its independence and France was very much isolated. Then Bismarck used this to his advantage by having a war, which he did through the Ems telegram.
This essay has shown that Bismarck did not create events but was successful at using them to his advantage. He managed to isolate both Austria and France which were important factors in the unification of Germany. It is clear that the unification of Germany was not just down to Bismarck as he was already in a good situation when he first came to power. Bismarck was also successful in increasing nationalist feeling in the years when he was in power.