History Essay (Bismarck's Influence on the German Unification

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Table of Contents


Internal Circumstances        

The Zollverein        

The Growth of Nationalism        

The Decline of the Austrian Empire        


External Circumstances        

The International Situation        


Otto von Bismarck        

The Schleswig-Holstein War        

The Austro-Prussian War        

The Franco-Prussian War        





This essay will focus upon how the Unification of Germany was established by 1871, more specifically, a discussion of the following statement:

“Favorable external and internal circumstances, not Bismarck’s diplomatic genius, explain the unification of Germany”

In order to tackle this statement, it will be necessary not only to look at the significance of internal circumstances, such as the decline of Austria’s power as well as the growth of nationalism, and the external circumstances being the international situation at the time, but also to interpret Bismarck’s influence and true role in bringing about the unification. In other words, the essay will start by discussing whether or not unification would have been possible before 1850 (i.e. before Bismarck’s political influence). The essay will then take analyze the importance of Otto von Bismarck’s diplomatic actions, and thus conclude upon the above statement based on the presented arguments.

Internal Circumstances

This chapter will deal with various internal circumstances, which not only laid the foundations upon which the German Unification was based, but also present the possibility of unification before 1850, and hence the true influence of Otto von Bismarck. The circumstances presented in this chapter will be viewed upon as internal in terms of the German Confederation of 1815.

The Zollverein

One could argue, that the most significant internal circumstance in terms of creating a unified Germany was the creation of the Zollverein. Not only was the enlarged Prussian Customs Union an important factor in strengthening Prussia economically, but it also served as a foundation for the development of nationalism among other German States, and ultimately the Unification of Germany as a whole.

The origin of the Zollverein can be traced back to 1818, with the enforcement of the Prussian Tariff Reform Law. The law abolished all customs duties within Prussia and replaced them with a tariff to be charged at the Prussian frontier. However, the accomplishment of extended free trade within Prussia and then within other states of the German Confederation marks the true creation of the Zollverein, an economic union, which to a great extent stimulated Prussian trade, as it produced a wider market for home-produced goods at cheaper prices. In the ten years after its establishment, most of the states within the confederation became members of the union, with the exception of a minority of southern German states as well as the Austrian Empire.

By refusing to join the Zollverein, due to being a highly protectionist state, Austria presented Prussia with an opportunity of economic dominance. An opportunity that Prussia fully utilized, and was a contributory cause of her later military and political supremacy in Germany. The Zollverein also ensured that Prussia, despite her reactionary politics, came to be regarded as the natural leader of a united Germany.

Moreover, the Zollverein, through the developments of communications, industries and banking activities, created a sense of neighborhood among the German states. In other words, economic unity encouraged the idea of German unity, and therefore a focal point for nationalist sentiment.

The Growth of Nationalism

The growth of German nationalism throughout the beginning of the 19th century also played a crucial role in the formation of a unified Germany. The Zollverein may have laid the foundations for a possible unification, but the widespread feeling of nationalism among the middleclass liberals made it a realistic event.

German nationalism originated during the turn of the 18th century with the defeat of Napoleon in the battle of Leipzig. The War of Liberation has often been seen as the first collective action of the German nation, which caused the beginnings of the German Unification. In other words, nationalism arose simply, as resentment to French rule and occupation.

A substantial example of how German nationalism very well could have resulted in the Unification of Germany, before Prussia became subject to the political influence of Otto von Bismarck, was the potential creation of a constitutional monarchy by the Frankfurt Parliament.

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The Frankfurt Parliament was essentially established by the “Vorparlament” assembly, as a result of the 1848 revolutions within the German states, if not the rest of Europe.  Not only was it important in confirming the leadership of Prussia, but also in terms of planning a united Germany. In March 1849 a Constitution for the German Empire was finally agreed upon. The united Germany was to exclude the multi-racial empire of Austria, and be based upon a constitutional monarchy, which would rule through an elected Parliament. Therefore, the assembly offered the crown to Frederik William, the King of Prussia. This decision ...

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