Notes on German unification - main events

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German Unification

  • Germany was divided into several small states (the Roman Empire had almost 350 small states)
  • Napoleon conquered Germany and reduce the number of states to 39
  • By enlarge, North Germany was protestant while South Germany was Catholic  this was a significant religious segregation
  • Germany in 1815;
  • 39 states; Napoleon had set up the Confederation of the Rhine (it included 16 states)
  • The peacemakers at Vienna established a German Confederation (Bund)
  • Two of the Germany States count as great powers  Habsburg Empire and Prussia
  • At this stage, France, Russia, Austria, Prussia and Britain wanted to keep Germany divided, they believed that a United Germany would cause an imbalance in power
  • The Habsburgs were given the presidency of the Germany Confederation
  • Prussia was given the Rhineland (as protection against France)  coal and iron of the Ruhr (which was later on to be Europe’s industrial heartland )

Prussia and the Germany Economy 1815- 1877

  • John Maynard Keynes: “Germany was founded not on blood and iron, but on coal and iron”

1834; The Zollverein (a custom’s union)

  • In 1834, a custom’s union was led by Prussia
  • Before the Zollverein, customs duties needed to be paid at every state border  a disincentive to trade  
  • The Zollverein abolished the State’s Customs and introduced a central fund  you still pay a duty, but just one duty  the money is then collected and put into the central fund which is then divided to the rest of the states
  • Under the Zollverein, Customs duties greatly increased as a result of the increase in trade (it becomes an incentive to engage in trade)
  • Bavaria;
  • 1831- 2  2.1 million florins
  • 1834  3.86 million florins
  • Conclusions;
  • After 1834, more and more German States joined the Zollverein  
  • It was an example of Prussian leadership in Germany
  • Austria was excluded from the Zollverein (Prussia didn’t want her in); she applied to join in the 1850’s and later in the 1860’s, but her membership is blocked by the Prussians


  • 1850- 1860  railway track in Germany doubled; this gave a boost to coal, iron and steel production
  • 1856 – the Bessemer Converter; a German method for making steel

Metternich’s System 1815- 1848

  • Metternich also worked within Germany to hold back any ideas of revolution; he imposes a conservative ideology  Austria dominates the Germany Confederation, and Prussia really followed the Austrian lead
  • Carlsbad Decrees were passed; they put restrictions of freedom of speech, etc… there was a secret police run by Metternich in Germany and so on…  a very conservative regime was imposed by the Austrians and the Prussians were pleased about this as it was restraining ideas of socialism and liberalism.

Austria, Prussia and the Revolutions of 1848- 1849

  • The Habsburg Empire was convulsed by the revolutions  the Emperor had to leave Vienna. The capital city is lost, there was a Hungarian Revolution (Hungary was lost). There was also a big revolution in Poland, and of course, there are several revolutions in Italy
  • In 1849, the Austrian Emperor really only recovered with the help of Russian troops  the Russians had to offer assistance, and they were glad to do so
  • Austria was quite strongly affected by the revolutions
  • Main weakness of the Austrian Empire  it was a multinational empire; it must fight to remain as one whole entity
  • Nationalism and liberalism were serious threats to the Austrian Empire seeing as the Hungarians would probably want independence; the Polish would want independence, etc…
  • Prussia was affected by the revolutions of 1848-9, the Prussian King (Fredrick William IV) had to leave Berlin  he only really left because he did want to use his artillery in Berlin and damage any buildings (the revolution was quite mild)
  • Austria is far more affected by the revolutions of 1848-9 than Prussia
  • The Frankfurt Parliament;
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  • The Assembly or Diet of the states of Germany met in Frankfurt; it included the 39 German states
  • This organization was called the Bund (Union)
  • Usually it followed instructions from Austria
  • In 1848, both Prussia and Austria are so busy with their own affairs, that the Frankfurt Parliament meets at its own right; and in this period, the Parliament made an attempt at Unifying Germany
  • People attending the Parliament  professors, teachers, lawyers, etc…  the middle class people  mainly liberals and democrats
  • There were two ideas of Germany;
  1. Kleindeutschland ...

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