the importance of the role of Bismarck in the unification of Germany in 1871

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Kristian H. Foged

History HL – 2.U


History Home Essay:

The Unification of Germany 1871

William I proclaimed Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, France (1871):

Essay Question:

Assess the importance of the role of Bismarck in the unification of Germany.

By Kristian H. Foged

        In his memoirs, Otto von Bismarck depicted himself as the great master-planner behind the unification of Germany. There is no doubt as to whether Bismarck played a key role in the German Unification; however there were factors that were essential to bringing about Bismarck’s dream of a unified Germany. It is important to remember all the factors that helped Bismarck; Prussia’s military and economic strength, the Zollverein, German nationalism, the political situations distribution of power at the time, the influences of other strong leaders such as General Albrecht von Roon and General Helmuth Moltke. In this essay we will try to assess how significant a part Hr. Otto von Bismarck really played in the Unification of Germany in 1871.

        Before Bismarck took the seat of Prussia’s Chief Minister in 1862, the first basis for German unification under Prussian rule had already been set in place; the free trade union known as the Zollverein. Although the Zollverein was an economic union rather than political it created a bond between the German states with Prussia at its head. This gave Prussia an important advantage over Austria in the two nations race to lead the German states.

        The Zollverein started with the growth of the Prussian Customs Union from 1815 and was first seen as the Zollverein in 1834 when it had under it 18 states covering 23 million people. Ten years later the only German states that were not part of it were Hanover, Oldenburg, Mecklenburg, the Hanseatic towns and Austria.

        The Zollverein, however, did not only create a basis for a unified Germany, but also greatly increased Prussia’s economic strength, which was to become the means by which Bismarck was able to finance the three wars that directly lead to the German Unification. Throughout the 1850’s and 60’s Prussia kept growing economically. Doubling in industrial trade, railway building and foreign trade – as well as strong growth within steel and coal production – in the 1850’s eventually led it to, economically, surpass Austria and France. This economic strength allowed Bismarck to go to war on a much more financially comfortable basis than its enemy’s pre-1871.

        Before the final Unification of Germany in 1871 there had already been attempts at forming a unified Germany, especially in the years of 1840-48. It is important to note that Bismarck did not create the idea of a unified Germany.

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        In the 1840’s German nationalism was on the rise, however, rather than being a strong desire for a German nation, this sense of nationalism was often just a response to the political situation at the time; such as the 1840 crisis of France wishing to expand by through the German states along the Rhine, and when Denmark tried incorporate Schleswig and Holstein into its kingdom. When faced with these “threats to the Fatherland” the people of the German states would protest through German songs, poems and German newspapers.

        By May 1848, the Frankfurt Parliament met as a whole bodied ...

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