The Unification of Germany
Rasmus Puggaard 4/11/2007
IB History HL
The Unification of Germany and Bismarck
Germany was unified on January the 18th, 1871, by Otto Von Bismarck, the Chief Minister.
There are many events and people that needs to be considered when discussing the unification of Germany, however, Bismarck was a man of action and essentially, he managed to a number of independent German states into one nation, and so created the German Empire from which all the states bearing the name of Germany descend from. Historians worldwide have discussed the role of Bismarck for a long time, whether he was just taking advantage of skilful diplomacy and clever manipulation of situations that presented themselves to him between 1862 and 1871
This essay will focus on the unification of Germany from Bismarck’s point of view, as there is quite a lot of debate around whether he had a master plan to unify Germany of if it was luck that made it happen, or that his aims were simply to expand Prussia.
Bismarck was a man who had a very clear vision of unifying the German states into one strong nation, however, many different developments took place during and before Bismarck that eventually would change the situation without the influence of Bismarck himself. This can be seen by the fact that German nationalism grew at a very fast rate during the 18th and 19th century. The millions of Germans that lived in the various states started to feel that they needed to be unified and brought together. Many factors brought Germans together, while one was the fact that they discovered how weak their 39 states and armies were as independent states, when Napoleons French armies swept through the German states. As one nation, the German army would be better organized and morale would be higher. These feelings and events had nothing to do with Bismarck.
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Moreover, there were the economical aspects that led to unification. The most important aspect was the Zollverein which was extremely significant at the time. It was a voluntary customs union that basically got rid of the barriers of trade that were present between the 39 German states. This meant that trading would be free between the states which greatly improved the nationalist feelings. It made trading easier for the German states, but excluded trade with Austria which also provoked a later conflict. The Zollverein brought the German states together in a cooperation which promoted their feelings of nationalism. Also, since Prussia was the state that introduced the Zollverein, Prussia was seen as the economic leader of the states. Some of the historians that tend to say that Bismarck’s achievements in unifying Germany has been exaggerated, believe that the Zollverein was the most important factor in the unification. The Zollverein was imposed before Bismarck, and many say that the economic improvements that followed would eventually unify German, where it would take a long time or not. Many are of the idea that a unified Germany would be inevitable due to Prussia’s economic dominance.
Bismarck’s influence on the unification of Germany should not be underestimated, though. He made a lot of decisions that contributed to the unification. Bismarck was fully aware of the fact that war was an important factor in the unification process, so when the king announced that a war reform was needed in 1859, Bismarck was eager to help. He was appointed chancellor and solved the problem by drawing up the reform. This would come back in handy later on, as Bismarck was a man who relied a lot on the army, and believed it was the way to gain success, hence why he is often called the “Iron Chancellor”.
After Bismarck had made the army reform a reality, he suddenly saw an opportunity to harass and undermine the Austrians. Bismarck had thought that Austria was a splinter in the eye, in the sense that he viewed them as an obstacle to the kind of German unification that he truly desired.
Austria made a proposal for the members of the Bund to meet and discuss a reform of the military, economic and legal powers. However, Bismarck was not interested and he convinced the Prussian king to ignore the conference, and hence since there were no Prussians present at the meeting it collapsed. Bismarck tried to reinforce his ideas that the Prussian state was superior and that it was the main German state, as well as insulting and humiliating the Austrians. He succeeded in pushing the Austrians away and separating the nations even further, which made the Germans more nationalistically conscious.
As a new crisis was started, Bismarck once again had a vision to turn the situation into his favour. This time it was the duchies crisis. Bismarck wanted to separate Schleswig and Holstein from Denmark, and therefore he tried to convince the Prussian king to restore the London Protocol, which would support the Danish king’s claim to the duchies. Some German states did not agree with this act, however, Austria did, and hence an alliance between Prussia and Austria was formed in 1863. The small states disliked this act by Prussia, which they had never liked, but they were chocked by Austria’s decision as Austria had always sought to help the smaller states. This made Austria loose a lot of support from the small states. So, in the end, Bismarck’s plan went smoothly as he knew that Austria would follow in Prussia’s footsteps by supporting the London Protocol.
As the Prussian and Austrian armies started the war on February the first of 1864, they outnumbered the Danes and were better equipped, and the war was to be won by the Prussian-Austrian army. In August a treaty was signed in which the Danes gave up their claim on the Duchies Schleswig and Holstein, which went to Prussia and Austria. Prussia got Schleswig while Austria got Holstein, and hence, the Austrias were to be sandwiched by the Prussians on each side, which Bismarck had planned out. This would give Bismarck a reason to start a conflict with Austria in the near future.
Bismarck knew that it was a problem that Prussians had to venture through the Austrian territory of Holstein in order to get to Schleswig, and he knew that a war was inevitable.
Bismarck knew however, that it was dangerous to provoke Austria to open war, since France might become involved and join the Austrians. Therefore, Bismarck met up with the French ruler Napoleon in 1865. There they discussed allegiances and if France was to stay neutral, she would receive territory after the war with Austria, which Napoleon accepted. However, Bismarck knew Austria was a strong military power and therefore he invested in new allies. He turned to Italy and in 1866 a treaty was signed, that said that if Austria declared war on Prussia, Italy would follow Prussia. Venetia would to go to Italy, and the war was to last for 3 months. All these events over a period of years emphasize the point that Bismarck was indeed a “master planner” in the sense that he foresaw opportunities and grabbed them when he could. He had a very clear outline from an early stage.
Finally, Austria and Prussia went into open war. It began when Prussia invaded Holstein and declaring it a German state. Austria had a bigger army, but Prussia’s armies were better equipped due to the army reforms made in 1862. The war was won by Prussia and a peace treaty was signed with Austria. Bismarck made the treaty quite polite to Austria as he didn’t want to exclude the option that Austria and Prussia would be friends again. His diplomacy skills were good, which would clearly benefit a united Germany.
When the north German confederation was established after the Prussia-Austrian war, a new conflict arose, this time with France. Bismarck had provoked the French king and this lead to a war between France and north German confederation. However, the war brought the north and the south together, so once again Bismarck has planned a way to gain unification. On the 18th of January 1871, Germany was finally unified and King William became Kaiser William of the German Empire.
In conclusion, Bismarck definitely had a role to play in the unification of Germany. Of course, there are factors that Bismarck did not control that moved towards a unified Germany, such as the growing nationalism, the economical improvements and such, that took place before Bismarck came to power, but without Bismarck’s presence and planning, the unification may have never taken place or it would slow the process down considerably. I believe that Bismarck was the reason for Germanys unification, due to the fact that he reformed the military which was highly needed against Austria and later France. Also, he set up conflicts that would lead to the German people cooperating against common goals, such as the war with France where the north and south joined up. In my view, Bismarck was a master planner who foresaw events and conflicts and turned them into his favour.