Unification of Germany

The Unification of Germany into the German Empire, a Prussia-dominated nation state with federal features, officially occurred on 18 January 1871 at the Versailles Palace’s Hall of Mirrors in France. Princes of the German states gathered there to proclaim King Wilhelm I of Prussia as Emperor of the German Empire during the Franco-Prussian War.

Germany and the Congress of Vienna:-

Nationalism and democracy were the two powerful forces that emerged in Europe in the 19th century. Italy was freed from foreign rule and was unified as a nation in 1870. In Germany also a great national consciousness raise and she was unified in 1870. But in the ease of Germany, nationalism and democracy did not go hand in hand. Nationalism was built on militarism.

Unification under Napoleon’s Rule:

Before the French Revolution (1789), Germany was divided into not less than 300 independent duchies or districts. When Germany was conquered by Napoleon, the number of divisions was reduced. The country west of the Rhine was annexed to France, and about a hundred principalities were wiped out. The other principalities or duchies were integrated into thirty-eight states. Napoleon wanted these to act as buffer states between France and her rivals Austria and Germany.

Like the Italians, the Germans also reaped some advantages under Napoleon’s rule. Napoleon gave no freedom to the Germans, but at least he brought about some unification under French rule, This was significant, because national consciousness was roused among the Germans.

Congress of Vienna:

The Congress of Vienna ( 1815) did great injustice to Germany. Metternich and his friends wanted to have a weak and divided Germany under the control of Austria. Therefore it was decided by the Congress that there should be a German Confederation under the control of Austria, whose head was Metternich till 1848. Metternich did not wish to give any unification or liberty to the Germans under the Confederation.

The Federal Diet (Parliament) was set-up to deal with the affairs of the Confederation. This was to have representatives from the 38 states under Austria’s presidency. Germans were disgruntled, as they were kept under Austrian supervision.

Economic Co-operation through Zollverein:-

Different Economic Policies:

Each of the 38 states of the German Confederation imposed its own tolls and taxes, and had its own economic policy. This caused inconvenience to the transit of goods from one state to another or through several states. Therefore the various states wished to have some uniformity and co-operation with one another to get over the hurdles caused by different economic policies and tariffs.


In 1834 a Costume Union known as Zoliverein was formed by eighteen states to promote economic co-operation, to cut down imports from foreign countries, and to regulate tolls and customs. The Zollverein worked so well that in course of time other German States joined it. But Austria remained aloof.

National Spirit:

Economic co-operation through Zollverein brought the German States closer, and they gradually began to hanker for political co-operation. It encouraged free trade among states, and it became immensely popular with the powerful business community. Another good result was the creation of the national spirit among the states and a strong desire for national unification. The Zollverein marked the first great milestone on the road of German unification.

The Frankfort Parliament:-

We observed earlier that 1848 was a year of revolutions in Europe, In France, Italy, Hungary, Bohemia and other countries, people rose in revolt. In Germany also the people, who were denied their legitimate rights, were deeply influenced by the revolutionary fever and rose in revolt against their princes in 1848. Their leaders demanded that the national Parliament should be summoned. In response to this demand, Francis Joseph, the King of Austria, convened the Frankfort Parliament on March 31, 1848.

Two Aims:

600 elected representatives from the various German states attended the session at Frankfort to discuss the realization of two aims

  • The framing of a democratic constitution and.
  • The unification of Germany.

These aims could not be realized unless Austria, which was  dominating over the German Confederation, was driven out and. Austrian influence wiped out from German political and constitutional affairs.

Constitutional Monarchy:

A democratic constitution based on liberal principles was drafted. Under it Germany was to have constitutional monarchy. The representatives agreed that their country could be taken to its goal only under the leadership of Prussia, which was the most powerful German state Prussia had great military traditions under grand and. enlightened monarchy like Frederick II the Great (1740-1786) a century earlier.

King of Prussia Rejected German Grown:

Frederick  William IV, the king of Prussia, was invited to lead the Germans and was offered the German crown by the Frankfort leaders. The king did not find the offer attractive, and he rejected it, with contempt. He said that the offer should have come from the German princes and not from the Frankfort Parliament, which he described with the derogatory epithet the gutter. But the fact was that even if the offer had come from the princes, he would have no interest in it for two reasons.

(1) He was against democracy, which was upheld by the Frankfort Parliament, and would have to govern Germany in a democratic way according to the wishes of Parliament. Being & lover of absolute power, he, would have nothing to do with the offer.

(2) Acceptance of the crown would also mean a sure war with Austria. Austria had to be driven out, and this could be done only by declaring war on her. He was not ready for a war, as he was not sure of a decisive victory.

Failure of Frankfort Parliament:

Tie German revolt of 1348 and the subsequent Frankfort Parliament ended in smoke without any hope of realizing the unification of Germany.

Unification under Bismarck:-

Germany, a land in which people admired and worshiped Military power, was destined to be unified by Prince Otto Von Bismarck of Prussia (1815-1898).

Unification under Prussia’s Leadership by Blood and Iron:

Bismarck was a representative of the king of Prussia in the Diet of the German Confederation in 1851. He belonged to a class of military aristocrats known as Junkers in Prussia. He was born in 1815 at Schoenhausen in an upper class Brandenburg family, He was educated at Gottingen. For some time he was ambassador to France. Later he became minister of foreign affairs, and in 1862 he was appointed president of the cabinet.

Like the king, he too was a lover of absolute power. He had contempt for democracy and parliamentary methods, and he wag not prepared to have anything but highly concentrated absolute power based on militarism. He tried his best in the Assembly to an suppress the forces of liberalism and democracy. He was for  German nationalism no doubt, but it had to be built on the bedrock of militarism. Instead of nationalism and democracy, nationalism and militarism were to go hand in hand. As a politician and statesman, he never allowed his mind to be confused by impractical principles and ideals. His aims were clear and to realize them he followed realistic principle. He fixed the target of unification of Germany under the leadership of Prussia along the straight path of war and not along the meandering or zig-zag path of democracy. He wanted Germany to be Prussian, He affirmed that the great questions of the day are not decided by speeches of majority votes, but by blood and iron.

Policy of War and Isolation:

Bismarck first of all marked out the enemies of German national unification, and then proceeded to deal with them one by one through war. Isolation of the enemies of Germany was one of the basic principles of his foreign policy. He emphasized that his foreign policy and diplomacy should be fully backed by arms.

Bismarck as Prussia’s Prime Minister:

In 1961 William I became the king of Prussia. This was of great significance, as he was a man of conservative views and wished to rule absolutely according to the theory of Divine Right. He had strong will and determination, and wished to earn glory with the help of the army. He and Bismarck made an excellent match. In 1862 Bismarck became the Prime Minister of Prussia. With the aim of having a large, a very well-trained, well-equipped and highly disciplined army, he introduced compulsory military service. He succeeded in his plan, and his army became as powerful as the great army maintained by Frederick the Great of Prussia; but he had spent huge sums on it. The Prussian Assembly opposed what it regarded as prodigal expenditure. But Bismarck was able to prove that the army not only justified its existence, but also brought fame and glory to Prussia. He became famous as Iron Chancellor. For about four years (1862-1866) there was struggle between the King and the Diet, the Lower House, regarding ordinance. The Diet threw out the budget. Bismarck reacted by getting the Diet dissolved.

He suppressed the press and flung his create in jail. It appeared that for four years the Prussian Constitution was as good as suspended.


Prussia under Bismarck’s leadership fought three important wars before complete unification of Germany was achieved. Bismarck had the help of Moltke, who planned the great military campaigns of 1864, 1866 and 1870. The three wars were:

  • War on Denmark (1864).
  • Austro-Prussian War (1866) ; and
  • Franco – Prussian War (1870-1871).

War on Denmark:-

Violation of the London Treaty :

Denmark had violated the Treaty of European powers in London (1852) by occupying in 1863 the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, which were predominantly populated by Germans. These touched the borders of Denmark and Germany. The London agreement allowed the king of Denmark to be only the duke of these two areas, and he wag not to annex them to his kingdom. Under the new Constitution of Denmark, these areas were regarded as a part of Denmark. Bismarck appealed for Austria’s help to recover these areas. As a price of the help, Austria would receive an equitable share in the spoils of war.

Combined Austro-Prussian Attack:

In January 1864 Austria and Prussia signed a Treaty of Friendship. Denmark was attacked when she refused to withdraw the new constitution. The Danes were routed by the combined Austro-Prussian armies 60,000 strong, Defeated Denmark surrendered the two duchies to Prussia. This war was fought within two years after Bismarck became Prussia’s Prime Minister.

Prussia and Austria signed the Treaty of Gastein, in 1865, according to which Prussia was to rule over Schleswig, and Austria was to administer Holstein. The question about the duchies was – not to be discussed in the Federal Diet.

Austro-Prussian War:-

Two years after the War on Denmark, the Austro-Prusith War broke out in 1866.

Violation of the Treaty of Gastein:

Austria violated the Treaty of Gastein (1865) by placing before the Federal Diet the problems of the Duchies. Bismarck was not slow to tell the Diet that Austria was not, competent to bring the matter before the Diet. He did not step after his verbal protest, but swiftly sent an army, which drove out the Austrians from Holstein.

Austria Isolated:

Bismarck had always thought of waging War on Austria at the opportune time and was waiting for 8sonveiiient pretext. He made full preparations both diplomatically and militarily, anticipating a war with Austria. He secured Russia’s, friendship, made Italy an ally by promising her Venetia, if he succeeded in the war, and persuaded France to remain neutral in case hostilities broke out. Bismarck’s astute moves in the diplomatic field isolated Austria.

Prussia Quits Diet and Declares War:

When Austria called upon the Diet to take steps against Prussia, the latter quit the Diet, and in-June 1866 declared war on Austria. The Prussian army was not only large, but extremely well-equipped and competently led. It was under the command of King William and Count Helmuth Von Moltke, chief of the General Staff of the Prussian – army from 1857 to1888. The army had a new type of rifle. As Prussia was very strong militarily and was backed by Italy and several North German States, the war ended within seven weeks. Austria, who had the help of four South German States, was routed in the Battle of Sadowa (1866).

Peace of Prague:

According to the Peace of Prague, Austria had to agree to the following:

  1. Austria was to leave the German Confederation.
  2. Prussia was to be the leader of a new German Confederation.
  3. Austria was to cede Venetia to Italy.

In connection with the unification of Italy we observed that the Italians wanted to overthrow Austrian rule over Venetia. Therefore they helped Bismarck, who rewarded them by forcing Austria to cede Venetia.

The victory in the Austro-Prussian War brought the unification of Germany under Prussia’s leadership within sight. Austria suffered irretrievable damage to her leadership and prestige, particularly because she had been bullying the German states since the Congress of Vienna.

Franco-Prussian War:-

Bismarck and Napoleon II Needed War:

Bismarck had been planning War on France also. Anticipating it at the opportune moment, he was making the necessary diplomatic moves. Here again he followed the policy of isolating France. If Bismarck was trying to provoke France to come to war, Napoleon III, who was Strutting like a proud peacock in the international field, wished to earn glory by defeating Prussia on the battlefield. As Bismarck and Napoleon III were both in need of war, the Franco-German War broke out in about 4 years after the Austro-Prussian War.

In fact Napoleon’s position was not so sound as he imagined, In 1863 Napoleon had alienated Russia and the Poles, who had risen in revolt, the former by promising help to the Poles and the tatter by not keeping his promise. He earned the enmity of the United States by violating the Monroe Doctrine by helping Arch Duke Maximilian, the brother of-the Austrian Emperor, to have the throne of Mexico. The army that he sent across the Atlantic had to be withdrawn, and Maximilian was exposed to the attack of the Mexicans, who finally put him to death.

Whole of Germany Supported Prussia:

Napoleon took the lead and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) broke out. In July 1870 over the question of Prince Leopold’s claim to the Spanish throne. While Bismarck hoped that the South German stater would support him for German unification, Napoleon thought that being jealous of Prussia they would help him. Once again Napoleon’s calculation went wrong, and the whole of Germany backed Prussia.

Battle of Sedan:

The most important battle of the Franco-German War was of Sedan on September 2, 1870, where the huge French army of 100,000, surrendered to Prussia and Napoleon him. Self was taken prisoner. In 1871, the miseries of the people of Paris beggared description, as they faced starvation and annihilation at the hands of the triumphant Prussians. Never perhaps had Parisians suffered such hardships and humiliation. Paris surrendered on January 28, 1871 after stubbornly defending itself for 127 days. The war brought national glory to Germany led by Prussia, and defeat and national humiliation to France, which was supposed to be a big European power.

Treaty of Frankfort:

Bismarck dictated the terms of the treaty of Frankfort which was signed on May 10, 1871. Earlier on January 18, 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors in the palace at Versailles, King William I of Prussia was proclaimed Kaiser (German Emperor) in the presence of other German princes. France had to pay a huge indemnity and surrender Alsace and Lorraine to Germany.

Germany Unified:

The South German States agreed to join the North German Federation. Bismarck succeeded in unifying Germany (as he said) not by parliamentary discussions, but by blood and iron. The German, union which was originally called North German. Confederation was now named German Empire.