Germany had never been united, from early times, there had always been divisions, often of tribal origin;
while ambitious men carved out principalities for themselves. in some area there were free towns, while
Church territories recognized only the Bishop as ruler. In spite of the territorial divisions, there was a
consciousness of common origin & common purpose & with increasing prosperity in awareness of common
economic interest. For over a thousand years, until it was destroyed by Napoleon in 1806, the States had been
associated in a loose form of Empire & after 1815, the 39 states which remained after the Revolutionary &
Napoleonic Wars were grouped in a Confederation under the presidency of Austria. There was a widespread
movement for closer unity in 1848, a movement resisted by Austria. Unification was achieved, however, not
by popular uprisings but by the calculated exertion of power by Prussia under the leadership of Bismarck.
1. Formation of the German Confederation:
The hopes of German & Prussian nationalists were disappointed by the Vienna Settlement of 1815. In
view of the conflicting interests of Austria, Prussia & the other German states, the diplomats feared that chaos
& war would ensure if attempts were nade to unite Germany. The German Confederation (or BUND) was
fored instead. Germany had been reduced to 39 states which all became members of the new organization. Its
aim was to guarantee the external & internal peace of Germany & the independence of the memver states.
The states agreed not to declare war on one another, & had the obligation of helping one another in need.
Within the states a more or less servere absolutism was in force; resting on bureaucrats & police
force larger & usually efficient than they had been in the later eighteenth Century.
a.Dominance of Austria:
After the Napoleonic Wars Metternich opposed liveral & national aspirations in Central
Europe, in Germany & Austria Empire. After 1819, he forced the Diet, the main organ of the
Confederation at Frankfurt, to follow reactionary polices similar to those being pursued in the
Austrian Empire.
b. Weakness of the Federal Diet:
i.It had limited legal powers & a complicated voting system:
No law was binding on any membr state unless that state acceoted it. And unanimity was
necessary for any change in the constitution.
ii.It was a diplomatic congress & not a parliament:
It was not really a federal state. Metternich viewed the Confederation as a league of states t
pretect them against foreign attacks & liberalism.
iii. It lacked means of enforcing its wishes:
The federal arny existed mainly on paper, since the states persistently refused to pay
contributions for its upkeep.
iv.It had a mixed composition:
The monarchs of some foreign powers were represented because of their interests in certain
German states.
a. The King of Britain ruled in Hanover,
b. The King of Denmark ruled Holstein, &
c. The King of Netherlands in Luxembourg.
A. Reason for Continued German Disunity:
Between 1815 and 1848, there were numerous factors which against the formation of a united German State:
1. Difficulty in Finding an Agreed Method of Unity:
a. Austria: opposed measures to promote greater unity & the spirit of nationalism. This
would probably result in the collapse of her muli-national empire. Furthermore, it would produce a strong
rival power if Austria were excluded from Germany. On the other hand, it would pose special problem in
terms of her non-German possessions if she were excluded.
b. Prussia: supported the Austrian policy of maintaining the status quo. In 1815, the King had
promised liberal reforms but he was dissuaded by his nobility & Metternich.
c. The rulers of the smaller German States opposed attempts at greater unity as it would
mean the loss of their powers. Considerable rivalry and jealously existed among them.
2. Differences and Divisions Amongst the German People:
Inhabitants of the sovereign states attached to their particularistic ideas. this made attempts at
standardizing methods of organization and administration difficult. Differences in outlook were
symptomatic of fundamental differences in religion and politics:
- In the North: people were mainly Protestant & inclined to support conservatism and absolutism
in government.
- In the South: apart from Austria, Bavaria was the chief state. People were generally Catholics
and inclined towards liberal ideas.
3. An Ineffectual Federal Diet:
4. Opposition of France:
France recovered her power after 1815. She had some influence among southern German
States, which tended to be jealous of Austrian power. Any serious attempts to create a unified German
state would have been opposed by her.
5. The Metternich System of Repression:
a. Reason
After 1815, discontent grew amongst intellectuals, university staff & students, and the business
groups with the reactionary policies of many German States. Metternich grew concerned about
German affairs as a result of the following developments:
- The growth of student societies: Students in large numbers became devoted to the
regeneration of Germany and the cause of German national unity.
- The creation of limited constitutional government: Some German states, e.g. Bavaria,
Wuttenberg and Baden in the south, implemented constitutions providing for assemblies
Though their franchise was extremely narrow, Metternich disliked the precedent which
had been set.
- The Wartburg Festival: In October 1817, students gathered to celebrate the anniversary
of the tricentenary of the Reformation which expressed indirectly for their desire for
German unity.
- The Murder of Kotzebue: In March 1819, August Kotzebue, was murdered by a
German student. He was a Russian dramatist & a secret agent & writer of reactionary
- System of Repression: The Metternich System, the Kotzebue murder gave Metternich
the opportunity to persuade the German rulers to adopt the reactionary policy as in
- The Carlsbad Decrees: Metternich persuaded the Prussia King of the need for forceful
measures. Representative of the 8 largest states were called to a meeting at Carlsbad in August
1819. They adopted measure, later approved by the Federal Diet, which involved stricter
government control of political agitation by the following methods:
a: Closer supervision of political activities at universities: Commissioners were appointed
with powers of dismissal of both students & professors. Student political clubs and meetings
were banned.
b. Censorship of the press, literature and pamphlets.
c. Establishment of a central commission at Mainz, which was given the role as agents to
crush secret societies and subsersive ideas.
- The Final Act of Vienna:
In May 1820, the Diet agreed on two points:
a. To limit the subjects that might be discussed in elected assemblies.
b. That it had the power to intervene in individual German states when necessary.
- Results:
- In the Short Run, Metternich succeeded in bringing relative stability to Germany. There
were no disturbances in Germany when other parts of Europe were affected in 1820-21.
- In the Long Run, however, Metternich failed to realize that powerful forces were
working to undermine the authority of the sovereign rulers on which he attached so much
importance. There was a revival of agitations from 1827 to 33.
B. Factors Contributed For Greater Unity in Germany:
1. Revival of Agitations:
Despite the high-handed policy of Metternich in Germany, there was a revival of agitations
from 1827 onwards to 1833 which exemplified the desirability for greater unity.
In 1827, radical movements revived through a re-organized university movement and secret
clubs. The 1830 revolution in France naturally had some repercussions in Germany. Rulers were forced to
abdicate & new constitutions were introduced in some minor German states such as Brunswick, Saxony &
At the Hambrach Festival in May 1832, a gathered composed of students, professors and exiled
Poles denounced the Holy Alliance and demanded a republic and Germany unity. Unfortunately, all these were
ended in debacles.
And in April 1833, there was a plot by international conspirators to capture Frankfurt, dissolved
the Diet and unify Germany. The Diet's reply in June was to appoint, at Metternich request, a central
commission to coordinate repressive measures in the various states.
Though all these agitations were failed, they undoubtedly aroused the German consciousness to
strive for greater unity.
2. The Creation of the Zollverein: (Custom Union)
An obstacle to economic growth in Germany was the existence of customs barriers. Each state
had the right to charge dues and tolls on goods passing through its territory. This made goods
expensive and discouraged trade. It was estimated that Prussia had sixty-seven different tariff areas
within its borders after 1815.
Free trade developed in Germany gradually. The stages of development were as follows.
(a) Lead taken by Prussia. Prussia adopted the following measures.
(i) In May 1818 a uniform tariff was imposed on all her territories. Duties on trade between
her own lands were abolished.
(ii) In 1819 she signed an initial tariff treaty with the small neighbouring German state of
(b) Other states joined Prussia. In 1829 the league of Bavaria and Wurttemberg joined Prussia.
Gradually other states followed, so that when the Prussian Customs Union (Zollverein) was
formed in 1834 it included most German states. By 1844 practically all Germany was in the
Zollverein except Austria, Hanover, Oldenburg, Mecklenburg and three Hansa towns.
Importance of the Zollverein
The Zollverein represented a serious threat to the hegemony of Austria in Germany. The
development of freer trade had the following significant effects.
(a) Prussia became economically supreme in Germany. The tariff law of 1818 and trade
agreements afterwards stimulated Prussian trade and led to rapid economic development. A
treaty with Holland in 1831 opened the lower Rhine to Prussian goods.
(b) Economic unity formed the basis for later political unity.
(i) As Germany achieved fiscal unity, this increased commercial co-operation in improving
means of communication (railways and roads), banking, etc.
(ii) Prussian economic power was a contributory cause of her later military and political
supremacy in Germany. German states became accustomed to the leadership of Prussia.
(c) Austria began to lose influence in German affairs.
As Austria did not become a member, this accustomed people to think of a unified
Germany which excluded her. Though Metternich was no economist he appreciated that the
Zollverein might well be the first nail in the coffin of the Federal Diet. However, he ignored it
at first. Then after 1834, when it was too late, he campaigned unsuccessfully firstly for the
lowering of Austrian tariffs as a prelude for admission to the Zollverein, and then for the
organization of resistance to it.
3. Growth of Awareness of Common Nationality:
Nationalism became a powerful sentiment after 1806 ( the resistance War to Napoleon). The
German people gradually realized they constituted a single nationality in terms of language, race, historic past,
customs and traditions.
An illustration of the growth in the feeling for nationalism was the war scare in 1840 when it
seemed France might attack Germany to compensate her isolation in the Near East. The historian later regarded
that Germans at this time seemed as one despite political disintegrations. This atmosphere produced a flow of
patriotic songs, two famous ones being "Watch on the Rhine" and "Deutschland uber alles."
4. Growth of Liberalism:
Many liberals looked forward to the creation of a free Germany with constitutional democratic
rule. Areas that received notable publicity for the struggle for liberalism were the following:
a. Southern Germany: All the states here, Bavaria, Baden and Wuttenburg, had
constitutions and representative assemblies. Their parliamentary orators, such as Karl von
Rotteck, received a national hearing.
b. Hanover: In 1837, the new King, Ernest Augustus, set aside the liberal constitution
granted by William IV in 1833. This action was vigorously opposed by the people, who
received support from Bavaria and others in the Federal Diet. However, Metternich forced the
Diet to approve the King's action. A sense of agitative sentiment was aroused for the demand
of liberalism.
c. Prussia: The new King, Frederick William IV, was a romantic, who also aimed at
greater political prisoners, moderated the press censorship, gave greater power to provincial
Diets and included and passed a number of reactionary measures after 1843. When the Diet
met in 1847, he refused demands for a constitution and parliamentary rule. in turn the Diet
refused to vote funds for the building of a new railway. Deadlock resulted and the Diet was
Facing with news of France's successful February Revolution, a wave of popular discontent uprisings
spread through the states of Germany.
A. Characteristics of German Revolutions: National-Liberalism
-favouring internal free trade and representative government,
-overthrowing Austrian domination, &
-uniting German states into one state.
B. Riots and revolution led to the granting of liberal constitutions in most states.
C. Vorparlement: In March 1848, all German states were invited to elect delegates to a National
Assembly as Frankfurt.
D. National Assembly (Frankfurt Assembly) May 1848:
1. Problems Encountered:-Territorial Limits:
* The “Great German” (Grossdeutsch) party favoured the inclusion of the German-speaking
provinces of Austria, together with Bohemia.
* The “Small German” (Kleindeutsch) party insisted that all of Austria should be excluded.
-Basic Government Structure:
Right- Decentralized Monarchy
Right Centre- Constitutional Monarchy
Left Centre- Centralized Monarchy
Left- Centralized Republic
a. Problem of German Unification as Academic Debate:
Much time was spent in academic debates on drafting the Fundamental Rights of the German
People. It was obviously necessary to establish the basis for future constitutional and
democratic rule. However, before the document was finished, the Austrian government and
most German rulers had recovered their authority. This meant that many of its conclusions were
opposed by the returning reactionary forces.
b. The Lack of means to enforce the decision of the Assembly.
The government had no army to help in its task and had to rely on the forces of the separate
individual states. It also lacked money or any real moral authority for any of its action.
c. The lack of General support:
- Unbalanced Composition: mostly upper-middle class. Of the 800 delegates, there were 200 lawyers,
100 professors, 140 business, only 4 artisans & 1 peasant.
- Ignored popular petitions for security and social reforms.
- The Assembly undermined its position by denying the vote to those people who did not pay taxes. The
lower bourgeoisie, the artisans and the working classes were thus alienated from it.
2. Assembly's Decision on Kleindeutschland opposed by Austria: who by the end of 1848 had
suppressed most revolts and wanted to have all her territories included in the new structure which
was to be as decentralized as the German Confederation.
3. Assembly therefore offered German Crown to Prussian King in March, 1849:
Rejected by Prussia because:
a. divine rights
b. nature of the constitution- The King would have only a suspensory veto, not an absolute one,
on legislation. The ministry would also be responsible to the Reichstag. The King disliked the
erosion of his powers.
c. Opposition of Austria- Austrian deputies were withdrawn after the new constitution had been
passed. Frederick William had more scruples about supplanting the legitimate claimant to the throne.
He was not prepared to run the risk of war with Austria, now rapidly recovering from her own revolt,
perhaps supported by Russia.
d. Prussian pride- The King had been successful in restoring his own power in November 1848.
He feared that Prussia might lose her separate identity and be merged with the rest of Germany. He no
doubt entertained ideas of Prussia leading Germany to eventual unity.
E. Reasons for the failure of the German Revolution
1. Ineffectiveness of Frankfurt Assembly (see D1)
2. Internal divisions within Germany:
a.The Frankfurt Assembly did not gain widespread support. Many working-class people were
either indifferent to the revolution or formed rival organizations.
b.Besides, some German states opposed to the proposed territorial limits of Germany. In 1849,
Bavaria, Saxony, Hanover and Wurttemberg opposed the exclusion of Austria from Germany.
3. Opposition of the Prussian King, Frederick William IV, to the revolution.
a. His lack of cooperation contributed to the failure of the Prussian Assembly.
b. His refusal to accept the crown of Germany contributed to the final collapse of the Frankfurt
c. His activities led to the final collapse of the revolution elsewhere. After recovering his authority in
Prussia, he was in no mood to tolerate unrest in neighboring areas. Troops were dispatched to
Dresden to suppress rebellion and restore the King of Saxony to his throne.
4. How could an intellectual debating society in Frankfurt persuade 2 dynastic military regimes like
Austria and Prussia to settle their rivalry for leadership in a new Germany, a Germany moreover that
was to be democratic and peaceful?
5. Lack of good leaders
The imperial regent, Archduke John of Austria, head of the provisional government, lacked
both the will and the power to make the Frankfurt Assembly effective. Germany was renowned
at the time for numerous differences of opinion and the absence of any peaceful personality to
unify the people behind any one solution.
V. Austro-German relations, 1849-63
A.Initial Austrian supremacy
Austrian influence in German affairs had been lost as a result of the revolutionary upheavals in
her empire. She was able to gain the initiative again when in 1849 the Prussian king refused the crown
of a Germany which virtually excluded Austria. Austria managed to retain her supremacy owing to the
following factors:
1. Diplomacy of Schwarzenberg. For example, he secured military alliances with Bavaria and
Wurttemberg in 1850.
2. Support of Russia In 1850 at a meeting the Tsar insisted that good relations should persist between
Austria and Prussia. He warned Frederick William not to challenge Austrian leadership in Germany.
3. Support of South Germany The South German states preferred Austrian supremacy in Germany to
that of Prussia for the following two reasons:
a. It would prevent the hegemony of Protestant northern Germany.
b. Any Austrian plan for Germany allowed a greater degree of autonomy for the various states
or provinces.
B. Diplomatic defeat of Prussia.
The following events culminated in a humiliating defeat for Prussia in Germany.
1. Radowitz’s federal plan. The Prussian Foreign Minister, Radowitz, planned in 1850 a North German
union under the presidency of the Russian king. This appealed to Frederick William, since it did not
involve the merging of Prussia in Germany according to the liberal Kleindeutsch idea. Rather it meant
Prussian hegemony in North Germany. A number of states agreed to send representatives to a meeting
at Erfurt to ratify a draft constitution.
2. Failure of Erfurt Meeting. Schwarzenberg persuaded the larger states to oppose the Prussian plan
before the Erfurt meeting, promising that the Diet would be reformed. Thus the Erfurt meeting failed,
only Hanover and Saxony supporting Prussia.
3. Olmutz settlement. Future arrangements in Germany had still not been settled. The South German
states favoured the Austrian proposal of a loose German Confederation, and the Tsar was threatening
to take the side of Austria. The Prussian king decided to negotiate a strategic withdrawal. At Olmutz
Prussia agreed to dissolve the Erfurt Union, and to accept the re-establishing of the German
Confederation under Austrian presidency.
C. Setback to Austrian diplomacy. However, Austria soon received two rebuffs which marked the start
of her declining influence in German affairs.
1. Political rebuff. Schwarzenberg demanded the admission of the Austrian non-German possessions
to the Confederation. However, in 1851, Austria had to accept the revival of the Confederation as it
stood before 1848. She received no support for her plan from the German states.
2. Economic rebuff. Austria also failed to gain support from many German states for the following
a. A large economic unit in Central Europe under Austrian leadership. This would link the Zollverein
with the Austrian sphere in the Danube basin.
b. Austrian admission to the Zollverein. This was a backdoor method for establishing a closer link
between the German states and the Austrian Empire. In 1853 Austria was refused admission.
D. Decline in Austrian power, 1852-63
Austria failed during the early 1850s to gain favourable changes in Germany. Gradually her power
position, relative to Prussia, weakened in German affairs. Contributory factors were as follows.
1. Poor diplomacy In 1852 Schwarzenberg died suddenly. No Austrian statesman of a comparable
stature came to the fore afterwards, and Austrian affairs floundered under the personal direction of the
2. Loss of Russian support Russia was severely weakened militarily as a result of the Crimean War.
Since Austria had not supported her in the war Russia was less inclined to help Austria in future
German affairs.
3. Financial difficulties Austrian finances were crippled as a result of expenses involved in the following
military commitments:
a. The control of internal unrest, particularly in Hungary.
b. The Italian War of 1859. In addition Austrian lost the rich province of Lombardy.
c. The prolonged mobilization
4. Domestic unrest
5. Growth of Prussian power. During the 1850s Prussia increased her power in both economic and
military terms. She soon acquired strong leaders. Prince William became regent in 1858 as a result
of the insanity of King Frederick William IV, and he became king himself in 1861. He had the gift
of choosing strong, able leaders. Key appointments were as follows.
a. Moltke as Chief of Staff in 1859.
b. Roon as Minister of War in 1859. Army reforms included the strict enforcement of universal
liability for military service and the adoption of the breech-loading needlegun.
c. Bismarck as Premier in 1862.
E. The Frankfurt Congress
The last opportunity to find a peaceful solution to German unification came in 1863. Francis Joseph
called a meeting of German princes at Frankfurt.
1. Origins In 1859 the German National Association had been founded by the northern and central
states, which looked to a liberal Prussia to lead in the formation of a “lesser” Germany.
In 1862 the southern states formed a Reform Association. This favoured a “greater” Germany under a
liberal Austria. Francis Joseph was persuaded to exploit this movement in the interests of Austria.
2. Austrian plan The most interesting feature was the proposal for an executive directory of six states.
This was to include Austria. Prussia and Bavaria and three others chosen in rotation, and was to be set
up under Austrian presidency. The plan made no real concessions to Prussia.
3. Failure of the Congress Bismarck distrusted Austria and persuaded William I not to attend as this
would have meant acceptance of continued Austrian leadership in German affairs. The meeting failed
as a result of Prussian non-participation.
A. Bismarck's Rise To Power:
1. Early Career: 3 stages- Period when he was pro-Austrian:
In 1847, Bismarck served in the Prussian Diet as a conservative & attacked the liberals. In
1849, he opposed the proposed Frankfurt constitution. In 1851, he became Prussian representative at
the Federal Diet.
- Period when he was anti-Austrian:
The arrogance and assumption of superiority of the Austrian president of the Diet annoyed
Bismarck. Illustrations of his anti-Austrian attitude were:
a. In foreign affairs:
In 1855, he recommended Prussia's neutrality instead of involvement with Austria during the
Crimean War. Later in 1859, He actively advocated an aggressive Prussian policy towards Austria.
b. In Germany:
He blocked all attempts of the new Austrian President to strengthen the Diet, as this was likely
to secure Austrian ascendancy. However, Bismarck was removed from the Diet by the new liberal
government in 1859.
- Period when he secured German Unification as Prussian Prime Minister.
2. Circumstances in which Bismarck became Prime Minister:
In 1862, the King was involved in a struggle for power with liberals in the Parliament. They refused
to authorize the budget for military expansion. The King was about to abdicate when he was
persuaded to summon Bismarck as the Prime Minister. He ignored the liberals, and continued to
collect money for the new army despite parliamentary opposition.
B. Bismarck's Aims:
Bismarck was a Prussian patriot rather than a German nationalist. He wanted to enhance the prestige
and power of Prussia. He did not have any clear-cut long-term plans but concerned himself primarily
with immediate problems. His chief objectives in 1862 were the following:
1. To secure Prussian predominance in North Germany:
This meant control of the German states north of the river Main. Bismarck disliked the
predominant of Austrian influence in German affairs. In 1863, he persuaded the Prussian king
not to attend the congress of princes summoned by Francis Joseph at Frankfurt. He renewed the
convention between Zollverein and Austria, but refused Austria to become a member.
2. To oppose liberalism and democracy:
Though Bismarck was a radical thinker in many ways, he had only contempt for liberal notions
and took measures to restrict the freedom of the press. As German unity was one of the aims of the
liberals. He hoped to win their support by realizing at least this part of the programme.
C. Bismarck's Methods:
Bismarck was basically an improviser who utilized events as they occurred to secure his aims. For
example, he used the Danish issue as an opportunity to quarrel with Austria; his tactics were as follows:
1. To isolate his opponents:
Through the use of diplomatic skill Bismarck made sure that Austria in 1866 and France in
1870 had no allies, but he was determined to remain friendly with any potential allies of his
opponents. For an example, he retained the friendship of Russia after 1863 owing to his action
over Poland and his support of the Tsar's desire to revise the Black Sea Clause.
2. To use military power effectively:
Bismarck relied on the success of Prussian arms in war to achieve his aims. Two remarks
illustrate his outlook and methods:
- "Germany had its eyes not on Prussian liberalism but on its power."
- "The great questions of the day will not be decided by speeches and majority votes, since that
was the mistake of 1848, but by blood and iron."
It has been said that Bismarck united Germany as the result of three successful wars. However, it must be
noted that much groundwork for eventual unification had been achieved before Bismarck came to
power. In summary the major steps towards German unification in the 19th century were as follows:
A. Creation of the German Confederation 1815
B. Formation of the Zollverein in 1834
C. 1848 Revolution and Its Failure:
- Rise of militant nationalism in disregard of liberalism.
D. Period of the Decline of Austrian Influence, 1852-1862
- When Austria failed to gain support for her economic or political plans for Germany this simplified the
process of German unity.
- Prussian power in economic and military terms increased. This made it possible for her to implement her
own "kleindeutschland" plan for Germany - the forceful Prussianization of Germany on the autocratic model.
E. Danish War 1864
F. Austrian War 1866
G. Establishment of the North German Confederation 1867
H. French War 1870-71
I. Creation of the German Empire 1871
A. Origins:
1. The London Protocol 1852:
After the war between Denmark and the German states in 1848, the Schleswig-Holstein problem
had been temporarily solved by the London Protocol. It was agreed that the Dutch heir would inherit the
two territories on his succession to the throne. It was also added that the duchies would remain as they
were, part of the Danish kingdom, but would not be subject to its laws. Thus, the aspirations of neither
the Danes nor the Germans were satisfied.
2. Revival of the Danish Question:
In March 1863 the Danish government made plans to incorporate Schleswig into Denmark.
Protests were made by Austria, Prussia the Federal Diet and the German people in the duchies. Denmark
disregarded the threats of the German states, since the essential disunity of Germany seemed evident
from the failure of the congress of princes at Frankfurt in 1863. A common constitution for Denmark
and Schleswig was approved by the Danish Parliament. Yet the Prussian and Austrian were not prepared to
allow the Danish king to incorporate Schleswig into Denmark. The German Federal Diet had dreams of
incorporating Holstein into Germany.
3. Prelude to the Danish War:
- In January 1864, Prussia secured an alliance with Austria.
Bismarck- He wanted to dissociate himself from the action of the Diet and knew that
German liberals would support him if he opposed Denmark. He was not prepared to act, however,
without involving Austria.
Austria - agreed to cooperate, partly to keep a watch on Prussia and under the mistaken idea that
Prussia had reverted to her former conservative policy of cooperation with her.
In addition, the duchies were of military importance to Prussia. Austria and Prussia sent an ultimatum
to Denmark, asking her to withdraw the common constitution and submit the matter to a European
congress. Encouraged by Britain, Denmark refused to comply.
B. The Defeat of Denmark:
In February, Austrian and Prussian troops invaded Schleswig. Bismarck assured the European
powers that they were intervening only to prevent the violation of the London Protocol. By April the
Germans were invading Denmark. Britain called a conference at London to save the Danes. It failed .
Denmark was defeated and by the Treaty of Vienna (October 1864), the Danish King unconditionally
handed over his rights over to the duchies. The last chance for the Federal Diet to regain the initiative
from Prussia to Austria was now lost.
C. Uneasy Austro-Prussian Collaboration:
Neither Austria nor Prussia had plans for the future of the duchies. Bismarck hoped that eventually
an excuse would arise for war with Austria. At first Prussia and Austria jointly administered the
duchies ignoring the opinions of the German Diet and the claims of the will of the duchies. In August
1865, Bismarck manoeuvred Austria into the Gastein Convention. Austria was to administer Holstein,
while Prussia administered Schleswig. In Bismarck's view this 'papered over the cracks" in
Austro-Prussian relations, and only prolonged the day of reckoning.
A. Origin:
1. Great-Power Diplomacy, 1863-66
Note must be taken of the relations between the major powers during this period. The various
arrangements made were contributory factors to the Austro-Prussian War and to the military success of
Prussia, since Austria was skillfully isolated from possible allies by Bismarck.
- Convention of Alvensleben (1863):
A revolt had broken out in the Polish territories of Russia. Bismarck sent troops to the frontier, and
refused asylum to Polish refugees from Russia. This action made it possible for Russia to resist the
attempted intervention by Austria, Britain and France on behalf of the Poles. Bismarck won the Tsar’s
trust and friendship.
- Biarritz meeting (1865)
Napoleon III offered French neutrality in the event of a war between Austria and Prussia. If Prussia won,
the suggested reward for France would be some territory west of the Rhine and the return of Venetia to
Italy. Bismarck was interested but nothing was settled, though it appeared that France would neutral in a
conflict between the German states.
- Austro-Italian Relations:
In January 1866, Italy offered to buy Venetia from Austria. If Austria had accepted, this would no doubt
have secured Italian neutrality in a war with Prussia. However, this offer was rejected.
- Prusso-Italian alliance (1866):
Bismarck feared that Austria might still surrender Venetia to Italy and that France might reach an
agreement with Austria. He managed to secure an Italian alliance. Italy was to help Prussia if
Prussia engineered a war with Austria within three months. The reward for Italy would be Venetia.
-Austro-French Agreement (1866):
In April 1866, Napoleon gave his promise of neutrality to Austria. In return Austria gave his
amazing condition of handing over Venetia to France for transfer to Italy whether she won or lost the
war. In the event of her victory, Austria would be free to make changes in Germany, but would consult
France first if these changes disturb the European balance of power.
2. Austrian Diplomacy and the Powers:
Austrian diplomacy was in a difficult state at that time, Austrian government was pressed by
demands from the Prussians in the north, the Italians in the south, and the Magyars in the east; and she
was in financial difficulties at home, her ministers had no clear plans. Austria, as well as most other
European powers, expected that she would be victorious in any war with Prussia and to ignore any
proposals for change in the present “balance of power”.
In April 1866, Bismarck introduced a motion for federal reform in the Diet, hoping that Austria
would reject it and precipitate a conflict. Austria rejected it and Prussia and Italy started mobilization. In
May, Britain, France and Russia suggested a European congress to deal with the questions of SchleswigHolstein. But on 1st June, Austria said she was prepared to accept only on the condition that Congress did
not envisage any alternation in the territories. This was tantamount to a refusal.
3. The Immediate Pretext for War:
The issues of control of the duchies and the federal reform became the grounds for war. Austrian ruled
in Holstein had been mild and conciliatory, while Prussian rule in Schleswig had been harsh. Complaints
reached Prussia that Austria received refugees from Schleswig. By this Austria had clearly violated her
secret agreement with Prussia and the Gastein Convention (1865).
Moreover, on 10th June, Bismarck proposed a reform in the Confederation which would exclude
Austria completely. Austria rejected and the Diet condemned Prussia as the aggressor. Bismarck
retaliated by declaring the Diet was dissolved, and the Prussia troops invaded Hanover, Saxony and
Hesse-Kassel. Austria replied by declaring war on Prussia.
B. Prussian Victory at Sadowa:
The major encounter between Austria and Prussia was a decisive victory for the latter at Sadowa.
Factors contributing to this decisive victory were as follows:
- weapons: The Prussian weapons proved to be more superior to the Austrian's.
- Tactics: Prussian fighting tactics with the emphasis on mobility were superior to the Austrian's.
- rail communications: The highly developed Prussian railway network enabled Moltke to have rapid
movement of troops.
- Staff Work: Moltke, chief of the Prussian staff since 1857, had built up a central headquarters which
became the brains of the army.
C. End and Results:
1. Termination of the war by Bismarck:
At Sadowa the Austrians lost 44,000 men , almost five times as many as the Prussian casualties.
However, the war might well have been a protracted one as many European powers expected. It was
Bismarck who planned to bring the war to a rapid conclusion. His reasons were as follows:
- He believed that a long war would benefit Austria:
Prussia had a population only half the size of Austria's. She had few reserves and there had been
difficulties in the battles over the Rhineland. Austria could be reinforced by her southern
Italian army. When better organised she might also receive further assistance from the North
German princes.
- He had limited aims:
Bismarck wanted only to unite Germany around Prussia. After Sadowa it seemed futile to
continue the war. Austria might be permanently alienated. At a later date she might prove to be a
useful ally.
- He wanted to prevent French Intervention:
Napoleon, anxious to be accepted as the arbiter of Europe, had after Sadowa sent Benedetti, the
French ambassador, to mediate. This visit made Bismarck proceed cautiously and to moderate the
terms to be offered to Austria. At all costs he wanted to avoid decisive French intervention on the
side of Austria.
- Austria's Reasons for Peace:
Austrian financial resources were weak and her forces were spread over three fronts. There seemed little
prospect of finding an ally if she continued the war.
2. Treaty of Prague:
- Austria was excluded from German affairs:
This in itself was a considerable blow to Austria. She had to acknowledge the dissolution of the
German Confederation and to pay an indemnity.
- Prussia secured increased territory:
She absorbed Schleswig-Holstein as well as Hanover, Hasse-Kassel, Nassau and Frankfurt.
- A New North German Confederation was to be formed under Prussian leadership:
Austria actually agreed to recognize any federal relations which the Prussian king established north of
the Main.
- Southern German States were to retain a separate existence:
They were to form a vague union of their own and to have "an independent international existence".
- Venetia was to be surrendered indirectly throughout France to Italy.
3. Results of the War:
The Prussian victory resulted in considerable domestic changes in Germany and the Austrian Empire.
It was also a landmark in French and Italian affairs.
- Prussia:
Prussia gained a considerable increase in prestige: She had defeated the armies of the other German
states and Austria.
b. Prussia achieved the predominant influence in German affairs: The way was open for German
unity on the Kleindeutschland model which Austria had previously resisted.
c. Bismarck won the support of the liberals at home: The victory won many converts to
Bismarck's policies, including the liberals. In September, 1866, Bismarck asked for and
obtained a Bill of Indemnity. This excused the government for running without a
constitutional budget since 1862. The moderates and liberals, pleased to see a part of their
programme - national unity - being achieved, as well as the growth in power and prestige of
Prussia and Germany, abandoned their former opposition.
d. Prussian autocratic methods triumphed over German liberalism: North German Confederation
had no precedent in Europe. Liberals were prepared to accept an autocratic constitution in
1867, since it was a step to unity and had a "democratic content". It included direct make
universal suffrage for the election of the Diet, they had little real power. And the autocratic
constitution remained in its essentials the forms of government in Germany until 1914. It was
similar to the one adopted in 1871.
- Austria:
Driven from Germany, Austria reorganized her Empire in 1867. By this arrangement, Austria turned
into the Dual Monarchy. It was a compromise between federalism, centralization and liberalism.
- France:
It is said that France suffered a severe diplomatic setback. "It is France that is beaten at Sadowa".
Bismarck evaded all attempts by Napoleon to profit from the war. The collapse of the Second
Empire was brought closer.
- Italy:
With the incorporation of Venetia, unity in Italy was brought a stage nearer.
North of the Main, Prussia exercised the dominating influence in the North German confederation,
south of the Main remained three Catholic state of Bavaria, Wuttemberg and Baden, Partly
susceptible to French or Austrian influences, where liberal sentiment was strong. The problem
remained as to how final union would be achieved. Would it be a voluntary drawing together of the
two parts, or a forced union as a result of Prussia power? If the latter, then the final state would
inevitably be autocratic along the lines of conferral constitution. Hopes of the liberals for
democratic government would then be vanquished.
Austria had hoped that the states south of Main would form a union of their own, However, before
the treaty of Prague was signed, Prussia was quick to sign in August secret treaties of alliance with
Bavaria, Wuttemberg and Baden. Now, when a plan for a South German Union was put forward, it
failed. It was not "particularistic" enough for Bavaria and Wuttemberg. If the union had been
formed, it would have been able to prevent the whole union in 1871 from being a disguised Prussian
Moreover, in time, the German unity has been come without war as a result of the pressure of
national feeling. However, Bismarck, impatient of delay, hastened the process by precipitating war
with France in1870:
- Dispute over the Spanish succession
In 1868 Queen Isabella of Spain was deposed in a revolt. The provisional government looked round
for a successor. A possible candidate was Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern, a Catholic and distant relative
of the Prussian king. Napoleon III made it clear that the choice of Leopold would be an affront to France.
The Prussian king also opposed the candidature. Finally Leopold withdrew his candidature.
a. Revival of Leopold’s candidature
Bismarck decided to revive the candidature of Leopold in 1869. Bismarck aimed at provoking Napoleon
III or France into indiscreet action. In 1870 the Spanish government officially offered the throne to
Prince Leopold. He accepted the invitation.
b. Gramont’s war speech
The secret leaked out and France was furious. She feared encirclement if Hohenzollern rule were
established on both the Rhine and the Pyrenees. The French Foreign Minister, Gramont, stated that,
unless Leopold withdrew, France would treat the matter as a cause for war.
c. Withdrawal of Leopold’s candidature
Prince Leopold had been advised by the Prussian king not to accept the Spanish throne. This had been
after Benedetti, the French ambassador, had spoken to King William. As a result, Prince Leopold
withdrew his candidature for the second time.
d. French insistence on further guarantees
The French cabinet decided to seek guarantees from King William that the candidature of Leopold
would not be renewed.
e. Ems meeting
The Prussian king met the French ambassador and courteously declined to give any guarantee on
Leopold’s candidature.
f. The Ems telegram
The king sent a telegram to Bismarck, which told of what had taken place with Benedetti at Ems.
Bismarck was permitted to give an account of the events to the press. He decided to edit the telegram
so that an abridged version would give a different interpretation. He made it appear that the King’s
refusal to see Benedetti again was due, not to his having heard news of Leopold’s withdrawal, but to
the nature of Benedetti’s original demands. It was made to appear that the King had been curt and
not courteous to Bebedetti.
There was a general national outcry in both Germany and France when the press broke the news.
The French decided to declare war on Germany. However, France was finally defeated by Prussia.
Result of the German Victory:
1. Two Countries Achieved Final Unification:
- Germany: On 18th January 1871, at the Palace of Versailles, the Prussian King was made German
Emperor by the princes of Germany.
- Italy: Piedmontese troops marched into Rome, which the French had evacuated at the start of the war.
Rome was now declared the capital of Italy.
2. Permanent Franco-German Hostility was Created:
This was due to the loss of Alsace-Lorraine. Alsace, seized by Louis XIV at the end of the 17th
century, was racially German. Much of the part Lorraine and the town of Metz was mostly French.
Certainly, both Alsace and Lorraine had been French in spirit for many years, and they remained
unreconciled to their absorption into Germany.
3. Major Alternation had Taken Place in the European Balance of Power:
Victor Hugo commented, "Henceforth there are in Europe two nations which will be formidable, the
one because it is victorious, the other because it is vanquished. " Summarizing this turning-point in
European history, the English diplomat Henry Bulwer said, " Europe has a mistress and found a
- France ceased to held the dominant place it had occupied in European affairs since 1856.
- Germany now became the most powerful nation in Europe.