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Unification of Germany

Unification of Germany

On January 18, 1871, something big happened in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in France. The leaders of many German states came together during the Franco-Prussian War to declare Wilhelm I of Prussia as the German Emperor. This declaration was a game-changer in European politics for a long time. Essentially, it led to the creation of the German Empire, where Prussia was in charge but there was still a federalist system in place.

History of Unification of Germany

  • In the year 843 CE, Germany emerged as a confederation of various princely states following the Treaty of Verdun. Back then, these states were pretty independent, and the Holy Roman Emperor directly ruled some of them.
  • Up until the 1800s, there wasn’t much of a sense of German nationalism among the people. The princely states operated on their own, and the Holy Roman Emperor had control over others.
  • They called the system of having these small states within the empire the “practice of kleinstaaterei” or “practice of small states.” Things started changing in the 1800s with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, which improved transportation and communication, bringing distant regions closer.
  • The Holy Roman Empire dissolved in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars when Emperor Francis II abdicated. Surprisingly, this didn’t cause much chaos in the German-speaking regions, which stayed connected through language and culture.
  • The Napoleonic wars, however, did bring about some intellectual changes. They introduced liberal and nationalistic ideas, and slowly but surely, a wave of nationalism began to spread among the people.

Rise of German Nationalism

After Napoleon was defeated, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 set up a new way for European countries to work together, focusing on keeping a balance of power. They created a group of German states led by the Austrian Empire, which kept a close eye on them and didn’t allow any signs of German nationalism. In the early 1800s, Prussia and Austria were rivals because Prussia was the only German state as powerful as Austria.

The Zollverein, an important group, helped bring the German states together economically in 1834. Austria didn’t like the idea of German unity because it thought it would threaten its own empire. However, in 1853, Austria ended up joining the Zollverein.

Berlin Revolution of 1848
  • In the 1830s to 1848, there was a lot of commotion in the smaller German states. People wanted two main things: to bring Germany together as one nation and to establish fair and open governments in each state.
  • Fast forward to March 27, 1849, the Frankfurt Parliament created a constitution (known as the Constitution of St. Paul’s Church) and even offered the title of Emperor to the Prussian king, Frederick William IV.
  • Although they didn’t fully achieve the big goal of uniting Germany, the Frankfurt Parliament did score a win by teaming up with German princes on constitutional matters and working together on important reforms.
  • The Frankfurt Parliament’s failure made Germans realize they needed a different approach to unite the country.
  • Then, in the Seven Weeks War of 1866, Prussia really hit Austria and its allies hard. This victory was so significant that it put an end to Austria messing with German affairs and allowed Prussia to set the stage for its own empire.

Congress of Princes 1868 (German Bund)
  • In 1868, Austria wanted to gather German princes for a meeting to discuss changes to the German Confederation. They even invited Prussia to join. If Austria had succeeded, they would have kept their strong influence in Germany.
  • However, Bismarck convinced the King of Prussia to skip the meeting, and as a result, the conference failed. This move by Bismarck played a key role in preventing Austria from maintaining control in German affairs.
Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871
  • Napoleon III, who was the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, was in charge of France.
  • The Prime Minister of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck, stirred up trouble that led to France attacking Prussia.
  • The war that followed turned out to be really tough for France, and their major loss happened at Sedan in September 1870.

Significance of Unification of Germany

  • When Germany became one united nation, it totally shook up the European scene. Suddenly, there was this big, powerful Germany in town, and everyone else had to be careful.
  • Germany wasn’t messing around with its army, and it did something pretty impressive – it brought a bunch of arguing states together under one roof super quickly.
  • Germany wasn’t satisfied with just being a big deal in Europe. They wanted a piece of the action in Africa and Asia, and that got on the nerves of some other European countries.
  • Things got heated between Germany, Britain, France, and Russia. This whole mess exploded into World War I, and it was a wild ride.
  • After a lot of fighting and chaos, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 basically said, “Game over, Germany.” It marked the end of the German Empire.

Read Also: Imperialism 

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