(World History) Unification of Germany


  • Herr Otto Von Bismarck iron-man image and the unique personality was the crucial factor in the unification of Germany.
  • His skill as a diplomat was unrivalled during his reign as chancellor of Prussia and Germany. 
  • The mastery he showed in foreign policy was such that he was able to outwit all other powers and make their leaders look pathetic.
  • Bismarck was the mastermind of German Unification and was the first chancellor of the united nation. Bismarck caused Germany to transform from a loose net of 39 states into the strongest industrial nation of Europe.
  • The unification of Germany had a tremendous impact on European balance of powers for the rest of history.
  • For nearly 30 years Bismarck dominated Germany Bismarck’s iron man image and unique personality was a major factor in German Unification.
  • Born and brought up as a Prussian Junker he pursued his nationalist ambitions and united Germany.
  • His diplomatic skill was a major pre-requisite of Prussia’s military victories. By manipulating events to his advantage Bismarck was able to proclaim a united Kleindeutsche under Prussian control and European politics. 

Germany before Unification 

  • Before Bismarck came into power, the Congress of Vienna formed the Germany Confederation, which was really a collection of small states ruled by minor dukes, princes and kings.
  • Revolutions in nearly every German State occurred. Rebels forced rulers to accept Constitutions, and allow elections to the German National Assembly in Frankfurt.
  • In May 1848, shortly after the revolutionary outbreak in Berlin, delegates from all of the German states met at the Frankfurt Assembly to prepare for the formation of a united and constitutional German nation-state.
  • The Frankfurt constitution established Germany as a federal union, which was to be headed by a monarch having a title.
  • After the failure of the Frankfurt Assembly, a disagreement between moderate and radical liberals started and the German Confederation was renewed in 1851. 
  • Fredric Wilhelm IV died in 1861 leaving King Wilhelm I of Prussia to the throne.
  • A year later Otto von Bismarck was appointed Prime minister of Prussia. 

Bismarck and his Political Tactics

  • Bismarck’s ultimate goal was to unite the German states into a strong German Empire with Prussia as its core.
  • On September 30, 1862 Bismarck made his famous blood and iron speech, which implied that if Germany was to unify it, would be with the use of military force.
  • He hated liberalism, democracy and socialism.
  • Following his speech, he dismissed the budget proposal and ordered the bureaucracy to collect taxes.
  • This money would go to military use, and Bismarck would expand and strengthen the Prussian armies.
  • These armies would then be used in three wars which Bismarck devised to unify the country. 

A. The Danish War: 1864- 1865

  • Liberals in Germany had always wanted to separate Schleswig-Holstein from Denmark. Prussia joined forces with Austria and sent an ultimatum to Denmark on January 16, 1864 demanding a withdrawal of the former constitution, which incorporated Schleswig in Denmark within 48 hours or face military action. 
  • At this point, Denmark looked to the European powers for military support but received none. Denmark was beat by Prussian and Austrian military forces. 
  • Following their victory, the treaty of Gastein was created to compromise who ruled which lands. The treaty stated Prussia controlled Schleswig and Austria controlled Holstein. 

B. Prussian Austrian War: 1866

  • For several years Bismarck had predicted a war with Austria. His governing policy from 1863 to 1866 was based around this war.
  • One example of this plan was when Prussia made an alliance with Italy, stating that they would help Prussia if war broke out within the next 3 months.
  • When the war actually did break out, no other German states came to Prussia’s aid.
  • Bismarck also persuaded Russia to remain neutral. Austria was isolated and appeared very weak. Ordering his troops to march into the Holestein, an Austrian territory provoked the country into declaring war.
  • After isolating Austria from France and Russia and receiving Italy’s help in a defensive war against the province, Bismarck was ready for his last step in enticing Austria to war. He proposed a unified Germany under the kleindeutsch plan to the Frankfurt Assembly. 
  • Under this plan he purposely excluded Austria from the German affairs. This action was what finally forced Austria to attack Prussia.
  • Most German states chose to side with Austria in the war against Prussia because they felt they were defending their independence.
  • However, Prussia with Bismarck’s military intelligence was victorious. Following their victory, Bismarck set up peaceful treaties with Austria to remain as future allies.
  • Prussia joined with Northern German states to form the North German confederation. 
  • This was formed in 1867, and created a new powerful German state. Bismarck granted equal manhood suffrage and the budget control switched over to Parliament.
  • The German states were allowed to govern themselves but they still were under the influence of the German Emperor.
  • This pleased many Germans because it was a step towards total German Unification and it also granted Prussia more power. 

C. Franco-Prussian war 

  • Through the course of the Austrian-Prussian war, Bismarck made a territorial agreement with France in turn for neutrality, but he never intended on keeping his part of the deal. 
  • Bismarck’s final step to unification was war with France, but first he had to manipulate countries to be on his side.
  • After this victory, Prussia could then unify Germany once and for all. Bismarck provoked a patriotic war with France by mocking the French in a letter which was later printed in newspapers.
  • The letter vexed nationalistic feelings, causing France to declare war on Prussia. Southern and Northern German states along with Prussia combined their powers to defeat the French army.
  • Although Bismarck was pleasant to Austria, this was not the case towards the French.
  • He brutally punished the already weak country with the Treaty of Frankfurt and took vitally important land from them. This created bad feelings among the French towards the Germans and later created problems.


  • The formal unification of Germany into a politically and administratively integrated nation state 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 Wilhelm of Prussia as Emperor Wilhelm of the German Empire after the French capitulation in the Franco-Prussian War. 
  • Unofficially, the transition of most of the German-speaking populations into a federated organization of states occurred over nearly a century of experimentation. 
  • Unification exposed several glaring religious, linguistic, social, and cultural differences between and among the inhabitants of the new nation, suggesting that 1871 only represents one moment in a continuum of the larger unification processes.
  • Bismarck’s victory led to the support he needed from his people to create a united Germany.
  • In general the constitution stayed the same as Northern Germany’s before unification; Bismarck only made a few changes. The three major changes were a German national Parliament, the Reichstag was now elected by the German people, and Germany developed a federal council.
  • Also the country now had budgetary rights, but could not overthrow the government. Bismarck had succeeded in making Prussia in control of allimportant decisions. 
  • An example of this is that each German State still had separate armies, but the armies were under Prussian order. Although Germans were pleased with unification, the rest of Europe felt that Germany was going to offset the European balance of power.
  • The Unification of Germany made it a European power along with France, Great Britain, Austria, the United States, and Russia. By Germany gaining power it allowed Bismarck to control most of Europe.
  • Germany economically had a major impact and Bismarck’s foreign policy created an intricate map of alliances preventing Germany to enter any wars after unification.

German Nationalism 

  • Nationalism, a feeling of loyalty towards one’s country, differed from German nationalism. Bismarck used wars to cause national unity within Germany but these nationalistic feelings soon disappeared once the country was actually unified.
  • There were several different types of people located in Germany, all of them containing different views on the how the Empire should be ruled.
  • Bismarck was a part of the Junkers or upper class, who supported militarism, and didn’t like universal suffrage because it was a threat on their way of life. 
  • On the other hand, Southern German states embraced a liberal constitution, and a movement towards democracy grew in this region.
  • Politics were not the only difference; religion broke down nationalism as well. Catholics who lived in the Empire felt uncomfortable living in a Protestant dominated environment.
  • They soon created their own political party, the Center Party.
  • This party opposed many of Bismarck’s ideas and enticed him to make restrictions on Catholic education and work. Both Protestants and Catholics disliked Bismarck for putting restrictions on religion.
  • Along with confinements on religion Bismarck started putting restriction on politics. He created anti- socialist laws, which banned Socialism, prohibited the printing of Socialist ideas and Socialist meetings.
  • All of these restrictions prove that German Nationalism was credited to the three wars but after these wars were won, Germany’s many differences shone brightly through the country’s seeping cracks. 

After unification

  • Increased nationalism in Germany made it more powerful. Germany was the strongest military power on the continent. Germany’s position geographically was between large military powers.
  • Otto von Bismarck had to be as sure as possible that no one would attack Germany, at least no coalition.
  • First, in 1879, Bismarck made a secret alliance with Austria-Hungary. In 1881, Bismarck signed a tri-treaty with Russia, Austria, and Germany: the Alliance of Three Emperors. In 1882, Italy joined this alliance, making a triple alliance along with Austria and Russia.
  • Under Bismarck, Germany maintained a stable and reliable foreign policy, because Bismarck maintained an anti-imperialistic stand and maintained diplomacy. Germany managed to stay on good terms with just about everyone but France.
  • Industrialization progressed dynamically in Germany. German manufacturers began to capture domestic markets from British import. 
  • The German textiles and metal industries surpassed those of Britain in organization and technical efficiency and usurped British manufacturers in the domestic market. 
  • Germany became the dominant economic power on the continent and was the second largest exporting nation after the US.
  • By the turn of the century, the German metals and engineering industries would be producing heavily for the free trade market of Britain. By the time of World War I (1914-1918), The German economy switched to supplying its military with the proper equipment needed to fight the war.
  • This included the production of rifles (Gewehr 98), pistols (P08 Luger), and heavy weaponry (Maxim machine gun, Minenwerfer mortar, and several other heavy and light artillery pieces). 
  • Additionally, Imperial Germany was leading in the sectors of Physics and Chemistry so that one third of all Nobel Prizes went to German inventors and researchers.
  • The unification of Germany also changed the balance of power in Europe in terms of substance and nature.

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