Monday, October 24, 2011

German Unification

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German Unification of 1871

This paper will discuss the process of the unification of Germany. It will also discuss how the unification of Germany affected western civilization as a whole and individually.

German Unification was the merging of the states in the North German Confederation and other German states to form the German Empire. The North German Confederation was formed in 1867 under the leadership of Prussia, and the initiative of Otto von Bismarck whom was appointed by William I, King of Prussia. It was a compilation of German states. Under the North German Confederation, each state could retain its own government, but its military forces were controlled by the Confederation. It took three wars to achieve the Confederation.

The Danish War, fought in 1864, was over the control of Schleswig-Holstein. This area was and had been controlled by Denmark since the late 15th century. Bismarck believed that by expanding his territory, he would be able to gain more control. He thus decided to take back Schleswig-Holstein. War broke out on February 1, 1864. Prussia and Austria defeated Denmark who had no help from any great powers. After the defeat, a negotiation was established called the Convention of Gastein. This negotiation was signed in August of 1865. Under this negotiation, Austria was in charge of Holstein and Prussia was in charge of Schleswig.

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Bismarck had more goals in mind than just the addition of territory. He wanted Austria to relinquish its influence in northern Germany. Bismarck set out to persuade Napoleon in his wars efforts. Napoleon wanted to make France the major power of Europe but did not know how. Then stepped in Bismarck. He encouraged Napoleon to accept Prussia as the dominance of northern Germany, and in return Prussia would support the French. Bismarck used his persuasion by telling Napoleon that if he did not do this, their only other option was to turn to Austria and Russia, France’s rivals, for position of power. Napoleon believed that this was a means of enhancing French power at no risk, so he agreed.

The agreement of Gastein did not satisfy either Austria or Prussia. In January of 1866, Austria allowed public demonstrations in Holstein. And in June of 1866, Austria appealed to the German Confederation to intervene in the dispute between Prussia and Austria . After this, Austria formed support through the Confederation. Baden-Wurttemberg, Hannover, Hessen-Kassel, Saxony, and Bavaria all decided to assist Austria. The Prussia chief of general staff, Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Motke, decided that Prussia must respond to Austria, or risk invasion.

This war, declared on June 14, 1866 was later known as the Seven Weeks’ War or the Austro Prussian War. Thanks to Count Moltke, the Prussians soon gained the advantage. They captured Hannover and Hessen-Kassel, and invaded Saxony and Bavaria. On July rd, they finally defeated Austria at Koniggratz.

The Treaty of Prague ended the conflict on August rd, 1866. This treaty gave Prussia Hannover and Hessen-Kassel. Austria also relinquished control of Holstein to Prussia, and Venetia was given to Italy.

Following the Seven Weeks’ War, the North German Confederation was formed in place of the German Confederation. All Germany north of the Main River now formed the confederation. A legislative body was formed, the president of the North German Confederation was the King of Prussia, but a chancellor performed the duties of office. In a matter of months after the development of the confederation, many new freedoms and ideas arose in a new constitution. Religious freedom, post and telegraph services, and a criminal law code were among the few. This constitution became the constitution followed in the German empire after 1871.

The North German Confederation was a large step towards German Unification. Bismarck did not force the southern German states to join the Confederation, instead he made the idea so appealing that they would choose to join voluntarily. The southern states however avoided a more liberal move to join the confederation.

Bismarck felt he needed to find a way to complete unification. He used the Spanish problems to his advantage. In 1870, Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen took the Spanish throne with Prussian blessings. The throne had been empty for two years. France had tension with Prussia for fours years. After the placement of Leopold, Napoleon felt that this was a threat to France. To resolve this, France asked William to forbid any future placement of Leopold to the throne, or they would have to declare war on Prussia. William declined to the request. He also sent a telegram to Bismarck inform him of the threat.

Bismarck edited the telegram sent by Williams and released it to the press on July, 1th, 1870. His edits made it appear that William had insulted the French ambassador. This idea was to draw France into war. After the release of the telegram to the press, both liberal and nationalists from the German confederation decided that war was the best way to teach France a lesson. War was declared on July 1th, 1870. After the declaration of war, the southern German states decided to join forces with Prussia.

The Battle of Sedan, taken place in the town of Sedan in northern France on September 1st, was a complete victory for the Germans, led by Count Moltke. Comte Marie Edm� Patrice Maurice de MacMahon first led the French until he was wounded. General Emmanuel F�lix de Wimpffen then led them. The French surrendered on September nd. The French had 17,000 casualties, while the Germans only had ,000, and Napoleon was captured.

Towards the end of the war, Bismarck used the military situation as a means of united Germanys southern states with the North German Confederation to form the German Empire. On January 18, 1871, the German Empire was formally proclaimed at the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, France, with William crowned as emperor.

On May 10th, 1871, the Treaty of Frankfurt was signed ending the French-German war. This treaty cost France the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, as well as payment of 5 billion francs.

The effects that a unified Germany had on Europe were profound. The military strength of Germany was much stronger than that of Prussia alone. The area was rich in natural resources. The empire was a conservative creation, which was a shock to European liberalists. Conservative politics were now backed by the strongest state in the continent.


“Battle Of Sedan.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia. 000 ed.

“German Unification.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia. 000 ed.

“North German Confederation.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia. 000 ed.

“Seven Weeks’ War.” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia. 000 ed.

Kagan, D., Ozment, S., & Turner, F. The Western Heritage. 7th ed. New Jersey Pearson. 001. p. 78-7

Schulze, Hagen. Germany A New History. USA Harvard College. 18. p. 14-144.

Thackeray, F. & Findling, J. Events That Changed The World In The Nineteenth Century. Connecticut Greenwood Press. 16. p. 14.

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