4.3 The Founding of the German Empire
At the beginning of the 19th century, Germany was a vast mosaic of states. This formed a part of the Holy Roman Empire. The two largest states in it were formed of the territorial possessions of Austria and Prussia. There were some secondary states in northern and central Germany. There were hundreds of small states. Some were free cities and others were ecclesiastical states. The Holy Roman Emperor, who for the past 300 years had been chosen from the Hapsburg family of the Austrians, was now only a formal authority. People of varied blood spread in Germany. The confederation of Rhine had already been formed by Napoleon I. He had prepared the ground for the unification of Germany. He reduced the number of German states by combining smaller states with the larger ones. These states were united to form the Rhine confederation.
As the sentiments of the Germans were crushed, Napoleonís power in Germany was undermined. Besides this, there was also a predominance of the diplomats like Metternich who crushed the liberal movements of the Germans (1815 - 1848). One remarkable fact was that the Prussian Emperor framed a federal constitution for the people of Germany, which was highly opposed by Austria.
The nationalist movement made progress only after 1848. The German empire is the result of the policy of blood and iron carried out by Prussia in the three wars which were crowded into the brief period of six years, i.e. 1864-1870. Prussia was in favor of German unification and was opposed to Austria.
A new era begins with the coming of Bismarck in German history. He became the chancellor of Germany. He deprived Austria from assuming the leadership of Germany. He approved the unification of Germany under the able and supportive leadership of Prussia. Bismarck made friendship with France and also Russia. This was against Austria. He succeeded in his policy of blood and iron. He accomplished the Unification of Germany and crowned the Prussian King as the Emperor of Germany. For carrying out his policy ahead, he had to wage three wars, with Austria, France and Denmark.
Otto von Bismarck
4.3a The issue of Schleswing and Holstein
These two duchies were under Denmark, but they widely differed in constitution and were organized as a territory of Denmark. The Duchy of Holstein was a part of German federation. The people of Denmark and Germany lived together in these two duchies. A conflict over the issue of nationalism arose between them. Both Germany and Denmark desired to capture the duchies.
The King of Denmark desired the possession of the two duchies, Schleswing and Holstein. The Duke of Augustenberg opposed this. Even Prussia and Germany were against this move. The new King of Denmark took possession of Schleswing in 1863.
A war broke out between Austria and Prussia in 1864. The treaty of Vienna was signed this year. According to this, the two duchies were to be handed over to Prussia and Austria. However, Bismarck played his own game, and so even though Austria got Holstein, she was unhappy and discontented.
After the violation of the Treaty of Gastein, Austria was badly insulted by Prussia. As it was very humiliating, Austria declared war with Prussia. During this war the army of Prussia captured Holstein and Austria was rooted from here. Bismarck signed a treaty with Italy and France and as according to treaty, they remained neutral in the war. However, Italy also promised to give military aid to Bismarck. She was defeated in the battle of Custozza and Laussa. In the war of Sadowa, Prussia defeated Austria.
4.3b The Treaty of Prague
According to this treaty Austria lost Venetia to
Italy and Holstein to Prussia. Austria also had to pay heavy war
indemnities. The previous German Federation was dissolved and the
North German Federation was established. The North German States
were merged with Prussia.
4.3c Relations with France (1870)
France was opposed to the German unification. Napoleon III was jealous of the growing power of Prussia and the influence she had over German affairs. The policy adopted by Napoleon III failed and the French turned against him. At this time Austria and England, not to mention Russia, sided with Bismarck. During the war, France was badly defeated. Napoleon III had to surrender after the war of Sedan and was taken prisoner. In France, a Third Republic was established. She had to accept the decisions of Frankfurt and pay war indemnities. Later, even Alsace and Lorraine were handed over to Prussia.
4.3d The Final German Unification
The United German National Federation was established and the Prussian Emperor was declared the Emperor of the whole of Germany. A cabinet of ministers and a bicameral legislature was formed to assist the new Emperor in this administration of the nation. The North German federation became the German Empire.