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Otto von Bismarck &
The wars of German unification

The Unification of Germany as guided by Bismarck

During the summer of 1849, and into the summer of 1850, the Prussian Government invited other north German States to enter into a fresh "Erfurt" union on the basis of a new Constitution - to be that accepted by the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848, but altered so far as might be found necessary. The union was to be a voluntary one.

Had this policy succeeded, the Prussia that was most dear to Bismarck's heart would have been no more. Otto von Bismarck was a Prussian aristocrat and was, as such, opposed to this policy of the King of Prussia and his ministers. He took the extreme particularist view; he had no interest in Germany outside Prussia; Würtemberg and Bavaria were to him foreign States. In all these proposals for a new Constitution he saw only that Prussia would be required to sacrifice its complete independence; that the King of Prussia would become executor for the decrees of a popular and alien Parliament. They were asked to cease to be Prussians in order that they might become Germans. In a speech to the Prussian Assembly on 6 September Bismarck said:-
"We all wish that the Prussian eagle should spread out his wings as guardian and ruler from the Memel to the Donnersberg, but free will we have him, not bound by a new Regensburg Diet. Prussians we are and Prussians will we remain; I know that in these words I speak the confession of the Prussian army and the majority of my fellow-countrymen, and I hope to God that we will still long remain Prussian when this sheet of paper is forgotten like a withered autumn leaf."

The possibility of Habsburg Austria gaining more influence in the Germanic Confederation, to Prussia's detriment, was very much to the front of Bismarck's mind. He had entered political life almost by accident, having been deputised in the place of another who had been taken ill. Originally prepared to respect Austria, as a champion of conservatism, he had come to view Austria as being a dedicated rival of Prussia with this rivalry only being open to being resolved to Prussia's advantage by the humbling of Austrian claims to predominance in the affairs of the German Confederation.

Throughout his career, subsequent to his coming to resent Austria, Bismarck devoted his considerable efforts to performing several difficult tasks including that of the exclusion of Austria, ( as being Prussia's rival ), from German affairs and that of the preserving of the Prussian tradition from being eroded by the effects of both Nationalism and Democratisation.

German-nationally minded liberals in northern Germany were inspired by the career of the chief minister to the House of Savoy, Camillo de Cavour (who had, in the summer of 1859, achieved a greater degree of integration of northern "Italian" territory under the leadership of the Victor Emmanuel II), to form, in November 1859, the Nationalverein or National Union. This soon grew into being a liberal-national movement actively supported by several thousand parliamentarians, professors, lawyers and journalists who exerted their diverse efforts towards the establishment of a more unified and powerful "German" state.

In these times Bismarck was serving as a diplomat in the Prussian service and had been accredited to the Court of the Tsar in St Petersburg since the early months of 1859. In March, 1860, whilst on leave in Berlin, Bismarck paid courtesy calls upon the leaders of the Nationalverein in Berlin.
Early in 1861 King Frederick William IV, whose mind had failed, was replaced as King of Prussia by his brother, who had been serving as regent, but who now came to the throne as King Wilhelm I. Bismarck prepared a memorandum on the German question for the consideration of King Wilhelm I, this was delivered to the King at Baden-Baden at the end of July 1861. In this so-called "Baden-Baden Memorial" Bismarck advocated that Prussia should attempt to exploit the growing sentiment of German patriotism by supporting a demand "for a national assembly of the German people".
In March, 1862, Bismarck received a new diplomatic posting that led to his becoming Prussian ambassador to France. From his base in Paris Bismarck took an opportunity to cross the English Channel, in June, 1862. This visit was ostensibly for the purpose of visiting an Industrial Exhibition but Bismarck met several senior British statesmen including Disraeli, leader of the Opposition, to whom he outlined his proposal for bring a form of unity to Germany under Prussian leadership even if this involved a degree of conflict with the Austrian Empire.
That evening Disrali was heard to remark "Take care of that man! He means what he says!"

In September 1862 there was a crisis in Prussia where the Prussian Landtag, or lower parliamentary house, was refusing to approve increased military spending in defiance of the King's wishes. Wilhelm I was advised by his Minister of War, Roon, to send for Bismarck as a formidable personality who might secure the passing of the budget and the associated military reforms in the Landtag.
On the 17 September the crisis had reached such a pitch that King Wilhelm I seriously considered abdicating his throne. That evening Roon sent by telegraph to Bismarck suggesting that he, Bismarck, should hurry to Berlin and that there was danger in delay. The message in French and Latin read :- Depechez-vous; Periculum in mora.

On 22 September Bismarck met King Wilhelm I and assured him that he could form a ministry and carry through the army reforms desired by the king, if necessary against the will of the deputies in the Landtag. Given this assurance the King decided not to abdicate. Bismarck was appointed acting chief minister to the House of Hohenzollern.
Bismarck made an appearance before the Landtag on the 29 September where he spoke expressing his regret at the hostility of the deputies to passing of the military budget and stressed the need for progress to be made on the military proposals favoured by the king. The next day at a meeting of a Budget Committee Bismarck went perhaps further than he his better judgement might have intended in asserting that:-

" The position of Prussia in Germany will not be determined by its liberalism but by its power ... Prussia must concentrate its strength and hold it for the favourable moment, which has already come and gone several times. Since the treaties of Vienna, our frontiers have been ill-designed for a healthy body politic. Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided - that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 - but by iron and blood".

This somewhat aggressively phrased speech caused alarm to liberal opinion in the Germanies and beyond. This was in part attributable to subsequent reportage amending its wording to read more pithily as " blood and iron ". This speech has since become known as Bismarck's Blood and Iron Speech.

As Minister-President of Prussia Bismarck arranged things such that the increase in the size of the army took place despite the opposition of the Landtag. The existing practices of the Prussian state allowed Bismarck to continue in office provided the King was willing to remain favourable to his ministry.

Popular Nationalism was seen by Bismarck as being potentially erosive of his desired future for the Prussian Kingdom. This nationalism being a liberal German nationalism which offered to seek to incorporate Prussia, along with other German states, into an extensive "constitutional-liberal" German state.

Bismarck began to devise schemes whereby the Prussian king and kingdom could better hope to receive the respect of many of those in Prussia, and more widely in the German states, who held German liberal-nationalist-constitutionalist sympathies. He came to see that the prestige Prussia already enjoyed in Germany, both as a notably powerful and somewhat constitutional state, and as the central power to a pervasively influential "Zollverein", or Customs Union, could be exploited to secure the acceptance of policies embarked upon by a Prussian government to promote German unification.
It being understood by Bismarck that such promotion of German unification was to be on terms acceptable to a Kingdom of Prussia where the king retained his sovereignty.
If there is to be a revolution, we would rather make it, than suffer it.
Otto von Bismarck
In January 1863 the Poles in Russian administered Polish territories again attempted to forcefully win concessions of change from a reluctant Tsar-King. Russia regarded the retention of its Polish lands as a principal aim of policy. Whilst several western states, including France, lost the Tsar's good opinion by offering moral support to the Poles, an offer of assistance to Russia made by Bismarck, that was initially thought presumptuous, left an abiding impression with Russia that Prussia was a state that it should view with favour.
Bismarck's support for Russia was practical as well as strategic. Prussia had annexed Polish lands during her own participation in the Partitions of Poland. Bismarck considered that a revived Polish polity might well contest Prussia's continued hold on some of the lands so annexed.

Russia was to take some time to recover from this expense of resources in what proved to be protracted efforts to retain control over Poland.

In 1863 Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria, proposed that a reform of the Germanic Confederation be discussed by the German Princes in a meeting to be held that autumn in Frankfurt. Franz Joseph urged agreement between the Princes of Germany as the best way of preserving a German Confederation under the leadership of its historic dynasties whilst containing the revolutionary tides of liberalism, democratisation and socialism that were pressing for diverse radical changes.

In the lead up to this proposed conference Franz Joseph met the King of Prussia on 2 August at Bad Gastein and felt encouraged, during a personal interview, that the Prussian king would be agreeable to reforms. Many of the most prominent princes of Germany convened at Frankfurt and authorised one of their number, the King of Saxony - a notably cultured individual who was on terms of personal friendship with the King of Prussia, to personally convey an invitation to attend on behalf of the assembled rulers to the king of Prussia.

The Prussian King was inclined to accept this pressing invitation personally delivered as it was by a King on behalf of more than thirty German rulers. In order to prevent the formulation an agreed approach to the reform of the Confederation Bismarck went to very great lengths, even to the point of reducing the King to tears and himself to nervous exhaustion, in order to persuade the King of Prussia, very much against his own inclination, not to attend. Austria had a preponderance of influence in the Confederation and any agreed reform would probably have been broadly favourable to the Austrian interest. With the absence of Prussia, which was, after Austria herself, inherently the second most powerful state in the confederation, nothing could be fully decided upon.

Prussian domestic elections of October 1863 saw only thirty-eight deputies being returned who could be relied on to support Bismarck's policies. King Wilhelm I was greatly dispirited by these results and even suggested to Bismarck that he, the King, might possibly expect to be guillotined in the Palace Square. Nevertheless Bismarck continues to follow the military and other policies which had alienated public opinion.
The Emperor of Austria also had domestic troubles to contend with during these times. A so-called February Patent of 1861 had instituted a limited form of parliamentism that was supported mainly by Germanic "liberals" who were comfortable with an autocratic centralism effectively run by the Germans of the Empire largely in the interests of those same Germans. The parliament was largely boycotted by the Magyars, Poles and Czechs who felt themselves to be excluded from real power and representation.

Schleswig and Holstein again loomed to the forefront of European affairs in that the resolution internationally agreed after the difficulties that become critical in 1848 was breaking down. That resolution as enshrined in a Treaty of London of 1852 had envisaged these territories remaining separate from Denmark, but with the Danish King being Duke of Holstein and Duke of Schleswig. Holstein was predominantly peopled by ethnic Germans, whilst Schleswig had an ethnic German majority in its southern areas.
This attempted resolution of 1852 over Schleswig and Holstein featured an early example of the powers proposing that an eventual settlement should be consistent with the nationality of the person's affected rather than on dynastic claims or treaties. Denmark undertook to respect the rights of ethnic Germans in the Duchy of Schleswig. Holstein and the tiny Duchy of Lauenburg were to remain in the German Federation with equal recognition of German and Danish nationality.

In 1863 the Danish King moved to break the traditionally recognised link between the two Duchies and to incorporate Schleswig fully into Denmark. Such a move was supported by the Eider Dansk Danish Nationalism of the ethnic Danish majority in the north of Schleswig. In November 1863 the demise of the then King of Denmark allowed a new succession issue to further complicate an issue which Bismarck fully intended to exploit to Prussia's advantage.

Although the Diet of the German Confederation authorised the actual sending of federal forces to intervene in the Duchies Prussia and Austria preferred to act as joint-principals rather than as agents of the Confederation in an extensive intervention that was characterised as being undertaken in support of existing treaties. A so-called Danish War ensued and by February 1864 both Schleswig and Holstein had substantially fallen to Prussian and Austrian forces and a conference of Vienna of October assigned Schleswig, Holstein, and a small territory of Lauenberg to joint Prussian and Austrian control.

Bismarck was not alone, in these times, in hoping to take measures, broadly exploitative of populist sentiment, which would enhance the position of a German Kingdom.

In January 1864 Odo Russell, nephew of the British Foreign Secretary and a quasi-official British representative in Rome, in a private audience with the Pope was told that:-

"The example of Italy" (i.e. where the House of Savoy was annexing, with local popular consent, the territories of other Princes) will be the ruin of the smaller Princes of Germany and I think very ill of the condition of that country. Each of the smaller sovereigns hopes to aggrandise his Kingdom at the expense of his neighbour and all will be swept away like the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, Modena and Parma were in Italy. The King of Bavaria was here and I did what I could to convince him that he was running great risks but he could not see it. His idea is that the House of Wittlesbach should be as powerful as the Houses of Hapsburg and Hohenzollern, and if he had his own way he would begin by annexing Baden and Würtemberg to Bavaria."

The situation within the lands of the Habsburgs where the parliament, as elected under restricted rules of suffrage, was particularly supported by the Germans of Austria, of Bohemia, and of Moravia, and was largely boycotted by other nationalities was not entirely as Emperor Franz Joseph would wish and after some consideration, and against the advice of most of his ministers, he responded positively to an article published in the spring of 1865 by the prominent Magyar liberal, Ferenc Deak, that outlined conditions under which the inherently powerful Magyars would find it possible to co-operate more fully with his own exercise of sovereignty. These conditions amounted to a restoration of the Hungarian constitution of 1848 and the virtual establishment of two distinct states - one largely German-Austrian and one largely Magyar - that would co-operate fully and that would together function towards the outside world as a single power.

A Convention of Gastein of August 1865 recognised Holstein, (the more southerly Duchy actually bordering Prussian territory), as being under the administrative control of Austria whilst Schleswig was to be administered by Prussia. A small Duchy of Lauenberg passed absolutely to Prussia after the payment of a steep purchase price.
Prussia, which had previously no major sea-port under its control, was given rights to exploit the potential of the important port of Kiel on the "Baltic" coast of Holstein and was authorised to plan and execute an ambitious "Kiel Canal" from the Baltic coast across Holstein to the North Sea coast. Holstein was also allowed to enter the Prussian led Zollverein customs union.

Austria had reason to believe that Prussia was still not satisfied in relation to Holstein and that Italy was not satisfied in relation to Venetia. In September Bismarck secretly sounded out Napoleon III at Biarritz as to his possible reaction to an open conflict between Prussia and Austria. In November Austria received offers of very substantial sums from Italy, if Venetia would be transferred to Italian control, and from Prussia, if Holstein would be transferred to Prussian control. Austria declined both these offers probably deeming it dishonourable for any dynastic state to sell off territories.

In late December 1865 Prussia and Italy entered into a commercial treaty and in January King Victor Emmanuel was invested with the Prussian Order of the Black Eagle. Bismarck continued to work towards securing the Prussian King's permission to enter into a formal military alliance with Italy that would prejudicial to the Austrian interest. It was contrary to the basic principles of the Germanic Confederation that any member would ally with an outside power against any other member of the Confederation. The fact that Prussia intended to secretly ally with Italy shows the seriousness with which Bismarck was pursuing his own version of reform of the Confederation.
For Bismarck the great question of the Austrian-Prussian relationship in Germany was inextricably interwoven with the domestic conflict he had fought since coming to power. The progress he had achieved towards a more united Germany by the victorious war against Denmark was splitting the liberal movement in Prussia and in Germany. Nationalists could not but applaud the fact that the whole of Schleswig-Holstein had finally been wrested from the Danes; liberals could not but abhor the way the two great German powers had ridden roughshod over the wishes of most of the inhabitants of the duchies. For the sake of German defence and security the predominance of Prussia in such a strategically sensitive area was inescapable, but no liberal would happily hand over the Schleswig-Holsteiners to the repressive, reactionary Bismarck regime. These dilemmas were particularly painful for the liberal movement itself, but the point had been reached where liberals would relent sufficiently in the opposition to Bismarck to make a deal on his terms possible.
Edgar Feuchtwanger, Bismarck, Routledge 2002, p. 120

In these times Bismarck advised Benedetti, French ambassador to Prussia that:-
"I have succeeded in persuading the King of Prussia to break off the intimate relations of his House with the Imperial House of Austria; to make an alliance with revolutionary Italy; to make arrangements for a possible emergency, with the French Emperor; and to propose at Frankfurt the revision of the Federal Act by a popular parliament. I am proud of my success. I do not know whether I shall be allowed to reap what I have sown; but, even if the King deserts me, I have prepared the way by deepening the rift between Prussia and Austria, and the liberals, if they come to power, will complete my work."
The alliance between Prussia and Italy was finalised in April and promised Venetia to Italy in return for her participation in a war against the Austrian Empire. The alliance was to hold for only three months. Within days of the Italian alliance having been concluded Bismarck challenged Austria by having the Prussian delegate to the Confederal Diet propose reforms of the Confederation that would be deeply prejudicial to the Austrian interest and also voicing complaints about the way the Austrian administration of Holstein was being conducted. Austrian diplomacy, meanwhile, indulged in some provocations of Prussia including that of requesting that the Federal Diet should adjudicate on the future of the Duchies. A Prussian force was sent into Holstein on Bismarck's orders. A "Seven Weeks War" between Austria and Prussia ensued in which the Prussian interest convincingly prevailed despite Austria also being supported by several other German states.

Bismarck had to strenuously and extensively use his powers of persuasion to restrain the forces of Prussia and her allies from making too many claims on an humbled Austria.

In his personal outlook Bismarck was not a German Nationalist - he was more truly first minister to the House of Hohenzollern. In his view it was necessary to avoid the possibility that a coalition of powers that might otherwise be formed to aid a severely threatened Austria. Should Habsburg Austria be critically damaged it was an open question as to what settlement would spring up in its place - it would be possible that Austria's non-German territories deprived of their admittedly weak bond through the historical sovereignty of the Habsburgs could be re-constituted as a number of unstable, and even radical, small republics.

It would also be likely that if the Habsburgs were more intimately involved with German affairs through the incorporation of German Austria into an extended German state they would routinely rival Prussian influence in political affairs with the support of a coalition of lesser german state interests.
Bismarck considered that a preserved Habsburg Austria, although somewhat humbled in these disputations, could be a possible diplomatic and military ally in the future. Although largely excluded from German affairs in the West it was in Prussia's interest that Austria should nonetheless be allowed an opportunity to re-establish herself as a power to the east.
We had to avoid wounding Austria too severely; we had to avoid leaving behind in her any unnecessary bitterness of feeling or desire for revenge; we ought rather to reserve the possibility of becoming friends again with our adversary of the moment, and in any case to regard the Austrian state as a piece on the European chessboard. If Austria were severely injured, she would become the ally of France and of every other opponent of ours; she would even sacrifice her anti-Russian interests for the sake of revenge on Prussia. . . .The acquisition of provinces like Austria Silesia and portions of Bohemia could not strengthen the Prussian state; it would not lead to an amalgamation of German Austria with Prussia, and Vienna could not be governed from Berlin as a mere dependency. . .
Otto von Bismarck
Prussia did annexe territories at this time - Schleswig and Holstein, the Kingdom of Hanover, the Electorate of Hesse-Nassau, and the City of Frankfurt together with some smaller territories. Austrian agreement was secured for the formation of a Prussian-led North German Confederation with the inclusion of the independent Kingdom of Saxony. The Austrians secured Prussian agreement that Northern Schleswig could return to Danish sovereignty should the population there so decide in a plebiscite.

The conflicts with Denmark over Schleswig-Holstein and between Austria and Prussia are sometimes referred to as "Wars of German Unification" but they were at that time more truly "Wars of Prussian Consolidation". In the wake of these two availing conflicts that had been, in large part, subtly fomented by Bismarck as the champion of "traditional Prussia", and which led to the formation of a North German Confederation in 1867, the Landtag was encouraged to bestow retrospective immunity on Bismarck's unconstitutional acts.
Such retrospective immunity was not the only "reward" that fell to Bismarck at this time as he was raised to the nobility as Count Bismarck and invested with the prestigious Prussian Order of the Black Eagle.

In the wake of the defeat in the "Seven Weeks War" the Austrian Emperor, whose position had been weakened thereby, agreed a Compromise (Augsgleich) with the Magyars that re-established the Austrian Empire as Austro-Hungary - an Imperial and Royal "Dual Monarchy" comprised of an Austrian Empire and an Hungarian Kingdom - under a single monarch and with common ministries of Foreign Affairs, War and Finance.
From these times the Austrian aspect of this state developed along lines that showed a preparedness to be somewhat liberal in accomodating its powerful minority peoples whilst within the Hungarian Kingdom the Magyars tended to moreso work towards cultural assimilation of the numerous Slav minorities domiciled in the "lands of the Crown of St. Stephen" but offered many social and civic concessions to those who assimilated themselves to an officially Magyar state. The Magyars thus gained a substantial independence whilst retaining assurance that their King would seek to defend the Hungarian Kingdom with Austrian as well as Hungarian resources.

The North German Confederation operated under a Constitution dictated by Bismarck. The Federal Presidency was vested in the Prussian Crown. The Prussian Minister was to be Federal Chancellor. A degree of democratisation was allowed in relation to the election of a lower parliamentary house - partly as a means of breaking down the traditional German particularisms in a Confederation that was being formed of historic dynastic states that continued to convene local assemblies. Prussian originated institutions - army, postal service, the Zollverein (Customs Union) etc., - were effectively extended towards giving the new Confederation a Prussian character.

In order to provide the North German Confederation with an acceptable and distinctive flag Bismarck, in 1867, sponsored the adoption of a Black-White-Red tricolour flag. This flag is widely accepted as being derived from the black and white colours traditional to Prussia in combination with the white and red associated with the Hanseatic League - this being an historic trading bloc with which many states and cities in the Germanies had celebrated traditions of involvement in earlier times.

The adoption of this, unprecedented, emblem tended towards the avoidance of possible ill-will through giving a prominence to the Prussian flag that might prove unwelcome to other German states. It also side-stepped issues associated with the inherent claims of the Black-Red-Gold tricolour emblem of the popular "liberal and constitutional" German tradition. (This Black-Red-Gold emblem had, moreover, been adopted as the common flag of the alliance of South German states led by Austria during the War of 1866!!!)

Croat nationalism continued to be a powerful centrifugal force such that in 1868 the Magyar dominated Reichstag at Pest agreed to recognise the Croatian Landtag as having competence to consider Croatian domestic matters.

Prussia had long hoped to be dominant in the Germanies north of the river Main, this was now achieved but a groundswell of Germanic sentiment supported the establishment of a more territorially extensive German nation state. Bismarck was keen to preclude threats to Prussian influence in the German lands and was also open to achieving yet more expansions of the territory of Prussia-Germany. In strategic terms the France of Napoleon III was a presumptive opponent of any increased influence being exercised by the Prussian dominated North German Confederation over the states of Southern Germany.

The diplomatic position of France was in one most important respect to the advantage of Bismarck's expansionary policies. There was a tradition of competition and cultural misunderstanding between north and south Germany. That being said there was also a more intense tradition of rivalry between German Europe and French Europe. In the nineteenth century alone Germany had fought a "War of Liberation" against Napoleon in 1813, whilst in 1840 there was a crisis, which blew over, featuring widespread, and popularly supported, German alarm when it appeared that the French intended to seize territories south of the Rhine. Bismarck hoped to exploit German rivalry in relation to France to precipitate cooperation and solidarity between north and south Germany and also increase acceptance of the Prussian dynasty.

In these times, at the Biarritz meeting and later, Napoleon III of France had more or less hinted to Bismarck that in return for French neutrality at the time of the recent Austro-Prussian War France should expect "Compensations". France had remained neutral, largely out of the belief that the war would be more protracted and expensive of lives and resources than it had been. Napoleon III seemed to anticipate that the position of France would have been relatively enhanced by the exhaustion of Austria and Prussia and had even expected that Prussia would be defeated. France hoped that a third Germany, apart from Austria and Prussia, could be formed based on the South German states. The unexpectedly brief conflict, and decisive outcome in favour of Prussia, with no compensating advantage to France, meant that France, formerly the power of note in Western Europe, had lost much advantage as a result. Napoleon reminded Bismarck that he expected some sort of "Compensation".

In efforts to attain this compensation the French sought part of Belgium but met with British and other opposition, and then the Palatinate on the Upper Rhine but met with Germanic opposition. Bismarck was able to get a written copy of these claims on the Palatinate. Then the French agreed a compact with the King of Holland whereby the French could gain Luxembourg by purchase and Bismarck although initially prepared to accept such a transfer was subsequently made aware of a groundswell of popular "German" opposition to the acquisition of "Germanic" Luxembourg by France and decided to encourage such popular opposition. In the Reichstag Bismarck deplored the willingness of a prince "of German descent" to sell to France territory which "had been German at all times".

An international situation resulted from the Spanish being prepared to accept a Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen cousin of the King of Prussia as the successor to their vacant throne. France, which had historical reason to consider itself the foremost power on the western Europe continent, considered that the presence of a cousin of the King of Prussia of the Spanish throne would "disturb ... the present equilibrium of forces in Europe" and sought to ensure that this Hohenzollern related candidacy was not merely withdrawn, but was withdrawn in such a way as making it seem that Prussia had climbed down somewhat under French pressure. The disputed candidacy was initially withdrawn without much appearance of a climb-down but French diplomacy persisted in efforts to produce such an appearance. It was in these circumstances in 1870 that Bismarck as Minister-President subtly added Prussian provocations to those of France by editing a so-called Ems Telegram, (that had been sent to Bismarck by the Prussian king outlining an interview that the Prussian king had had with a French diplomat), in order to let it seem that the French diplomat had been disrespectfully treated by the Prussian King. Bismarck ensured that this edited version was published in a special newspaper supplement. France for her part had been seeking a contest of arms in which it hoped to prevail. The "Ems Telegram" provided material which led to a declaration of War. The French Emperor spoke of entering into this war "with a light heart". In the event the Prusso-German interest prevailed in this war and received some support from the states of South Germany.

The outcomes of an ensuing "Franco-Prussian" War, which is also referred to as a War of German Unification, included the formation of a federal German Empire. This "Second German Reich" was proclaimed after the King of Prussia was persuaded to accept the Imperial Crown that had been offered on behalf of all the German Princes by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The actual announcement taking place in the fabulous Hall of Mirrors in the sumptuous palace of Versailles outside Paris.

The Second German Empire was a Confederation composed of clearly separate constituent states (4 kingdoms, 5 grand duchies, 13 duchies and principalities, and the free cities of Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen). Within this Confederation the inherently powerful Kingdom of Bavaria was able to retain its own army, which would fall under Prussian command only in times of war. Bavaria could also retain its own railways, its own postal system, its maintain its own diplomatic contacts. As with the now defunct North German Confederation the Presidency was vested in the Prussian Crown and the Prussian Minister was to be Imperial Chancellor.

Imperial Germany was to operate as a federation with strong central control. Both the short-lived North German Confederation and the subsequent German Empire functioned under constitutional arrangements which, whilst including a Federal Parliament, or Reichstag, elected by universal suffrage, did not concede effective power to that Reichstag. Authority over the duration of administrations, central finances, and the armed forces, residing moreso in a Bundesrat of State delegates dominated by Prussia.

The outcome of the Wars of German Unification considerably altered the European political scene. France deplored the seizure of Alsace-Lorraine by Imperial Germany after the Franco-Prussian War and Bismarck thereafter strove to diplomatically isolate France denying her the opportunity of winning back her lost provinces as an outcome of war. Aside from this limitation on alliances that might threaten Imperial Germany Bismarck hoped that France would progress and be reconciled and was prone to encourage her to direct her energies towards extending sway over parts of North Africa. The German Empire's establishment inherently presented Europe with the reality of a populous and industrialising polity possessing a considerable, and undeniably increasing, economic and diplomatic presence.

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Popular European History pages
at Age-of-the-Sage

The preparation of these pages was influenced to some degree by a particular "Philosophy of History" as suggested by this quote from the famous Essay "History" by Ralph Waldo Emerson:-
There is one mind common to all individual men...
Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest, the human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every faculty, every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in appropriate events. But the thought is always prior to the fact; all the facts of history preexist in the mind as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant, and the limits of nature give power to but one at a time. A man is the whole encyclopaedia of facts. The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application of his manifold spirit to the manifold world.

Popular European History pages on this site

We strongly recommend:

Europe in 1848 : A seed-plot of History?

In relation to the European Revolutions of 1848 the historian Eric Hobsbawm has written:

"There have been plenty of greater revolutions in the history of the modern world, and certainly plenty of more successful ones. Yet there has been none which spread more rapidly and widely, running like a bushfire across frontiers, countries and even oceans."

In 1806 the Habsburg Emperor, who held the "Holy Roman" Imperial title and exercised direct dynastic authority over many lands stretching from Poland to the Mediterranean, was hard-pressed by the activities of Napoleon Bonaparte, and accepted the termination of the Holy Roman Empire (due to sweeping reforms instituted by Napoleon in western parts of Germanic Europe), and adopted the title of Emperor of Austria.
By late spring 1848, the Habsburg Empire looked like a hopeless case: the monarchy's northern Italian possessions in revolt, invaded by a Piedmontese army and largely cleared of Austrian troops; three different "national" governments in Vienna, Budapest and Zagreb each claiming sovereign authority; Polish, Romanian, Slovenian, Serb, Czech, and Slovak national movements aspiring to a similar sovereign status; a mentally incompetent monarch and his court in flight from the capital to the provinces; a state treasury completely bare.
Jonathan Sperber, The European Revolutions, 1848-1851, p. 203

In February 1948, the British historian Lewis Namier delivered a lecture commemorating the centennial of the European Revolutions of 1848.

In this lecture Namier presented facts about the historical developments, themes, and events evident in 1848 and reached the conclusion that:
"1848 remains a seed-plot of history. It crystallized ideas and projected the pattern of things to come; it determined the course of the following century."

We are pleased to make available a series of informative pages about the highly significant and, we would venture to suggest, the prodigiously historically instructive European Revolutions of 1848:

1 The European Revolutions of 1848 begin
A broad outline of the background to the onset of the turmoils and a consideration of some of the early events in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest and Prague.

2 The French Revolution of 1848
A particular focus on France - as an Austrian foreign minister said "When France sneezes Europe catches a cold".

3 The "Italian" Revolution of 1848
A "liberal" Papacy after 1846 helps allow the embers of an "Italian" national aspiration to rekindle across the Italian Peninsula.

4 The Revolution of 1848 in the German Lands and central Europe
"Germany" had a movement for a single parliament in 1848 and many central European would-be "nations" attempted to promote a distinct existence for their "nationality".

5 The European Revolutions - reactionary aftermath 1848-1849
Some instances of social and political extremism allow previously pro-reform liberal elements to join conservative elements in supporting the return of traditional authority. Such nationalities living within the Habsburg Empire as the Czechs, Croats, Slovaks, Serbs and Roumanians, find it more credible to look to the Emperor, rather than to the democratised assemblies recently established in Vienna and in Budapest as a result of populist aspiration, for the future protection of their nationality.
The Austrian Emperor and many Kings and Dukes regain political powers. Louis Napoleon, (who was a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte), was elected as President in France offering social stability at home but ultimately followed policies which resulted in dramatic changes to the wider European structure of states and their sovereignty.
The events of 1848-1849 arose from the strong emergence into the Socio-Politico-Economic History of nineteenth-century Europe of populist forces such as Liberalism, Constitutionalism, Nationalism and Socialism.
These populist forces were promoted by various interest groups within and between the pre-existing dynastic Empires and Kingdoms of Europe, often challenging the continuance of dynastic authority and governance and proving to be competitive, in that popular aspirations expressed by some interest groups often proved unpalatable to other interest groups within and between the pre-existing dynastic states of Europe.

Radical socialist reformers sought justice for the "disinherited" classes, the peasants and the factory workers, while more moderate political reformers were concerned with protecting and increasing the influence of the middle classes, the bourgeoisie and the professional groups. The radicals in general favoured a republican form of government while many moderates were prepared to accept constitutional monarchy as a satisfactory substitute …
… Many of the revolutionaries, especially in the German Confederation and Italy, wanted to transform their homeland into a strong and united country, but their aims contradicted the nationalist aspirations of minority groups.
From the opening chapter to "Revolution and Reaction 1848-1852" by Geoffrey Brunn

Middle class liberals, who had favoured constitutional rather than dynastic governance, were amongst the first of the previously pro-reform aspirational groups to return to supporting dynastic authority when it became plain that other populist interest groups favoured wider extensions of democracy than they themselves wished to see adopted.
Rural dwellers were often largely satisfied with reforms to systems of land tenure and the reduction of obligations to provide assistance, through labour-services, to their landlords. Once such reforms were put in place in the Austrian Empire, country dwellers, although often relatively materially poor, tended accept the suppression of urban radicalism and the re-establishment of dynastic authorities.
All in all a "united front" failed to become established amongst those seeking reform and gradually proved possible for dynastic authorities to re-assert themselves often with the aid of their pre-revolutionary military forces.

The historian A. J. P. Taylor later referred to the events of 1848 as being "a turning-point when history failed to turn" nevertheless "The Future" was put on notice that such populist-aspirational forces were capable of making pressing claims in relation to Socio-Politico-Economic developments.