History of The Unification of Germany!
The ruler of every state was sovereign within his territory and no wonder the sense of self-preservation forced him to oppose the unification of the country and all those liberal movements which were liable to help the cause of German unification.
1. Condition of Germany before 1815:
The Vienna Settlement with regard to Germany was hopelessly disappointing from the point of view of German Liberals and patriots.
They had been hoping for a unified Germany but instead they got a German Confederation of 39 States. Provision was made for a Federal Diet which was to be presided over by Austria.
The ruler of every state was sovereign within his territory and no wonder the sense of self-preservation forced him to oppose the unification of the country and all those liberal movements which were liable to help the cause of German unification.
In addition to Austria, there were other non-German elements in the Federal Diet. Hanover, which was under England, was included in the German Confederation and given representation. The Duchy of Holstein which was under the King of Denmark was also included in the German Confederation and likewise given representation. These foreign elements could not be expected to throw in their weight in the cause of German unity. The Federal Diet was practically given no power over the various States constituting the German Confederation. Austria was the arbiter of the fate of Germany.
It was provided in the Federal Act of 1815 that a representative constitution should be framed in every State, but the promise was not fulfilled. Complete reaction set in Germany after 1815. Frederick William III (1797-1840), King of Prussia, could have been expected to lead the patriotic and liberal forces in Germany, but even he fell under the influence of Metternich and consequently joined hands with him to suppress all signs of nationalism and liberalism in the country.
When such was the state of affairs in Germany, the initiative was taken by the universities in that country. Jena became the centre of German liberalism and the university students started a movement which went on growing year after year. The highest ideals of sobriety, chastity and German unity were put before the people.
According to Sybel, “The young heroes returning from the war filled the universities with their patriotic indignation, and by the founding of societies of students (Burschenschaften), representing all the universities, they sought to fill all the educated youth of Germany with their enthusiasm for unity, justice and freedom. These societies, for the most part, cherished ambitions which were thoroughly ideal.
They did not look to the overthrow of present conditions, but relied upon the training to rising generation. By moral elevation and patriotic inspirations, they hoped to lead the state of the future, to the great goal of national unity.
To be sure, their notions of this future state were generally indefinite and were mere unpractical fancies; indeed this enthusiasm rose in some groups to the pitch of wild fanaticism, so that they were even ready to seize sword and dagger for Tyrannicide. Yet such enthusiasts never succeeded in securing in the societies at large any great following for their projects.”
The students’ associations began to spread from Jena and within two years, 16 universities came under their control. In 1817, the students decided to celebrate tercentenary of the Protestant Reformation and the anniversary of the Battle of Leipzig. At Wartburg, in addition to the common programmes followed by the students at other places, many kinds of things were burnt and some of them were the emblems of militarism, a copy of the Code of Napoleon, a book by Kotzebue, and many other documents. Metternich attached the greatest importance to the celebration.
According to him the proceedings were merely a symbol of the revolutionary unrest prevailing among the people in Germany. When the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle met in 1818, he tried to impress upon the rulers the dangers that lay ahead. Events that took place after 1817 strengthened the hands of Metternich. Off and on, there were revolts in various parts of Germany.
In March, 1813, Kotzebue who was considered to be a Russian spy was murdered by Karl Sand. Metternich decided to take full advantage of the circumstances. With the approval of the King of Prussia, he called a meeting of the ministers of the important States of Germany at Carlsbad in August 1819. Certain resolutions were passed and those were submitted to the Federal Diet which gave its approval.
2. Carlsbad Decrees (1819):
According to the Carlsbad decrees, a special representative of the ruler of the State was to be appointed for each university. He was to reside in the place where the university was situated and he was to exercise a large number of powers under the instructions of the ruler. The agent was to see to the strictest enforcement of the existing laws and disciplinary regulations.
He was to observe carefully the spirit which was shown by the teachers in the universities in their lectures and report to the government if there were any signs of disloyalty or rebellion. It was the duty of the ruler to remove from the universities or other educational institutions all those teachers who were considered to be abusing their legitimate influence over the students or who spread among the students harmful doctrines hostile to public order or subversive of the existing governmental institutions. Such a teacher was not to be employed in any other university or educational institution.
The laws against secret and unauthorized societies in the universities were to be strictly enforced. Those laws applied especially to the University Students’ Union (Allgemeine Burschenschaft). Those persons who were considered to be members of the secret or unauthorized societies were not to be admitted to any public office.
The students who were expelled from one university were not to be admitted into another. No publication which appeared in the form of daily issue or as a serial not exceeding 20 sheets of printed matter was to go to the press without the previous knowledge and approval of the State officials.
The Federal Diet was to have the right to suppress by its own authority such writings as were inimical to the honour of the union, the safety of the individual State or the maintenance of peace and quiet in Germany There was to be no appeal from such decisions and the governments involved were bound to see that they were enforced.
When a newspaper or periodical was suppressed by a decision of the Diet, the editor was not to be allowed to edit another similar publication for five years. Provision was made for a central commission of investigation consisting of seven members.
Its function was to have a thorough investigation of the facts relating to the origin and manifold ramification of the revolutionary plots and demagogical associations directed against the existing constitution and the internal peace of the union and the individual States. It was also to investigate into the existence of the plots. The Central Investigation Commission was to furnish the Diet from time to time with a report of the results of its investigations.
By the Carlsbad Decrees, the Emperor of Austria became “the head of an all-powerful German police system.” Metternich might have gone still further, but his enthusiasm was cooled by the opposition from certain German States. The ruler of Wurtemburg took up the challenge and gave further reforms to his people and put himself at the head of “a purely Germanic league” to resist Austria and Prussia The result was that the Final Act of Vienna represented a compromise. The independence of the small States was guaranteed. In 1824, the Carlsbad Decrees were made permanent.
When such was the state of affairs in Germany, certain forces helped indirectly the unification of the country. A reference may be made in this connection to the Zollverein or the Customs’ Union. Before 1818, each district in Prussia had its own customs and there were as many as 67 tariff areas in Prussia alone.
These areas stood in the way of trade and unity and consequently Prussia could not compete with Great Britain. On account of the long line of customs houses, there was a lot of smuggling. In 1818, the Tariff Reforms Law was passed. By that Act, all raw materials were to be imported free.
A duty of 10 per cent was to be levied on manufactured goods and 20 per cent on “colonial” goods. All internal custom duties were abolished. Heavy transit duties on tariff goods passing through Prussia were imposed with a view to compel other States to join Prussia. The result of the reform of 1818 was that Prussia became a free trade area. Internal trade increased and the revenue of the State also showed a rise.
The law of 1818 applied to Prussia alone, but in course of time many other German States joined Prussia. In 1819, Schwarzburg-Sondershausen joined the Union. In 1822, Weimar Gotha, Merchlenburg-Schwerin, Schaumburg-Lippe, Rudolstadt and Hamburg also joined.
However there was opposition to the Customs’ Union from some German States. In 1828, a Customs’ Union was set up in the South under the leadership of Bavaria and Wurtemburg. In the same year, another Customs’ Union of the middle States was formed. It consisted of Saxony, Hesse-Cassel, Hanover, Brunswick and the free cities of Hamburg, Bremen and Frankfurt.
However in 1831, Hesse-Cassel joined the Zollverein and the union of the middle States was broken up. In l834, Bavaria joined the Zollverein for 8 years. The terms of the Union were that the meetings were to be held at Berlin and other places. Bavarian goods were to be given special treatment. In the same year, Saxony also joined.
By 1837, most of the States had joined the Zollverein. Whenever the treaties expired they were renewed. Only Hanover, Oldenburg, Mecklenburg and the Hanse towns remained outside the Zollverein. The main terms of entry into the Zollverein were complete free trade between State and State, uniform tariff on all frontiers and net proceeds to be divided in proportion to population of the States concerned.
To begin with, Austria was completely indifferent to the Zollverein. Metternich did not attach any importance to commerce and consequently ignored the activities of the Zollverein. However, after the overthrow of Metternich in 1848, Austria made a determined effort to join the Zollverein. Prussia resisted the same and was successful. In 1853, a treaty was entered into between the Zollverein and Austria by which certain concessions were given mutually.
The importance of the Zollverein cannot be minimised. According to Marriot and Robertson, “For the first time, Germany became a fiscal and commercial unit. The Zollverein united the German States in bonds of mutual economic interest; it united them under the leadership of Prussia; and it accustomed them to the exclusion of Austria from the Germanic body.”
According to Fyffe, “The semblance of political union was carefully avoided, but the germs of political union were nevertheless present in the growing community of material interests.” Again, “Patient, sagacious and even liberal in its negotiations with its weaker neighbours, Prussia silently connected with itself through the ties of financial union States which had hitherto looked to Austria as their natural head.” The reputation of the Prussian Government no less than the welfare of the Prussian people was advanced by each successive step in the extension of the Zollverein.
According to Dr. Bowring, “The Zollverein has brought the sentiment of the German nationality out of the regions of hope and fancy into those of positive and material interests. The general feeling in Germany towards the Zollverein is that it is the first step towards what is called the Germanization. It has broken down some of the strongest holds of alienation and hostility. By a community of interests on commercial and trading questions, it has prepared the way for a political nationality.”
4. July Revolution and Germany:
The July Revolution of 1830 in France had also its effects on Germany. There were demands for the grant of liberal constitutions and the same were conceded by the rulers of Nassau, Brunswick, Hanover, Saxony and Hesse-Cassel. The rulers of Bavaria, Wurtemburg, etc., confirmed the liberal constitutions which they had given after 1815. The net result was that while Prussia remained unchanged, the smaller States got liberal constitutions.
However, Metternich was able once again to establish his hold over Germany and the Carlsbad Decrees were reconfirmed. The conference was held at Vienna and it was decided to take action against the liberal tendencies of the press and the universities. Provision was made for the establishment of a court to settle the disputes between the rulers and the people of the German States.
5. Frederick William IV (1840-61):
During the long reign of Frederick William III (1797-1840), much could not be expected from Prussia. However, he was succeeded by Frederick William IV in 1840. The new King possessed a strong will and intellect. However, his judgment was not as good as his intellectual capacity. To begin with, he released a large number of political prisoners. Mr. Amdt was reappointed as Professor at Bonn and Dahlmann was also given a chair in the same university.
The provincial estates were allowed to meet regularly and discuss their affairs freely. The freedom of the press was restored but he refused to grant a parliamentary constitution. Frederick William IV called a meeting of all the provincial estates in Berlin and it came to be known as the united Provincial Diet or States-General. However, the United Diet was dismissed after some time although it attracted a lot of attention.
From 1830 to 1848, there was going on persistent agitation in the smallest States of Germany. The object of the agitation was two-fold, viz., the unification of Germany and the establishment of constitutional and liberal governments in the States. In 1847, a meeting was held and a liberal programme was adopted. Agitation was to be carried on for the cancellation of the Carlsbad Decrees. Religious toleration, freedom of the press and trial by jury were to be guaranteed. Representative Assemblies were to be set up in every State.
Social privileges were to be abolished. A representative assembly was to be provided for the whole of Germany. The standing army was to be substituted by the militia of the people. The army was to take the oath of allegiance to the Constitution and not to the ruler. In the same year, another conference was held. There was a demand for a parliament for the whole of the country.
When the news of the February Revolution reached Germany, the ruler of Baden gave a new constitution to the people and his example was followed by Wurtemburg, Nassau, Brunswick, Weimar, Darmstadt and Hesse-Cassel. The ruler of Bavaria was forced to abdicate and Hanover and Saxony also got liberal constitutions.
So far as Prussia was concerned, there was some trouble in Berlin in March and the King gave a liberal constitution. There was a dash between the people and the troops and ultimately the King of Prussia had to remove the troops from the capital. He also promised to become the leader “of a free and new-born German nation.” It was also decided to call a national parliament to frame a constitution.
Heinrich Von Gagern proposed the setting up of a provisional government for the whole of Germany. On 5 March 1848, 50 leaders met at Heidelberg and invitations were issued to the members of the various State legislatures in Germany. On 31 March 1848, about 600 persons attended the meeting at Frankfurt. It was decided at that meeting to set up a legislature of two houses and one executive head of the Federal Government of Germany.
The details were to be filled up by a Constituent Assembly of Germany to which representatives were to come from all over the country on the basis of one member for 50,000 of the population. This was done and the popular assembly met at Frankfurt.
6. The Frankfurt Parliament:
The Frankfurt Parliament consisted of about 300 members at the beginning but later on, its membership rose to about 550. Heinrich Von Gagern was elected its president. It was dominated by professors and journalists and no wonder a lot of time was wasted on the discussion of abstract principles. The only work done by the Frankfurt Parliament within the first six months was the appointment of a central executive.
Archduke John was selected the Imperial Vicar of the provisional government. By the Christmas of 1848, the fundamental rights of the people of Germany were agreed upon. Some of those rights were civil and religious equality, freedom of the press, trial by jury, abolition of special privileges, etc.
There were two schools of thought with regard to the inclusion or exclusion of Austria from Germany The “little Germans” insisted on excluding Austria but the “great German” were in favour of the inclusion of Austria. Ultimately, the former won and Austria was excluded. Provision was made for a hereditary king and a German Confederation. The throne of Germany was offered by the Frankfurt Parliament to Frederick William IV of Prussia on 28 March 1849 but the same was rejected on 3 April 1849 Many factors were responsible for his decision.
He was temperamentally conservative and was not in sympathy with the aspirations of the Frankfurt Parliament. He was not prepared to be “a serf of the revolution”. He believed in the Divine Right of Kings and was not prepared to accept the constitution framed by the Frankfurt Parliament. He might have accepted the throne if the same had been offered to him by the princes, but he refused to accept the same from the people.
He was not prepared to accept “the crown of shame” out of the “gutter”. Probably, the real reason was that the King of Prussia was not prepared to fight against Austria. By this time, Austria had recovered herself and if the King of Prussia had accepted the throne offered to him by the Frankfurt Parliament, he would certainly have come into conflict with Austria. That would have meant war and the King of Prussia felt that he was not equal to the task.
It was under these circumstances that the throne was refused and with that the work of the Frankfurt Parliament ended. The people of Germany had tried to frame a constitution, but their efforts failed. They wasted the valuable time in the beginning in academic discussions.
If they had acted with speed at the beginning, there were greater chances of their success. The failure of the Frankfurt Parliament convinced the Germans that some other method had to be followed to bring about unification of the country.
According to Hazen, “The Parliament of Frankfurt, on which such hopes had been centred, failed in the end to some extent because of the mistakes of its member, but chiefly because of the resolute opposition of the princes of Germany, and, in particular, of Prussia and Austria, the two leading German States, neither of which was willing to make any sacrifices for the common good and each of which was jealous and suspicious of the other.
It, however, succeeded in drafting a constitution of many high merits, a constitution nobly planned which guaranteed civil liberty to every German, equality before the law, responsible parliamentary control for the central government and for the government of the separate States.”
Although the King of Prussia refused the throne offered by the Frankfurt Parliament, he tried to unite the German States under his leadership in another way. His minister, Radowitz prepared the draft of a constitution which was to be the basis of the union. Prussia was to be the president of a college of princes and Austria was to be excluded from it.
In March 1850, a German Parliament met at Erfurt However, Schwarzenberg, and the new Chancellor of Austria, was determined to establish the Austrian hold over Germany and consequently was not prepared to allow the activities of the King of Prussia to continue. The King of Prussia was forced to surrender by the convention of Olmutz. He agreed to dissolve the “union” and the German Confederation of 1815 was restored.
Austria was triumphant and reaction set in Germany It is rightly observed that the humiliation of Olmutz marked the lowest point of Prussia’s timidity and surrender. Prussia appeared to be brought as low in the dust as after Jena and even worse. When Prussia was defeated by Napoleon, she was at least true to the idea of German unity.
Now, she had begun by promising to champion that cause, but had betrayed those who supported it and acquiesced in the haughty demands of Austria. Germany seemed as feeble and disunited as never before. Prussia had the chance of being the first power in Germany and her king that of wearing an imperial crown but the humiliation of Olmutz seemed to put the union of Germany at a more distant date than ever and permanently disqualify Prussia as its champion.
Although the movement of 1848-49 was a failure, it taught certain lessons to the people of Germany. There could be no unification of Germany so long as Austria was strong enough to oppose the same. That unity could not be achieved by constitutional means. The liberals were not practical men and they talked more of theories and less of the actual problems facing the country. Austria could be turned out from Germany only if Germany had a stronger force than that of Austria and that force could come only from Prussia. The necessity of having a very strong army was realized by all.
Frederick William IV became insane in 1857 and his brother, William I, became the Regent. On the death of Frederick William IV in 1861, he became the King of Prussia. About Frederick William IV, A.J.R Taylor says that his determination was contradictory. He wanted a united Germany with himself as its head but at the same time he wanted it without the agreement of Austria. His impossible dream was that Austria should abdicate voluntarily.
One of his reasons for breaking with his liberal ministers in November 1848 was their proposal to support Sardinian claims against Austria in the Conference at Brussels, although in essence Prussia and Sardinia had similar aims. In April 1849, he refused the German crown when it was offered to him by the Frankfurt Parliament but immediately afterwards he tried to obtain it by the free agreement of the German princes and no wonder he failed.
7. William I:
William I was a man of parts. He believed in the destiny and mission of Prussia. He was a Prussian to the core. He believed in autocracy He possessed all the qualities of a soldier. He was a judge of men and could make a choice of servants on whom he could rely.
The humiliation of Prussia at the hands of Austria had convinced William I that if Germany was to be liberated, that could be done only if Prussia came to have a very big army. In 1849, he had observed thus “Whoever wishes to rule Germany must conquer it and that cannot be done by phrases.” It was with that conviction in his mind that he appointed Moltke as the Chief of the General Staff and Roon as the Minister of War.
It is these two persons who started reorganising the Prussian Army and they put forward their proposals for its further development. The Prussian Landtag or Legislature voted the supplies in 1861 for one year, but in 1862, rejected the same. While William I insisted on the army reforms, the Liberals who had a majority in the Prussian Landtag stood for constitutional reforms. Under the circumstances, a deadlock was inevitable.
It is rightly pointed out that there were three alternatives before the King of Prussia. He could give up the reform of the army He could abdicate. He could suspend the constitution and send the members of the Landtag home. He was in a fix and did not know what to do. Ultimately, it was decided to invite Bismarck from Paris to handle the situation.
It was in these circumstances that Bismarck was appointed the Minister-President of Prussia in 1862. He gave the following assurance to William I “I will rather perish with the king than forsake Your Majesty in the contest with parliamentary government.”
Bismarck was a “bully and an absolutist.” He had no faith in parliamentary institutions. He believed in autocracy and military force. To quote him, “Not by speeches and resolutions of the majorities are the great questions of the day to be decided, but by blood and iron.” He agreed with William I that the re-organisation of the Prussian army was absolutely essential for the unification of the country. He was prepared to oust the Prussian Landtag if the latter refused to vote the supplies for the re-organisation of the army.
He did not care for constitutional methods if those stood in his way for the realisation of his aim. No wonder, he had to rule the country in an autocratic manner for 4 years and got the money from the people without the authority of the Landtag. The money having been got, the programme of the army reform was carried out.
In 1868, Austria summoned a Congress of the German princes to consider proposals “for the reform of the German Confederation” Prussia was also invited. If the move of Austria had been successful, the Austrian influence in Germany would have continued. Bismarck prevailed upon the King of Prussia not to attend the conference and the latter ended in failure.
8. Schleswig-Holstein Question:
Reference may be made to the Schleswig-Holstein question which Bismarck exploited to serve his ends Schleswig and Holstein were two Duchies under the King of Denmark. There was a personal union of these Duchies with the King of Denmark. Hie Duchy of Holstein was essentially German in blood and was a member of the German Confederation of 1815. Schleswig was populated both by the Germans and the Danes.
The people of Denmark wanted to incorporate these Duchies in their country. The people of Germany wanted to include them in the German Confederation. An attempt was made in 1848 to amalgamate the political institutions of the Duchies into those of Denmark. However, the attempt had to be given up on account of the opposition of the Germans, Prussia and the Duke of Augustenburg who had very strong claims on the Duchies.
The situation was serious and there was a possibility of war. However, the Powers intervened and a compromise was arrived at by the Treaty of London (1852). Denmark was forbidden to incorporate the Duchies. The Dulke of Augustenburg sold his claims to the King of Denmark.
In 1863, a new king came on the throne of Denmark and he published a new constitution which organically incorporated Schleswig with Denmark and bound Holstein with closer ties. This was clearly a violation of the terms of the Treaty of London. The Schleswig-Holstein question was re-opened once again. The Duke of Augustenburg revived his claims. Bismarck decided to make the best of the opportunity in the cause of German unification. He did not want the Duchies to go to Denmark or to the Duke.
He wanted to include them in Prussia. He also wanted to try the newly-organised armies of Prussia and a war with Denmark could have given such an opportunity. He entered into an agreement with Austria to take joint action against Denmark so that ultimately there may be possibility of a quarrel with Austria on the question of the division of spoils of war.
With these objects in view an ultimatum was given to the King of Denmark demanding from him the cancellation of the constitution promulgated by him. As he refused to do so, both Austria and Prussia declared war against Denmark. The Danes were no match for the combined armies and by the Treaty of Vienna (1864), the King of Denmark surrendered the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein of Austria and Prussia.
Having got the Duchies, there arose the question of their division. The suggestion of Austria was that both of them should be handed over to the Duke of Augustenburg but Prussia refused to do so. Ultimately, it was agreed by the Convention of Gastein (1865) that pending a final settlement, Austria was to occupy and administer Holstein and Prussia was to occupy and administer Schleswig.
The question of the Duchies was not to be brought before the German Diet. It was pointed out that the Convention of Gastein was a great diplomatic victory for Bismarck. He was able to oust the Duke of Augustenburg altogether and he was also able to create a situation in which there was every possibility of trouble with Austria.
According to Taylor, “The treaty of Gastein, like the treaty of Schonbrunn before it (and the Gablenz proposals of May 1866 after it), has been a subject of endless controversy. Some have seen in it simply a calculated step by Bismarck on the path towards an inevitable war; others have found in it the proof of his desire to re-establish the conservative German partnership of Metternich’s days.
May be it was neither. Bismark was a diplomatic genius, inexperienced in war and disliking its risks. He may well have hoped to manoeuvre Austria out of the Duchies perhaps even out of the headship of Germany, by diplomatic strokes; marvels of this sort were not beyond him in later life.
His diplomacy in this period seems rather calculated to frighten Austria than to prepare for war. The only bait he held out to France was that, if Prussia got the Duchies, she would apply ‘the national principle’ by restoring northern Schleswig to Denmark; all he asked in return was benevolent neutrality.”
The Convention of Gastein was not favourable to Austria. She was given control over a territory which was hedged in by Prussian territory on both sides. It is rightly pointed out that the Convention merely “papered over the cracks”. It was not a solution of the problem. Austria felt that her position in Holstein was not secure and she began to encourage the claim of the Duke of Augustenburg. She also decided to refer the matter to the Diet of the German Confederation.
Evidently, that was a violation of the Convention of Gastein. Bismarck asked Austria to stop propaganda in Holstein in favour of the Duke of Augustenburg. Austria refused and the Prussian troops entered Holstein and turned out the Austrians. Bismarck also proposed the reform of the German Confederation on the basis of universal suffrage, but Austria opposed the same. Austria prevailed upon the Diet of the German Confederation to take action against Prussia. Prussia left the German Confederation and declared war against Austria in 1866.
However, before declaring the war, Bismarck had not only made military preparations but also left no stone unturned to isolate Austria diplomatically. The result was that when the war actually started, Austria had absolutely no ally. Reference may be made in this connection to the relations of Bismarck with Russia, France and Italy.
9. Isolation of Austria, France and Germany, Germany and Italy:
Bismarck did all that he could to win over Russia and thereby ensure that in the event of a war with Austria, Russia would not join hands with Austria as she had done in 1849 when Nicholas I came to the help of Austria against Hungary. Bismarck was the Prussian ambassador at Petersburg from 1859 to 1862. It was at that time that he tried to win over Russia to the side of Prussia.
The Crimean War had broken the Austro-Russian alliance and thereby paved the way for an agreement between Russia and Prussia. Bismarck cultivated personal friendship with Czar. Alexander II and thereby brought the two countries together. This deliberate pro-Russian policy was pursued by Bismarck when he was appointed Minister-President in 1862.
In 1863, the Poles revolted against the Czar. Napoleon III was friendly towards the Polish cause and the Liberals of Prussia were also enthusiastic for their cause. However, Bismarck informed the Czar that “Prussia would stand shoulder to shoulder with him against the common enemy.” Bismarck could not tolerate the creation of a united Poland which was bound to be an enemy and a rival of Prussia.
That is why he opposed the Polish revolt. However, there were stronger reasons for his anti-Polish attitude. Bismarck knew that he had to depend upon the support of Russia in a war with Austria in the future. He decided to make the best of the opportunity offered by the Polish revolt.
He entered into an agreement with Alexander II by which he agreed to take strong action against those Poles who took refuge in Prussia or tried to have recruits in Prussia or in any way used Prussia as a base for their Operations.
Although Bismarck was condemned for his action, he cared only for the friendship of Russia and nothing else. It was in this way that Bismarck was able to win over Russia to his own side and he knew that she would not side with Austria in the event of a war between Prussia and Austria.
France, Bismarck also tried to win over Napoleon III to his own side. While Bismarck was the Prussian ambassador in Paris in 1862, he had tried to cultivate good relations with Napoleon III. The latter came to form a very high opinion of Bismarck. In October 1865, Bismarck had an interview with Napoleon III at Biarritz.
The interview was confidential and no account of it was maintained. However as a result of the interview, Napoleon III promised the neutrality of France in the event of a war between Prussia and Austria.
He agreed to the annexation of the Elbe Duchies by Prussia in the case of victory. In the case of an alliance between Italy and Prussia, he also approved of the giving of Venetia to Italy.
Napoleon did not protest against the reform of the German Confederation and the creation of a new State of Northern Germany under Prussian leadership. The question of compensation to France for her neutrality was raised and Bismarck accepted the possibility of petty rectification of frontiers so long as the same was not at the expense of Prussia or Germany. Bismarck seems to have offered what did not belong to him.
He seems to have suggested that France could take Southeastern Belgium. The aim of Bismarck was clear. He wanted to secure the neutrality of France but at the same time he did not want to commit himself in such a way that he may have to face any difficulty with regard to compensation to France.
It is pointed out that Napoleon III had sympathy with Bismarck so far as the question of unification of Germany was concerned. He was also in favour of helping Italy to take Venetia. He also thought that if a strong State in North Germany was created, there was every possibility of Austria depending upon France.
Napoleon III also thought that there was every possibility of Prussia being defeated and in such a case France would be in a position to establish her hold over the smaller States of Germany. Anyhow, Bismarck had secured the neutrality of France and when the war started with Austria, the latter could expect no help from France.
The view of A J.P. Taylor is that the meeting between Napoleon III and Bismarck at Biarritz in October 1865 was not a repetition of Cavour’s visit to Plombieres in 1858. Cavour at that time was resolved on war with Austria and Napoleon III intended to fight it with him. Each was concerned to tie the other down. Cavour wanted a binding promise of support and Napoleon III wanted to secure Savoy and Nice.
However, at Biarritz, both Bismarck and Napoleon III were anxious to avoid commitments with a view to keep the future open. Bismarck wanted to prevent a French alliance with Austria but not to get one for himself Napoleon disliked any agreement between Prussia and Austria and Bismarck told him that there was no Prussian guarantee of Venetia. In exchange, Napoleon stated that a French alliance with Austria was impossible.
Though Bismarck and Napoleon discussed “advantages which might offer themselves unsought” such as Northern Germany for Prussia and Belgium or Luxemburg for France, those were vague speculations of the usual Napoleonic kind. The essential bargain at Biarritz was that both kept dear of commitment to Austria, Bismarck for the sake of Germany and Napoleon III for the sake of Venetia.
It was Venetia which determined the shape of future diplomatic events Napoleon was obsessed with it. He was determined to achieve the unfinished programme of 1859 He believed that if he died with Venetia still in Austrian hands, “his son would have a volcano as a throne “.
The prospect of acquiring territory towards the Rhine was of secondary importance to him. Those demands were made by him merely to satisfy the public opinion in France in order to keep himself popular. So long as Venetia was in Austrian hands, Napoleon could not be won over for a pro-Austrian or even a pacific policy.
It was Venetia which in the last resort gave Prussia the hegemony of Germany. In the autumn of 1865, a conservative Italian nobleman, Malaguzzi, tried to persuade the Austrian Government to sell Venetia to Italy. Although negotiations continued up to February 1866, nothing came out of them. On 23 February 1866, Nicholas Cuza, the Prince of Rumania was compelled to abdicate. It occurred to Nigra, the Italian representative at Pans that Austria might acquire Rumania in exchange for Venetia and Napoleon approved of the idea.
However, Napoleon III also believed that the Austrians would never give up Venetia unless driven to it by fear and hence he advised the Italians to prod Austria into surrender by simultaneously negotiating with Prussia for a war alliance.
The advice was given at the most opportune time. On 28 February 1866, a Prussian crown council had decided to challenge Austria even at the risk for war and as a first step to conciliate Napoleon III by seeking an alliance with Italy. Bismarck approached La Marmora, the Prime Minister of Italy, just when La Marmora had decided to approach Bismarck. An Italian general was to Berlin, outwardly to negotiate but really to alarm the Austrians.
Austria was alarmed and rejected the suggestion to get Rumania instead of Venetia as it was considered to be a device to bring down on Austria the hostility of Russia. Under these circumstances, the Italians and Napoleons III were left with no other alternative except to carry on negotiations with Prussia. The result was that what they had begun as a bluff, they had to pursue in earnest.
Though Bismarck agreed that in the event of a war, the Italians should get Venetia, he was not prepared to commit himself to go to war for the sake of Venetia. He demanded that the Italians should bind themselves for three months to go to war against Austria in case Prussia did so, but he kept his hands free. But even this was a gain for the Italians. Although it did not guarantee them a war, it guaranteed them Venetia in the event of a war.
Napoleon III advised the Italians, “as a friend without assuming any responsibility”, to accept the offer of Bismarck and even promised them to protect them from an Austrian attack in case Prussia left them in the lurch.
The treaty between Prussia and Italy was signed on 8 April 1866. For three months. Napoleon III could not offer Italian neutrality to the Austrians even if they were willing to surrender Venetia. Likewise, he could not threaten Prussia even if the Austrians offered him the Rhineland and Bismarck did not. It is often said that Bismarck started the Austro-Prussian war without making any concrete promise to Napoleon.
The view of A.J.R Taylor is that this is not correct. Bismarck won the diplomatic campaign by being the first to pay the only price for which Napoleon cared and that price was Venetia. There was no serious chance of Napoleon asking Bismarck not to go to war if he otherwise was determined to do so.
Bismarck also tried to win over Italy which was the natural enemy of Austria as there were still Italian-speaking areas under the control of Austria. Italy wanted to get Venetia which she could do only with foreign help.
A commercial treaty was arranged between Italy and Prussia but Bismarck wanted to have an offensive alliance. Bismarck realised the importance of attacking Austria on two fronts, one from Italy and the other from Prussia.
The difficulty in the way of an alliance was that both countries were full of distrust. Each country thought that the other was going to use the alliance as a lever to get concessions out of Austria. In spite of this, a treaty was signed between Italy and Prussia in April 1866 by which Italy was to attack Austria if Prussia started the war within three months. It is rightly pointed out that it was a treaty of mutual insurance and suspicion.” Anyhow, the active support of Italy was ensured against Austria.
The King of Prussia wrote to Napoleon III in March 1866 and Napoleon III replied with a promise of benevolent neutrality. However, he put forward his claim for compensation. French politicians like Thiers were opposed to the policy of neutrality in the event of a war between Austria and Prussia. A proposal for a congress was made but Austria turned down the same. Bismarck was happily at the prospects of war.
10. Austro-Prussian War (1866):
The war between Austria and Prussia was a very short one and that is why it is called the Seven Weeks’ War. To begin with, it appeared that Austria would be successful as she had the support of Bavaria, Saxony and the other small States of Germany. However, the Prussian military organisation was so efficient that Austria could not stand it.
Moreover, Austria had to fight on two fronts. She had not only to fight against the Prussian attack but also against the Italians who declared war against Austria at the same time as Prussia did. It is true that the Italians were defeated in the Battle of Custozza and also in a naval action off Lissa, but the Italian defeats did not affect the outcome of the war. Austria was defeated by Prussia in the battle of Sadowa or Konniggratz in Bohemia.
After the victory at Sadowa, the Prussian troops clamoured for a march on Vienna and they were supported by the King. Bismarck was opposed to such a move and ultimately he had his way. He offered very lenient terms to Austria and the same were accepted by the Treaty of Prague (1866). By that Treaty, Austria acknowledged the dissolution of “the Germanic Confederation as hitherto constituted.”
She also consented “to a new organisation of Germany without the participation of the Imperial Austrian State.” Venetia was given to Italy. The indemnity imposed was a nominal one. Hanover, Hesse-Cassel, Nassau, the free city of Frankfurt-on-the-Maine and the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein were annexed to Prussia.
The population of the northern districts of Schleswig was to be re-united to Denmark if the people expressed such a wish by a free vote. All the States north of the Maine were to join the North German Confederation under the leadership of Prussia. The Southern States of Germany were allowed to remain independent.
Effects of the War:
The Austro-Prussian war had far-reaching effects. Austria was excluded from Germany and Prussia emerged as the leader of Germany. The military efficiency of Prussia was also recognised in Europe. She also came to be regarded as a great military power. The success of Bismarck discredited the Liberals of Prussia and consequently the cause of liberalism in Germany was lost.
The acquisition of Venetia by Italy took her a step further in the process of the unification of the country. Only Rome was left outside united Italy. The war also had its effects on the Austrian Empire The loss of Venetia in Italy and her exclusion from Germany forced Austria to come to terms with the Magyars of Hungary.
The result was the Ausgleich of 1867 between Austria and Hungary. A dual monarchy was set up. Both Austria and Hungary were to be independent in their affairs except in matters of war and diplomacy. Both of them were to have the same ruler who was to be called the Emperor in Austria and King in Hungary. Provision was made for joint delegations of the two countries. The new settlement continued up to 1918.
11. Franco-Prussian War (1870-71):
The unification of Germany was not complete even after defeat of Austria in 1866. The Southern States of Germany had still to be united and it was not possible to do so with the help force. If Bismarck had tried to do so, there was every possibility of their being helped by France and that was not proper.
Consequently, Bismarck handled the situation cautiously. Between 1867 and 1870, Bismarck followed a policy of winning over the Southern States by a policy of conciliation and help. He gave them money. He gave them military officers to tram their armies, but otherwise did not interfere in their affairs. Efforts were made to impress upon them that Prussia was their friend and they had nothing to fear from her.
Bismarck was convinced that “a war with France lay in the logic of history,” and he prepared his country for that eventuality. Military preparations were pushed forward and everything was made perfect. Both Moltke and Roon waited for the day when the war would start with France.
Bismarck also was successful in isolating France diplomatically. Italy was already annoyed with Napoleon III of France as he had betrayed her in 1859. Prussia had helped her in 1866 to get Venetia and no wonder Italy was grateful to Prussia. Moreover, French troops were occupying Rome since 1849 and the unification could be completed only if the French troops withdrew from Rome. That was possible only if France was involved in a war where the military pressure forced her to withdraw them. Consequently, Italy could not he expected to fight on the side of France.
Bismarck was also able to secure the neutrality of Russia. Russia had not forgotten the Crimean War in which France had defeated her. Moreover, Bismarck told the Czar he could repudiate the Black Sea clauses of the Treaty of Paris when he attacked France.
Bismarck had won over Austria in 1866 by giving her very favourable terms. Although the Prussians were victorious he did not allow them to enter the city of Vienna as desired by them. Austria was not forced to pay a huge war-indemnity. Bismarck could count upon the neutrality of Austria in the event of a war with France.
If Bismarck wanted a war to complete the unification of Germany, Napoleon III also wanted a war with Prussia. It was felt in France that it was not Austria which was defeated in the Battle of Sadowa, but that it was the diplomatic defeat of France. No wonder, France wanted to have revenge for that humiliation.
Moreover, opposition to Napoleon III was increasing in France and he fell that the only way to win over the support of all the sections of the people of France was by declaring a war against Prussia. It was under these circumstances that the trap was laid by Bismarck and Napoleon III entered the same.
The throne of Spain had been offered twice to Prince Leopold, but the same had been rejected by him. On the persuasion of Bismarck, the offer was renewed once again. There was a lot of agitation in the French press over the offer. It was pointed out that France would be sandwiched between Prussia and Spain and thus her very existence would be endangered.
Although Leopold withdrew his acceptance of the throne, the agitation continued. Napoleon demanded as assurance from the King of Prussia that he would never in future allow the renewal of the candidature of Leopold. Benedetti, the French ambassador, tried to impose himself on the King of Prussia who was at the watering place of Ems.
The Prussian King sent a telegram containing an account of his interview with the French ambassador Bismarck abridged the telegram in such a way that it appeared to the French that their ambassador was insulted and it appeared to the Prussians that their king was insulted. When the news reached France, there was a demand for war against Prussia, and the same was declared.
The most important battle of the war was that of Sedan in which Napoleon III was defeated and he surrendered. Although a republic was set up in France, Bismarck insisted on entering Paris. As that was not acceptable to the people of France, a siege of Paris started. There was a stiff resistance but ultimately Paris had to surrender.
The war was ended by the Treaty of Frankfurt of 1871 by which France ceded Alsace and Lorraine to Germany. She was also to pay a huge war indemnity. A ceremony was held in the famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles in 1871 where the King of Prussia was declared the Emperor of Germany. The Southern States of Germany also joined the German Confederation. It was in this way that the unification of Germany was completed.
According to Hazen, “The Treaty of Frankfurt remained the open sore of Europe after 1871. France could never forget or forgive the deep humiliation of it. The enormous fine could, with the lapse of time, have been overlooked, but never the seizure of the two provinces by mere force and against the unanimous and passionate protest of the people of Alsace and Lorraine. Moreover, the eastern frontier of France was thus seriously weakened.”
However, the Franco-Prussian War had other consequences also. It led to the final completion of the unification of Italy. That was due to the fact that when the war started between France and Prussia, French troops were withdrawn from Rome and the Italian troops entered the same. Russia took advantage of the war and repudiated the Back Sea clauses of the Treaty of Paris. The Empire of Napoleon was overthrown in French and a Republic was set up in that country.
About the Franco-Prussian War, Prof Taylor points out that “though victory over France in 1870 certainly united Germany, the war lacked the deliberation or the war against Austria. Between 1862 and 1866 Bismarck steadily screwed up the pressure, despite occasional and perhaps genuine couples; unless the Austrians accepted his terms, the repeated crises were boded to end in war. There was no such steady march to war between 1861 and 1870; indeed no alarm disturbed Franco-Prussian relations between the Luxembourg affair in 1867 and the outbreak of war more than three years later. Nor did Bismarck suffer in these years from the nightmare of coalitions which dominated him later He dismissed the rumours of French alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy as ‘conjectural rubbish,’ which indeed they turned out to be. He was not perturbed by good relations between France and Russia; since these must be based on the abandonment by France of her Polish sympathies, Prussia could always make a third in the partnership. His own policy was more passive than at any time before or afterwards.
Though he kept the solid basis of friendship with Russia, this was confined to a common hostility towards Poland; and he never allowed the Russians to draw him into supporting them in the Near East. Ultimately, he hoped for a conservative alliance with Russia and Austria-Hungary; like all alliances based on principle, this had the advantage of providing security without having to pay a price for it. But he knew that he would have to wait until Habsburg resentment at the defeat of 1866 had died away.”
There is a considerable controversy over the question whether the master-mind of Bismarck had already conceived a plan of action for the unification of Germany when he came to power in 1862 and carried out the same according to a precise time-table. The hero-worshippers of Bismarck and his liberal critics hold the view that he carried out a programme which he had already decided upon.
There is one remarkable piece of evidence in support of this view. Disraeli met Bismarck at a dinner in London in 1862 and a little before Bismarck came to power. Disraeli tells us that Bismarck told him about his whole scheme in the course of half an hour’s conversation.
Later in the evening Disraeli remarked to Saburov of the Russian Embassy in London, “What an extraordinary man Bismarck is! He meets me for the first time and he tells me all he is going to do. He will attack Denmark in order to get possession of Schleswig-Holstein! He will put Austria out of the German Confederation and then he will attack France—an extraordinary man!” If the story is true and both Saburov and the official biographers of Disraeli have confirmed it, there can be no doubt that at least the broad design was already in the mind of Bismarck when he took office.
However, David Thomson says that it is rare in, history for even the greatest of statesmen to plan successfully 10 years ahead and then to impose their plans on the world. The recent biographers are very sceptic about the truth of what Disraeli is said to have reported. It is contended that Bismarck was not like Metternich or Alexander I, a system-maker.
He was a brilliant opportunist whose course of action always remained undecided and flexible until the last moment, and his policy looks more clear-cut and coherent in retrospect than it was at that time. He was first and always a Prussian nationalist who believed that Prussian interests demanded that she should dominate the whole of Germany and exclude Austria from German affairs.
Austria and France was guided by the interests of Prussia and unification of Germany was incidental and a by-product of his never-ending pursuit of Prussian interests. His original plan for unification was only up to the Main It was extended to the Inn as it was found to be necessary for the successful promotion of war against France. To quote A.J.P Taylor, “Far from using the war to promote unification, he sought unification in order to continue the war.”
Bismarck was not favourably inclined towards the southern states of Germany because they were Catholic states and were likely to weaken rather than strengthen the predominance of Protestant Prussia and Germany. He brought the southern states of Bavaria, Baden and Wurtenberg in when it became a military and diplomatic necessity to shorten the war against France and preclude intervention by other powers.
The southern states could make a separate peace so long as they remained independent, but once they were included in the Empire they were bound to stay in the war. Likewise, Bismarck at first had no desire to annex Alsace and Lorraine because the province includes so many Frenchmen and they could be a source of trouble for Germany. He agreed to annex them only under pressure from the Generals who demanded the territories on strategic grounds.
Similar views are expressed regarding the achievements of Cavour in Italy. It is contented that Cavour was also a brilliant and ingenious opportunist rather than the framer of long-term plans for a distant future. Neither he, nor Bismarck, believed in future. Both of them were always engrossed with the present. They were supreme practitioners of realpolitik and their success is to be explained more by the profound and imaginative grasp of the immediate realities of international politics than by any alleged control over the long-term course of events. They were masterly statesmen and not masterful supermen.
David Thomson maintains that the two views of Bismarck and Cavour that they were opportunists and planners are not entirely irreconcilable. Both of them cherished certain aims. Both of them had a minimum programme to which they devoted all their energies to achieve. A united kingdom of northern Italy and a Prussian-controlled North German Federation, seemed practical programmes of policy during the 1850’s.
Both of them were within the grasp of practical politics if Austria could be driven pack, behind Alaps and Main, and if the great powers did not intervene on the side of Austria. Once the sequence of diplomatic movements and military events had started, the events themselves began to take control. The statesmen of Italy and Germany adjusted their policies to take account of each new situation and exploited them to achieve their own ends.