Was Bismarck the Key Factor in the Unification of Germany? (Part 2)

by James Graham

To achieve Kleindeutsch under Prussian control Bismarck had to defeat Austria. Bismarck once decided on a war with Austria set about trying to isolate her. Russia was already hostile with Austria, Britain was overjoyed at the thought of war between Austria and Prussia as was France who was also bribed with more hints of compensation at the secret Biarritz Conference. Unwilling to fight the war alone he forged an alliance with the Kingdom of Italy. A promise of the Austrian territory of Venetia to Italy ensured the alliance. The Prussian invasion of Holstein failed to start a war and forced Bismarck to use other methods. To obtain the support of the Liberals both in Prussia and the other German states Bismarck proposed universal suffrage in a new German Diet that would replace the old Confederation Diet. Austria was to be excluded from the new parliament. This move was a masterstroke by Bismarck as it won him support and forced Austria to declare war on Prussia. Austria encouraged nine states including the all the large states to take its side and Prussia six states. The north and centre states were defeated by Prussia with little resistance. Austria and Saxony were defeated in an overwhelming victory at Konniggratz. The Austrians were entirely successful against the Italians but this failed to change the course of the war. With the road to Vienna open Bismarck arranged an armistice. Bismarcks true diplomatic genius is evident here as he robbed France any chance of claiming advantage out of the war. The Treaty of Prague expelled Austria from the German Confederation and Venetia was seceded to Italy. The extraordinary lenient treaty was designed so that Austria did not remain an enemy of Prussia. Prussia annexed Hanover, North Hesse, Schleswig and Holstein and formed the North German Confederation out of these states, Prussia and Saxony. Only Napoleon III attitude and local feeling prevented the confederation including the southern states. Bismarck through military might and diplomatic brilliance defeated Austria allowing Prussia to become dominant in Germany.


To complete German unification Bismarck had to deal with France. Napoleon III failed to receive compensation for his neutrality during the two previous that made him desperate to acquire some territory to increase his flagging support at home. France tried unsuccessfully to buy Belgium and Luxembourg. The British stopped the former and German public feeling the second. Realising France was hostile enough to start a war Bismarck implemented his tactic of isolating the country diplomatically. Russia was hostile to France and Austria reconciled with Prussia over the lenient Treaty of Prague. Britain was offended over French intentions over Belgium which Bismarck had disclosed at a crucial time. Italian friendship had been bought with Venetia. The south German states were drawn into a military alliance with Prussia by Bismarcks publication of Napoleons intentions towards the states. Bismarck encouraged a Hohenzollern relative of William I to stand as a candidature for the vacant Spanish throne hoping to encircle France. France was incensed and demanded the candidature be removed. William agreed against Bismarcks wishes. The French not satisfied sent the French Ambassador Benedetti to the spa of Ems to obtain an assurance the matter would not be revived. Benedetti accosted William in the street. William furious sent a telegram to Bismarck who edited it to make it sound like a Prussia snob of France. The telegram was released publicly and caused war fever to sweep France. Bismarck ordered a Prussian mobilisation that caused France to declare war. Prussian mobilisation utilising railways was much quicker than the French and the Prussian army soon encircled the main French army in the fortress town of Metz. Before long Paris was encircled and Napoleon overthrown. The republic of 1848 was re-established and fought on. Metz and Paris were eventually starved into surrendering and the defeat of France complete. The Treaty of Frankfurt made France pay 5000 million francs in reparations and secede Alsace Lorraine to Germany. The harsh treaty was not Bismarcks idea but rather Williams and the army's. Prussian military and industrial strength guided by Bismarcks isolation of France ensured Prussia victory in the Franco-Prussian War.

Bismarck achieved his main goal of German unification under Prussian leadership. Ten days before the armistice was signed Bismarck proclaimed the German Empire at the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles on 18 January 1871. Prussian victory had conjured up feelings of patriotism right across Germany and with a bribe of Ludwig II King of Bavaria unification was sealed. Bismarcks uncompromising personality helped to squash liberal opposition and save the Prussian monarchy. A united Germany was achieved by the defeat of the two powers that stood in its way, Austria and France. Prussian industrialisation had ensured victory but Bismarck brought forward the triumph. Bismarck outmanoeuvred Austria and France diplomatically allowing the isolation of the two powers essential for Prussian military victory. With astute political moves namely the war against Denmark Bismarck increased support for unification at home. The German Empire was proclaimed by Bismarck who did much to aid its creation.

Bismarcks iron man image and unique personality was a major factor in German Unification. Born and brought up as a Prussian Junker he pursued his nationalist ambitions and united Germany. His diplomatic skill was a major pre-requisite of Prussia's military victories. By manipulating events to his advantage Bismarck was able to proclaim a united Kleindeutsche under Prussian control.

Bismarck and the Unification of Germany

Part One