Bismarck and the unification of Germany in 1871 October 20, 1988
Germany before 1871
Germany had revolutions in 1848-49; they failed.
the 1850 Convention of Ollmutz re-created the old German Confederation,
under Austrian rule.
Austria had no wish to partake in German affairs - all it wanted to do
was keep its empire growing. This meant that Germany was still only an
expression, rather than a fact.
Germany was really a collection of small states ruled by minor dukes,
princes, and kings,and Prussia was the only real power, but it was
scared of Austria and so bided its time until it was stronger.
King Frederick IV was the king of Prussia, and it was he that had signed
the Convention of Ollmutz in 1850. He became insane in 1857, and his
brother, William, acted as regent - when Frederick William died in 1861,
William became king himself - King William I.
he believed in a united Germany, and so set it to do it. He saw that
this would require force, and so started to build up the army and navy.
Count von Roon was the War Minister. He and William worked to make the
armed forces better, but the parliament was full of liberals and blocked
By September 1862, William was ready to abdicate (due to frustration),
but before doing so he appointed Otto von Bismarck as Prime Minister.
as soon as he was in office, Bismarck ignored the parliament and brought
in more taxes to pay for the increased costs in the military - this was
illegal but he got away with it. A speech to parliament justifying his
actions included - "The great questions of our time will be decided not
by speeches and resolutions of majorities...but by blood and iron."
in 1863 the new King of Denmark proposed to merge the duchies of
Schleswig-Holstein into Denmark - the German people did not want this
and neither did the predominately German residents of the duchies.
Bismarck did not want to give them away, and so he roped in Austria and
together they fought the Seven Days' War of 1864. In this war the two
countries took over the duchies forcefully, beating Denmark.
Austria and Prussia signed the Treaty of Gastein in 1865 - Austria took
Holstein and Prussia took Schleswig.
Bismarck saw that he could use the situation to depose Austria as the
dominant state of Germany by picking a fight with her. However, she had
allies, and so Bismarck started alienating them from Austria.
firstly, he made friends with Tsar Alexander of Russia - Prussia helped
the Tsar stop a Polish revolt in 1863, and Bismarck assured the Tsar
that help like that would always be forthcoming.
next Bismarck went to Napoleon III of France, and hinted that if France
remained neutral then she stood to gain land. Napoleon did not expect
either party to win - rather, he would be able to get land off both when
they exhausted each other.
finally Bismarck went to Cavour of Italy. Took the same line as with
The scene was set - in 1866 Prussia invaded Holstein. Austria declared
war and the Prussians invaded Hanover and Bohemia. In under a month
Austria was soundly defeated at Sadowa and she asked for peace.
The Treaty of Prague ended the war (called the Seven Weeks War). Austria
was no longer the dominant state and formally oversaw the dissolution of
the German Confederation. Prussia annexed Hanover, Holstein and some
minor states. All states north of the Main River were formed into the
North German Confederation, ruled by Prussia. Italy got Venetia (as
promised) - France got nothing.
William wanted to annex some Austrian territory (the rest was all German
Confederation) but Bismarck said NO because it would make Austria a
bitter ememy. He was right, again.
There were several states still outside Prussia's control - the Southern
ones. A war with France was needed to get them on side because France
was Germany's traditional enemy. Once these states were onside then the
unification would be complete.
Bismarck wanted to isolate France, but all except Britain were already
done. So he told Britain that France wanted Belgium, and they were
onside. France was now alone.
Bismarck needed an excuse to start the war. There was a revolution in
Spain, and the throne was offered to a kinsman of King William I of
Prussia. France did not want this to happen, and protested. The king-
to-be did not accept. Napoleon did not stop there - he demanded of
William that none of his kinsmen would ever get to the Spanish throne.
William refused to say YES and told Bismarck so. Bismarck altered his
words slightly, so they were insulting to France, and published the
demands and the reply. Both countries were outraged and war was wanted.
It finally happened on the 19th of July 1870.
Prussian troopsd went hard into France, and caught many troops in a trap
at Metz. Another French force came to help, and got caught at Sudan. The
Prussians took 83 000 prisoners, Napoleon included.
The war was ended in May 1871 by the Treaty of Frankfurt, but Prussia
was already celebrating by January - the Southern states had joined
forces with the North and Germany was at last united. William I was
crowned Emperor of Germany on the 18th of January, 1871.
Germany after 1871
The constitution was released in May 1871.
the nation was headed by the King of Prussia, William I. He took the old
title of Kaiser, derived from "Caesar". He was the Head of State.
he summoned and dissolved the two houses of parliament, appointed the
Chancellor (Prime Minister), was commander-in-cheif of the armed forces
and was in sole charge of foreign affairs.
Kaiser William I let Bismarck direct him in the use of these powers, and
so Bismarck was the effective ruler of Germany.
The upper house of parliament was called the Bundesrat, and its members
represented the various states that existed within Germany. There were
58 seats available, and they were shared among the states in proportion
to their population. Prussia dominated. The president of the Bundesrat
was the Chancellor.
The lower house of parliament was the Reichstag. Its members were
elected by all German men over 25. This was the people's representation,
but it had little power; there was no control over the army or foreign
affairs, but could refuse to pass budgets. It seldom tested its power
against the Chancellor.
Germany was a federation, not a union - this meant that the old states
were left intact, but with cut down powers. The states collected taxes,
while the central government got customs duties and railway and post
Federation weakened Germany, because there were several areas over which
it had no control.
Bismarck saw that there were areas which could damage or destroy the new
nation. The first was the Catholic Church.
The Vatican Council proclaimed Papal Infallibility in 1870. This was a
statement which said that the Pope could never be wrong over matters of
faith and morals because he was guided by God, and therefore incapable
of making a mistake.
Just before this declaration, the Pope had had most of his land taken
away by the forming of Italy as one nation. Many people thought that he
was trying to make up his spiritual authority to compensate for the loss
of the land.
people thought that the Church was about to start on a more aggressive
and militant outlook, and start interfering more and more into politics.
in Germany many Catholics did not agree with PI. They formed themselves
into a different group, the Old Catholic Church (OCC). Several of these
people were eminent theologians that lectured at important universities.
Bismarck did not want to take sides with either the Church or the OCC,
but he had to because of events. If the Church decided to excommunicate
the theologians then the state could not stand by, because this meant
that the church was interfering in state matters (education). This could
not be allowed since .6 of the nation were Protestants anyway, and so
Bismarck backed the OCC.
This angered most of the Catholics left, and they formed a political
party, the Centre. In one year it was the 2nd biggest political party in
the Reichstag; it was very critical of Bismarck, and provoked him into
disliking the Catholic Church in general.
The struggle between the state, the OCC and the Centre became known as
the Kulterkampf - the fight for civilisation.
In June 1871 Bismarck published a series of harsh news articles, and
followed it up in July by abolishing the Catholic section of the
Prussian Ministry for Church Affairs. By the end of the year priests
were forbidden to mention politics in their sermons. 1872 saw Jesuits
kicked out of schools and later they were banned from Germany
The May Laws of 1873 were passed by Adalbert Falk, Minister for
Ecclesiastical Affairs. These included: only German-educated youths
could become priests (to counteract foreign interference); education was
put under state control; all church appointments had to have government
All this only strengthened the Centres determination, despite the
government's success. A large amount of Catholics were in prison, by
1876 all Prussian priests were either in prison or exile, and .3 of the
parishes had no priests.
By 1878 Bismarck was tired of it and prepared to give up, but he could
not do this without losing face. When Pope Pius IX died, the new Pope,
Leo XIII asked for an end to the battle. Bismarck took the chance,
withdrew the May Laws and slowly gave back what he had taken away
earlier. The Pope was grateful and urged the Catholics to vote with
Bismarck in future.
Bismarck also saw a threat from socialism. The industrial revolution had
done much to further this cause, with things like long working hours,
poor pay and appalling working conditions. The "havenots" began to
challenge the existing social and economic system.
many people believed that the means of production should be owned by the
state, rather than the individual. These wer the ideas laid down in Marx
and Engels book, "Communist Manifesto".
a political party was formed to air the views of the socialists - the
Social Democrats (SD). They believed that the common worker should get
the vote (not just men 25+) and that because the bourgeoise would never
give over their power freely to the people a revolution was required.
Bismarck would not have these ideas, because being a wealthy landowner
himself he could not contemplate giving all to the "rabble".
The SD got 500 000 votes in the 1877 elections and Bismarck pissed
himself. He decided that they could not be ignored and that they should