The Unification of German States

We will now discuss the making of another great modern nation- Germany.

Rise of Germany
Rise of Germany

Situation of German States

The German States have a common bond of unity on the basis of language, race and culture. They were also rich in resources like coal and iron. In spite of this cultural and linguistic unity German States were exploited because of lack of unity among Germans. This was the reason of pain for the German nationalists.

Coal and Iron Reserves
Coal and Iron Reserves

Exploitation by Non-Germans

For many centuries Austria of the Hapsburgs was the leading German Power. Then Prussia came to the front. There was a conflict between these two for the leadership of the German States. Actually, from ancient time German States were having non-german leadership. Example: Holy Roman Empire.

It was the union of German and Italian States. In which the rulers of these states elected their leader who was guided by the Pope. As Pope was under the influence of European powers like Austria and France etc. So, he rarely bothered about the interest of German States.

Napoleon destroyed the Holy Roman Empire. But after Conference of Vienna, Austria became the leader of German States. This non-German leadership was the cause of frustration for German Nationalists.

Promotion of Trade and Commerce

Napoleon humbled both Austrians and Prussian Leaders. Napoleon not only destroyed Holy Roman Empire but in western Germany, he unified the many smaller states. He then established a single state of Westphalia.This gave promotion to trade and commerce.

This also gave the message that political unity would lead to the economic empowerment of German States. Thus both in Italy and Germany Napoleon, unconsciously and without wishing it, gave an impetus to the spirit of nationalism and idea of freedom.

Role of Intellectuals

Eventually, Napoleon prepared the ground for German unification. In this intellectuals played an important role. One of the leading German nationalists of the Napoleonic period was Fichte, a philosopher, but also an ardent patriot who did much to rouse up his people. Fichte gave the concept of German idealism, glorifying German culture, race. This ideology was taken to its peak by Fredrick William Nietzsche, who gave the concept of superman and also declared God is Dead.

Phases of German Unification

Phases of German Unification
Phases of German Unification

German Diet

In Congress of Vienna, Austria was declared as leader of German States. There were 39 states. It was not possible for Austria to individually handle all the states. Therefore, Austria formed Parliament of German States called German Diet. This Parliament had certain rights,

  1. General resolution can be passed by two-third of the majority.
  2. Constitutional and fundamental changes require acceptance from all the states. (which was not feasible without political unity among 39 states)

Although Austria denied any type of unity among the German States but the system of German Diet eventually provided formal political unity for the German States. This got strengthen by economic unity created by Prussia through Zollverein.


German nationalists and intellectuals had already got the practical taste of political unity.  In 1834, Prussia formed a customs union or Zollverein. They joined by most of the German states. The union abolished tariff barriers and reduced the number of currencies from over thirty to two.

The network of railways further stimulated mobility, harnessing economic interests to national unification. A wave of economic nationalism strengthened the wider nationalist sentiments growing at the time. In this, the revolutions of 1830 and 1848 proved to be a turning point in European and German history.

Second Frankfurt Parliament

Revolution of 1830 activated middle class which wanted the constitution. While revolution of 1848 ignited labour class who wanted a change in political order. The Monarchs of Europe feared the unity among the middle class and labour class. So they decided to go for the constitutional arrangement for the people.

In the German regions, a large number of political associations whose members were professionals, businessmen and prosperous craftsmen came together in the city of Frankfurt. On 18 May 1848, 831 elected representatives marched in a festive procession to take their places in the Frankfurt parliament.

They drafted a constitution for the German nation with the provision of constitutional monarchy. When the deputies offered the crown on these terms to Friedrich Wilhelm IV, King of Prussia, he rejected it because of two reasons:

  • The representatives of different states gave the proposal. The kings did not accept this proposal. The Prussia did not want to be a nominal head of German Federation.
  • In Olmutz Convention, Austria warned Prussia that if Prussia got involved in activities against Austria, it should ready for the consequences.

Finally, this ended peaceful path of German Unification. It made clear that war with Austria was the demand of that time to become an independent nation. At this stage, about the middle of the century, there rose a man in Prussia who was to dominate for many years not only Germany but European politics. This man was Otto von Bismarck, a junker- that is a landowner in Prussia. We will discuss this personality in next coming post.

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