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How did Bismarck go about unifying the German states?

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  • Category: German War

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When Bismarck was appointed Prussian chancellor in 1862 by King Wilhelm IV, The democratic attempt of unifying Germany had failed and there was widespread sentiment among the Germans in favour of unification. There were a number of obstacles in Prussia’s way of unifying Germany. Among them were foreign powers’ interests in Germany, In other words, In order for Bismarck to unify Germany he had to eliminate all the other powers that posed a threat to German unification. Since the political approach had failed, Bismarck adopted a policy of “blood and Iron” for his plans of unifying Germany. Bismarck was a cunning politician who always made the other side seem the aggressor and in this way always appeared the victim. By manipulating political situations, Bismarck succeeded in going to war, and defeating, all the counties that stood the way of a united Germany under Prussian rule.

Bismarck’s first step was to gain as much support and trust of other countries before trying to eliminate the big threats e.g. France. In 1863 Bismarck saw an opportunity to gain Russia’s friendship. The Polish were revolting against Russia and Bismarck promised the Tsar his support and massed troops on the frontier to prevent the Polish from crossing it, Thus helping Russia and gaining her support for future wars.

The next step was manipulating a situation in Denmark to eventually eliminate Austria.

The Danish king, Frederick VII tried to, against the congress of Vienna, incorporate Schleswig and Holstein into Denmark. He did not succeed and The Salic law of succession was passed. After Frederick VII, Christian IX came to power and he also tried to take over these countries, this time succeeding. Now Bismarck saw an opportunity, he appealed to Austria to help Prussia to Drive the Danes out of Schleswig and Holstein, the reason for this he said was that Denmark was going against the Salic law of Succession. Austria agreed and the Danes were easily defeated. After this the convention of Gastein was held in 1865. It was decided that Holstein would go to Austria and Prussia would get Schleswig.

Now the next phase in Bismarck’s plan was to get Austria to declare war on Prussia, He accused Austria of maladministration in Holstein and thus provoking her, Bismarck said that what Austria did was against the convention of Gastein. Prussian troops invaded Holstein and threatened a war. Prussia then produced a new draft for a new federation that would exclude Austria. When it was rejected Prussia declared that the confederation must dissolve and Austria saw this as a tantamount to a declaration of war. Austria thus declared war on Prussia.

The Austrian army was easily defeated in the 7 week war at Sadowa.

The Treaty of Prague was signed and Austria had to surrender Vienna to Italy and pay a small amount for indemnity to Prussia.

Prussia spared Austria the humiliation of making a grand entry into Vienna, because Bismarck did not want to have the Austrians totally against him in the future. Austria also had to agree to the break up of the German bund and the creation of a new Confederation of which Austria would not be a part of. Schleswig, Holstein, Hanover, Hesse and Nassau were now part of Prussia. Now only the South German states needed to be included to complete the unification of Germany under Prussian rule.

After the Austro-Prussian war, Napoleon the 3rd of France demanded compensation for his neutrality in the war. He demanded that France receive the Bavarian Palitinate and the Rhine territory of Hesse. Bismarck persuaded the Prussian king to reject the demands. By manipulating the demands and publishing it, Bismarck made France seem the aggressor. All the smaller South German states were pro-France before the demands were published, but now they saw Napoleon’s imperialistic ideals as a threat to their independence and became scared of France. Bismarck would use their fear for France to make the smaller states join the German empire and thus France was left with no allies.

The creation of the North German Confederation held a great threat for France; she now had a dangerous neighbor. Because France remained neutral in the Austro-Prussian war Bismarck upset the balance of power in Europe.

Before Bismarck could go to war with France he had to make sure that France had no allies. He again played political mind games with the other countries in Europe to ensure that no other country would threaten Prussia while he attacked France.

Bismarck was still allies with Russia and he told the Tsar that a successful war with France would allow the Russian fleet to once again enter the black sea. Austria did not forget that France did not come to her aid when Bismarck attacked Austria and thus would not interfere with the Franco-Prussian war. If Austria was to attack Prussia, Russia would invade Austria from the rear. England were not on the best terms with France and also followed a policy of “Splendid isolation” and thus posed no threat to Prussia

Now that Prussia was sure that France would stand alone if conflict broke out Bismarck went ahead in preparing for war with the French.

The immediate cause of the conflict was the question of the Hohenzollern candidature for the Spanish throne. In 1868, Queen Isabella had been deposed, and the throne was finally offered to Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a relative of the King of Prussia.

The French did not want to see a Hohenzollern on their western frontier and protested.

King William refused to undertake that the candidature could never be renewed. France tactlessly insisted, and when the King refused to discuss the matter further or to see the French Ambassador, Bismarck managed to make it appear that France had been insulted. The infamous Ems Telegram threw the French Assembly and people into a rage, and war was declared. The French army was ill prepared and was no match for the mighty Prussian army. Paris fell on 28 January 1871 and an armistice was signed. The treaty of Frankfurt was signed on 10 May 1871 and the terms imposed on France were very harsh. France lost allot of land and the German unification could now be completed.

The South German states joined Bismarck’s Confederation and The North German Confederation was now called the German Empire and Bismarck’s goal of unifying Germany under Prussian rule was achieved. This upset in the balance of power would eventually lead to the largest war that the world has ever seen.

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