The Wars of German Unification & Bismarck and the States system 1871-1879
Jan 23, 2013
Key Words Notes:
Critical question of who gets to There was an escalation of crisis within the German political
rule Schleswig – Holstein system between Bismarck’s Germany on one hand and Austrian
- Would it be Prussia or empire ruled by Franz Josef on the other. The critical issue was
Austria recognized by the Prussian King Wilhelm in a Prussian council
- Whoever ruled it would meeting of the 28 of February 1866. The critical question was
get to dominate Northern really who should rule over the Elder Duchies – Schleswig-
Germany Holstein won by German arms in their recent war with
Denmark. Would it be Prussia or Austria that would really
inherit the Schleswig-Holstein earth. The real issue was who, as
the Prussian king recognized, who would dominate Northern
Bismarck was intent upon a considerable territorial
Bismarck wanted territorial consolidation within the north region of the Prussian state. He
consolidation for Prussia. He felt that Prussia’s territorial foundation, discontinuous and
knew that the fragmented Prussia fragmented across north Germany as it was, (from eastern
would never uphold power. Prussian heartlands, with a gap between, then Brandenburg,
more gap and then the territory along the Rhine.) was fragile
and too flimsy foundation to sustain great status for Prussia in
an industrializing and increasing competitive continental
Europe during the later 19 century.
Bismarck’s solution was to get So Bismarck’s solution was to co-op popular power of German
popular power of the German nationalism to masquerade as German nationalist in effect to
nationalist movement and use it
expand Prussian power, territory, and influence right across
to expand the Prussian power Northern Germany.
through gains of territory right Had the Austrians been prepared to concede that Prussian
across northern Germany. Hegemony north of the River Rhine inside Germany, then there
would have been no Austro-Prusso war. But the Austrians tried
to maintain their all-German mission with the prodding of von
Biegeleben foreign minster Von Mensdorff-Pouilly essentially
blocked further concessions to Bismarck over Prussian
Austria did not want to see integration into the duchies.
Prussia become a great power. The result was a realization on the part of the Prussian ruling
Von Biegeleben and Von class, that war with Austria will be necessary to achieve their
Mensdorff-Pouilly both tried to
block further concessions to political agenda. Now for most of that ruling class, the King now
accepted this was a very reluctant decision. This war of the
Bismarck over Prussian brother was very much the last recourse, or result to promote
integration into the Duchies vital Prussian interest. A very reluctant decision in the face of
This made the Prussians Austrian refusal of their regional domination north of the River
realize that there will have to be a Rhine within the German political system.
For Bismarck however, this was much less of an agonizing
dilemma. Bismarck himself had said as early as 1862, “I have no
sense of German nationality.” He had no feeling for what he
called the German nationality. For him, war against the king of
Hanover or Saxony was just the same as a war against France.
But his commitment to German nationalism was skin deep.
Beneath that lurked the ulterior motives of Prussian By February 1866 a war with preservation as great power.
Austria was brewing. But this End of February 1866 for war with Austria meant careful
meant that Bismarck had to diplomatic preparations to insure that such a war would not be
carefully isolate all the other interfered with other powers. If that occurred that would
powers from Austria so that they challenge Prussia’s victory. Bismarck chose his time rather
wouldn’t come to its aid. carefully.
- Russia: still bitter from being - Russia: Bismarck knew from diplomatic dialogue from the
deserted in the Crimean war Russians that they had little interests in rescuing Austria from
- Britain: had internal reforms any Prussians aggressions given Austria’s desertion of them
and dilemmas with its own during the Crimean war. So the traditional Austro-Russian
government. It was relationship had been fractured during the Crimean conflict,
introverted throughout spring and it didn’t look like it would be reactivated any Prussian
and summer of 1866. assault on central Europe
- Italy: anxious because Austria - Britain: the traditional balancer of the continent was going
still held on to the province of through a very trying phase of its political life in the
Venetia. The Italians were not spring/summer of 1866. Part of the growing pains of modern
too happy with the Austrians. Britain when it’s industrializing economy cried out for more
In fact on April 8 1866 the liberal democratic politics, was the great reform act of 1867.
formed an alliance with This was really the first step towards the modern democratic
Prussia that promised to political system. The widening of a franchise. It was a
attack Austria if hostilities breakthrough. The domestic political crisis swallowing
broke out. It also promised to Britain over parliamentary reforms, over the need to open up
join Prussia in an early attack, the political system to greater popular participation, was
if there was a guarantee that completely preoccupying the British political elite. As the
war would break out. crisis came on in central Europe in the spring and summer of
- France: still wanted to attain 1866, indeed in the bloodiest battle that was formed in
that high position within the
Europe, between the Napoleonic wars of the first world wars
European system. So it was that Koniggratz/Sadowa on July 3, 1866. The decisive
negotiated with both Austria moment in the Austro-Prusso war, when that was being
and Prussia fought, Britain technically had no government. One
Prussia: Bismarck played government had fallen, negotiations were underway to
on Napoleon III goals and establish another one. So Britain’s introvert behavior in this
promised that the critical moment gave Bismarck a golden opportunity to
Prussians would transfer isolate Austria and pick it off.
Venetia to King of Italy - Italy: was clearly all too anxious to see Prussia have a go at
(Victor Emmanuel) if they Austria. The agenda of the Italian unification was still
won. In a meeting at St. incomplete primarily because the Austrians still occupied the
Cloud it was hinted that Italian Northeastern province of Venetia. So the Italians have
France would get some a vested interest in seeing Austria defeated in a war with
territorial compensation Prussia, even if that war as primarily conquered by a German
(Low Countries and colonol (?) April 8 , 1866, the King of Italy formed a military
Rhineland) if the Prussians alliance with Prussia. Promising to attack Austria if hostilities
won broke out between the Prussians and Austrians within the
Austria: the Austrians next three months. Italy promised to join in Prussia as an
promised to transfer early attack in April 1966 as long as the war soon broke out.
Venetia if the won the war. - France: Napolean III having his finger singed by playing with
the Italian nationalism might be very cautious in his approach
to the even more potential dynamic German nationalist
movement. However, he still hankered after independency
within the European system. He also had the slight guilt of conscious of deserting Piedmont, before delivering Venetia to
King Victor Emmanuel. So he still had unfinished business and
unfinished promise. Bismarck, skillfully played upon
Napoleon III ambitions and sense of obligation (business still
to be done with the Italians) so when Bismarck assured
Napoleon III that the Prussians would insist the transfer of
Venetia from Austria rule to the King of Italy, Napoleon
professed himself satisfied. Bismarck also dropped hints,
when they met in St. Cloud in October-November 1865, even
before the Prussian definite decision for war in February the
following year, that France could expect some territorial
compensation upon Prussian victory in the war with Austria,
along the Low Countries or in the Rhineland, Napoleon III
professed himself content. He did, however, keep his options
open. He did negotiate with the Austrians. So ironically in the
late spring 1866 to early summer the Austrians promised to
transfer Venetia to Italy if they won in the upcoming war. So
napoleon III thought he was cleaver. He had insured the
transfer for Venetia to Italy no matter which side won the
upcoming German wars of the brothers. He also, misinformed
and advised by his generals made a profound stragetic
miscalculation. He had assumed that the war would have
been a long drawn out affair. Therefore, Austria and Prussia
would fight each other to exhaustion. At which point, he could
offer mediation. And act as the arbitrator of Europe. This war
between German great powers within the European system
seems to give him a golden opportunity to reassert French
After making sure that no one primacy in the system.
would come to Austria’s rescue, For all those reasons, the judgments and misjudgments of the
Bismarck started to plan a war. other powers, Bismarck had moved clearly and thought he had
- Supported the agitation in the chance to isolate Austria. This was a very high-risk strategy.
Holstein against Hapsburg If the war dragged on things could get very complicated. Still,
rule Bismarck was bent upon his high-risk strategy.
- Supported the popular - He started to support agitation within the Austrian occupied
German Nationalism Holstein against Hapsburg rule.
- He also made his great gesture in early June 1866 towards
German Confederation popular German nationalism.
- Reconstituted and reform He proposed in the German Confederation that the direct
itself and represent the reconstitute and reform itself politically as a more
German people. representative system of the German people. That it establish a
- Established through a representative chamber elected according to universal
representative chamber democratic male suffrage. This was an extraordinary gesture. He
where males could vote. offered the German people the right to vote for their
- Extraordinary gesture that
representative, rather then simply being a selected number of
German people could vote for elites diplimats who represented the 39 states, making the basic
their representatives decision. He wanted to throw the whole body open, the
democratic controlling to some extent.
The Austrians retaliated by raising the issue of the Duchies –
Austrians were not too happy Schleswig- Holstein. Something that had been forbidden by the
when they saw this and they
terms of the Convention of Gastein. This was a breach of the raised the question of Schleswig- Austro-Prussian deal of August 1865. When they did that, the
Holstein, which was forbidden by Prussians invaded Holstein. They moved their armed forces into
the Convention of Gastein. Holstein. The Austrians retaliated by asking the representative
- Asked the Confederation to body of the German Confederation to mobilize the entire forces
mobilize their forces of Germany against Prussia. When that occurred, in mid June
- Prussia mobilized their forces 1866, the Prussian mobilized their armed forces. And war broke
and war broke out. out the following day – 16 June 1866.
June 16 1866 –Prussia June 16 1866- Prussia formally declared war on the Austrian
declares war on Austria. power.
- Major battle fought at Contrary to all German and foreign military expert predictions,
Koniggratz/Sadowa the war was short, bloody, and decisive in its outcome. Careful
- The war was very short preplanning and skillful deployment of their forces, Prussia
- The Prussians won. engaged the main field army in the Austrian empire at
- July 26 1866: Armistice is Koniggratz/Sadowa. It was a hard fought day long battle that
signed after 5 hours of heavy Prussian arterially pounding the Austrian
- August 23 1866: Treaty is formation, the timely arrival of the second field army of Prussia
signed turned the battle into Prussia favor. The Austrians were routed
and the future of Germany and the future fate of Europe as a
whole was decided.
The King was happy. He wanted a big showy parade right down
the center of Vienna. Bismarck refused to let the king and his
general rub salt into the Austrians wounds. He immediately
entered into peace negotiations.
An armistice was signed in Nicholasburg in July 26 1866, and
the final treaty signed only a few weeks later on August 23 rd
Bismarck in a letter to his wife explained why he ended the war
even before the victory, and before there was more humiliation
of Austria. “We do not live alone in Europe, with three other
powers that hate and envy us”.
- Napoleon had offered his mediations, however when he
realized that the war wasn’t going to end quickly, it was too