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This article deals with the unification of 1871. For the unification of Westmarker and East Germanymarker in 1990, see German reunification.

The formal unification of Germany into a politically and administratively integrated nation state officially occurred on 18 January 1871 at the Versailles Palacemarker's Hall of Mirrorsmarker in France. Princes of the German states gathered there to proclaim Wilhelm of Prussia as Emperor Wilhelm of the German Empiremarker after the French capitulation in the Franco-Prussian War. Unofficially, the transition of the German-speaking states into a federated organization of states occurred over nearly a century of experimentation. Unification exposed several glaring religious, linguistic, and cultural differences between and among the inhabitants of the new nation, suggesting that 1871 represents one moment in a continuum of unification processes.

The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation had effectively dissolved when Emperor Francis II abdicated (6 August 1806) during the Napoleonic Wars. Despite the legal, administrative, and political disruption associated with the end of the Empire, the people of the German-speaking areas of the old Empire had a common linguistic, cultural and legal tradition further enhanced by their shared experience in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. European liberalism offered an intellectual basis for unification by challenging dynastic and absolutist models of social and political organization; its German manifestation emphasized the importance of tradition, education, and linguistic unity of peoples in a geographic region. Economically, the creation of the Prussian Zollverein (customs union) in 1818, and its subsequent expansion to include other states of the German Confederationmarker, reduced competition between and within states. Emerging modes of transportation facilitated business and recreational travel, leading to contact and sometimes conflict between and among German-speakers from throughout Central Europe.

The spheres of influence model created by the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15 after the Napoleonic Wars supposedly established Austrianmarker dominance in Central Europe. However, the negotiators at Vienna took no account of Prussia's growing strength within and among the German states, failing to recognize that Prussia would challenge Austria for leadership within the German states. This German dualism presented two solutions to the problem of unification: Kleindeutsche Lösung, the small Germany solution (Germany without Austria), or Großdeutsche Lösung, greater Germany solution (Germany with Austria).

Historians debate whether or not Otto von Bismarck, the Minister President of Prussia, had a master-plan to expand the North German Confederationmarker of 1866 to include the remaining independent German states into a single entity, or whether he simply sought to expand the power of the Kingdom of Prussia. They conclude that factors in addition to the strength of Bismarck's Realpolitik led a collection of early modern polities to reorganize political, economic, military and diplomatic relationships in the nineteenth century. Reaction to Danish irredentism and French nationalism provided foci for expressions of German unity. Military successes in three regional wars generated enthusiasm and pride that politicians could harness to promote unification. This experience echoed the memory of mutual accomplishment in the Napoleonic Wars, particularly the War of Liberation of 1813–14. By creating a Germany without Austria, the political and administrative unification in 1871 at least temporarily solved the problem of dualism.

German-speaking Central Europe in the early nineteenth century

In the early 1800s, German-speaking lands included more than 300 political entities within the Holy Roman Empire. They ranged in size from the small and complex territories of the princely Hohenlohe family branches to the sizable, well defined territories as the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Kingdom of Prussiamarker. Their governance varied: they included free imperial cities, also of different sizes, such as the powerful Augsburgmarker and the minuscule Weil der Stadtmarker; ecclesiastical territories, also of varying sizes and influence, such as the wealthy Abbey of Reichenaumarker and the powerful Archbishopric of Cologne; and dynastic states such as Württemberg. These states formed the Holy Roman Empire, and at times included more than 1,000 entities. Since the fifteenth century, with few exceptions, the Empire's Prince-electors had chosen successive heads of the House of Habsburg to hold the title of Holy Roman Emperor. Among the German-speaking states, the Holy Roman Empire administrative and legal mechanisms provided a venue to resolve disputes between peasants and landlords, and between and within separate jurisdictions. Through the organization of imperial circles (Reichskreise), groups of states consolidated resources and promoted regional and organizational interests, including economic cooperation and military protection.

The War of the Second Coalition (1799–1802) resulted in the defeat of the imperial and allied forces by Napoleon Bonaparte; the treaties of Luneville (1801) and Amiens (1802) and the Mediatization of 1803 transferred large portions of the Holy Roman Empire to the dynastic states; secularized ecclesiastical territories and most of the imperial cities disappeared from the political and legal landscape and the populations living in these territories acquired new allegiances to dukes and kings. This transfer particularly enhanced the territories of Württemberg and Badenmarker. In 1806, after a successful invasion of Prussia and the defeat of Prussia and Russia at the joint battles of Jena-Auerstedt, Napoleon dictated the Treaty of Pressburg, in which the Emperor dissolved the Holy Roman Empire.

Rise of German nationalism under the Napoleonic System

Coat of arms of the German Confederation, also called Deutscher Bund

Under the French Empire (1804–1814), popular German nationalism thrived in the reorganized German states. Due in part to the shared experience (albeit under French hegemony), various justifications emerged to identify "Germany" as a single state. For the German philosopher Johann Fichte,

The first, original, and truly natural boundaries of states are beyond doubt their internal boundaries. Those who speak the same language are joined to each other by a multitude of invisible bonds by nature herself, long before any human art begins; they understand each other and have the power of continuing to make themselves understood more and more clearly; they belong together and are by nature one and an inseparable whole.

A common language may serve as the basis of a nation, but, as contemporary historians of nineteenth century Germany have noted, it took more than linguistic similarity to unify several hundred polities. The experience of German-speaking Central Europe during the years of French hegemony contributed to a sense of common cause to remove the French invaders and reassert control over their own lands. The exigencies of Napoleon's campaigns in Poland (1806–07), the Iberian Peninsula, western Germany, and his disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812 disillusioned many Germans, princes and peasants alike. Napoleon's Continental System led to the near ruin of the Central European economy. The invasion of Russia included nearly 125,000 troops from German lands, and the loss of that army encouraged many Germans, both high- and low-born, to envision a Central Europe free of Napoleon's influence. The creation of such student militias as the Lützow Free Corps exemplified this tendency.
The débâcle in Russia loosened the French grip on the German princes. In 1813, Napoleon mounted a campaign in the German states to bring them back into the French orbit; the subsequent War of Liberation culminated in the great battle of Leipzigmarker, also known as the Battle of Nationsmarker. Over 500,000 combatants engaged in ferocious fighting over three days, making it the largest European land-battle of the nineteenth century. The engagement resulted in a decisive victory for the Coalition of Austria, Russia, Prussia, Sweden and Saxony, and it ended French power east of the Rhine. Success encouraged the Coalition forces to pursue Napoleon across the Rhine; his army and his government collapsed, and the victorious Coalition incarcerated Napoleon on Elbamarker. During the brief Napoleonic restoration known as the 100 Days of 1815, forces of the Seventh Coalition, including an Anglo-Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington and a Prussian army under the command of Gebhard von Blücher were victorious at Waterloomarker (18 June 1815). The critical role played by Blücher's troops, especially after having to retreat from the field at Ligny the day before, helped to turn the tide of combat against the French. The Prussian cavalry pursued the defeated French in the evening of 18 June, sealing the allied victory. From the German perspective, the actions of Blücher's troops at Waterloo, and the combined efforts at Leipzig, offered a rallying point of pride and enthusiasm. This interpretation became a key building block of the Borussian myth expounded by the pro-Prussian nationalist historians later in the nineteenth century.

Reorganization of Central Europe and the rise of German dualism

After Napoleon's defeat, the Congress of Vienna established a new European political-diplomatic system based on the balance of power. This system reorganized Europe into spheres of influence which, in some cases, suppressed the aspirations of the various nationalities, including the Germans and Italians. Generally, an enlarged Prussia and the 38 other states consolidated from the mediatized territories of 1803 were confederated within the Austrian Empiremarker's sphere of influence. The Congress established a loose German Confederationmarker (1815–1866), headed by Austria, with a "Federal Diet" (called the Bundestag or Bundesversammlung, an assembly of appointed leaders) which met in the city of Frankfurt am Mainmarker. In recognition of the imperial position traditionally held by the Habsburgs, the kings of Austria became the titular presidents of this parliament.

Problems of reorganization

Despite the nomenclature of Diet (Assembly or Parliament), this institution should in no way be construed as a broadly, or popularly, elected group of representatives. Many of the states did not have constitutions, and those that did, such as the Duchy of Badenmarker, based suffrage on strict property requirements which effectively limited suffrage to a small portion of the male population. Furthermore, this impractical solution did not reflect the new status of Prussia in the overall scheme. Although the Prussian army had been dramatically defeated in the 1806 battle of Jena-Auerstedt, it had made a spectacular come-back at Waterloo. Consequently, Prussian leaders expected to play a pivotal role in German politics.
Boundaries of the German Confederation.
Prussia is blue, Austria yellow, and the rest grey.

The surge of German nationalism, stimulated by the experience of Germans in the Napoleonic period and initially allied with liberalism, shifted political, social and cultural relationships within the German states. In this context, one can detect its roots in the experience of Germans in the Napoleonic period. The Burschenschaft student organizations and popular demonstrations such as those held at Wartburgmarker Castle in October 1817 contributed to a growing sense of unity among German speakers of Central Europe. Furthermore, implicit and sometimes explicit promises made during the War of Liberation engendered an expectation of popular sovereignty and wide spread participation in the political process, promises which largely went unfulfilled once peace had been achieved. Agitation by student organizations led such conservative leaders as Klemens Wenzel, Prince von Metternich, to fear the rise of national sentiment; the assassination of German dramatist August von Kotzebue in March 1819 by a radical student seeking unification was followed on 20 September 1819 by the proclamation of the Carlsbad Decrees, which hampered intellectual leadership of the nationalist movement. Metternich was able to harness conservative outrage at the assassination to consolidate legislation that would further limit the press and constrain the rising liberal and nationalist movements. Consequently, these decrees drove the Burschenschaften underground, restricted the publication of nationalist materials, expanded censorship of the press and private correspondence, and limited academic speech by prohibiting university professors from encouraging nationalist discussion. The decrees were the subject of Johann Joseph von Görres' pamphlet Teutschland [archaic: Deutschland] und die Revolution (Germany and the Revolution) (1820), in which he concluded that it was both impossible and undesirable to repress the free utterance of public opinion by reactionary measures.

Economic collaboration: the customs union

Another institution key to unifying the German states, the Zollverein, helped to create a larger sense of economic connectedness. Initially conceived by the Prussian Finance Minister Hans, Count von Bülow, as a Prussian customs union in 1818, the Zollverein linked the many Prussian and Hohenzollern territories. Over the ensuing thirty years (and more) other German states joined. The Union helped to reduce protectionist barriers between the German states, especially improving the transport of raw materials and finished goods, making it both easier to move goods across territorial borders, and less costly to buy, transport and sell raw materials. This was particularly important for the emerging industrial centers, most of which were located in the Rhineland, the Saarmarker, and the Ruhrmarker valleys.

Roads and railroads

In the early nineteenth century, German roads had deteriorated to an appalling extent. Travelers, both foreign and local, complained bitterly about the state of the Heerstraßen, the military roads previously maintained for the ease of moving troops. As German states ceased to be a military crossroads, however, the roads improved; the length of hard–surfaced roads in Prussia increased from in 1816 to in 1852, helped in part by the invention of asphalt, then called macadam. By 1835, Heinrich von Gagern wrote that roads were the "veins and arteries of the body politic ..." and predicted that they would promote freedom, independence and prosperity. As people moved around, they came into contact with others, on trains, at hotels, in restaurants, and, for some, at fashionable resorts such as the spa in Baden-Badenmarker. Water transportation also improved. The blockades on the Rhine had been removed by Napoleon's orders, but by the 1820s, steam engines freed riverboats from the cumbersome system of men and animals that towed them upstream. By 1846, 180 steamers plied German rivers and Lake Constancemarker and a network of canals extended from the Danube, the Weser and the Elbe rivers.
As important as these improvements were, they could not compete with the impact of the railroads. German economist Friedrich List called the railroads and the Customs Union "Siamese Twins", emphasizing their important relationship to one another. He was not alone: the poet August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote a poem in which he extolled the virtues of the Zollverein, which he began with a list of commodities that had contributed more to German unity than politics or diplomacy. Historians of the Second Empiremarker later regarded the railways as the first indicator of a unified state; the patriotic novelist, Wilhelm Raabe, wrote: "The German empire was founded with the construction of the first railway ..." Not everyone greeted the iron monster with enthusiasm. The Prussian king Frederick William III saw no advantage in traveling from Berlinmarker to Potsdammarker a few hours faster and Metternich refused to ride in one at all. Others wondered if the railways were an "evil" that threatened the landscape: Nikolaus Lenau's 1838 poem An den Frühling (To Spring) bemoaned the way trains destroyed the pristine quietude of German forests.

The Bavarian Ludwig Railway, which was the first passenger or freight rail line in the German lands, connected Nurembergmarker and Fürthmarker in 1835; it was long, and operated only in daylight, but it proved both profitable and popular. Within three years, of track had been laid; by 1840, and by 1860, . Lacking a geographically central organizing feature (such as a national capital), the rails were laid in webs, linking towns and markets within regions, regions within larger regions, and so on. As the rail network expanded, it became cheaper to transport goods: in 1840, 18 Pfennigs per ton per kilometer and in 1870, five Pfennigs. The effects of the railway were immediate. For example, raw materials could travel up and down the Ruhr Valley, without having to unload and reload. Railway lines encouraged economic activity by creating demand for commodities and by facilitating commerce. In 1850, inland shipping carried three times more freight than railroads; by 1870, the situation was reversed, and railroads carried four times more. Railroads also changed how cities looked, how people traveled, and their impact reached throughout the social order: from the highest born to the lowest, the rails influenced everyone. Although some of the far-flung provinces were not connected to the rail system until the 1890s, by mid-century, certainly by 1865, the majority of population, manufacturing and production centers had been linked by rail.
This drawing offered a satirical commentary on the prevalence of toll barriers in the many German states, circa 1834.
Some states were so small that transporters loaded and reloaded their cargoes two and three times a day.

Geography, patriotism and language

As travel became easier, faster, and less expensive, Germans started to see unity in factors other than their language. The Brothers Grimm, who compiled a massive dictionary known as The Grimm, also assembled a compendium of folk tales and fables, that highlighted the story-telling parallels between different regions. Karl Baedeker wrote guidebooks to different cities and regions of Central Europe, indicating places to stay, sites to visit, and giving a short history of castles, battlefields, famous buildings, and famous people. His guides also included distances, roads to avoid, and hiking paths to follow.

The words of August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben expressed not only the linguistic unity of the German people, but their geographic unity as well. In Deutschland Deutschland über Alles, officially called Das Lied der Deutschen (The Song of the Germans), Fallersleben called upon sovereigns throughout the German states to recognize the unifying characteristics of the German people. Such other patriotic songs as Die Wacht am Rhein (The Watch on the Rhine) by Max Schneckenburger began to focus attention on geographic space, not limiting "German-ness" to a common language. Schneckenburger wrote The Watch on the Rhine in a specific patriotic response to French assertions that the Rhine was France's "natural" eastern boundary. In the refrain, Dear Fatherland, Dear Fatherland, put your mind to Rest/The Watch stands true on the Rhine, and such other patriotic poetry as Nicholaus Becker's Das Rheinlied (the Song of the Rhine) called upon Germans to defend their territorial homeland. In 1807, Alexander Humboldt argued that national character reflected geographic influence, linking landscape to peoples. Concurrent with this idea, movements to preserve old fortresses and historic sites emerged, and these particularly focused on the Rhineland, the site of so many confrontations with France and Spain.

Vormärz and nineteenth century liberalism

The period of Austrian and Prussian police-states and vast censorship before the Revolutions of 1848 in Germany later became widely known as the Vormärz, the "before March," referring to March 1848. During this period, European liberalism gained momentum; the agenda included economic, social, and political issues. Most European liberals in the Vormärz sought unification under nationalist principles, promoted the transition to capitalism, sought the expansion of male suffrage, among other issues. Their "radicalness" depended upon where they stood on the spectrum of male suffrage: the wider the definition of suffrage, the more radical.

Hambach Festival: liberal nationalism and conservative response

Pro-nationalist participants march to the ruins of Hambach Castle in 1832.
Students and some professionals, and their spouses, predominated.
They carried the flag of the underground Burschenschaft, which later became the basis of the flag of modern Germany
1982 postage stamp honoring the 150th anniversary of Hambach Fest
Despite considerable conservative reaction, ideas of unity joined with notions of popular sovereignty in German-speaking lands. The Hambach Festival in May 1832 was attended by a crowd of more than 30,000. Promoted as a county fair, its participants celebrated fraternity, liberty, and national unity. Celebrants gathered in the town below and marched to the ruins of Hambach Castlemarker on the heights above the small town of Hambach, in the Palatinate province of Bavaria. Carrying flags, beating drums, and singing, the participants took the better part of the morning and mid-day to arrive at the castle grounds, where they listened to speeches by nationalist orators from across the conservative to radical political spectrum. The overall content of the speeches suggested a fundamental difference between the German nationalism of the 1830s and the French nationalism of the July Revolution: the focus of German nationalism lay in the education of the people; once the populace was educated as to what was needed, they would accomplish it. The Hambach rhetoric emphasized the overall peaceable nature of German nationalism: the point was not to build barricades, a very "French" form of nationalism, but to build emotional bridges between groups.

As he had done in 1819, after the Kotzebue assassination, Metternich used the popular demonstration at Hambach to push conservative social policy. The "Six Articles" of 28 June 1832, primarily reaffirmed the principle of monarchical authority. On 5 July, the Frankfurt Diet voted for an additional 10 articles, which reiterated existing rules on censorship, restricted political organizations, and limited other public activity. Furthermore, the member states agreed to send military assistance to any government threatened by unrest. Prince Wrede led half of the Bavarian army to the Palatinate to "subdue" the province. Several hapless Hambach speakers were arrested, tried and imprisoned; one, Karl Heinrich Brüggemann (1810–1887), a law student and representative of the secretive Burschenschaft, was sent to Prussia, where he was first condemned to death, but later pardoned.

Liberalism and the response to economic problems

Several other factors complicated the rise of nationalism in the German states. The man-made factors included political rivalries between members of the German confederation, particularly between the Austrians and the Prussians, and socio-economic competition among the commercial and merchant interests and the old land-owning and aristocratic interests. Natural factors included widespread drought in the early 1830s, and again in the 1840s, and a food crisis in the 1840s. Further complications emerged as a result of a shift in industrialization and manufacturing; as people sought jobs, they left their villages and small towns to work during the week in the cities, returning for a day and a half on weekends.
The economic, social and cultural dislocation of ordinary people, the economic hardship of an economy in transition, and the pressures of meteorological disasters all contributed to growing problems in Central Europe. The failure of most of the governments to deal with the food crisis of the mid-1840s, caused by the potato blight (related to the Great Irish Famine) and several seasons of bad weather, encouraged many to think that the rich and powerful had no interest in their problems. Those in authority were concerned about the growing unrest, political and social agitation among the working classes, and the disaffection of the intelligentsia. No amount of censorship, fines, imprisonment, or banishment, it seemed, could stem the criticism. Furthermore, it was becoming increasingly clear that both Austria and Prussia wanted to be the leaders in any resulting unification; each would inhibit the drive of the other to achieve unification.

First efforts at unification

Crucially, both the Wartburg rally in 1817 and the Hambach Festival in 1832 had lacked any clear-cut program of unification. At Hambach, the positions of the many speakers illustrated their disparate agendas. Held together only by the idea of unification, their notions of how to achieve this did not include specific plans, but rested on the nebulous idea that the Volk (the people), if properly educated, would bring about unification on their own. Grand speeches, flags, exuberant students, and picnic lunches did not translate into a new political, bureaucratic and administrative apparatus; no constitution miraculously appeared, although there was indeed plenty of talk of constitutions. In 1848, nationalists sought to remedy that problem.

German revolutions of 1848 and the Frankfurt Parliament

The widespread German revolutions of 1848–1849 targeted unification and a single German constitution. The revolutionaries pressured various state governments, particularly strong in the Rhineland, for a parliamentary assembly which would have the responsibility to draft constitution. Ultimately, many of the left-wing revolutionaries hoped this constitution would establish universal male suffrage, a permanent national parliament, and a unified Germany, possibly under the leadership of the Prussian king, who appeared to be the most logical candidate: Prussia was the largest state in size, and also the strongest. Generally, revolutionaries to the right-of-center sought some kind of expanded suffrage within their states and, potentially, a form of loose unification. Their pressure resulted in a variety of elections, based on different voting qualifications, such as the Prussian three-class franchise, which granted to some electoral groups, chiefly the wealthier, landed ones, greater representative power.

In April 1849, the Frankfurt Parliament offered the title of Kaiser (Emperor) to the Prussian king, Frederick William IV. He refused for a variety of reasons. Publicly, he replied that he could not accept a crown without the consent of the actual states, by which he meant the princes. Privately, he feared the opposition of the other German princes and the military intervention of Austria and Russia; he also held a fundamental distaste for the idea of accepting a crown from a popularly elected parliament: he could not accept a crown of "clay," he said. Despite franchise requirements that often perpetuated many of the problems of sovereignty and political participation liberals sought to overcome, the Frankfurt Parliament did manage to draft a constitution, and reach agreement on the kleindeutsch solution. The Frankfurt Parliament ended in partial failure: while the liberals did not achieve the unification they sought, they did manage to work through many constitutional issues and collaborative reforms with the German princes.

1848 and the Frankfurt Parliament in retrospective analysis

The successes and failures of the Frankfurt Parliament have occasioned decades of debate among historians of the German past and contribute to the historiographical explanations of German nation building. One school of thought, which emerged after 1918 and gained momentum in the aftermath of World War II, maintained that the so-called failure of the German liberals in the Frankfurt Parliament led to the bourgeoisie's compromise with the conservatives, especially conservative Prussian landholders (Junkers), and subsequently, to Germany's so-called Sonderweg (distinctive path) in the twentieth century. Failure to achieve unification in 1848, this argument holds, resulted in the late formation of the nation-state in 1871, which in turn delayed the development of positive national values. Furthermore, this argument maintains, the "failure" of 1848 reaffirmed latent aristocratic longings among the German middle class; consequently, this group never developed a self-conscious program of modernization.

More recent scholarship has opposed this idea, claiming that Germany did not have an actual Sonderweg, any more than any nation's history takes its own distinctive path, an historiographic idea known as exceptionalism. Instead, this new group of historians claims 1848 marked specific achievements by the liberal politicians; many of their ideas and programs later were incorporated into Bismarck's social programs (for example, social insurance, education programs, and wider definitions of suffrage). In addition, the notion of a unique path relies upon the fact that some other nation's path (in this case, Britain's) is the accepted norm. This new argument further challenges the norms of the British model, and recent studies of national development in Britain and other "normal" states (for example, France and the United States) have suggested that even in these states, the modern nation did not develop evenly, or particularly early, but was largely a mid-to-late-nineteenth-century proposition. By the end of the 1990s, this latter view became the accepted view, although some historians still find the Sonderweg analysis helpful in understanding the period of National Socialism.

Problem of spheres of influence: The Erfurt Union and the Punctation of Olmütz

After the Frankfurt Parliament disbanded, Frederick William IV, under the influence of General Joseph Maria von Radowitz, supported the establishment of the Erfurt Union, a federation of German states, excluding Austria, by the free agreement of the German princes. This limited union under Prussia would have almost entirely eliminated the Austrian influence among the other German states. Combined diplomatic pressure from Austria and from Russia (a guarantor of the 1815 agreements that established European spheres of influence) forced Prussia to relinquish the idea of the Erfurt Union at a meeting in the small town of Olmützmarker in Moravia. In November 1850 the Prussians, specifically Radowitz and Frederick William, agreed to the restoration of the German Confederation under Austrian leadership. This became known as the Punctation of Olmütz, also known to the Prussians as the "Humiliation of Olmütz."

Although seemingly minor events, the Erfurt Union proposal and the Punctation of Olmütz bring the problems of influence in the German states into sharp focus. The question of unification became not a matter of if, but when, and when was contingent upon strength. One of the former Frankfurt Parliament members, Johann Gustav Droysen, summed up the problem succinctly:

We cannot conceal the fact that the whole German question is a simple alternative between Prussia and Austria. In these states, German life has its positive and negative poles – in the former, all the interests which are national and reformative, in the latter, all that are dynastic and destructive. The German question is not a constitutional question, but a question of power; and the Prussian monarchy is now wholly German, while that of Austria cannot be.

Unification under these conditions raised a basic diplomatic problem. The possibility of German unification (and indeed Italian unification) challenged the fundamental precepts of balance laid out in 1815; unification of these groups of states would overturn the principles of overlapping spheres of influence. Metternich, Castlereagh and Tsar Alexander (and his foreign secretary Count Karl Nesselrode), the principal architects of this convention, had conceived of and organized a Europe (and indeed a world) balanced by and guaranteed by four powers: Great Britain, France, Russia, and Austria. Each power had its geographic sphere of influence; for France, this sphere included the Iberian peninsula and shared influence in the Italian states; for the Russians, the eastern regions of Central Europe, and balancing influence in the Balkans; for the Austrians, this sphere included much of the Central European territories of the old Reich (Holy Roman Empire); and for the British, the rest of the world, especially the seas.

The system of spheres of influence in Europe depended upon the fragmentation of the German and Italian states, not their consolidation. Consequently, a German nation united under one banner presented significant questions: Who were the Germans? Where was Germany?, but also, Who was in charge?, and, importantly, Who could best defend "Germany", whoever, whatever, and wherever it was? Different groups offered different solutions to this problem. In the Kleindeutschland (little, or "lesser," Germany) solution, the German states would be united under the leadership of Prussia; in the Grossdeutschland (Greater Germany) solution, the German states would be united under the leadership of the Austrian state. This controversy, called dualism, dominated Prusso-Austrian diplomacy, and the politics of the German states, for the next twenty years.

Prussia's growing strength: Realpolitik

By 1859, Wilhelm had become regent for his ailing brother Frederick William IV; Helmuth von Moltke the Elder held the position of chief of the Prussian General Staff and Albrecht von Roon, that of the Prussian Minister of War. Von Roon and Wilhelm (who took an active interest in such things) reorganized the Prussian army and Moltke redesigned the strategic defense of Prussia, streamlining operational command. Army reforms (and how to pay for them) caused a constitutional crisis in Prussia. Problematically, both parliament and the king, via his minister of war, wanted control over the military budget. Wilhelm, by 1862 now King Wilhelm I, appointed Otto von Bismarck as Minister-President of Prussia; Bismarck resolved the crisis in favor of the war minister.
The Crimean War of 1854–55 and the Italian War of 1859 disrupted relations among Great Britain, France, Austria and Russia. In the aftermath of this disarray, the convergence of von Moltke's operational redesign, von Roon and Wilhelm's restructuring of the army, and Bismarck's diplomacy influenced the restructuring of the European balance of power. Their combined agendas established Prussia as the leading German power through a combination of foreign diplomatic triumphs, backed up by the possible use of Prussian military might, and internal conservativism tempered with pragmatism: Realpolitik.

Bismarck expressed the essence of Realpolitik in his subsequently famous "Blood and Iron" speech to the Budget Committee of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies on 30 September 1862, shortly after he became Minister President: "The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions—that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849—but by iron and blood." Bismarck's words, "iron and blood" (or "blood and iron," as often attributed), have been variously misquoted or misappropriated as evidence of German lust for blood and power. First, his speech, and the phrase, "the great questions of time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions," is often interpreted as a repudiation of the political process, a repudiation that Bismarck did not himself advocate. Second, his emphasis on blood and iron did not imply simply the unrivaled military might of the Prussian army, but rather two important aspects: first, the ability of the assorted German states to produce the iron (and the related war materials) and second, the willingness to use them if, and when, necessary.

Founding a unified state

The need for both iron and blood soon became apparent. By 1862, when Bismarck made his speech, the idea of a German nation-state in the peaceful spirit of Pan-Germanism had shifted from the liberal and democratic character of 1848 to accommodate Bismarck's Realpolitik. Ever the pragmatist, Bismarck understood the possibilities, obstacles, and advantages of a unified state, and the importance of linking that state to the Hohenzollern dynasty, and the latter remains, for some historians, one of Bismarck's primary contributions to the creation of the empire in 1871. The conditions of the treaties binding the various German states to one another prohibited him from unilateral action; the politician and the diplomat in him realized the impracticality of such an action. For the German states to go to war, or, as he suspected would happen, to be forced to declare war together against a single enemy, his diplomatic opponents must declare war on one of the German states first. Historians have long debated Bismarck's role in the events leading up to the Franco-Prussian War. While a traditional view, promulgated in large part by the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries pro-Prussian historians, maintain that Bismarck was the sole mastermind behind this unification, some post-1945 historians criticize Bismarck's cynicism in manipulating circumstances to create a war. Regardless, Bismarck was neither villain nor saint; in manipulating events of 1866 and 1870, he demonstrated the political and diplomatic skills which had caused Wilhelm to turn to him in 1862.

Three episodes proved fundamental to the administrative and political unification of Germany: the irredentist aspirations of Christian IX of Denmark led to the Second War of Schleswig (1864); the opportunity created by Italian nationalist activities on the Austrian border forced Austria to spend its military resources on two fronts in the Austro-Prussian Warmarker (1866); and French fears of Hohenzollern encirclement led it to declare war on Prussia, resulting in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71). Through a combination of Bismarck's diplomacy and political leadership, von Roon's military reorganization, and Moltke's military strategy, Prussia emerged from the period of German dualism as the state that could most credibly represent and protect German interests. Prussia demonstrated to the rest of the German states that none of the European signatories of the 1815 peace treaty could uphold Austrian power in this central European sphere of influence.

Danish irredentism

The first opportunity came with the threat of Danish irredentism. On 18 November 1863, King Christian IX of Denmark signed the Danish November Constitution, and declared the Duchy of Schleswig a part of Denmark. The German Confederationmarker saw this act as a violation of the London Protocol of 1852 which emphasized the status of the kingdom of Denmark as distinct from the independent duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Furthermore, the Schleswig and Holstein populations valued their separate status as well: a large portion of the duchy of Holstein was of German origin and spoke German in everyday life; the population was more mixed in Schleswig, with a sizable Danish minority. Diplomatic attempts to have the November Constitution repealed collapsed and fighting began when Prussian and Austrian troops crossed the border into Schleswig on 1 February 1864. Originally, the Danes attempted to defend their country using the Danewerkmarker, an ancient earthen wall, but it proved indefensible. The Danes were no match for the combined Prussian and Austrian forces and could count on no help from their allies in the other Scandinavian states (Denmark had violated the Protocols). The Second Schleswig War resulted in victory for the combined armies of Prussia and Austria and the two countries won control of Schleswig and Holstein in the concluding peace settlement signed on 30 October 1864 in Vienna.

War between Austria and Prussia, 1866

In 1866, in concert with the newly-formed Italy, Bismarck created a diplomatic environment in which Austria declared war on Prussia. The dramatic prelude to the war occurred largely in Frankfurt where, at the Parliament, the two powers claimed to speak for all the German states. In April 1866, the Prussian representative in Florencemarker signed a secret agreement with the Italians. This committed the two states to assist each other in a war against Austria. The next day, the Prussian delegate to the Frankfurt assembly presented a plan calling for a national constitution and a national Diet created through direct elections and universal suffrage. The knowledge of Bismarck's difficult and ambiguous relationship with the Landtag (State Parliament) in Prussia, sometimes cajoling, sometimes riding roughshod over the representatives, caused justifiable skepticism among German liberals, who saw this proposal as a ploy to enhance Prussian power.

Choosing sides

The debate over the proposed national constitution became moot when news of Italian troop movements in the Tyrol (21 April 1866) and the Venetian border reached Vienna. The Austrian government ordered partial mobilization in the southern regions; the Italians responded by ordering full mobilization. Despite calls for rational thought and action, Italy, Prussia, and Austria continued to rush toward armed conflict. On 1 May, Wilhelm gave Moltke command over his armed forces, and the next day full-scale Prussian mobilization began.
Prussia (dark blue) and its allies (blue) versus Austria (red) and its allies (pink); and Prussia's territorial gains following the war (light blue)

In the Diet, the group of middle-sized states, known as Mittelstaaten (Bavariamarker, Württembergmarker, the grand duchies of Badenmarker and Hessemarker, and the duchies of Saxony–Weimar, Saxony–Meiningen, Saxony–Coburg and Nassaumarker), supported complete demobilization within the Confederation. Their individual governments rejected the enticing mix of promises and a potent combination of threats with which Bismarck sought their support against the Habsburgs. The Prussian war cabinet understood that its only supporters among the German states against the Habsburgs were the grand duchies of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz (small principalities bordering on Brandenburgmarker with little military strength or political clout), and its only supporter abroad was Italy.

Opposition to Prussia's strong-armed tactics surfaced in other social and political groups. City councils throughout the German states, liberal parliamentary members who favored a unified state, and chambers of commerce, which saw great benefit in unification, opposed any war between Prussia and Austria: any such conflict would only serve the dynasties, not their interests, which they understood as "civil," and/or "bourgeois." Public opinion also opposed Prussian domination. Catholic populations along the Rhinemarker river, especially in such cosmopolitan regions as Cologne and in the heavily populated Ruhr valley, continued to side with Austria. By the late spring, most important states opposed Berlin's effort to reorganize the German states by force. The Prussian cabinet saw German unity as a question of power and who had the strength, backed up with the military, to wield it. The liberals in the Frankfurt assembly saw German unity as a process of negotiation, and the distribution of power among the many parties.

Austria isolated

Although several German states initially had sided with Austria, Prussian troops intercepted their soldiers and sent them home and Austria, with support only from Saxonymarker, faced Prussia alone; although France promised support, it came late and was insufficient. Complicating the situation for Austria, the Italian mobilization on the border in the south required their army to fight the Third Italian War of Independence on a second front and on the Adriatic Sea. The day-long Battle of Königgrätz, near the village of Sadovámarker, gave Prussia an uncontested and decisive victory.

Realpolitik and the North German Confederation

Despite French involvement on Austria's side, Wilhelm accepted Napoleon III's assistance as mediator; a quick peace was essential to keep Russia from extending the conflict on Austria's side. Prussia annexed Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, Nassau, and the city of Frankfurtmarker. Hesse Darmstadtmarker lost some territory, but not its sovereignty. The states south of the Mainmarker River (Baden, Württemberg and Bavaria) signed separate treaties requiring them to pay indemnities and to form alliances bringing them into Prussia's sphere of influence. Austria, and most of her allies, were excluded from the North German Confederationmarker.

The end of Austrian dominance of the German states shifted Austria's attention to the Balkans. In 1867, the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph accepted a settlement (the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867) in which he gave his Hungarian holdings equal status with his Austrian domains, creating the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. The Peace of Prague offered lenient terms to Austria, in which Austria's relationship with the new nation-state of Italy underwent major restructuring; although the Austrians were far more successful in the military field against Italian troops, the monarchy lost the important province of Venetia. The Habsburgs ceded Venetia to France, which then formally transferred control to Italy. The French public resented the Prussian victory and demanded Revanche pour Sadová, which contributed to anti-Prussian sentiment in France, a problem that accelerated in the months leading up to the Franco-Prussian War. Austria ceased to dominate the German-speaking lands of Central Europe, and the first sphere of influence established in the 1815 Treaty was irrevocably broken. The reality of defeat for Austria resulted in a rethinking of internal divisions, local autonomy, and liberalism.

The new North German Confederation had its own constitution, flag, and governmental and administrative structures. Prussia, under Bismarck's influence, had overcome Austria's active resistance to the idea of a unified Germany through military victory, but however much this policy lessened Austria's influence over the German states, it also splintered the spirit of pan-German unity: most of the German states resented Prussian power politics.

War with France

By 1870 three of the important lessons of the Austro-Prussian war became immediately apparent: through force of arms, a powerful state could challenge the old alliances and spheres of influence established in 1815. Through diplomatic maneuvering, a skillful leader could create an environment in which a state would have to declare war first, thus forcing states in protective alliances to come to the aid of the so-called victim of external aggression. Finally, Prussian military capacity far exceeded that of Austria, and Prussia was clearly the only state within the Confederation specifically, and among the German states generally, capable of protecting all of them from potential interference or aggression. In 1866, most of the mid-sized German states had opposed Prussia; by 1870, these states had been coerced and coaxed into mutually protective alliances with Prussia. In the event that a European state declared war on one of their members, they all would come to the defense of the attacked state. With skillful manipulation of European affairs, Bismarck created a situation in which France played the role of aggressor in German affairs, and Prussia, that of protector of German rights and liberties.

Spheres of influence fall apart in Iberia

The next chink in the armor created in 1815 at Vienna—and protected and nurtured by Metternich and his conservative allies over the following forty years—appeared in Spain. In 1868, a revolution there had overthrown Queen Isabella II, and the throne had remained empty while Isabella lived in sumptuous exile in Paris. The Spanish, looking for a suitable Catholic successor, had offered this post to three other European princes, each rejected by Napoleon III (as regional power-broker). Finally, in 1870 the Regency offered the crown to Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringenmarker, a prince of the Catholic cadet Hohenzollern line. The ensuing furor has been dubbed by historians as the Hohenzollern candidature.

Over the next few weeks, the Spanish offer turned into the talk of Europe. Bismarck encouraged Leopold to accept the offer. A successful installment of a Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen king in Spain would mean that two countries on either side of France both had German kings of Hohenzollern descent, which may have been a pleasing prospect for Bismarck, but was unacceptable to either Napoleon III or to Agenor, duc de Gramont, his minister of foreign affairs. Gramont wrote a sharply formulated ultimatum to Wilhelm, as head of the Hohenzollern family, stating that if any Hohenzollern prince should accept the crown of Spain, the French government would respond, although he left ambiguous the nature of such response. The prince withdrew as a candidate, thus defusing the crisis, but the French ambassador to Berlin would not let the issue lie. He approached the Prussian king directly while Wilhelm vacationed in Ems Spamarker, demanding the King release a statement saying he would never countenance the installment of a Hohenzollern on the throne of Spain. Wilhelm refused to give such an encompassing statement, and he sent Bismarck a dispatch by telegram describing the French demands. Bismarck used the king's telegram, called the Ems Dispatch, as a template for a short statement to the press. With its wording shortened and sharpened by Bismarck, and further alterations made in the course of translation by the French agency Havas, the so-called Ems Dispatch raised an angry furor in France. The French public, still aggravated over the defeat at Sadová, demanded war.

Military operations

Napoleon III of France developed a strategy similar to that of his uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte: divide and conquer. He hoped that Austria would join in a war of revenge, and that her former allies, particularly the south German states of Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria, would join in the cause, but the 1866 treaty came into effect: all German states united militarily, if not necessarily happily, to fight France. Instead of a war of revenge against Prussia, supported by various German allies, France engaged in a war against the German states, supported by no one. The reorganization of the military by Roon and the operational strategy of Moltke combined against France to successful effect. The speed of Prussian mobilization astonished the French, and the Prussian ability to concentrate power at specific points, reminiscent of Napoleon's strategies seventy years earlier, overwhelmed French mobilization. Utilizing the efficiently laid rail grid, Prussian troops were delivered to battle areas rested and prepared to fight. French troops had to march for miles to reach combat zones. After several battles, notably Spicheren, Wörth, Mars la Tourmarker, and Gravelotte, the Germans defeated the main French armies and advanced on the primary city of Metzmarker, and the French capital, Paris. They captured the French emperor, and took an entire army as prisoners at Sedanmarker on 1 September 1870.

Proclamation of the German Empire

The humiliating capture of the French Emperor, and the loss of the French army itself, which marched into captivity at a makeshift camp in the Saarland ("Camp Misery," the French called it), threw the French government into turmoil; Napoleon's energetic opponents overthrew his government and proclaimed the Third Republic. The German High Command expected an overture of peace from the French, but the new republic refused to negotiate. The Prussian army invested the capital Paris, and held it under siege until mid-January, with the city being "ineffectually bombarded." On 18 January 1871, the German princes and senior military commanders proclaimed Wilhelm "German Emperor" in the Hall of Mirrorsmarker of the Palace of Versaillesmarker. Die Reichsgründung 1871  (The Foundation of the Empire, 1871), Lebendiges virtuelles Museum Online, accessed 2008-12-22. German text translated: [...] on the wishes of Wilhelm I, on the 170th anniversary of the elevation of the House of Brandenburg to princely status on 18 January 1701, the assembled German princes and high military officials proclaimed Wilhelm I as German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at the Versailles Palace. Under the subsequent Treaty of Frankfurt, France relinquished most of its traditionally German regions (Alsacemarker and the German-speaking part of Lorraine); paid an indemnity, calculated on the basis of population, as the precise equivalent of the indemnity which Napoleon Bonaparte imposed on Prussia in 1807; and accepted German administration of Paris and most of northern France with "German troops to be withdrawn stage by stage with each installment" of the indemnity payment.

Importance in the unification process

Victory in the Franco-Prussian War proved the capstone of the nationalist issue. In the first half of the 1860s, Austria and Prussia both contended to speak for the German states; both maintained they could support German interests abroad, and protect German interests at home. In responding to Danish irredentism, they both proved equally diligent in doing so. In 1866, however, Austria demonstrated its inability to focus on the affairs of the German states while she contested southern borders with Italy. After the victory over Austria, Prussia could assert her authority to speak for the German states and defend German interests, at least internally; Austria, on the other hand, directed more and more of her attention to possessions in the Balkans. The victory over France in 1871 confirmed Prussia as the dominant player in a unified German state. With the proclamation of Wilhelm as Kaiser, Prussia assumed the leadership of the new empire. The southern states became officially incorporated into a unified Germany at the Treaty of Versailles of 1871 (26 February 1871; later ratified in the Treaty of Frankfurt of 10 May 1871), which formally ended the War. Although Bismarck had led the transformation of Germany from a loose confederation into a federal nation state, he had not done it alone. Unification occurred by building on a tradition of legal collaboration under the Holy Roman Empire and economic collaboration through the Zollverein. The difficulties of the Vormärz, the impact of the 1848 liberals, the importance of Roon's military reorganization, and Moltke's strategic brilliance, all played a part in political unification.

Political and administrative unification

The new German Empire included 25 states, three of them Hanseatic cities. It realized the Kleindeutsche Lösung, ("Lesser German Solution", with the exclusion of Austria), as opposed to a Großdeutsche Lösung or "Greater German Solution", which would have included Austria. Unifying various states into one nation required more than some military victories, however much these might have boosted morale. It also required a rethinking of political, social and cultural behaviors, and the construction of new metaphors about "us" and "them." Who were the new members of this new nation? What did they stand for? How were they to be organized?

Constituent states of the Empire

Though often characterized as a federation of monarchs, the German Empire, strictly speaking, federated a group of states.

Member states of the German Empire (peach), with Kingdom of Prussia shown in blue.

Political structure of the Empire

The 1866 North German Constitution became (with some semantic adjustments) the 1871 Constitution of the German Empire. With this constitution, the new Germany acquired some democratic features: notably the Imperial Diet, which—in contrast to the parliament of Prussia—gave citizens representation on the basis of elections by direct and equal suffrage of all males who had attained the age of 25. Furthermore, elections were generally free of chicanery, engendering pride in the national parliament. However, legislation required the consent of the Bundesrat, the federal council of deputies from the states, in which, and over which Prussia had a powerful influence. Prussia thus exercised influence in both bodies, and with executive power vested in the Prussian King as Kaiser, who appointed the federal chancellor. The chancellor was accountable solely to, and served entirely at the discretion of, the Emperor. Officially, the chancellor functioned as a one-man cabinet and was responsible for the conduct of all state affairs; in practice, the State Secretaries (bureaucratic top officials in charge of such fields as finance, war, foreign affairs, etc.) acted as unofficial portfolio ministers. With the exception of the years 1872–1873 and 1892–1894, the imperial chancellor was always simultaneously the prime minister of the imperial dynasty's hegemonic home-kingdom, Prussia. The Imperial Diet had the power to pass, amend or reject bills, but could not initiate legislation. (The power of initiating legislation rested with the chancellor.) The other states retained their own governments, but the military forces of the smaller states came under Prussian control. The militaries of the larger states (such as the Kingdoms of Bavaria and Saxonymarker) underwent reform to coordinate with Prussian military principles, with the federal government controlling them.

Historical arguments and the Empire's social anatomy

The Sonderweg hypothesis attributed Germany's difficult twentieth century to the weak political, legal, and economic basis of the new Empire. The Prussian landed elites, the Junkers, retained a substantial share of political power in the unified state. The Sonderweg hypothesis attributed their power to the absence of a revolutionary breakthrough by the middle classes, or by peasants in combination with the urban workers, in 1848 and again in 1871. Recent research into the role of the Grand Bourgeoisie in the construction of the new state has largely refuted the claim of political and economic dominance of the Junkers as a social group. This newer scholarship has demonstrated the importance of the merchant classes of the Hanseatic cities and the industrial leadership (the latter particularly important in the Rhineland) in the ongoing development of the Second Empire.

Additional studies of different groups in Wilhelmine Germany have all contributed to a new view of the period. Although the Junkers did, indeed, continue to control the officer corps, they did not dominate social, political and economic matters as much as the Sonderweg theorists had hypothesized. Eastern Junker power had a counterweight in the western provinces in the form of the Grand Bourgeoisie—which included bankers, merchants, and industrialists, and entrepreneurs—and in the growing professional class of bureaucrats, teachers, professors, doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc. Consequently, while the Sonderweg thesis may still be useful to explain Germany's experience with National Socialism, it no longer dominates studies of Central Europe in the nineteenth century. Instead, scholars have begun to describe how such conservative social policies as Bismarck's absorbed or appropriated many of the elements of the liberal revolutionaries of the 1840s and socialists in the 1860s and later: imperial policy reflected a cautious but pragmatic approach to social, political, and economic problems. In particular, Bismarck's predominantly conservative values echoed the classical conservatism of Edmund Burke: the belief that specific members of society are inherently better prepared and better qualified to lead, and that these individuals often come from the strata of the landed elite and moneyed interests.

Beyond the political mechanism: forming a nation

If the Wartburg and Hambach rallies had lacked a constitution and administrative apparatus, that problem was addressed in between 1867 and 1871. Yet, as Germans discovered, grand speeches, flags, and enthusiastic crowds and a constitution, a political reorganization, and the provision of an imperial superstructure, and the revised Customs Union of 1867–68, still did not make a nation.
A key element of the nation-state is the creation of a national culture, frequently—although not necessarily—through deliberate national policy. In the new German nation, the Kulturkampf (1872–78) that followed political, economic, and administrative unification attempted to address, with a remarkable lack of success, some of the contradictions in German society. In particular, it involved a struggle over language, education, and religion. A policy of Germanization of non-German people of the empire's population, including the Polish and Danish minorities, started with language, in particular, the German language, compulsory schooling (Germanization), and the attempted creation of standardized curricula for those schools to promote and celebrate the idea of a shared past. Finally, it extended to the religion of the new Empire's population.


For some Germans, the definition of nation did include pluralism, and Catholics in particular came under scrutiny; some Germans, and especially Bismarck, feared that the Catholics' connection to the papacy might make them less loyal to the nation. As chancellor, Bismarck tried without much success to limit the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and of its party-political arm, the Catholic Center Party, in schools and education and language-related policies. The Catholic Center Party remained particularly well entrenched in the Catholic strongholds of Bavaria and southern Baden, and in urban areas that held high populations of displaced rural workers seeking jobs in the heavy industry, and sought to protect the rights not only of Catholics, but other minorities, including the Poles, and the French minorities in the Alsatian lands. The May Laws of 1873 brought the appointment of priests, and their education, under the control of the state, resulting in the closure of many seminaries, and a shortage of priests. The Congregations Law of 1875 abolished religious orders, ended state subsidies to the Catholic Church, and removed religious protections from the Prussian constitution.

Integrating the Jewish community

The Germanized Jews remained another vulnerable population in the new German nation-state. Since 1780, after emancipation by the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, Jews in the former Habsburg territories had enjoyed considerable economic and legal privileges that their counterparts in other German-speaking territories did not: they could own land, for example, and did not have to live in the Jewish quarter (also called the Judengasse, or "Jews' alley"). They could also attend university and enter the professions. During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, many of the previously strong barriers between Jews and Christians broke down. Napoleon had ordered the emancipation of Jews throughout territories under French hegemony. Wealthy Jews, like their French counterparts, sponsored salons; in particular, several Jewish salonnières held important gatherings in Frankfurt and Berlin, in which German intellectuals developed their own form of republican intellectualism. Throughout the subsequent decades, beginning almost immediately after the defeat of the French, reaction against the mixing of Jews and Christians limited the intellectual impact of these salons. Beyond the salons, Jews continued a process of Germanization in which they intentionally adopted German modes of dress and speech, and worked to insert themselves into the emerging nineteenth century German public sphere. The religious reform movement among German Jews reflected this effort.

By the years of unification, German Jews played an important role in the intellectual underpinnings of the German professional, intellectual and social life. The expulsion of Jews from Russia in the 1880s and 1890s complicated integration into the German public sphere. Such Jews arrived in north German cities in the thousands; considerably less well-educated and less affluent, their often dismal poverty dismayed many of the Germanized Jews; many of the problems related to poverty (such as illness, overcrowded housing, unemployment, school absenteeism, refusal to learn German, etc.) emphasized their distinctiveness for not only the Christian Germans, but for the indigenous Jewish populations as well.

Writing the story of the nation

Another important element in nation-building, the story of the heroic past, fell to such nationalist German historians as the liberal constitutionalist Friedrich Dahlmann (1785–1860), his conservative student, Heinrich von Treitschke (1834–1896), and others less conservative, such as Theodor Mommsen (1817–1903), and Heinrich von Sybel (1817–1895), to name two. Dahlmann himself died before unification, but he laid the groundwork for the nationalist histories to come through his histories of the English and French revolutions, by casting these revolutions as fundamental to the construction of a nation, and Dahlmann himself viewed Prussia as the logical agent of unification.
Heinrich von Treitschke's History of Germany in the Nineteenth Century, published in 1879, has perhaps a misleading title: it privileges the history of Prussia over the history of other German states, and it tells the story of the German-speaking peoples through the guise of Prussia's destiny to unite all German states under its leadership. The creation of this Borussian myth (Borussia is the Latin name for Prussia) established Prussia as Germany's savior; it was the destiny of all Germans to be united, this myth maintains, and it was Prussia's destiny to accomplish this. According to this story, Prussia played the dominant role in bringing the German states together as a nation-state; only Prussia could protect German liberties from being crushed by French or Russian influence. The story continues by drawing on Prussia's role in saving Germans from the resurgence of Napoleon's power in 1814, at Waterloo, creating some semblance of economic unity, and uniting Germans under one proud flag after 1871. It is the role of the nationalist historian to write the history of the nation; this means viewing that nation's past with the goal of a nationalist history in mind. The process of writing history, or histories, is a process of remembering and forgetting: of selecting certain elements to be remembered, that is, emphasized, and ignoring, or forgetting, other elements and events.

Mommsen's contributions to the Monumenta Germaniae Historica laid the groundwork for additional scholarship on the study of the German nation, expanding the notion of "Germany" to mean other areas beyond Prussia. A liberal professor, historian, and theologian, and generally a titan among late nineteenth-century scholars, Mommsen served as a delegate to the Prussian House of Representatives from 1863–1866 and again from 1873–1879, and as a delegate to the Reichstag from 1881–1884, for the liberal German Progress Party (Deutsche Fortschrittspartei), later for the National Liberal Party. He opposed the antisemitic programs of Bismarck's Kulturkampf, and indeed the vitriolic text that Treitschke often employed, and, with the publication of his Studien über die Judenfrage (Studies of the Jewish Question), encouraged assimilation and Germanization of Jews.

See also


  1. See, for example, James Allen Vann, The Swabian Kreis: Institutional Growth in the Holy Roman Empire 1648–1715. Vol. LII, Studies Presented to International Commission for the History of Representative and Parliamentary Institutions. Bruxelles, 1975. Mack Walker. German home towns: community, state, and general estate, 1648–1871. Ithaca, 1998.
  2. Robert A. Kann. History of the Habsburg Empire: 1526–1918,Los Angeles, 1974, p. 221. In his abdication, Francis released all former estates from their duties and obligations to him, and took upon himself solely the title of King of Austria, which had been established since 1804. Golo Mann, Deutsche Geschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, Frankfurt am Main, 2002, p. 70.
  3. Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Address to the German Nation, 1808, Accessed 6 June 2009.
  4. James Sheehan, German History, 1780–1866, Oxford, 1989, p. 434.
  5. Jakob Walter, and Marc Raeff. The diary of a Napoleonic foot soldier. Princeton, N.J., 1996.
  6. Sheehan, p. 384–387.
  7. Although the Prussian army had gained its reputation in the Seven Years' War, its humiliating defeat at Jena and Auerstadt crushed the pride many Prussians felt in their soldiers. During their Russian exile, several officers, including Carl von Clausewitz, contemplated reorganization and new training methods. Sheehan, p. 323.
  8. Sheehan, p 322–23.
  9. David Blackbourn, and Geoff Eley. The peculiarities of German history: bourgeois society and politics in nineteenth-century Germany. Oxford & New York, 1984, part 1; Thomas Nipperdey, German History From Napoleon to Bismarck, 1800–1871, New York, Oxford, 1983. Chapter 1.
  10. Sheehan, p. 398–410; Hamish Scott, The Birth of a Great Power System, 1740–1815, US, 2006, p. 329–361.
  11. Lloyd Lee, Politics of Harmony: Civil Service, Liberalism, and Social Reform in Baden, 1800–1850, Cranbury, NJ, 1980.
  12. Adam Zamoyski, Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna, New York, 2007, p. 98–115, 239–40.
  13. L.B. Namier, (1952) Avenues of History. London, ONT, 1952, p. 34.
  14. Nipperdey, p. 1–3.
  15. Sheehan, p. 407–408, 444.
  16. Sheehan, p. 442–445.
  17. Sheehan, p. 465–67; Blackbourn, Long Century, p. 106–107.
  18. Sheehan, p. 465.
  19. Sheehan, p. 466.
  20. Sheehan, p. 460–470. German Historical Institute
  21. Sheehan, p. 467–468.
  22. Sheehan, p. 502.
  23. Sheehan, p. 469.
  24. Sheehan, p. 458.
  25. Sheehan, p. 466–467.
  26. They traced the roots of the German language, and drew its different lines of development together. The Brothers Grimm online. Joint Publications.
  27. Hans Lulfing, Baedecker, Karl, Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB). Band 1, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1953, p. 516 f.
  28. Peter Rühmkorf, Heinz Ludwig Arnold, Das Lied der Deutschen Göttingen: Wallstein, 2001, ISBN 3892444633, p. 11–14.
  29. Raymond Dominick III, The Environmental Movement in Germany, Bloomington, University of Indiana, 1992, p. 3–41.
  30. Jonathan Sperber, Rhineland radicals: the democratic movement and the revolution of 1848–1849. Princeton, N.J., 1993.
  31. Sheehan, p. 610–613.
  32. Sheehan, p. 610.
  33. Sheehan, p. 612
  34. Sheehan, p. 613.
  35. David Blackbourn, Marpingen: apparitions of the Virgin Mary in nineteenth-century Germany. New York, 1994.
  36. Sperber, Rhineland radicals. p. 3.
  37. Blackbourn, Long Century, p. 127.
  38. Sheehan, p. 610–615.
  39. Blackbourn, Long Century, p. 138–164.
  40. Badische Heimat/Landeskunde online 2006 Veit's Pauls Church Germania. Accessed 5 June 2009.
  41. Jonathan Sperber, Revolutionary Europe, 1780–1850, New York, 2000.
  42. Blackbourn, Long Century, p. 176–179.
  43. Examples of this argument appear in: Ralf Dahrendorf, German History, (1968), p. 25–32; Hans Ulrich Wehler, Das Deutsche Kaiserreich, 1871–1918, Göttingen, 1973, p. 10–14; Leonard Krieger, The German Idea of Freedom, Chicago, 1957; Raymond Grew, Crises of Political Development in Europe and the United States, Princeton, 1978, p. 312–345; Jürgen Kocka and Allan Mitchell. Bourgeois society in nineteenth-century Europe. Oxford, 1993; Jürgen Kocka, "German History before Hitler: The Debate about the German Sonderweg." Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 23, No. 1 (January, 1988), p. 3–16; Volker Berghahn, Modern Germany. Society, Economy and Politics in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, 1982.
  44. For a summary of this argument, see David Blackbourn, and Geoff Eley. The peculiarities of German history: bourgeois society and politics in nineteenth-century Germany. Oxford & New York, 1984, part 1.
  45. Blackbourn and Eley. Peculiarities, Part I.
  46. Blackbourn and Eley, Peculiarities, Chapter 2.
  47. Blackbourn and Eley, Peculiarities, p. 286–293.
  48. Jürgen Kocka, "Comparison and Beyond.'" History and Theory, Vol. 42, No. 1 (February, 2003), p. 39–44, and Jürgen Kocka, "Asymmetrical Historical Comparison: The Case of the German Sonderweg," History and Theory, Vol. 38, No. 1 (February, 1999), p. 40–50.
  49. For a representative analysis of this perspective, see Richard J. Evans, Rethinking German history: nineteenth-century Germany and the origins of the Third Reich. London, 1987.
  50. A. J. P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1914–1918, Oxford, 1954, p. 37.
  51. J.G.Droysen, Modern History Sourcebook: Documents of German Unification, 1848–1871. Accessed April 9, 2009.
  52. Zamoyski, p. 100–115.
  53. Blackbourn, The long nineteenth century, p. 160–175.
  54. Holt, p. 27.
  55. Holt, p. 13–14.
  56. Blackbourn, Long Century, p. 175–179.
  57. Hollyday, 1970, p. 16–18.
  58. Blackbourn, Peculiarities, Part I.
  59. Bismarck had "cut his teeth" on German politics, and German politicians, in Frankfurt: a quintessential politician, Bismarck had built his power-base by absorbing and co-opting measures from throughout political spectrum. He was first and foremost a politician, and in this lay his strength. Furthermore, since he trusted neither Moltke nor Roon, he was reluctant to enter a military enterprise over which he would have no control. Mann, Chapter 6, 316–395.
  60. Isabel V. Hull, Absolute Destruction: Military culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany, Ithaca, NY, 2005, p. 90–108; 324–333.
  61. Michael Eliot Howard, The Franco-Prussian War: the German invasion of France, 1870–1871. New York, MacMillan, 1961, p. 40.
  62. Mann, 390–395.
  63. A.J.P. Taylor, Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman. Oxford, Clarendon, 1988. Chapter 1, and Conclusion.
  64. Howard, p. 40–57.
  65. Sheehan, 900–904; Wawro, 4–32; Holt, p. 75.
  66. Holt, p. 75.
  67. Sheehan, p. 900–906.
  68. Sheehan, p. 906; Wawro, 82–84.
  69. Sheehan, p. 905–906.
  70. Sheehan, p. 909.
  71. Geoffrey Wawro, The Austro Prussian War: Austria's War with Prussia and Italy in 1866. Cambridge, Cambridge University, 1996, p. 50–60; 75–79.
  72. Wawro, 57–75.
  73. Sheehan, 908–909
  74. Taylor, Bismarck, p. 87–88.
  75. Sheehan, p. 910.
  76. Sheehan, p. 905–910.
  77. Rosita Rindler Schjerve Diglossia and Power: Language Policies and Practice in the Nineteenth Century Habsburg Empire, 2003, ISBN 311017653X, p. 199–200.
  78. Bridge and Bullen, The Great Powers and the European States System 1814–1914
  79. Sheehan, p. 909–910; Wawro, Chapter 11.
  80. Blackbourn, Long Century, Chapter V: From Reaction to Unification, p. 225–269.
  81. Howard, p. 4–60.
  82. Howard, p. 50–57.
  83. Howard, p. 55–56.
  84. Howard, p. 56–57.
  85. Howard, p. 55–59.
  86. Howard, p. 64–68.
  87. Howard, p. 218–222.
  88. Howard, p. 222–230.
  89. Taylor, Bismarck, p. 126
  90. Taylor, Bismarck, p. 133.
  91. Crankshaw, Edward. Bismarck. New York, The Viking Press, 1981, p. 299.
  92. Howard, Chapter XI: the Peace, p. 432–456.
  93. Blackbourn, Long Century, pp. 255–257.
  94. Alon Confino. The Nation as a Local Metaphor: Württemberg, Imperial Germany, and National Memory, 1871–1918. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
  95. Richard J. Evans, Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years, 1830–1910. New York, 2005, p. 1.
  96. Blackbourn, Long Century, p. 267.
  97. Blackbourn, Long Century, p. 225–301.
  98. David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley. The peculiarities of German history: bourgeois society and politics in nineteenth-century Germany. Oxford [Oxfordshire] and New York, Oxford University Press, 1984. Peter Blickle, Heimat: a critical theory of the German idea of homeland, Studies in German literature, linguistics and culture. Columbia, S.C., Camden House; Boydell & Brewer, 2004. Robert W. Scribner, Sheilagh C. Ogilvie, Germany: a new social and economic history. London and New York, Arnold and St. Martin's Press, 1996.
  99. To name only a few of these studies: Geoff Eley, Reshaping the German right: radical nationalism and political change after Bismarck. New Haven, 1980. Richard J. Evans, Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years, 1830–1910.New York, 2005. Evans, Richard J. Society and politics in Wilhelmine Germany. London and New York, 1978. Thomas Nipperdey, Germany from Napoleon to Bismarck, 1800–1866. Princeton, NJ, 1996. Jonathan Sperber, Popular Catholicism in nineteenth-century Germany. Princeton, N.J., 1984. (1997).
  100. Blackbourn, Long Century, Chapter VI, particularly pages 225–243.
  101. Blackbourn, Long Century, p. 240–290.
  102. For more on this idea, see, for example, Joseph R. Llobera, and Goldsmiths' College. The role of historical memory in (ethno)nation-building, Goldsmiths sociology papers. London, 1996; Alexandre Escudier, Brigitte Sauzay, and Rudolf von Thadden. Gedenken im Zwiespalt: Konfliktlinien europäischen Erinnerns, Genshagener Gespräche; vol. 4. Göttingen: 2001; Alon Confino. The Nation as a Local Metaphor: Württemberg, Imperial Germany, and National Memory, 1871–1918. Chapel Hill, 1999.
  103. Blackbourn, Long Century, p. 243–282.
  104. Blackbourn, Long Century, p. 283; 285–300;
  105. Sperber, Jonathan. Popular Catholicism in nineteenth-century Germany, Princeton, N.J., 1984.
  106. Marion Kaplan, The making of the Jewish middle class: women, family, and identity in Imperial Germany, New York, 1991.
  107. Kaplan, in particular, p. 4–7 and Conclusion.
  108. Blackbourn and Eley, Peculiarities, p. 241.
  109. Karin Friedrich, The other Prussia: royal Prussia, Poland and liberty, 1569–1772, New York, 2000, p. 5.
  110. Many modern historians describe this myth, without subscribing to it: for example, Rudy Koshar, Germany's Transient Pasts: Preservation and the National Memory in the Twentieth Century. Chapel Hill, 1998; Hans Kohn. German history; some new German views. Boston, 1954; Thomas Nipperdey, Germany history from Napoleon to Bismarck.
  111. Richard R. Flores, Remembering the Alamo: memory, modernity, and the master symbol. 1st ed, History, culture, and society series. Austin, TX, 2002.
  112. Josep R. Llobera and Goldsmiths' College. The role of historical memory in (ethno)nation-building. Goldsmiths sociology papers. London, Goldsmiths College, 1996.


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Further reading
  • Bazillion, Richard J. Modernizing Germany: Karl Biedermann's career in the kingdom of Saxony, 1835–1901. American university studies. Series IX, History, vol. 84. New York, Peter Lang, 1990. ISBN 082041185X
  • Bucholz, Arden. Moltke, Schlieffen, and Prussian war planning. New York, Berg Pub Ltd, 1991. ISBN 0854966536
  • ___. Moltke and the German Wars 1864–1871. New York, Palgrave MacMillan, 2001. ISBN 0333687582
  • Clemente, Steven E. For King and Kaiser!: the making of the Prussian Army officer, 1860–1914. Contributions in military studies, no. 123. New York: Greenwood, 1992. ISBN 0313280045
  • Cocks, Geoffrey and Konrad Hugo Jarausch. German professions, 1800–1950. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990. ISBN 0195055969
  • Droysen, J.G. Modern History Sourcebook: Documents of German Unification, 1848–1871. Accessed April 9, 2009.
  • Dwyer, Philip G. Modern Prussian history, 1830–1947. Harlow, England, New York: Longman, 2001. ISBN 0582292700
  • Friedrich, Otto. Blood and iron: from Bismarck to Hitler the von Moltke family's impact on German history. 1st ed. New York, Harper, 1995. ISBN 0060168668
  • Groh, John E. Nineteenth century German Protestantism: the church as social model. Washington, D.C., University Press of America, 1982. ISBN 0819120782
  • Henne, Helmut, and Georg Objartel. German student jargon in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Berlin & NY, de Gruyter, 1983.
  • Hughes, Michael. Nationalism and society: Germany, 1800–1945. London & New York, Edward Arnold, 1988. ISBN 0713165227
  • Kollander, Patricia. Frederick III: Germany's liberal emperor, Contributions to the study of world history, no. 50. Westport, Conn., Greenwood, 1995. ISBN 0313294836
  • Koshar, Rudy. Germany's Transient Pasts: Preservation and the National Memory in the Twentieth Century. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1998. ISBN 0807847011
  • Lowenstein, Steven M. The Berlin Jewish community: enlightenment, family, and crisis, 1770–1830. Studies in Jewish history. New York, Oxford University Press, 1994. ISBN 0195083261
  • Lüdtke, Alf. Police and State in Prussia, 1815–1850. Cambridge, New York & Paris, Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN 0521111870
  • Ohles, Frederik. Germany's rude awakening: censorship in the land of the Brothers Grimm. Kent, Ohio, Ohio State University Press, 1992. ISBN 0873384601
  • Schleunes, Karl A. Schooling and society: the politics of education in Prussia and Bavaria, 1750–1900. Oxford & New York, Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 0854962670
  • Showalter, Dennis E. Railroads and rifles: soldiers, technology, and the unification of Germany. Hamden, CT, Hailer Publishing, 1975. ISBN 0979850096
  • Smith, Woodruff D. Politics and the sciences of culture in Germany, 1840–1920. New York, Oxford University Press, 1991. ISBN 0195065360
  • Wawro, Geoffrey. The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 052161743X

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