Germany is a relatively modern state. In the mid nineteenth century Germany
was a collection of smaller states that were linked as a German confederation.
This confederation was dominated by Austria, which as a large imperial power
was politically and economically superior to the smaller Germanic states. In
the 1860's the dominance of Austria was challenged by Prussia and the process
of unification and codification of German law began. These events have been
interpreted rather differently by historians. Here I will offer only a brief
narrative of the events however as interpretation of these issues is not particularly
relevant or necessary for the purposes of the course being followed.
The process of unification, in chronological order:
A gradual process of economic interdependence from the early stages
of the Industrial Revolution through to the mid 19th century saw the
germanic states move towards economic unification. For example, the
growth of the railway network in Germany led to easier access to different
resources across the confederation. This helped to stimulate economic
growth and meant that economic prosperity was increasingly reliant
upon strong links between different member states of the German confederation.
This led to the introduction of the Zollverin customs union, an agreement
amongst the German states to have preferential customs policies for
member states. This economic union excluded Austria, illustrating
a growing German sense of identify and a lesser dependency upon the
largest of the Germanic states.
Schleswig-Holstein. Schleswig and Holstein are two German duchies
that were under Danish rule. However Holstein's population was largely
German speaking and Schleswig's was a broad mix of Germans and Danes.
In the 1840's the Danes attempted to claim Schleswig and Holstein
as being part of Denmark, rather than them remaining as semi-independent
duchies. This resulted in uproar from German nationalists and demands
for the two duchies to be fully incorporated into the German Confederation.
In 1848, this had led to a brief war for control of the two duchies.
The resulting Treaty of London stated that upon the accession to the
Danish throne of the Prince, Christian, the duchies would remain under
Danish rule but not be incorporated into the nation state of Denmark.
Upon his accession in 1863, Christian formally incorporated Schleswig
and Holstein into the Danish state: breaking the terms of the Treaty
of London. Again this led to an outcry amongst German nationalists
and the German Confederation mobilised an army and invaded the duchies.
War with Denmark resulted in a victory for the Germanic Confederation
and the acquisition of Schleswig and Holstein. It is the manner in
which the duchies were dealt with after the war of 1864 that took
Germany one step closer to unification. Following the victory it was
agreed that Austria would manage the duchy of Holstein and that Prussia
would be in charge of the day to day running of Schleswig. The two
major German powers clashed many times over the manner in which the
duchies were to be administered. Historians still debate whether the
German chancellor, Bismarck, deliberately set out to provoke Austria.
Either way, the result was a political division within the German
Confederation with Austria and Prussia now fighting for dominance
of the Germanic states.
Austrian-Prussian War. In 1866 further arguments about the administration
of Schleswig-Holstein led to war breaking out between Austria and
Prussia. This war lasted 7 weeks and resulted in Prussian victory
over the Austrians. In beating the Austrians on the battlefield the
Prussians assumed the role of senior Germanic state. This led to a
clearer division between Austrian and German interests and forced
the smaller states to align themselves alongside the Prussians, with
whom they shared more economic ties due to the aforementioned Zollverin
The Franco-Prussian War. Between 1866 and 1870 relations between
Prussia and France worsened. In 1870, frustrated by the prussian attitude
to the issue of candidacy for the vacant throne of Spain, France declared
war on Prussia. The resulting Prussian victory was both swift and
decisive. It resulted in the removal from power of the French Emperor,
Napoleon III and led to a wave of Germanic Nationalism sweeping through
the whole of the German Confederation. Following victory over France
in January of 1871, Prussia was able to persuade her partners within
the German confederation that unification was desirable. As a result,
Wilhelm of Prussia was proclaimed Emperor of Germany on January 18th
1871. The Second German Reich was born.