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Otto Bismarck Responsible For The Unification Of Germany History Essay


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In 1871, Otto Von Bismarck became the Imperial Chancellor of the Second German Reich. His position unchallenged and strongly supported as German people portrayed him as their national hero. Bismarck's skills of Realpolitik, manipulation of situations and three impressive victories helped create the Kleindeutschland Empire. However, unification has been an area of debate ever since. Some historians believe that Bismarck realised this aim by taking opportunities that led to unification. Others like Seaman (1990: p96) totally disagree with the concept that "Bismarck unified Germany". His interpretations are "Bismarck did not even want to unify Germany. He annexed, conquered or absorbed into Prussian control all the states of the old German Confederation except Austria, added thereto Schleswig, Alsace and Lorraine and called the result "The German Empire."" There were other factors contributing to the unification before Bismarck's ascent to power. The creation of the Zollverein union allowed other states to recognise Prussian leadership skills and French Revolutionaries sparked nationalism and liberalism across Europe. So to what extent was Bismarck responsible? Were his achievements exaggerated? The focus in this dissertation is to analyse the significance of Bismarck's role in engineering the unification of Germany.

Traditional concepts are Bismarck unifying Germany because of the three wars with Demark, France and Austria. However, in order for Bismarck to provoke these wars and turn them into his advantage, foundations had to be laid to support these actions. Nationalism was certainly an important factor. Started by the sweeping waves of Romantic Nationalism in 18th Century, which completely changed the political atmosphere; revolutions flourished and transformed some of the countries in Europe. Napoleon Bonaparte soon led a coup d'état to "save" France from Robespierre terror reign, aiming to unite the country with a strong, efficient and fair Government. His conquests and reformation across Europe turned France into the most important country in Europe. His reorganisation of German states into 39 individual ensured the death of the Holy Roman Empire and indirectly laid the first steps to German unification. Napoleon's failure in the Continental System policy led to war with Russia, and soon Prussia and Austria after popular anti-French opinion. This was another step to German unification as people gained the first sense of unity and patriotism as the collective German nation co-operated in the War of Liberation. Nationalism fuelled the nation and drove the French out of central Europe and Napoleon out of power. However, once the French were defeated, the feeling of nationalism declined to the minorities. Although, as Stiles (2007: p9-10) argues that "many of the middle classes whom believed that German culture was pre-eminent in Europe, tended to have a more positive view to nationalism." This argument is valid due to the remarkable number of nation associations, festivals and individuals like philosopher Johann Herder engendered a feeling of nationalism. Brose (1997: p67) expresses that "such themes abounded in German culture during the last decade of the Napoleon era. Ludwig van Beethoven's sentiments were anti-Napoleonic after the Eroica Symphony, and occasionally this feeling worked into the great composer's music." The coalition of states fighting against Napoleon gave strong impulses to nationalism awareness of a common identity and shared cultural background grew. However, "German resistance to France never became a mass national uprising. South Germans tended to look to Austria for political leadership, and North Germans tended to look to Prussia", Stiles (2007: p3). This shows that German unification would depend on the affairs of these two states. However, at the early stages of unification, nationalism played a minor role; the Congress of Vienna and creation of the German confederation did little to promote nationalism, as a fear of possible conflict between states.

It was until the 1848 revolutions where the strong sense of nationalism thrived with the liberal movement in Germany, where a larger proportion of the population realised the need for a national identity. This outbreak of revolutions across most of Europe began successfully in ensuring states and countries gave the necessary reforms to establish a liberal government. The creation of the Frankfurt Parliament showed possible the unification of Germany with an elected national assembly. Although soon, counter-revolutions from the monarch ended these revolutions, there were a significance number of factors linking to the unification of Germany; certainly, the ideas for a united Germany remained in the minds of the population afterwards. "In key states such as Prussia, constitutions had been granted, civil liberties had been extended and the idea of a united Germany had been firmly placed on the agenda", Whitfield (2000: p24). However, one of the causes of the Parliament's failure was the division of supporters for a Kleindeutschland and Großdeutschland. The problem of including or excluding Austria from German affairs was an inconclusive debate. Austria without doubt wanted to retain her political status in German relationships. This was soon to change when Bismarck realised Austria was an obstacle in unification, and remove her influence in Germany. The temporary escalation of nationalist feelings was triggered from the scare of French invasion in 1840, Bismarck having foreseen its power, has exploited nationalism to help unify Germany by adopting an aggressive foreign policy. "Bülow wrote in December 1897. 'Only a successful foreign policy can help to reconcile, pacify, rally, unite'" Röhl (1967: p252). Like Bülow, later German politicians have learnt the lesson of triggering nationalism to create a sense of unity with Germany, especially the eventual build up to World War 1. This however generates another debate as to whether Germany was unified; there were religious, class, political, ethnical and geographical divisions. Supporting this argument, "Germany did not unite because of popular pressure from the German people. It united because the smaller German states felt that they had little choice." Kitson (2001: p27). However, after Bismarck manipulated the French from the Ems Telegram, there were evidence nationalistic sediments helped rally the Southern States in the Franco-Prussian War. "The common view of German nationalism is an irresistible current sweeping down the decades to fulfilment in 1870 is a fiction… Only under the stimulation provided by Bismarck for his own political ends did German nationalism begin to move the masses." Pflanze (1971: p13). It shown from the 1848 revolutions that nationalism was not capable to unify Germany alone. Bismarck's cultivation of the nationalist feelings contributed the most to the unification of Germany

The Zollverein was indisputably a major factor to unification. This economic organisation not only allowed most of the Germany to experience substantial economic growth, it also enabled Prussia to gain a stronger political influence over Austria. The Zollverein seriously challenged Austria's hegemony in Germany. Prussia's leadership allowed other states to recognise her as a rightful leader in a unified Germany. Stiles (2007: p16) claim, "Prussian ministers realised that those states, which found financial advantage in an economic union under Prussian leadership, might well take a favourable view of similar arrangements in a political union." The impact of Zollverein on unification was immense. The extensions of communication systems, unified structure for currency, measurements and weights helped promote a sense of unity. These developments also encouraged by the increasing awareness of nationalism and liberalism during that period. Not only has Prussian status increased, economic developments contributed to the later military expansion and political supremacy in Germany. The Zollverein was the basis of the German economy and later modelled by the North German Confederation. "Few would dispute that the Zollverein was a powerful factor in the eventual exclusion of Austria from a united Germany dominated by Prussia." Williamson (1998, p2). Austria, once a great European power relied heavily on agricultural economy and severely affecting military expansion and industrial growth. The most important reason contributing to Prussian economic abilities was the Congress of Vienna. Prussia was given control over the Rhineland, giving her access to the rich lands containing the Saar mines, thus making her the richest country in Europe in terms of natural resources. There were limitations as "in 1866, when Prussia fought against Austria for domination of north Germany, Prussia was opposed by every member of the Zollverein except those that its army had already hemmed in." Chapman (1999: p8). This provides evidence that the organisation was less successful in securing a political advantage.

Nevertheless, the Zollverein have provided Bismarck with the resources needed for military successes and leave Prussia without a predominant rival to unify Germany. Bismarck has certainly foreseen the importance of the army, "It is not through speeches and majority decisions… That was the great mistake of 1848-9. It is by iron and blood" Kitson (2001: p17). He quickly solved the constitutional crisis once appointed as Chief Minister in 1862. Although Von Roon responsible shaping an excellent army, Bismarck has created the possibility of Prussian military dominance. It was vital for Bismarck to maintain support from Wilhelm I and allow military matters to be handled by Von Roon and Von Moltke. Unification seems to be the outcome of three wars and Prussian military success. "It cannot be emphasised too much that unification was, in the last resort, achieved on the battlefield. " Blackbourn (2003: p187). The production of the Dreyse needle gun saw its superiority in Königgrätz, and Krupp 6 pounder artillery cannons in the Franco-Prussian War. The increasing economic strength moulded from the Zollverein supplied this military power and combined with the Prussian tactics on encirclement battles, victories helped secure unification. As M. J. Keynes expressed it is "Not on blood and iron, but on coal and iron was the German Empire found" Birnie (2006: p 12). From this economist's viewpoint, his ideology focuses on the long-term economic factors as the most significant. Comparing the impact of the Zollverein to Bismarck's political skill, the argument is valid as it was the combination of military and economic power, which ensured the eradication of French and Austrian authority over German affairs.

Bismarck was often portrayed as a politician with a master plan. However, this traditional concept is increasingly challenged. Blackbourn (2003: p192) argues that the "Chief characteristics of his policy were flexibility and skilful exploitation of opportunities." He agrees with many historians that Napoleon III was at fault for the Franco-Prussian War, and that Bismarck boasted of his own cleverness afterwards. This interpretations is parallel to those of a contemporary historian, Seaman (1990: p 97), "This view of Bismarck as the dynamic ruthless realist planning the whole of this campaign brilliantly and wickedly in advance is based not on the facts but on a legend; a legend created by Bismarck to minister to his own vanity as an individual and to the cause of his indispensability as a politician". However, in contrast to another contemporary, Rich's (1970: p87) interpretations, "Bismarck was an artist in statecraft as Napoleon had been an artist in war. Like Napoleon's campaign strategy, Bismarck's policy was never bound by fixed rules or preconceptions, while remaining aware of long-term goals and broad perspectives". Historians seem uncertain by whether Bismarck planned for unifying Germany, or he was fortunate in many situations. The changing situations in Europe have enabled Bismarck to complete unification. However, it is necessary to understand whether he had considered and acted on a policy, or the events provided opportunities for him. This is important as it portrays Bismarck's responsibility in unification.

There were factors before him that laid foundations to his work. The Crimean War casted a long-term effect on Austria that soon led to their defeat in the Austro-Prussian War. "Russia had suffered military humiliation in the Crimean War, and was absorbed during the 1860s in a bout of internal reforms. Early Russian industrialisation also depended on Russo-German trade." Blackbourn (2003: p187). Prussia had remained neutral in the war, and with Russia's dependence on Prussia's economic strength, there were clear evidence of good relations. In contrast to Austria, they fought against Russia and relations cripple they were less inclined to help. This contributed to Austria's isolation in the Austro-Prussian War as her traditional ally; Prussia was also her enemy in German affairs. "By 1856 Austria had lost the friendship of Russia without obtaining that of Britain and France." Stiles (2007: p55) Austria's disastrous campaign in the North Italian War in 1859, led to her economy being crippled by the financial strain of keeping large armies mobilised and the depression that swept across Europe during the late 1850s. Whereas Prussia was economically strengthened by the Crimean War. Once in power, Bismarck strengthened this friendship with Russia in the Alvensleben Convention in 1863 and later after the Franco-Prussia War, his support for Russia denouncing the Black Sea Clause. This is a clear example of Bismarck's skills of Realpolitik as he isolates Austria and ensuring that she doesn't have allies to fight against Prussia. Although it briefly led to Prussian isolation after Bismarck denied the Convention, however, it guaranteed Russia neutrality in the Austro-Prussian War. Contributing to Austria's defeat was Bismarck's signing of the Prusso-Italian Alliance in 1866. This is a case of situations in Europe turning into Bismarck's advantage. Had Austria accepted Italian offers to buy Venetia in January 1866, Italy would certainly remained neutral, meaning Prussia could possibly have faced a larger Austrian army. "Italy - Determined to have the Habsburg provinces of Venetia and South Tyrol - seized the opportunity presented by Austria's war with Prussia." Wawro (1997: p1) Austria, having lost an influential diplomat Schwarzenberg in 1852, could not find a comparable political leader to counter Bismarck. With Austria fighting on two fronts and financial difficulties, the result was her defeat and Prussian dominance of German affairs. "In later life Bismarck claimed that he had always intended to fight Austria and to unify Germany, and this version was generally accepted by his admirers and by most historians. In reality, Bismarck's greatness lay not in mastering events, but in going with events so as to seem to master them." Taylor (2001: p112-3). Taylor, a structuralists, and tends to favour an anti-Great men theory, which leads to similar arguments earlier from Blackbourn and Seaman. It is debatable as to whether Bismarck had planned for confrontation with Austria. "It had been he who possessed the temerity to break the traditions of Prussian diplomacy and to choose an anti-Austrian policy… he charted the strategy that had jockeyed the Austrian Government into straits in which it felt compelled to assume the responsibility for beginning the war" Craig (1978: p2). Bismarck did adopt an anti-Austrian Policy, which could suggest that he intended to rid Austria from Germany maybe by using force. Shown in the Gastein Convention gave Bismarck an option to Austria into war as Holstein was "sandwiched" between Prussia and Schleswig. This idea of keeping his options open and deciding about how to achieve his aims was coined by Pflanze's interpretation of a "strategy of alternatives". Taking advantages from events in Europe with Bismarck's skills of Realpolitik and careful calculations to oust Austria from German affairs followed the idea of a Kleindeutschland; he was largely responsible for beginning the unification of Germany under Prussia.

Britain, which did not see German unification as a threat to her interests or possess a navy, and therefore did not intervene, "In the 1860s Britain adopted a non-interventionist posture", "a strong Germany would be a useful bulwark against France or Russia" Stiles (2007: p80). Britain was always suspicious of French intentions in Europe and limited their focus on Germany. Most importantly, Louis Napoleon III, determined to maintain French supremacy, had limit the balance of power in Central Europe especially Germany. "France under Napoleon III was the loose cannon in European affairs, an adventurist power that excited universal suspicion and found none to mourn its fate in 1870" Blackbourn (2003: p187). After Bismarck's hint of Rhineland territory, France offered her neutrality in the Austro-Prussian War. Bismarck certainly played on this agreement as he ended the war quickly resulting in little gains for Napoleon. "The supremacy of France disappeared at Sadowa. It is France that was beaten at Sadowa," said Marshal Randon, Chaurasia (2002: p276). Napoleon had expected a long war, encouraging the two to "exhaust" themselves and France then could annex Rhineland without opposition. Against the wishes of his Generals and Wilhelm I, Bismarck rapidly secured peace with Austria and ensuring she was not entirely crippled as they can become a useful ally in future. Bismarck also had to consider a possible Austrian war of revenge and to remove the threat of possible French military movements in the Rhineland. In this situation, Bismarck was responsible for ensuring the Prussian was not "exhausted". This was important as he needed this source of power to defeat France and ultimately secure unification. A long war would benefit Austria as she had masses of reserves from the huge population, and France would intervene and gain a strong position in negotiations. As Bismarck had shown in the Austro-Prussian War, his skills of isolating his opponents and making them look like the aggressor was shown against France. Italy was allied with Prussia and as the War would mean French troops would be evacuated from Rome and Piedmontese troops can march into the capital and declare Italy as a unified state. Russia realised a defeat of France would enable them to put at Fleet into the Black Sea, as Britain would not act alone. "The prospect of a French victory and consequent hegemony was far more alarming than the extension of Prussian power and influence south of the Main." Kitchen (2006: p119). This impression was that most of Europe would have dislike a French victory meaning Bismarck could provoke War with less opposition. However, the situation in Europe had provided Bismarck to quarrel with France. Prince Leopold claim to the Spanish throne alarmed France, fearing encirclement if Hohenzollern regimes were established on both the Rhine and Pyrenees frontiers. With the French angered by leaked secrets, Bismarck was able to edit the Ems Telegram, which was sufficient to manoeuvre France into declaring war appearing as the aggressor. In this instance, Bismarck has shown his political skill by exploiting Napoleon III's mistakes. However, Napoleon III's foreign policy played a major role in order for Bismarck to take advantage. After the Mexican Affair and the attempted purchase of Luxembourg, France pilled pressure on the Napoleon III to gain territory in Rhineland and to restore France as the centre of European politics in order to win internal popularity. With French aggressive foreign policies, Bismarck was able to manipulate France into attacking German and disrupting boundaries of the confederation. Seeing this as a threat to the whole of Germany, Bismarck rallied support from the Southern states and promoted a sense of patriotism. The French defeat led to a unified Germany as Bismarck persuaded or annexed the Southern States and Alsace-Lorraine.

It is debatable as to whether Bismarck intended to unify Germany or maintain Prussian dominance over German States. "What had been engineered, under Bismarck's guidance, was effectively the extension of Prussian power rather than the expression of nationalist enthusiasm for a united Germany" Fulbrook (2004: p128). It did result in France ceasing to hold the dominant place it had occupied in European affairs since 1856, and Germany was recognised as the most powerful nation in Europe. It is arguable as to whether Bismarck had planned this war with France. In his memoirs, he states, "I assumed that a united Germany was only a question of time… I did not doubt that a Franco-Prussia War must take place before the construction of a united Germany could be realised… I was at that time pre-occupied with the idea of delaying the outbreak of this war until our fighting strength should be increased" Bismarck (2005, volume 2: p58). There are limitations to this source, even if it was Bismarck's autobiography. It relates to the earlier argument from Seaman about Bismarck boasting of his achievements, which indeed, Bismarck would certainly tried to identify himself within the greatest of history. Craig's interpretations are he believed that Bismarck didn't want a war with France. "If the trumpets of war were to sound in spring of 1870, the initiative in his view would have to be France's, and he was confident that in the prevailing circumstances Napoleon would not give the necessary command" Craig (1978: p 24-5). However, it is possible to refer to Pflanze's term of a "strategy of alternatives", where Bismarck kept all his options open until he found a right path. Nevertheless, Bismarck was responsible for provoking this War and to unify Germany, but the largest share of responsibility laid in the changing events in Europe because it provided him with many opportunities to unify Germany.

After eighteen years, since Bismarck was appointed as Chancellor, Germany was unified. His contributions were substantial. His personal modification in the Ems telegram portrayed his personality of manipulating situations into his advantage and isolation of opponents before war was examples of Realpolitik. Having understood the concept of nationalism, Bismarck was able to use this to aid his creation of Germany. If Bismarck ceased to exist in German politics, numerous events would not have happened, arguably Germany would probably have not unified by 1871. Prussian army legislations would have been rejected by parliament, leading to possibly the abdication of Wilhelm I and Austria remaining as the dominant force in the German confederation. However, by accounting other factors, Bismarck's role was less significant. Ideas for the unification of Germany originated long before Bismarck came to power. It has flourished since the death of the Holy Roman Empire and resentment in Napoleonic Europe, which promoted nationalism. This was an important factor, as Bismarck needed to rally all the States to defeat other powers. The increasing strength of Prussian economic and military was a major factor, arguably the most important aspect, as Bismarck heavily relied on successes over France and Austria. Events within Europe most not be ignored, as many situations provided opportunities for Bismarck. It was because of these circumstances that enabled Bismarck to practice his foreign policies whilst maintaining the balance of power in Europe. Without these major factors Bismarck would not have unified Germany

Word count: 3653

In conclusion, need to add two historians to contradict each others argument and ask whether Germany was actually unfied…

I seem to have a more structuralists view… it was other factors apart from Bismarck that unified Germany, there is no great men… etc

So argue why Bismarck didn't do it all on his own….. Bibliography

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