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To what extent was the unification of Germany due to the Prussian army?, the unification of Germany was partly due to the Prussian army, However other factors played a part such as the fact that the German states has almost unified before, Bismarck and his ability to use circumstances to his benefit, the Italian unification, the Austro-Prussian and the Franco-Prussian wars.
Early attempts to form a unified Germany failed because the liberals and nationalists did not recognise that their objectives could only be achieved if they were able to back up their demands for change with force, this could only be achieved if the states established clearer priorities. When the opportunity arose, they had to be able to put immediate pressure on the existing government without having a possible course of action. Another lesson learned from the experience of 1848, was that the process of unification would create winners and losers, unification could only be achieved by leadership of one state or an individual.
The obvious state to take leadership of the German unification was Prussia, Prussia had the basis of a strong army which could resist the powers of Austria and a monarch who would be willing to take the lead and unify the German states.
In preparation of a war with Austria, Prussia had to secure the support of other countries. Prussia gained support from Russia after not getting involved and staying neutral during the Polish Revolt against Russian rule in 1863. In 1865, Bismarck apparently had a meeting with the French Emperor, Louis Napoleon III, in the south of France. Napoleon came away from the meeting with the impression that if France stayed neutral during the Austro- Prussian war, France would gain compensation of land in the form of Belgium or land from the Rhine. Italy was also going through the unification process; In 1866 Prussia secured support from Italy after promising the gift of Venetia after Austria’s defeat.
During the Austro-Prussian war the major states sided with Austria and only a few gave their support to Prussia, However Prussia had the advantage of attacking immediately. Prussia’s victory had been a result of the speed, preparation and organisational skills that Prussia demonstrated. North Prussia became larger as Hanover, Hesse-cassel, Nassau and Schleswig Holstein all united as the northern federation of Germany, Giving Prussian lands a new unity. Prussia was united more than it had been for many years politically and geographically. The Austro-Prussian war let to the unification of some German states and confirmed Prussia’s leadership of Germany.
After the Austro-Prussian war the southern German states were still separate from the northern German confederation, However Bismarck intended to incorporate them in a unified Germany, but the governments of these states wished to remain independent, Bismarck allowed this as he knew that taking them by force would cause resentment and if these states were taking by force it would have been extremely destructive.
Bismarck knew that the southern states were jealous of one another. This ment it was unlikely that they would unite or form a southern federation; however with Austria defeated, the southern states had no ally against Prussia. The southern states would have to look to Prussia for protection eventually. Bismarck knew this and signed secret treaties with each southern state and within these treaty’s it stated that in the event of war they would fight with Prussia and place their army’s under Prussian control.
Following this the southern states set up their own zollverein in 1866. It collapsed only a year after in 1867, so they joined the northern one. This was a significant move towards economic unity. However Bismarck realised that economic methods of unity were not enough, so he resorted to bribery, he loaned King Ludwig of Bararia, large sums of money and once the debt was large enough he blackmailed the king.
The fear of French expansionism brought the southern states closer to the northern confederation. At the end of the Austro-Prussian war, Louis Napoleon III tried to safeguard his French interests. He sent Count Benedetti his ambassador to Prussia to suggest that France be given the land promised as compensation for remaining neutral especially as Prussia had gained large amounts. Louis Napoleon also suggested that France may be given land from the Rhine. Napoleon reminded Bismarck that this was what was agreed at their meeting. Prussia refused and Bismarck denied any knowledge of such a meeting. But Bismarck asked the ambassador to put the request in writing. Bismarck changed the tone of the letter and leaked it to the French press.
In 1869 the Spanish parliament was looking for a new monarch after Queen Isabella was overthrown. The parliament asked Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern, however this was leaked to the French tabloids and tension mounted. The French King sent his ambassador to speak to King William and ask him to instruct Leopold to withdraw his claim to the throne or Prussia would face war. William managed to persuade Leopold to decline the offer much to the triumph of France. But France overstepped the mark by going back to William for assurance that Leopold would never renew his claim to the throne. William could not give this assurance and sent a telegraph to Bismarck with details of the meeting. The telegraph was again leaked to the press and nobody was happy about the situation. France declared war on Prussia and the other German states stood with Prussia against the invasion from France. Prussia won the war against France due to the quick mobility of the Prussia army. The German states unified on 18th January 1871, and the constitution of the German empire became law on 20th April 1871 under the rule of William.
Overall the Prussian army played a huge part in the unification of the German states but the army alone could not have unified the states without the leadership of Bismarck as he used every situation to the advantage of unification. There were many factors during the 10 years between the failed unification and Bismarck managing to unify Germany. All contributed equally.
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