Chapter 1

Class 10
4. Briefly trace the process of German unification.


Write in Brief

Briefly trace the process of German unification.


After 1848, nationalism in Europe moved away from an association with democracy and revolution. Nationalist sentiments were often mobilized by conservatives for promoting state power and achieving political domination over Europe. Thus, Germany and Italy were unified as nation-states as mentioned below:

  • Napoleon’s administrative measures had created out of countless principalities a confederation of 39 states. Each of these possessed its own currency and weights and measures.
  • Such conditions were obstacles to economic exchange and growth by the new commercial classes.
  • In 1834, a customs union or Zollvere it was established. It allowed free trade among its members. It created a real national unity in economic matters, at a time when Germany was politically not united. A wave of economic nationalism strengthened the wider nationalist sentiments.
  • As a result of 1848 revolution in France, in Germany where a nation state did not exist the men and women of the liberal middle classes raised the demands for constitutionalism and national unification.
  • In May 1848, a large number of political associations decided to vote for an all-German National Assembly at Frankfurt and drafted a constitution for a German Nation to be headed by a monarchy subject to a parliament. The offer was made to Prussian King but it was rejected by him. Thus, the liberal initiative to nation building failed.
  • Thereafter the task of unification of Germany was taken over by Prussia and its chief minister, Otto von Bismarck who was architect of modern Germany.
  • Bismarck followed a policy of‘blood and iron’. He carried out his plans with the help of the Prussian army and bureaucracy.
  • In 1862, Bismarck reorganised the Prussion army and improved training in war. In 1864 he constructed an alliance with Austria to fight Denmark over Denmark’s southern provinces of Schleiswig while Austria administered Holstein. Bismarck provoked a conflict with Austria over an unrelated border dispute and in the subsequent Seven Weeks War, Prussia defeated Austria. The peace treaty transferred Holstein to Prussia and forced Austria to officially remove itself from all German affairs.
  • Next was war with France. In 1870, Bismarck forged a note from the French ambassador, implying that the ambassador had insulted the Prussian King. After he leaked this letter to both populations, there was a cry for war. At this stage, the southern provinces rallied to Prussia’s side. In 1870 France declared war on Prussia but was defeated. As a result of war, Alsace Lorraine was transferred to Germany.
  • Ultimately in January 1871, in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, The Prussian King William I was proclaimed German Emperor. Thus, unification of Germany was completed. This demonstrated the dominance of Prussian state power. It was victory of Bismarck’s policy of ‘blood and iron’ and it tended to foster militarism and authoritarianism in Germany.The new state placed a strong emphasis on modernising the currency, banking, legal and judicial systems in Germany. Prussian measures and practices often became a model for the rest of Germany.

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