Briefly trace the process of German unification.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, industrialization, urbanization, and the development of European railroad networks strengthened the centralization of national markets and increased the government role in shaping economic and social policies. The growing financial infrastructure associated with banks and stock markets also entailed a new demand for the government to play a greater role as enforcer of rules and guarantor of risky railroad investments. In 1834, Prussia created the German Customs Union (Zollverein) in order to promote German economic development and financial security while affirming Prussian leadership.
The German middle class resented the petty and self-seeking princely governments that dominated their small states. At the same time, the middle class found inspiration in the emerging national German culture with its public celebrations of the birthdays of such writers and philosophers as Fichte, Schiller, and Goethe.
In 1859, liberal German politicians created the liberal national German political association Nationalverein. The new organization demanded an alliance among the various German states that would go beyond the very weak German Confederation dominated by conservative Austria.
The war between France (allied with Piedmont) and Austria ended in 1859 with the defeat of Austria. German nationalists feared a French invasion into the Rhine Valley and expected Prussia, the strongest Northern German state, to lead the German defense. Austria, however, was still trying to preserve its role as leader of the existing confederation.
In order to prepare for the coming struggle with Austria, Otto von Bismarck, the new head of the Prussian government, aggressively pushed for the expansion of the professional Prussian army, against the wishes of the liberal Prussian parliament. In 1862, Bismarck publicly declared that Germany would be unified not by speeches but by “iron and blood” (i.e., by military power). This declaration marked a new era dominated by power politics.
In order to defeat the liberals, Bismarck established contacts with the General German Workers’ Association (1863) led by Ferdinand Lassalle; in addition, he supported universal male voting right, because he hoped that the peasant vote would favor the local aristocracy over the liberals.
In 1864, Prussia and Austria jointly defeated Denmark in the war for Schleswig-Holstein. Soon, however, the former allies confronted each other on the battlefield. The Prussian army defeated Austria in the battle of Sadowa (1866) and organized the new North German Confederation under the hereditary leadership of Prussia. The North German parliament (Bundestag) was to be elected on the basis of male universal suffrage. The new government was so successful, both militarily and politically, that some liberals formed the new National Liberal Party in order to support Bismarck without giving up their political identity.
The rise of Prussia caused growing hostility on the part of France, which had been the strongest continental power and wished to remain so. In 1870, Napoleon III declared war on Prussia. The new federal German army, which included the Southern German states as well as the united north, quickly defeated the French army. In 1871 in Versailles, Bismarck proclaimed the creation of a new German empire under Prussian leadership. In this way, Prussia unified Germany.
After the Franco-Prussian War, the princes of the German states gathered together and proclaimed Wilhelm of Prussia the new emperor of the German Empire. The states had similar language, culture, and religion, so it was inevitable that these states would come together. The final part of unification was after the Naploenic Wars, at the Congress of Vienna, it was decided that Austria would be its on country and Germany was completed as its own country.