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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bismarck's role in the unfication of Germany

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Q - Account for Bismarck’s use of the forces of Nationalism and Liberalism in the unification of the German states up to 1871.


Otto Von Bismarck was instrumental in the unification of German states up for 1871. His experience as ambassador in St. Petersburg and Paris gave him considerable experience in foreign affairs, and his aim sought to deliver Prussia a higher status in Europe. Representing the Junker class, Bismarck was a great opportunist, delivering and commanding decisions well by exploiting situations at the right time. He accomplished unification through diplomatic persuasion and well prepared wars. He would often have individual tactics from the King.


Germans awarded much praise to Bismarck in the era, even some pronouncing him as a political genius. Today’s’ Historians are perhaps not so defiant in Bismarck’s tactics, but rather his time of emergence and ability to exploit opportunities. An example is when Bismarck claimed “Man cannot create the current of events. He can only float with it and steer”. In the 1850’s, Prussia’s rival, Austria was declining in hierarchy and dominance. Bad decisions and long-term mistakes would creep into Austrian politics after the death Schwarzenberg in 185. However, Prussia would continue it’s impressive economic position and this increased nationalistic views and attitudes.


Meternich was determined to keep Austria in the ‘drivers’ seat’. Perhaps influenced by France, Meternich saw Germany as ripe for revolution from a combination of political unrest and social discontent. Senior posts in the Army, political power and all forms of bureaucracy would stay only with the noble class, which agitated the Middle class. Agricultural labourers and urban workers lived and worked in terrible conditions. An era of new technology left many people unemployed and caused protests in several industries. Together with potato blight, cholera, drought and economic inflation, the position heightened in tension.


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As if a long-term showdown was rumoured, Prussia had a head-start. Prussia had well trained military due to it’s huge disciplined army, and it also had a growing economy from establishment of railroads as well the strong iron and steel production. In an entity ruled by King Wilhelm who appointed Bismarck in 186 to settle a dispute between the King and parliament over military reforms, there was everything but regression. In fact, the king gave Bismarck both full control of foreign and domestic affairs. Bismarck was a driven man who took whatever form of action necessary in order to achieve his desired goals.


When arriving on the scene and claiming there was no current provision to sort disputes in the constitution, Bismarck granted power back to the King, who in turn continued to collect taxes in order to finance the growing Prussian military. Bismarck released his famous “Iron and Blood” declaration in impeccable timing to the Prussian people, as a dispute with neighbours’ Denmark shadowed closely.


In the year of 186, Denmark attempted to include a heavily German spoken region called Schleswig-Holstein in her own Kingdom. The Danish King breached a 185 Treaty of London, and due to gross unrest from Nationalists and Liberals back home, the Diet formed an alliance of Hanover, Saxony, Prussia and Austria. In a strategic move by Bismarck, he went against the Diet and only welcomed the Austrian alliance, determined to stand Prussia as the leader and gain support from Nationalists. The Danes were defeated and Bismarck demonstrated his willingness to overrule the Diet’s rules in order to get what he wanted.


By this stage, Bismarck had already forecasted one move further than Austria. With war in mind, talks were made to France to keep her out of any involvement. This is an immensely important move towards the fulfilling task of the establishment of German national unity under the leadership of the King of Prussia. Bismarck eager to keep “on a roll”, quickly released a constitution doing exactly his aims; to exclude Austria from German unification. This blatant move to create anger from Austria invited conflict and war soon broke out. Once again, Bismarck had timed this war well as his ruthless army took just six weeks to defeat Austria. Bismarck made an effort to stop a complete demolishment of Austria “to avoid leaving behind in her any unnecessary bitterness of feeling or desire for revenge” as Bismarck said in 1866.


Although it was not the liberals that united Germany, Bismarck received much support from them when he created a new North German Confederation. One assumes this was a dramatic change for Bismarck from when he studied law in the (Liberal) University of Göttingen, where his hatred of liberalism intensified. One liberal by the name of Von Schering claimed “I bow before the genius of Bismarck. I have forgiven the man everything he has up to now”.


Prussia spearheaded the combination of seventeen small German states, and all were left little choice but to join the new government. Bismarck’s foreign policy included nationalistic traits, for example, the purpose of safeguarding the internal and external security of Germany. Other advantages include morale unity, equal commercial laws, common administration of affairs and an unobstructed internal economy.


Bismarck, carefully edited the Kings words to give an impression that the King Wilhelm had insulted the French ambassador. France immediately declared war on Prussia in 1870. The south German states aligned between North Germany and France felt the threat of War and joined the North German Confederation. At this point, Bismarck perhaps could not believe his luck, or perhaps better described as an operation gone perfectly to the blueprint. Prussia defeated France in two months. King Wilhelm was crowned Kaiser of the new German Empire and Germany received five billion francs and the regions of Alsace and Lorraine. This was utter embarrassment for the French and another successful war campaign from Bismarck.


Bismarck was the architect of a policy that came to be known as realpolitik � this means practical politics. During his time as Prime Minister he stay focused to his prime aim of strengthening Prussia. Alliances to him, were mere relationships that could be sacrificed conveniently in order to an opportunity. Although Bismarck supported democracy, this was only done to gain support from the public, However he dismissed liberalism and used it to improve his status amongst a fast growing Liberal movement at the time. Even in his most aggressive international conflicts, he would closely watch international affairs to work one opportunity off another in order to have reason to go ahead. One example is when Denmark let him take control and display his power over the diet, and in turn, declares war against Austria, and later on France. In the short period of just five years, Bismarck and his German unification became the most powerful country in Europe behind Britain.





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