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Historical Essay Example: Unification of Germany

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1835 words
Carnegie Mellon University
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German nationalism refers to the idea that affirms Germany as being a nation, with Germans being united as members of one state while taking pride in being identified. This loyalty arose from the fact that the people of the nation shared a common history, language, and cultural attributes. This formal event took place in 1871 after all German states came together to appoint one leader to rule over the German Empire. This took place at the Hall of Mirrors in the Versailles Palace in France. However, a number of factors led to this event and they were influenced by a number of factors. A critical study of the unification, including the factors that led to the unification, is important in establishing how this unification has defined other nationalists trends in the world.

Before the unification of Germany, the idea of Germany becoming a nation of its own with its own government is considered an old phenomenon (Kastelberg 6). However, the idea existed among the French after the French Revolution that had helped to unite the French people without necessarily adopting the government system. Germany was initially under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire, which had over 400 states under its rule. In the mid-nineteenth century, two states within the empire went to war together. The Napoleonic wars occurred between 1803 and 1815 as Napoleon tried to extend the states over which he ruled (Schneid 7). It can be said that these wars set the framework for the unification of Germany. This is due to the fact that Napoleon used violent foreign policy and thus Russia, Austria, Britain, and Prussia remained committed in their purpose to pursue their individual developments, amidst plans to defeat the French. The dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire provided room for advocating for the liberation of the Germany to a nation-state.

In 1815, the Congress of Vienna held the German Confederation as a way of repairing the Roman Empire by convening delegates to talk about the reforms that were needed in the Empire. It was at this time that Klemens, prince of Metternich proposed the Carlsbad Decrees that would prevent people from seeking liberation and nationalism (Britannica N.p.). This was his way of undermining the efforts of Germans at getting their own nation. This law was passed in 1819 but in 1834, the formation of the Zollverein undermined it since Germans gained economic liberty. This altered the Confederations plans to strain the Germans by creating trade problems. The Zollverein arose from the formation of the Prussian Customs union in 1818. The union was required to protect the German traders from the competition by other foreign states by reducing the trade taxes, international tariffs and barriers at customs (Walters 3). This confederation was later dissolved after the Austro-Prussian war of 1966 when Prussia won the war (Britannica N.p.). The North German Confederation was later formed to replace the previous confederation.

In 1848, riots were held in Berlin and the Metternich prince was forced to resign. Furthermore, in 1849, the liberal nationalists formed the Frankfurt Parliament with the purpose of creating a national constitution to cater for all German states (IPFS N.p.). This event was after the liberals failed to gain power all German states and as a way to stop the protests. Frederick Wilhelm IV, King of Prussia, disallowed the revolutions and this slowed the efforts of German liberalists to establish a nation-state. This resulted in enmity between Austria and Prussia, especially after Otto Von Bismarck prevented Austria from being part of the Zollverein. In 1860, Von Roon presented military reforms that would lead to the defeat of the French (IPFS N.p.). In 1862, Otto Von Bismarck was asked to be vice-chancellor over Prussia after proposing that Prussia is allowed to exploit the loyalty of Germans in demanding for a national assembly. In 1865, Austria held the convention of Gastein to declare its authority over Holstein and that Prussia would control Schleswig. In December, Austria and Prussia signed a treaty but Bismarck went ahead to form a treaty with Italy and this went against the needs of Austria as the alliance threatened Austria. In 1866, Austria went to war with Prussia since Prussia was the only state whose military strength could match that of Austria. However, since Austria had no allies, the nation was powerless at war and Prussia won. In August of the same year, they signed Peace of Prague to end the war between Austria and Prussia. In 1867, Bismarck formed the North German Confederation to unite German states in the north. Berlin was made the capital and the King of Prussia was its head. The constitution formed at this time provided the framework for the final constitution of 1871 (Britannica N.p.). The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 was a way of Germany unifying Germany under the control of Prussia while eliminating the influence of the French over Germany. Germany ensured that France lost the war so as to prevent Napoleon III from regaining control over most of the states. In November of the same year, South German states, with the exception of Austria agreed to unite with the other states that constituted the German empire. The spirit of nationalism majorly influenced this. Finally, in 1871, at the Palace of Versailles, the German empire was declared a nation. Wilhelm, I became Kaiser while Bismarck became Chancellor of the new found German nation-state.

There are several factors that contributed to the unification of Germany in the 19th Century. These include economic factors and the Zollverein, the contribution of the liberals who supported nationalism, cultural factors, and resultant effects of the French revolution, and fear of the rise of another Napoleon..

Under economic factors, the advancement of the Prussian economy, the most powerful German state, were the development of infrastructure and the Zollverein contributed to the unification. The concept of economic nationalism was a unifying factor as the Germans saw that it would remove any trade barriers between them and other countries and contribute to the growth of their economic status. Economic prosperity was achieved since businessmen were ready to create a united market due to the existence of barriers such as tariffs and taxes that hindered trade, and numerous foreign currencies. The Zollverein, also known as a customs union, was introduced in 1833 and was used to abolish the tolls that existed in the German territories, making it a unified market. The tariffs passed by the Confederation were replaced with Prussian tariffs that protected German traders from British exploitation (Walters 7). This allowed more traders to be involved in the economic activity. Industrialization also promoted the economic development of Prussia by resulting in an increase in the number of industries and growth of towns, a factor that was crucial in promoting nationalism. The development of infrastructure provided transport links that were crucial in supporting the trading activities that the Germans were increasingly engaging in.

Cultural factors that drove the unification included the force of language, the influence of students and the Wagner Circle. The language was a unifying factor for all German-speaking states under the Roman Empire because they felt that it gave them an identity. This led them to seek the reunification of Germany and Austria (Denmar N.p.). The influence of students and intellects played an important role in promoting nationalism. The Hambacherfest festival of 1830 was the influence used by students to push for the unification of the German states. Active university students formed nationalist societies that were used to campaign for liberalism and nationalism. In 1817, intellects formed national and liberal student society that was only for German students where they asked for more rights for German rights and sought more freedom. Additionally, the Wagner Circle was a representation of the German culture, started by composer Richard Wagner (Denmar N.p.). This form of cultural representation promoted the idea that Germany had the superior culture, especially among people who had adopted the German culture and language, hence helped spread the idea of nationalism.

The resultant effects of the French revolution had a number of effects on German nationalism. Since German men were recruited into the army, while trade between them and the British was banned, thereby affecting their economic standing. This treatment caused the Germans to opt to rebel against France and Napoleon, and the Germans further spread the ideas of nationalism and liberalism that would help them unite against their enemy, the French. On the other hand, the liberals were also actively involved in promoting German nationalism by pushing for reforms that would ensure that Germans had their own constitution and leaders.

All these factors contributed to national development, which further enhanced German nationalism as those who identified as Germans wanted to have their own nation in which they would have control over their own issues. These efforts were however hindered by a number of factors such as the German princes who wanted to remain in power, religious differences, indifference issues among the Germans, resentment towards the powerful Prussia and Austrian strength. However, after the declaration at the Palace of Versailles, German was allowed to become a nation of its own.

According to historians, the events of the nineteenth century were of global importance, with a particular focus being on the unification of Germany as it led to other historical events such as the Third Reich and National Socialism (Kastelberg 4). After the Germans achieved their unification, Germany became the most powerful nation in Europe. Furthermore, this unification paved way for other nationalistic trends for various reasons. Firstly, the unification came after France lost the Franco-Prussian war and thus was a potential enemy for other countries. As such, various countries decided to use nationalism as a way of unifying their citizens and gathering their armies in preparation for any war that would occur (Alpha History N.p.). As such, nations took pride in the various resources that they felt were of military importance in an attempt to be as powerful as Germany. An example is the French who believed that their concrete fortresses would prevent the Germans from invading them. Patriotism acquired through nationalism was a driving force for imperialism, which nations felt, was important in expanding the area that they conquered.

From the discussion, the unification of Germany was a long journey that was enhanced by factors such as the French revolution, the liberals and economic factors, which were crucial in expanding the military and the economic state of Germany before it was officially unified. This unification also set trend for other nationalistic tendencies, a factor that greatly contributed to the occurrence of World War I.


Works Cited

Alpha History. Nationalism as a Cause of World War I. N.d. Web. 28 November 2017.

Britannica. German Confederation. N.d. Web. 28 November 2017.

Denmar, Dawn. What Were the Causes of Nationalism in Germany? Classroom. N.d. Web. 28 November 2017.

IPFS. German Nationalism. N.d. Web. 28 November 2017.

Kastelberg, Karl. German Nationalism and Identity during the Age of Unification. Senior Research Seminar. 22 November, 2005. Web. 28 November 2017.

Schneid, Frederick. The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. European History Online. N.d. Web. 28 November 2017.

Walters, Ben. The Prussian Customs Union and Zollverein. N.d. Web. 28 November 2017.


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