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The Unification Of Germany

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In 1871 the thirty-eight states of what was once the Holy Roman Empire,

re-united to become what was known in the early twentieth century as simply, The German Empire, united under the rule of the German Emperor, or Kaiser. There are many factors which led to the unification of the German states; liberalism, nationalism, Otto Von Bismarck, fear of Ð''another Napoleon', the Prussian King William I, and the three wars Prussia fought.

One of the key factors which led to the Unification was nationalism. Nationalism is the idea that certain things such as race, culture, religion, language or territory set them apart from those around them, and they could identify their interests with a group of people not just a local monarch. This idea created the belief that one's loyalty was first to the Ð''nation' not the monarch. On 23 February 1848, there was a demonstration in Paris that resulted in the abdication of King Louis Philippe. Then on 13 March students in Vienna staged a rebellion which later that day forced Prince Metternich to resign as Austrian Foreign Minister. Prussian King, Frederick William IV, stood against reform and used troops to break up demonstrations. But on hearing of Metternich's resignation he lost his nerve and called together a Diet, granting a constitution. When a crowd gathered at the Palace in Berlin the royal guard opened fire. The resulting revolution ended by November of that year as the people began to fear the consequences of prolonging it. The failure of this revolution, and the failure to achieve national unity, broke the link between liberalism and nationalism. In the end it was the nationalistic ideals of the German aristocracy, not the general populace that brought about the Unification of the German States in 1871.

(1) ** I remember to have been so entirely absorbed by what was happening that I could hardly turn my thoughts to anything else. Like many of my friends, I was dominated by the feeling that at last the great opportunity for giving the German people the liberty which was their birthright and to the German fatherland its unity and greatness, and that it was now the first duty of every German to do and to sacrifice everything for this sacred object. We were profoundly, solemnly in earnest. **

Liberalism was an important factor of the German Unification. Liberalism, the philosophy which promotes the idea of leaving an individual as unrestricted as possible in terms of self-expression and self-fulfilment, was more important in terms of the monarchs wanting to crush this idea than in terms of the importance of the idea itself. It was the main reason for the aforementioned 1848 Revolution and although it was separated from nationalism after the revolution, the aristocracy still feared any possible threat to their remaining in power. As a result any form of liberalism that began to form was quickly and decisively crushed, and the unification ensured that Liberalism did not arise again, or at least for quite a significant amount of time.

After Napoleon was crushed, following his return, there was a general fear throughout Europe that another might arise and the Napoleonic wars would be re-enacted. This was important as this fear was a key reason for the Unification. After the struggles of the Napoleonic Wars, no ruler in Europe wanted to go through that all over again. This fear was especially present in Germany where Napoleon had crushed their once proud and powerful Holy Roman Empire. This was important as it was like liberalism, another threat to the power of the absolute monarchs of Germany and as such was another reason for them to unify under the more powerful Prussia to ensure a strong German state that could crush any such Ð''uprising'.

William I was an important figure as he was the Prussian King and the person Bismark intended to rule the united Germany. He was a strong absolutist monarch and despised all those desiring liberal reforms. He came to power in 1858 when Frederick William IV suffered a stroke and could no longer carry out his duties as King. Prince William (Frederick's Brother) became regent until Frederick died in 1861 when he took the throne. At this point William was 70 years of age and had been an army officer since 17. When William attempted to introduce army reforms that would double army size, increase the period of service and remove the Landwehr (citizen militia). The Prussian parliament would not pass this bill as it would give the Ð''Junker' class (aristocracy) more power. As William tried alternative means of obtaining his reforms, there was constitutional crisis as the liberals would not support the King's bill and he had sworn to uphold the constitution and as such refrained from using force on the liberals, and even considered abdication. Instead he appointed Otto Von Bismarck as his new Chief Minister in September of 1862. This proved to be an excellent decision on William's part as it resulted in the implication of his reforms and the Unification of the German states under his rule.




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