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Bismarck and the Unification of Germany

‘[i:333bf5cb8b]How significant was Bismarck’s contribution to the unification of Germany?[/i:333bf5cb8b]’

In January 1871 King William first of Prussia became Kaiser William the first of the new German empire. The creation of the empire was one of the most important developments of the nineteenth century. However, the process by which Germany came to be unified has been and area of heated historical debate ever since. There are many people and events to consider in weighing up contributions to unification, but no one man was more central to the process of unification than Otto Von Bismarck. Bismarck became chancellor of Prussia in 1962 and his main aim was to unify the 39 German states under Prussian rule. Some historians believe that Bismarck realised his goal of a Kleindeutsch German empire by taking advantage of skilful diplomacy and clever manipulation of situations that presented themselves to him between 1862 and 1871. Others believe that German unification was inevitable and that “Bisamarcks’ task was made easier by circumstance” – George Mosse. There were many more significant factors before Bismarcks time and indeed during his time outwith his influence that contributed greatly to te eventual unification in 1871.

Historian John Breuilly argues, in his 1996 book ‘The formation of the first German nation-state 1800-1871’, that there were many international developments that owed nothing to Bismarck and that arguably might have changed the situation without him. The political climate of Europe allowed revolution to flourish and this can be seen in the development of Spain and Italy during the nineteenth century.

Also, feelings of German nationalism grew and grew throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It had its roots in all sorts of cultural, political and intellectual developments that had nothing to do with the ‘Iron chancellor’. The development of German arts in the eighteenth century stirred national consciousness a great deal. While the invasion of Napoleon made the inhabitants of the 39 German states very aware of their military weakness as independents, and the effort to eventually drive the French armies out drew the German people together. Together these factors began to generate pressure for unification even before Bismarck became involved in politics in any serious way.

Another hugely significant factor contributing to unification was the Zollverein. The Zollverein was – unquestionably – the greatest single economic factor in Germany at the time. It was...

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