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The Factors in the Process of German Unification

The Factors in the Process of German Unification

Germany was the last of the great European powers to achieve political unity. In 1815, 39 independent German states stretched north and south from the Baltic Sea to the Alps, and east and west from the Rhine River to Russia. Political rivals Austria and Prussia were the most powerful of these German states. By 1871, however, the German states-excluding Austria and Switzerland-had united into a single nation.

The Congress of Vienna had created the German Confederation in 1815 as a buffer against future French expansion. This first major step toward German unity established closer economic ties between the German states and helped pave the way for greater political union.

The German Confederation loosely tied together the numerous German states with a diet sitting at Frankfurt. Austria dominated the confederation. Its position as head of the diet eventually brought it into conflict with Prussia. Neither Austria nor the smaller German states wanted to see a united Germany. Austria feared the economic competition, while the smaller states feared domination by Prussia.

The largest of the German states, Prussia, had a well-organized government and a strong economy. Political power in Prussia lay in the hands of aristocratic landowners called Junkers, but rising business classes demanded a share of political power. To reduce trade barriers among German lands, the Prussian Junkers called for a Zollverein, or economic union. Formed in 1834, the Zollverein reduced tariffs and other trade barriers between most of the 39 states, resulting in lower and more uniform prices of goods throughout the confederation. The Zolleverein also standardized systems of currency, weights, and measures and strengthened the business classes.

By forming a close economic union, Prussia won an important political victory over Austria. Just as Sardinia led Italy toward unification, Prussia now directed events that would eventually unite Germany.

In the German states, popular demonstrations and uprisings (Feb.–March, 1848) led to the dismissal of unpopular ministers and the calling of a national parliament to draft a constitution for a united Germany. While the constitution was debated at length, rulers of the German states were able to recover their authority. By 1849, the Frankfurt Parliament and the provisional government it established had collapsed and the old order was restored.

In 1861,...

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Category:   European

Length:   8 pages (1,840 words)

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