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Europe After Napoleon Index
Europe After Napoleon : The Congress of Vienna
TWO CENTURIES OF REVOLUTIONARY CHANGE
Europe After Napoleon
As in many other regions of Europe, the German states had experienced liberal uprisings after 1815. The word "revolution" was not appropriate in the German context because there was never an attempt by an important section of the German people to overthrow the ruling regimes in the numerous German states. There had been student demonstrations after 1830 and popular demonstrations in Berlin and other German cities.
In 1848 liberal uprisings took place in many German cities, including Berlin the capital city of Prussia. Although he considered himself to be appointed by God, the King of Prussia, Frederick William IV sympathised with many liberal demands. In order to stop the violence a promised to grant a constitution and create an elected assembly. The assembly duly met, and in 1849, it voted in favour of a liberal constitution for the kingdom. Only two members voted against it. One of them was a Prussian country land owner, or Junker, Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck had no time for liberals, with their long-winded speeches a out freedom of the people. He believed that the king should rule and the people should obey. Much later he made the famous " blood and iron " speech to another Prussian assembly. This speech has gone down in history as representing the attitude of the Prussian state in its search for power through war.
Frederick William IV
In 1849 many German states offered the crown of a united Germany to Frederick William of Prussia. He refused it, declaring that "I cannot pick up a crown from the gutter". Bismarck was relieved because he had feared that Prussia might become part of a flabby, liberal united Germany. He was not against the unification of the German states, but if and when it occurred, it would have to be on terms imposed by Prussia and under its control.
The great German power in Europe had always been Austria. This was still true in 1848, but Bismarck was determined that Prussia would take Austria's place. Throughout the decade of the 1850's he dedicated himself to raising the prestige of Prussia in the eyes of the other German states at the expense of Austria. At the same time he encouraged their economic links with Prussia through the Zollverein.
In 1861, the new king of Prussia, William 1, appointed Bismarck as his chief minister. Now Bismarck's way was clear to achieve his aims. The first opportunity arose in 1864 when both Prussia and Austria intervened to stop the king of Denmark incorporating the German states of Schleswig and Holstein into his kingdom. Denmark was rapidly defeated and it was decided that these two provinces would be jointly administered by Prussia and Austria. Bismarck made certain that this arrangement was so complicated that arguments were bound to occur between the two states. He was deliberately trying to provoke a war with Austria.
Otto von Bismarck
In 1866 he succeeded when an exasperated Austria declared war on Prussia. (He was very careful to make sure that it was Austria that declared war so that nobody could blame Prussia for starting it). To the surprise of all European nations, the Austrian armies were rapidly defeated in the " Seven Weeks' War ". Prussia emerged as the great Germanic power in Europe. As a result, many states of northern Germany Joined Prussia to form the North German Confederation which Prussia totally dominated.
Not content with this achievement, Bismarck's next ambition was to make Prussia the great power of all continental Europe. In order to achieve this it would be necessary to defeat France. The chance came in 1870, when Prussia and France became involved in a complicated diplomatic argument over the succession to the throne of Spain. The Spanish government offered the crown to a Hohenzollern (Prussian) prince. The government of Louis Napoleon objected strongly and even began to make war-like threats. Although Emperor Napoleon III himself did not want to press the issue, he was pushed into a threatening attitude by the "war party", formed from most of his ministers. Even his wife, the Empress Eugenie, as well as the press and public opinion, were advocating war.
On top of this, the French ambassador to Prussia had a meeting with King William I and a report of this meeting was sent by telegram to Bismarck. This was the famous Ems Telegramme, which Bismarck re-wrote in such a way that it would offend both Prussians and French if it was made public. He sent it to the newspapers and waited for the inevitable reaction.
King William I of Prussia is proclaimed emperor of the German states
On 19th July 1870 France declared war on Prussia. On 2nd September France surrendered. Bismark had triumphed. Not only had he established Prussia as the great continental power but, on the 18th January 1871, in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, King William I of Prussia was proclaimed by all the states of Germany to be their emperor. Germany was now a united country and the Second Reich had been created.
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