Germany first became a nation on January 18, 1871, with the official ceremony taking place at the Palace of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors. This became possible due to the efforts of Otto von Bismarck, a notable figure in the German and European affairs of the late nineteenth century as well as the first Chancellor of the German Empire. The militaristic orientation of Bismarck’s politics allowed the country to become a major player in Europe despite originally being a collection of territories that previously shared nothing more than a common language.
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The unification of Germany is a crucial event in history because the systems of rules, customs, traditions, and even religions varied significantly across the states that were developed into one nation. At the start of the French Revolution, there were more than three hundred of such states, with the idea of combining them into one country being distant until Bismarck’s arrival to the global political sphere.
With the progression of the nineteenth century, especially after several German states participating in the defeat of Napoleon, the ideas of nationalism became genuinely popular across the territories. However, these ideologies were predominantly shared by liberal intellectuals of the middle class and students who had a positive outlook on states uniting into one country not only on the basis of language but also because of common history. However, the attempted Reichstag that resulted from the European revolutions of 1848 did not attain the needed level of political power to facilitate the formation of a unified state with its national parliament. In addition, the ruling parties of that time, including kings and princes, were also opposed to unification because of their possibility of losing political leverage.
As Otto von Bismarck was made Minister-President of Prussia in 1862, he became greatly involved in the revival of the state as an important political player in Europe (Bew 48). The military forces of Prussia were greatly improved, with Italy assisting in the fight of Prussia against its historic oppressor, Austria. With the defeat of the latter in the Seven Weeks’ War in 1866 allowed von Bismarck to form other states in the North of Germany into a coalition that represented the start of the Prussian Empire.
The role that the Minister-President played was defining in the formation of a state with emerging nationalistic views as well as the potential to develop a fully united Germany that would be ruled by Prussian leaders. However, as southern states were not conquered, it would take Prussia a war against a common history enemy to unite all territories into one country.
Through a number of unique diplomatic methods implemented by Otto vas Bismarck, it was possible to provoke Napoleon III into proclaiming war on Prussia. Such an aggressive move, from the perspective of other European countries such as Britain, was enough for ensuring that no other party would join France in the war against Prussia (Howard 89). The aggressive proclamation of war by France sparked anti-French sentiment across the states, and when Otto von Bismarck moved his armies in the position to attack France, they were joined by men from other German territories.
Therefore, despite the general opposition of Europe to emerging nationalistic ideologies, the unification of the population was detrimental to both winning the war against France and establishing an indivisible German state. The defeat of the French at Sedan in September 1870 let to Napoleon III resigning from his position and fleeing the country to spend the rest of his life in England. Despite the fact that the war continued without his participation, the French lost to Prussia.
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The triumph von Bismarck over the French encouraged him to take control of the situation and prepare for the unification of Germany. He gathered German senior military commanders and princes in Versailles to proclaim Wilhelm I German Emperor. The significance of this event should not be overlooked as the victory of Germany in the Franco-Prussian War proved to be a defining step toward accepting nationalist ideologies of the states (Wawro 78).
Previously, both Austria and Prussia competed to support the German interests both abroad and domestically. However, the victory over Austria, which was opposed to Germany’s unification, allowed Prussia to assert its authority internally and defend the nation’s interests. Also, the victory over France strengthened the power of Prussia as a potential reinforcer of unification and brought the issue to the international level. The proclamation of Wilhelm as Kaiser allowed Prussia to assume leadership of the newly-formed empire while the southern states becoming officially included in unified Germany through the Treaty of Versailles that officially ended the war.
Otto von Bismarck was behind the transformation of Germany from a loose confederation into a federal nation-state despite the opposition from other European political players. The unification became possible because of his building upon the tradition of legal and economic collaboration. Although, nationalistic ideologies played a defining role in the formation of Germany as the formerly independent territories with their own traditions and systems of rule realized their commonalities and started acting together against mutual external enemies.
Bew, John. Realpolitik: A History. Oxford University Press, 2016.
Howard, Michael. The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France 1870-1871. Routledge, 2006.
Wawro, Geoffrey. The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France in 1870-1871. Cambridge University Press, 2003.