German unity as
with each state viewing itself separate. Cartoon from Münchner Leuchtkugeln
There is, in political geography, no Germany proper to speak of. There are Kingdoms and Grand Duchies, and Duchies and Principalities, inhabited by Germans, and each separately ruled by an independent sovereign with all the machinery of State. Yet there is a natural undercurrent tending to a national feeling and toward a union of the Germans into one great nation, ruled by one common head as a national unit.
On August 6, 1806,
Francis II had abdicated the throne of the
Holy Roman Empire in the course of the
Napoleonic Wars with
France, thereby ending the loose Empire. Despite its later name affix "of the German Nation", the Holy Roman Empire had never been a
nation state. Instead its rulers over the centuries had to cope with a continuous loss of authority to its constituent
Imperial States. The disastrous
Thirty Years' War proved especially fatal to the Holy Roman Emperor's authority, as the mightiest entities, the Austrian
Habsburg Monarchy and
Brandenburg-Prussia evolved into rivaling European
absolute powers with territory reaching far beyond Imperial borders. The many
small city-states splintered, meanwhile. In the 18th century
the Holy Roman Empire consisted of over 1800 separate territories governed by distinct authorities.
German dualism phenomenon at first culminated in the
War of the Austrian Succession and outlasted the
French Revolution and
Napoleon's domination of Europe. Facing the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, the ruling
House of Habsburg proclaimed the
Austrian Empire in the lands of the Habsburg Monarchy instead, retaining the imperial title. The 1815 restoration by the Final Act of the
Vienna Congress established the
German Confederation, which was not a nation but a loose association of sovereign states on the territory of the former Holy Roman Empire.
While a number of factors swayed allegiances in the debate, the most prominent was
religion. The Großdeutsche Lösung would have implied a dominant position for
Catholic Austria, the largest and most powerful German state of the early 19th century. As a result, Catholics and Austria-friendly states usually favored Großdeutschland. A unification of Germany led by Prussia would mean the domination of the new state by the Protestant
House of Hohenzollern, a more palatable option to
Protestant northern German states. Another complicating factor was the Austrian Empire's inclusion of a large number of non-Germans, such as
Czechs. The Austrians were reluctant to enter a unified Germany if it meant giving up their non-German speaking territories.