Unification of Germany

  • political map of central europe showing the 26 areas that became part of the united german empire in 1891. prussia based in the northeast, dominates in size, occupying about 40% of the new empire.
    the german empire from 1871–1918

    the unification of germany into a german empire with tight political and administrative integration, replacing the decentralized german confederation and holy roman empire, was officially proclaimed on 18 january 1871, in the hall of mirrors at the palace of versailles in france. princes of the german states, excluding austria-hungary and its house of habsburg-lorraine (the dynasty that formerly ruled over the german princes during the german confederation and holy roman empire), gathered there to proclaim william i of prussia and the house of hohenzollern as german emperor, following the french capitulation in the franco-prussian war.

    a confederated realm of german princedoms had been in existence for over a thousand years, dating to the treaty of verdun in 843. however, there was no german national identity in development as late as 1800, mainly due to the autonomous nature of the princely states; most inhabitants of holy roman empire territories, outside of those ruled by the emperor directly, identified themselves mainly with their prince, and not with the emperor or the german realm as a whole. in the mountainous terrain of much of the territory, isolated peoples developed cultural, educational, linguistic, and religious differences over such a lengthy time period. this internal division became known as the "practice of kleinstaaterei", or the "practice of small-statery". by the nineteenth century, transportation and communications improvements brought these regions closer together.

    this changed drastically after the holy roman empire's defeat and dissolution in 1806, and even though a german confederation was later re-established after the wars, the beginnings of an unprecedented wave of german nationalism swept through germany during the first half of the 19th century. by mid-century, germany had already seen movements supporting centralization, with or without the ruling austrian habsburgs.

    the rival german-speaking power, prussia, a former vassal of the habsburgs, attempted to weaken the german confederation from both within (prussia had representation in the german diet, a tradition carried over from the holy roman empire era, thus could directly interfere into austrian affairs in parliament) and from the outside (prussia allied with the german confederation in the second schleswig war for the purpose of creating a cassus belli between the two powers over the spoils, which would eventually occur in the austrian-prussian war of 1867). economically, the creation of the prussian zollverein customs union in 1818, and its subsequent expansion to include other states of the nominally austrian-led german confederation, reduced competition between and within the states.

    despite the legal, administrative, and political disruption associated with the end of the holy roman empire, the people of the german-speaking areas of the old empire had a common linguistic, cultural, and legal tradition further enhanced by their shared experience in the french revolutionary wars and napoleonic wars. european liberalism offered an intellectual basis for unification by challenging dynastic and absolutist models of social and political organization; its german manifestation emphasized the importance of tradition, education, and linguistic unity of peoples in a geographic region. unification exposed tensions due to religious, linguistic, social, and cultural differences among the inhabitants of the new nation, suggesting that 1871 only represented one moment in a continuum of the larger cultural unification processes. emerging modes of transportation facilitated business and recreational travel, leading to contact and sometimes conflict among german speakers from throughout central europe.

    the model of diplomatic spheres of influence resulting from the congress of vienna in 1814–15 after the napoleonic wars endorsed austrian dominance in central europe through habsburg leadership of the german confederation, designed to replace the holy roman empire. the negotiators at vienna took no account of prussia's growing strength within and declined to create a second coalition of the german states under prussia's influence, and so failed to foresee that prussia would rise to challenge austria for leadership of the german peoples. this german dualism presented two solutions to the problem of unification: kleindeutsche lösung, the small germany solution (germany without austria), or großdeutsche lösung, the greater germany solution (germany with austria).

    historians debate whether otto von bismarckminister president of prussia—had a master plan to expand the north german confederation of 1866 to include the remaining independent german states into a single entity or simply to expand the power of the kingdom of prussia. they conclude that factors in addition to the strength of bismarck's realpolitik led a collection of early modern polities to reorganize political, economic, military, and diplomatic relationships in the 19th century. reaction to danish and french nationalism provided foci for expressions of german unity. military successes—especially those of prussia—in three regional wars generated enthusiasm and pride that politicians could harness to promote unification. this experience echoed the memory of mutual accomplishment in the napoleonic wars, particularly in the war of liberation of 1813–14. by establishing a germany without austria, the political and administrative unification in 1871 at least temporarily solved the problem of dualism.

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  • german-speaking central europe in the early 19th century
  • economic collaboration: the customs union
  • vormärz and nineteenth-century liberalism
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Political map of central Europe showing the 26 areas that became part of the united German Empire in 1891. Prussia based in the northeast, dominates in size, occupying about 40% of the new empire.
The German Empire from 1871–1918

The Unification of Germany into a German Empire with tight political and administrative integration, replacing the decentralized German Confederation and Holy Roman Empire, was officially proclaimed on 18 January 1871, in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in France. Princes of the German states, excluding Austria-Hungary and its House of Habsburg-Lorraine (the dynasty that formerly ruled over the German princes during the German Confederation and Holy Roman Empire), gathered there to proclaim William I of Prussia and the House of Hohenzollern as German Emperor, following the French capitulation in the Franco-Prussian War.

A confederated realm of German princedoms had been in existence for over a thousand years, dating to the Treaty of Verdun in 843. However, there was no German national identity in development as late as 1800, mainly due to the autonomous nature of the princely states; most inhabitants of Holy Roman Empire territories, outside of those ruled by the emperor directly, identified themselves mainly with their prince, and not with the emperor or the German realm as a whole. In the mountainous terrain of much of the territory, isolated peoples developed cultural, educational, linguistic, and religious differences over such a lengthy time period. This internal division became known as the "practice of kleinstaaterei", or the "practice of small-statery". By the nineteenth century, transportation and communications improvements brought these regions closer together.

This changed drastically after the Holy Roman Empire's defeat and dissolution in 1806, and even though a German Confederation was later re-established after the wars, the beginnings of an unprecedented wave of German nationalism swept through Germany during the first half of the 19th century. By mid-century, Germany had already seen movements supporting centralization, with or without the ruling Austrian Habsburgs.

The rival German-speaking power, Prussia, a former vassal of the Habsburgs, attempted to weaken the German Confederation from both within (Prussia had representation in the German diet, a tradition carried over from the Holy Roman Empire era, thus could directly interfere into Austrian affairs in parliament) and from the outside (Prussia allied with the German Confederation in the Second Schleswig War for the purpose of creating a cassus belli between the two powers over the spoils, which would eventually occur in the Austrian-Prussian War of 1867). Economically, the creation of the Prussian Zollverein customs union in 1818, and its subsequent expansion to include other states of the nominally Austrian-led German Confederation, reduced competition between and within the states.

Despite the legal, administrative, and political disruption associated with the end of the Holy Roman Empire, the people of the German-speaking areas of the old Empire had a common linguistic, cultural, and legal tradition further enhanced by their shared experience in the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars. European liberalism offered an intellectual basis for unification by challenging dynastic and absolutist models of social and political organization; its German manifestation emphasized the importance of tradition, education, and linguistic unity of peoples in a geographic region. Unification exposed tensions due to religious, linguistic, social, and cultural differences among the inhabitants of the new nation, suggesting that 1871 only represented one moment in a continuum of the larger cultural unification processes. Emerging modes of transportation facilitated business and recreational travel, leading to contact and sometimes conflict among German speakers from throughout Central Europe.

The model of diplomatic spheres of influence resulting from the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15 after the Napoleonic Wars endorsed Austrian dominance in Central Europe through Habsburg leadership of the German Confederation, designed to replace the Holy Roman Empire. The negotiators at Vienna took no account of Prussia's growing strength within and declined to create a second coalition of the German states under Prussia's influence, and so failed to foresee that Prussia would rise to challenge Austria for leadership of the German peoples. This German dualism presented two solutions to the problem of unification: Kleindeutsche Lösung, the small Germany solution (Germany without Austria), or Großdeutsche Lösung, the greater Germany solution (Germany with Austria).

Historians debate whether Otto von BismarckMinister President of Prussia—had a master plan to expand the North German Confederation of 1866 to include the remaining independent German states into a single entity or simply to expand the power of the Kingdom of Prussia. They conclude that factors in addition to the strength of Bismarck's Realpolitik led a collection of early modern polities to reorganize political, economic, military, and diplomatic relationships in the 19th century. Reaction to Danish and French nationalism provided foci for expressions of German unity. Military successes—especially those of Prussia—in three regional wars generated enthusiasm and pride that politicians could harness to promote unification. This experience echoed the memory of mutual accomplishment in the Napoleonic Wars, particularly in the War of Liberation of 1813–14. By establishing a Germany without Austria, the political and administrative unification in 1871 at least temporarily solved the problem of dualism.

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Atlas Van der Hagen-KW1049B10 047-S. IMPERIUM ROMANO-GERMANICUM oder DEUTSCHLAND MIT SEINEN ANGRANTZENDEN KÖNIGREICHEN UND PROVINCIEN Neulich entworffen und theils gezeichnet durch IULIUM REICHELT Chur Pfaltz.jpeg
Topics
Early history
Middle Ages
Early Modern period
Unification
German Reich
German Empire1871–1918
World War I1914–1918
Weimar Republic1918–1933
Nazi Germany1933–1945
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1945–1952
Expulsion of Germans1944–1950
1945–1990
1990
Reunified Germany1990–present
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