WORLD WAR I
German Unification (1862-1871)
Military crisis of 1862: The army had not been growing since the
Napoleonic period, despite Prussia’s historical reliance upon the military
for its great power status. However, the Prussian legislature, heavily
influenced by liberal industrial interests centered in Prussia’s west German
provinces, opposed any financing of military reforms which the king and the
army thought were necessary. The legislature opposed strengthening a highly
conservative, monarchy-oriented military establishment.
Three men responsible for German unification:
1. Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898): conservative Prussian
politician and member of the Junker class who became one of the leading statesmen
of the 19th century. During his pre-unification career, he did what
he could to obstruct the Austrians, realizing that they would have to be
removed from German affairs if unification was to be achieved under Prussia.
2. William I (1861-88): Prussian king; considered abdicating,
but instead backed Bismarck’s policy of defying the legislature over the question
of financing the army. Became the first kaiser of a united Germany
3. Helmuth von Moltke: Known as “Moltke the Elder”, he
was Chief of the Prussian General Staff and the winning general in Bismarck’s
three wars of unification. His strategies and tactics became the “conventional
wisdom” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Junker: Traditional Prussian nobility closely associated with
the Prussian army.
Bismarck's Three Wars:
1. Danish War (1864)
2. Austro-Prussian or Seven Weeks War (1866)
3. Franco-Prussian War (1870-71)
Note: Bismarck’s techniques in all of his wars
(1) Isolate the enemy
(2) Make it appear as if the enemy were to blame for causing the conflict
Crimean War (1854-56): War fought between a western alliance
(Britain, France, Ottoman Turkey, and Italy) against Russia, largely to prevent
Russian moves toward the Near East and the Straits which separated Asia from
Europe. Despite disease, abysmal health services (which Florence Nightingale
worked to reform), and generally incompetent leadership, the Allies won,
when the Russians proved to be even more poorly organized and led.
Ended in the Treaty of Paris (1856) which thwarted Russian plans and forced
the Russians to “demilitarize” the Black Sea by dismantling their Black Sea
Note: the way in which the Crimean War ultimately affected Russia's
view of both Austria and Prussia and how that affected German unification.
During the Crimean War, Bismarck engineered Prussia’s “benevolent neutrality”
toward Russia at the same time that Austria was trying to seize advantage
from Russia’s defeat, despite Russia’s recent intervention to save the Austrian
Empire from the revolutions of 1848. This drove a wedge between Austria
and Russia and helped prevent the Russians from again moving to block German
unification under Prussia as they had done in 1850.
Napoleon III: Emperor of France (1852-1870) and eventually Bismarck's
adversary in his last and greatest conflict, the Franco-Prussian War which
put the finishing touches on German unification.
Bismarck's method of getting around the Prussian legislature's objection to
the military budget: highly illegal “reinterpretation” of the constitution.
When the legislature and the executive disagreed, Bismarck would dissolve
the legislature, call for new elections, and continue to govern as if the
legislature did not exist. In this way, he pushed through his military
"Blood and Iron": Bismarck's formula for uniting Germany.
He felt that the mistake of 1848 had been to try to bring unification through
democracy and parliamentary acts. In the end, he did indeed unify Germany
through three carefully planned wars.
Schleswig-Holstein Question: Schleswig and Holstein were two
duchies on the border between Denmark and Germany, both ruled by the king
of Denmark. Bismarck used the issue of how they should be governed and
by whom to touch off his first two conflicts—the Danish War and Austro-Prussian
Dynastic Union: the type of union which exists between two otherwise
independent states which share the same ruling family. This was the
was in manner in which he Danish king ruled Schleswig and Holstein.
It was when he tried to actually incorporate the duchies into Denmark that
he gave Bismarck the pretence to launch a war.
Danish War: Austria and Prussia joined to crush Denmark and then strip
it of the disputed duchies. Ended by the Treaty of Vienna (1864).
The subsequent dispute between Austria and Prussia over the administration
of the two duchies supplied Bismarck with his casus belli for a war against
Casus belli: literally, the “cause of war”.
Reasons for French failure to intervene in the Austro-Prussian War:
1. Involvement of French army in the Mexican Adventure
2. Belief that it would be a long conflict, weakening both German powers and
ultimately benefitting France
3. Prussian promises of compensation in return for neutrality
Biarritz Meeting (1865): Napoleon III, in one of his greatest
diplomatic blunders, agreed to remain neutral in the upcoming Austro-Prussian
War, in return for vague promises of territorial compensations.
Note: the reason that the new Kingdom of Italy either favored
or actively support Prussia in its wars against both Austria (1866) and France
(1870). Italy was primarily concerned with completing its own unification.
In 1866, for coming in on Prussia’s side, it gained Venetia. In 1870,
by remaining neutral, it was able to take Rome when French troops protecting
the pope were withdrawn.
The role of technology: Prussian forces made good use of 19th
century technological advances(railroads, telegraph, breech-loading rifles)
in their conflict with Austria--so much so that it is sometimes called the
"first railroad war."
Sadowa: Decisive battle fought in the third week of the Austro-Prussian
War. The Austrians were routed.
Treaty of Prague (1866): Treaty ending the Austro-Prussian War.
In order to avoid making the Austrians implacable enemies, Bismarck refrained
from imposing a harsh peace on them. He took from Austria only the Duchy
of Holstein and a small war indemnity. Cancelled a plan for a Prussian
victory parade through Vienna. He would need Austrian friendship during
his final war against France.
North German Confederation (1867-71): union of northern German
states under the leadership of Prussia. A major step on the road to
Reistag: lower house of the new, two-chambered legislature of
the North German Confederation. Would remain as the name of Germany’s
legislative lower house thereafter.
In 1866, the south German states, such as Bavaria and Wurttemberg, were not
yet ready to join in a Prussian-led union. They were strongly Catholic
and Prussia was Protestant. What is more, they were highly independent,
and did not wish to submit to Prussian domination. As a result, for
a few years, they formed a lose confederation of their own.
Indemnity Act (1867): the Prussian legislature made its peace
with the first minister. It retroactively approved his illegal military
expenditures and gave him a pension in return for his vague admission that
he had acted a bit high-handedly!
Bismarck planned to use a war with France to complete German unification.
The conflict would inspire a new wave of nationalistic feeling which Bismarck
believed (correctly) would draw the south German states into the union with
Prussia. Consequently, almost as soon as the Austro-Prussian war ended,
he began manoeuvering for this next conflict.
Under Napoleon III, France had made one military and diplomatic blunder after
another. A last-minute attempt to save the regime by instituting liberal
reforms was cut off short by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War.
Napoleon III's international policy errors:
1. Botched intervention in the War of Italian Unification (1859), while
it had earned him Nice and Savoy, had raised up domestic opposition and left
the Italians angry that he had gotten too much for doing too little.
2. Mexican Adventure (1862–67): French attempt to intervene in
Mexico to collect debts owed to France and to establish a puppet state under
a Hapsburg archduke, Maximilian. A guerrilla war by the Mexicans as
well as opposition by the United States following the Civil War, forced Napoleon
to withdraw and turned his attempt into a costly failure.
3. Failure to protect French interests in the Austro-Prussian War
The Spanish Crisis (1868-1870): Bismarck’s casus belli for the
Franco Prussian War. A Spanish revolution in 1868 toppled Queen Isabel
II. In looking a new monarch, the Spaniards offered the crown to a
Hohenzollern named Prince Leopold. Bismarck pushed Leopold to
accept, realizing that the French would never accept a Hohenzollern on the
throne of Spain. Despite Leopold’s pulling out at the last minute,
the French overplayed their hand, demanding that Prussia guarantee that a
Hohenzollern would never accept the crown of Spain. When William I
refused to make such a blanket commitment, the French declared war.
The Ems Dispatch (July, 1870): Telegram in which William discussed
these event with Bismarck. Bismarck edited it to look like an insult
to the leaked it to the press. When the news broke in Paris on Bastille
Day (July 14), the furor led to the French declaration of war.
Isolation of France:
1. Italians favored Prussia for the withdrawal of French troops would let
them take Rome
2. Russians favored Prussia for the defeat of France would give them the
opportunity to remilitarize the Black Sea
3. England was upset with France over the Mexican adventure and believed that
the French had caused the war
4. Austria detested Napoleon III for his intervention in Italy, had been
reconciled to Prussia by the easy terms of 1866, and, under any conditions,
was in no position to get involved in a war given its current nationality
Franco-Prussian War: German mobilization went like clockwork
while on the French side it was a disaster. Germans drove the French
out of Alsace and Lorraine. French refused to withdraw and regroup.
Sedan (September, 1870): Decisive battle of the Franco-Prussian
War in which the French army, pinned against the Belgian border, was forced
When word reached Paris, the Empire collapsed and the Third French Republic
was proclaimed. When it learned that Bismarck intended to annex Alsace
and Lorrain, the republic fought on, but it was a forelorn hope. After
a long siege, the starving city of Paris was forced to surrender. Bismarck
forced the French to elect a constituent assembly by universal manhood suffrage
and that assembly was forced to accept the harsh German terms in the name
of the French people.
Treaty of Frankfurt (May, 1871):
1. France to pay a huge war indemnity
2. German army to garrison France until payment
3. Alsace and Lorraine ceded Germany
German Empire (1871-1918): also called the Second Reich;
its proclamation came in the Palace of Versailles, in the famous Hall
of Mirrors, during the German siege of Paris. It was proclaimed
on the 170 anniversary of Prussia becoming a kingdom.
Note: Bismarck was not trying to spare French feelings as he had earlier
spared those of Austria.
Kaiser: the proper title of the new emperor of Germany.
Characteristics of the new German Empire:
1. Federal state: a number of duchies, arch-duchies, and even kingdoms
(25 in all) continued to exist and exercise a certain amount of autonomy
2. Ruled by an emperor (who was also the King of Prussia)
3. Bicameral legislature (Upper chamber was the Bundesrat; the
lower chamber was the Reistag)
4. Chancellor and ministers appointed by and responsible to the emperor
5. Some of the states which made up the empire (such as Bavaria) enjoyed
more rights than others.
Despite its federal nature, the new state was thoroughly dominated by Prussia.