UNIFICATION OF GERMANY: A great event not only in the history of Europe but also of the world was the unification of Germany in 1871. The unification of Germany was brought by Otto von Bismarck __ a Prussian aristocrat.

Historical Background:

The period between 1789 — 1815 is mentioned as the Napoleanic wars. After the end of the Napoleanic era, the statemen from different European nations met at Vianna in November 1814. That conference united the 200 German states into 39 states.

The German confederation was presided over by Austria. At first, it seemed that the arrangement was a reality. Germany was still much Divided territory.

unification of Germany

The German Diet:

An assembly, for the whole of Germany, was created after 1815. Not elected by popular vote, it lacked the proper representation of the people and thus proved to be ineffective.

The Diet met in Frankfurt and consisted of 17 members. Metternich secured the permanent presidency for Austria, which was a position of decisive importance.


The important development of great future significance was the Zollverein or the customs union. It originated in Prussia where an extensive trading system was undertaken in 1854, that included the whole of Germany except Austria and a few other smaller territories. That was one factor that made many German states look toward Prussia as the new leader in Germany. This was the first step towards the eventual unification of Germany.

FREDRICK WILLIAM 4 (1840 – 1861):

In 1840, with the accession of Fredrich William 4, the possibilities of the unification of Germany seemed greater, people of Germany were expecting from him the following things.

Free institutions.

Unification of all German states.

All enthusiasm fell flat when it seemed that he had no intention of playing any part in uniting the German states against the wishes and hopes of the people.


King William 4, fearing a wide public retaliation in the form of an outright civil war after the demonstrations of March 12 – 1848, in the streets of Berlin, called for reform.

The king issued a proclamation supporting the idea of a United Germany. At the same time, he declared a parliament called the Frankfurt Diet, consisting of 831 members, representing 50,000 voters each. The Diet had two main objectives.

  1. To form a constitution for all German states.
  2. To offer the crown of a united Germany to a suitable ruler.

King William 4 was himself a candidate for the crown but refused it due to two reasons.

  1. He was afraid of offending Austria.
  2. He disliked the idea of accepting the crown, which he declared was from “the gutter”. The matter was thus put into cold storage.


The period between 1850 – 70 was an era of remarkable changes. Prussia emerged as the unifier of Germany due to the efforts of one man i.e Otto von Bismark.

He was a Prussian aristocrat, who held democracy, and socialism. He entered politics, after a stint in the civil services and became a member of the Prussian parliament in 1847. He expressed his dislikes openly.  The king was appointed as a Prussian representative to the Diet in 1851.

Regarding the unification of Germany Bismarck soon came to the conclusion that 

  1. Germany couldn’t unify in the presence of Austria
  2. The unification could be brought about by force but on Prussian terms.

Bismarck was kept away from the politics of Berlin in the beginning. He was sent to Russia as an ambassador in 1858 by the Friedrich 4 and then he was sent to France in 1862.


In 1861 Friedrich William 4 died and in his place, his brother William 1 came into power.


William 1 was against liberalism and democracy. Two significant steps taken by him were:

  1. He appointed Von Roon as minister of war, and
  2. Von Moltke as chief of General Staff.

He wanted to increase the army from 50,000 to 750,000. For this purpose, he demanded from the parliament a considerable increase in taxation.

The Diet rejected the king’s demand and, by majority vote, insisted on certain amendments to the military law as a condition for the acceptance of the king’s proposal. This was to establish their supremacy. 

A tense situation developed and Von Roon, at this stage persuaded the king to recall Bismark from Paris and appoint him the minister President.


When Bismark arrived, he was given full security to crush liberalism. On 30th September 1862, stated.

“ The great question of the day will not be decided by speeches and resolutions of the majority but by blood and iron”

Bismarck’s Blood and Iron policy was aimed toward the ultimate achievement of German unification, by making Prussian stronger. For this he had to take a couple of steps:

  1. The expulsion of Austria from the German confederation.
  2. To make Prussia the strongest state in Europe.

For the unification of Germany, Bismark intended to defeat one big power in neighboring countries and he selected France to defeat.


The provinces of Schleswig and Holstein, where the population was mainly Danish and German respectively, were a part of the Danish crown. In 1863 Schleswig was separated from Holstein and a new Danish constitution called for the complete incorporation into the Danish crown.

Bismarck also decided to interfere in the dispute for two main reasons.

  1. Bismarck wanted to get the sympathies of the German nationalists
  2. He wanted control of the two duchies to establish Prussian importance.


  1. To isolate the enemy.
  2. Secondly to declare it the aggressor.

He used all his diplomatic tactics to make sure that Denmark would have no allies to depend upon when the time came, For this purpose, he set upon the taslo of making Napoleon 3 neutral by offering 10 consider concessions along the Rhine.

He also foresaw the necessity of obliging Russia and keeping her on the best of terms. He made an agreement with Austria over the settlement of the duchies. PM UK had declared support to Denmark due to public demand. But Bismark decided to call it a bluff.

After the successful handling of his campaign, Bismarck now proposed to take the dispute to a European conference. The Danish refused and Bismarck attacked them in 1865. An armistice “The convention of Gastein” was signed in August 1865. It was so arranged that Prussian was to administer Schleswig, and Holstein would be under Austrian control. With this Bismarck laid down the foundation of a strong Germany.


The 1866 campaign was a carefully and intelligently planned stage in the unification of Germany under the leadership of Otto Von Bismarck. Bismarck turned his attention towards an alliance with Italy. He promised the Italians to give back the Austrian captured territory of Venetia. He got from the Italians’ promise of assistance in case of a war involving Prussia.

Having cleverly set up the stage, Bismarck now followed his policy of making his opponents the aggressors. The Austrians wanted to grant the government of Holstein to the Duke of Augastenberg. In June 1866, the Prussian army marched into Holstein and took over control. Anger rose among the Austrians who called for the German confederation conference. Most of the states supported Austria, which was tantamount to an encouragement to attack. This showed a marked division in the whole German unit.

The war lasted for seven weeks. The final battle took place at Sadowa in Bohemia. The Prussian army marched victoriously into Vienna. But instead of doing something harsh with them, Bismarck dealt very moderately with them. He had no wish of driving into the arms of Napolean.


That treaty was signed in August 1866. It is also called the “Treaty of Vienna”. The main articles of the treaty are

  1. The ally was awarded Venetia given to Italy.
  2. The annexation of Schleswig and Holstein, along with the small German states, that had supported Austria.

That treaty proved to be a blow to Austria because;

  • Austria accepted the North German confederation.
  • The end of the congress of Vienna meant the downfall of Austrian supremacy.
  • Austria was ousted from the membership of the German confederation.
  • Supremacy of Prussia, instead of Austria, was created.

Bismarck now formed the “North German Confederation”. The king of Prussia was the president while Bismark himself became the chancellor.


After completing the first phase of his policy of unification of Germany, now Bismarck moved toward France. Napolean 3 was demanding Rhineland, Luxembourg, and Belgium. Bismarck published their demand and thus got the favor of other European countries.


By 1868, Bismarck was in a strong position both politically and militarily. 

In 1869 a revolution occurred in Spain. Which overthrow Queen Isabella from power. The Spaniards were now in search of a new ruler. They offered twice the crown to Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern Sigmaringen, a relative of the Prussian king.

Although Bismark was in favor of the decision. William 1 himself wasn’t sure about provoking Napoleon 3 through what be the encirclement of France by Germany’s influence. Prince Leopold withdraws his candidature. He was again for the third time offered the crown in March 1870.

This time France showed concern and stated that if the offer was accepted it would create problems and resentment among the french. 

Napoleon demanded through his ambassador Benedetti that the German candidature should never again be renewed. Prince Leopold secured the offer when it was offered for the fourth time.

This move created the expected resentment. Britain, Prussia, and Austria intervened and called for an international European conference. Prince Leopold was forced to withdraw once again and give up the thrown. This was the first blow Bismark had been dealt not by one but by a group of major powers.

The French ambassador met William 1 and sought assurance that another offer like this wouldn’t be accepted. He considered it a challenge to his sovereignty and sent a telegram to Bismarck, describing that situation. Bismarck gave that telegram to the press, which disgraced the French ambassador.

On 14 July 1870 France declared war which lasted for six weeks. On 1st September 1870, a decisive battle was fought at Sedan, and Prussia had an overwhelming victory. The Fort of Melz fell on 26 October 1870. This was another setback for Napolean.


On May 10, 1871 Treaty of Frankfurt was signed, according to which:

  • France was to pay 50,000,000,000 Frans in war indemnity within three years.
  • German troops would be stationed in France until full reparation had been paid
  • Alsace and Lorain were given to Germany.


Finally, Bismark proved himself successful by proclaiming the German empire. The proclamation was made at Versailles in 1871. Bismark has achieved his goal of the complete unification of Germany by his cunningness and wit.

What was the unification of Germany?

It was Otto Von Bismarck, who unified Germany in 1871, by fighting three wars with Denmark, Austria, and France. He carefully started wars with these countries and finally became successful in the mission of unification of Germany

How did Germany unify in 1871?

The final act of the unification of Germany was the France-Prussian war of 1870-71, brought about by Bismarck to draw the Western German States into alliance with the North German Confederation. France was defeated and Bismarck achieved his goal of the unification of Germany in 1871 in the palace of Versailles.

Was the unification of Germany successful?

With the unification of Germany, they created a powerful army and it is a fact that it successfully brought about quarreling states under one state in a short time. So, it is the outcome of the unification of Germany that it expanded its reach to many other parts of the world

How was the process of German unification completed?

The process of the unification of Germany was completed, when Prussia defeated Denmark, Austria, and France in the wars. Prussia defeated these three countries and thus completed the process of the unification of Germany in 1871and proclaimed the German Empire in the palace of Versailles.