Germany 1849-1866 1871-1890

Germany 1866-1871

Definition . Foreign Policy . Domestic Policy . The Economy . Demography . Cultural History

Definition of Germany
Germany in 1866 was a complex political entity. The Prussian defeat of Austria and her German allies in the Seven Weeks War 1866 had resulted in Austria leaving the German Confederation it hitherto presided. French protection for the states to the south of the Main line restricted Prussia to northern Germany, where, after annexing Schleswig-Holstein, Hannover, Hessen-Kassel, Nassau and Frankfurt, it established the North German Confederation (1867). An anomaly was the Grand Duchy of Hessen (Hessen-Darmstadt), which for her northern part was member of the North German Confederation, and for the southern part, was not. The North German Confederation included several territories which had not formed part of the German Confederation : Schleswig, and the Prussian provinces of Posen, West Prussia and East Prussia.
German patriots in the thus described North German Confederation, but also in the German states south of the Main line, and among the German speaking population of Austria, had a larger Germany in mind.

Foreign Policy
The Franco-German War of 1870-1871 was fought to remove the obstacle French protection for Bavaria and Württemberg (Baden and the Grand Duchy of Hessen were Prussian allies) formed on the road of German unification. Bismarck wanted a unified Germany without Austria, as he wanted a Germany under Prussian leadership.
During the period leading up to the war, Bismarck sought to make sure that the German states under Prussia's leadership would face an isolated France. The erratic policies of Emperor Napoleon III., who sought to expand France by the acquisition of Luxemburg (foiled in 1867 by Bismarck placing a Prussian regiment in the fortress of Luxemburg) played into Bismarck's hands.
When, in 1870, an international dispute over the succession to the Spanish throne arose, Napoleon issued demands to Prussia's King Wilhelm I.; Bismarck edited a French telegram containing such seemingly exaggerated demands, and had the telegram published in the newspapers (Ems Dispatch); France responded by declaring war.
To the surprise of the French, Bavaria and Württemberg, which Napoleon III. had perceived as being his allies, entered the war on the Prussian side; sympathies of dynasty and cabinet were conflicting with the sympathies of a large part of the population in these countries. The war turned out to be single-sided, a clear vctory of the German forces. It was Bavarian troops which decided the war by forcing Napoleon III. to surrender at Sedan.

Inner-German Policy
North German Confederation . The North German Confederation began as a military alliance under Prussian leadership, and in 1867 was changed into a federal state, with a constitution. It established central institutions such as a unified postal service (Norddeutscher Postbezirk, North German Postal District).
As the NGC was seen as a major accomplishment on the path to German unification, public opinion, and many of the representatives elected into the Reichstag, were supportive. Among those who took a more sceptical stand were representatives of the Polish population in Posen etc., of the Danish population in the nothern parts of Schleswig, and particularly the 'Welfs', politicians from Hannover opposed to the Prussian annexation in 1866.
Bismarck respected the political autonomy of the member states. For one, Prussia held over 80 % of the territory and population of the North German Confederation; the confederation capital was Berlin. And, if he desired the states of southern Germany to join in, he had to counter the fear of southerners that their traditions might be interfered with, that the south would undergo "Prussification".
In previous decades, the issue of German unification had been propagated by the cultural elite in such an emotional, passionate way that now, when unification (under Prussian leadership, without Austria) was a realistic possibility, it was difficult to argue against it. Organizations such as the Burschenschaften (students' fraternities), the gymnastic movement, many clubs (choirs) etc. had long dedicated themselves to unification; the universities were centers of national sentiment. Most newspapers reported on the issue of unification as modern newspapers cover the success of the national football team in the World Cup. Particularly in Catholic Bavaria (the country had sided with Austria in the Seven Weeks War 1866), there were those who looked at Bismarck's political pland with a degree of scepticism. But Bismarck's lenient treatment of Bavaria, the political autonomy the smaller states enjoyed in the North German Confederation calmed suspicions, and the strength of the German sentiment among fellow Bavarians prevailed.

The Economy
During the Seven Weeks War, the Zollverein underwent a crisis, as it broke up into a Prussian and an Austrian camp. From 1867 on the Zollverein consisted of the North German Confederation, the Grand Duchy of Hessen, Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, Luxemburg and the Dutch province of Limburg. Prussian leadership in the Zollverein was now uncontested, the veto right of individual member states ablished. Schleswig-Holstein, Lauenburg and both Mecklenburgs (Schwerin, Strelitz) joined in 1868. The Zollverein had a common currency, the Vereinsthaler, since 1857.

Jan Lahmeyer gives population estimates for Germany as 38.4 million in 1867, 41.0 million in 1871.

Cultural History
Felix Dahn published Die Könige der Germanen (The Kings of the Germanics) 1861-1909 (11 volumes). Richard Wagner's Meistersinger were first performed in 1868, Rheingold in 1869, Walküre and Siegfried-Idyll in 1870.

Historical Encyclopedia Entries on Bismarck 1878-1886

Articles from Wikipedia : Otto von Bismarck, Wilhelm I., Richard Wagner, Ludwig II. of Bavaria, Felix Dahn, North German Confederation, Ems Dispatch, Zollverein
German Railway History, from DB Museum

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 11th 2007

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