Unification of Germany

After Napoleon's defeat in 1815, many Germans wanted an independent Germany. Germany was a confederation of 39 small states, led by Austria and Prussia. These states were always at war with one another, deterring the economic progress of Germany.

The King of Prussia, Kaiser William I, chose a Prime Minister Bismarck to unify Germany under the rule of Prussia, and excluding Austria and France completely. Bismarck was fearless and believed in the urgent need for unification in Germany.

He started with the modernization of the army, defying the parliament in collecting taxes. His policy came to be known as ‘Blood and Iron’ policy and earned him the nickname of the ‘Iron Chancellor’.

With this improved army, Bismarck encouraged the German population of Schleswig and Holstein to revolt against their ruler Denmark. In 1864, Bismarck joined hands with Austria against Denmark. Bismarck’s next target was Austria. Prussia defeated Austria and formed the North German Confederation. Bismarck promised the province of Venice to Italy and kept her out of the war.

Austria was forced to give Venice to Italy, ending the Austrian control in Italy. He also promised territorial compensation to Napoleon III of France and kept it out of the war. He had already secured Russia’s support by helping them in suppressing a revolt in Russian controlled Poland.

The only obstacles to Prussian dominance of Germany were four small German states in Southern Germany and the disapproval of Napoleon III of France. But a disagreement between the two countries led France to declare a war on Prussia.

The Franco-Prussian War was quite short. Prussia invaded France in 1871 and defeated the French. Napoleon III abdicated the throne and France was forced to give up Alsace and Lorraine.

The remainder of the German states, except Austria, were annexed and joined with Germany. The unification of Germany was complete under Kaiser William I. Soon Germany emerged as the leading power in Europe, building a colonial empire to further German economic interest and increase German influence in the world.