History Lesson: 19th Century Germany

1848 German Revolutions painting

1848 German Revolutions

19th Century Germany, as the Schumanns and Brahms experienced it was a time of great change which culminated in the unification of the German state in 1871.

After the Thirty Year’s War of 1618-1648 was ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 German speaking Europe was divided into hundreds of states. Over the next two centuries the two largest of these states – Prussia and Austria jockeyed for dominance, while the smaller states sought to retain their independence by allying themselves with one or the other depending on local conditions. From the mid 1790s until the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, much of the area of modern Germany was occupied by French troops. Under Napoleon’s influence many of the smaller German states were abolished and unified, so that by 1815 German territory consisted of about 40 states.

During the next half-century there was increasing pressure for German unification. Scholars, students, businessmen and others wanted a unified Germany which would bring uniform laws and currency as well as democracy. In 1848 revolutions seemed likely to succeed in bringing unity, but King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia who was offered the crown of a united Germany refused it.

Otto von Bismarck

Otto von Bismarck

Despite the opposition of conservative forces, German unification succeeded in 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War. Germany was unified and transformed into an empire under Emperor Wilhelm I, King of Prussia. The architect of this German state was Otto von Bismarck who used masterful diplomatic maneuvers and three brief but highly successful military campaigns to achieve a united German state without Austria.

References/Recommended Reading:

Fulbrook, Mary. A Concise History of Germany. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.

German Historical Institute. “From Vormärz to Prussian Dominance (1815-1866)” German History in Documents and Images. Web. 22 Oct. 2013.


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