Bismarck and German Unification
by Russell Williams
Cheltenham and Gloucester College
Key aspects to consider
- Different ideas: Grossdeutsch or Kleindeutsch?
- The failure of the 1848 revolutions.
- Development of Prussia from 1815 to 1862.
- Bismarck‘s aims: planner or opportunist?
- What Prussian problems faced Bismarck in 1862?
- Relations with Austria, wars and 1866-71.
- Relations with France.
- The German and the imperial constitution, 1871.
Working with the information
Make notes on these items
- What do you understand by the terms
‘nationalism’ and ‘liberalism’? Was
Bismarck either a German nationalist or a liberal?
- What was the role of Austria in Germany from 1815 to 1866?
- Why was Prussia the strongest of the German states?
- Draw a map to indicate the stages of unification from 1862 to 1871. Mark
which countries supported Bismarck, which opposed and which were neutral.
- What role was played in German unification by the following:
- The Zollverein;
- William I;
- Moltke and Roon;
- Napoleon III?.
- Make brief notes on the following:
- the 1815 German Confederation;
- the Frankfurt Parliament;
- the Prussian liberals from 1860; and
- the North German Confederation.
- Find books which claim that Bismarck
- (i) favoured the unity of all Germany and
- (ii) sought to unite only North Germany.
- How can we assess their reliability?
- Are the two views contradictory?
These can be used either as topics for revision or as essay questions
- 1. To what extent was Germany
‘Prussianised’ rather than unified in 1871?
- 2. Why was Bismarck more successful than the revolutionaries of 1848 in
- 3. Why did the balance of power between Austria and Prussia in Germany
change during the years 1849 to 1866?
- 4. ‘Bismarck could not have united Germany without the
the arguments for and against this claim.
- 5. ‘What an extraordinary man Bismarck is! He meets me for the first time
and he tells me all he is going to do.’ (Disraeli, 1862.)
‘A brilliant opportunist, whose policy looks more clear-cut and coherent in retrospect
than it was at the time.’ How far is it possible to agree with either, or both, of these descriptions of Bismarck?
Supplementary reading further to your primary textbook
In addition to the material which can be found in standard textbooks, the
following will be helpful:
- J. Breuilly, The Formation of the First German Nation- State
1800-1871, Macmillan, 1996.
- W. Carr, A History of Germany 1815-1990, Arnold, 1991.
- M. Gorman, The Unification of Germany, Cambridge University Press, 1989.
- B. Waller, Bismarck, Blackwell - Historical Association Studies, 1985.
- B. Waller ed., Themes in Modern European History
- D.G. Williamson, Bismarck and Germany
1862-1890, Longman 1986.