(NATIONALISM and EMPIRE in EUROPE – continued)

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Prussia versus Habsburg Austria

In the 1850s, Prussia and some smaller independent states in Germany were rapidly industrializing and growing in population. Rails crisscrossed Germany, and Germany was the hub of rail traffic on the European continent, taking trade away from British merchant ships. Germany was changing from what the British had thought of as a land of tinkering clockmakers and forests. It was becoming more urban and middle-class. It was on a course that by the end of the century would have it as the third power in manufacturing output in the world, with a 13.2 percent share, behind the Untied States with a 23.6 percent share, Britain with an 18.5 percent share, and almost twice that of France, which would have a 6.8 percent share. note92

The Habsburg monarchy had been isolated diplomatically during its war against France and Sardinia-Piedmont. It wanted to revive its partnership with Prussia's monarchy against liberalism and nationalism, and it wished to lure Prussia into helping to reverse the settlement at Villafranca and to regain Lombardy. The Habsburg emperor, Franz Joseph, was exercising his vanity and his sense of responsibility by wanting to keep his family's empire as great as it had been when he had inherited it.

Prussia was the largest of the German states, a constitutional monarchy and mostly Protestant. During a domestic crisis in 1862, a member of Prussia's landed aristocracy, Otto von Bismarck, took the office of minister-president. Representing the king, Bismarck, declared that his government would rule without parliamentary consideration. He was concerned with Prussia's position regarding neighboring German states and Habsburg influence in the Confederation of German States.

The Confederation of German States consisted of 39 states, 35 of which were monarchies and 4 of which were free city-states – free implying republican self-rule. The confederation was a security arrangement for mutual defense, with representatives at a parliament in Frankfurt – one of the free city-states.

There was also a customs union among the German states, the Zollverein (pronounced tsôl´ferin´), a union that facilitated trade and helped bring economic progress to Germany. The Zollverein was a source of tension between Prussia and Austria, with Prussia opposed to admitting Austria to the Zollverein and several German states insisting upon including Austria.

Bismarck was less opposed to nationalism than were the Austrians representing Emperor Franz Joseph. Bismarck favored expanding Prussian influence with Germany's smaller states and removing Austria's influence within the Confederation of German States, especially in northern Germany. He believed that Germany was too small for both Prussia and Austria, and he was not opposed to using German nationalism in the expansion of Prussia's power. Prussia's liberals had been nationalistic. Bismarck was looking to steal the nationalist issue from the liberals. The liberals dominated the lower house of Prussia's parliament – a powerless debating society called the Reichstag. The liberals represented businessmen and the middle class. They were speaking against the costly enterprise of militarism and war, and Bismarck countered that "the great questions of the day will not be decided by speeches and resolutions ... but by blood and iron." The liberals responded by denouncing Bismarck for believing that "might makes right."

The question of war came in 1863 following the death of King Frederick of Denmark. Christian of Glucksburg ascended the Denmark's throne and gave the duchy of Holstein (largely German in population) its independence. But Denmark's new king also annexed the duchy of Schleswig, a duchy with a mixed German and Danish population. Prussia and Austria were opposed to the annexation of Schleswig and went to war against Denmark.

Little Denmark was the loser, the 1864 Treaty of Vienna making Austria the administrator of Holstein and Prussia the administrator of Schleswig. Bismarck wanted control over both and both to be economically integrated with Prussia. He wanted the canal that was to be built between the North Sea and Baltic Sea – the Kiel Canal – to be Prussian territory. Austria feared that in giving in to Bismarck it would lose the respect of the smaller states within the Confederation of German States. Prussia sent troops into Holstein. Austria could either accept German domination of Holstein or start a war, and war it would be.

Austria had a secret treaty with France, Austria agreeing to cede Venetia to Italy in exchange for France's neutrality during its war with Prussia. Bismarck was afraid of a coalition against Prussia. Russia was not to be part of this coalition, Bismarck having gained the gratitude of Tsar Alexander II by supporting his repression of the recent 1863 Polish uprising against Russian rule. Bismarck believed that the recent war against Denmark showed that it was unlikely that Britain and Russia would intervene in a war between Prussia and Austria, and he moved France away from a coalition with Austria by promising France more territory along the Rhine.

The Austro-Prussian war began in mid-June, 1866. Prussia's railroads and good organization enabled it to get its troops to battle quickly. Italy sent troops against the Austrian troops in Venetia, and Austria's troops stopped that advance. But in early July, Prussia defeated Austria decisively at the village of Sadowa, in northeastern Bohemia, also known as the Battle of Königgrätz.

Bismarck wanted victory before outsiders, especially the French, intervened, and he made peace with Austria on August 23 – the war having lasted seven weeks. His terms were considered by some, including Prussia's king, Wilhelm I, and some Prussian military officers, to be too generous. But rather than wishing to punish Austria, Bismarck was being pragmatic. He wanted a future ally in Austria, and he wanted Austria to survive as a healthy state, able to control the peoples of its empire. He did not want to absorb Austria's Catholic Germans – which would have made the Catholics in Prussia more numerous than the Protestants. Austria did not have to pay Prussia reparations and Austria lost no territory, except Venetia, which it ceded to France. And, following a plebiscite in Venetia, France allowed Italy to annex Venetia.

Following the war what had been the Confederation of German States was no more. Former members, including Mecklenburg, Hanover, and the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg in northern Germany united with Prussia. So too did the free cities Hamburg, Lübeck, Bremen, and Frankfurt. And Prussia absorbed Schleswig and Holstein. In southern Germany the mostly Catholic states (that had sided with Austria) remained independent but they were to form military alliances with Prussia. A new constitution and federal parliament were created for Germany, carefully designed by Bismarck to maintain the power of the crown, the army and the nobility. The Bundesrat formed the upper house and represented the princes of various states, and the Reichstag, elected by direct manhood suffrage, formed the lower and representing others. The chancellor was to be appointed by the king. Parliament could not dismiss the chancellor nor withhold money from the government, and the king became president of the federation.

Prussia's middle-class politicians, meanwhile, were swayed by Bismarck's success. They were delighted that Bismarck was willing to cooperate with them and were partaking in a swing toward conservatism and respect for the authoritarianism of Bismarck and the German monarchy. Bismarck's "blood and iron" had been of deciding influence.


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