European Unification.

European Unification.

By 1850 Great Britain, France and Russia were the three major powers in Europe. However, the forthcoming unification of Germany and Italy was to change the face of Europe dramatically. In the last three decades of the 19th Century Europe entered a period of major economic, social, political and cultural change. The second Industrial Revolution brought about scientific and technological advances and the arrival of steel and electricity transformed manufacturing.

Cities grew rapidly, political parties developed and the age of mass politics came into being. The creation of socialist parties and socialists were being elected across Europe. Unions put forth demands and engaged in strikes. In the three decades after 1848 Liberalism prevailed and without the Liberal’s male suffrage, political democracy and other significant changes would not have occurred. Liberal democracy emerged as the dominant form of European politics from the second half of the 19th Century to present day.

In the first half of the 19th Century Germans and Italians were agitating for political unification. (A political union is a type of state, which is composed of or created out of smaller states. Unlike a personal union, the individual states share a common government and the union is recognized internationally as a single political entity. A political union may also be called a legislative union or state union.) After 1848 Germany and Italy were not unified and revolutionaries remained angry about this. Italian unification came as a result of the expansion of Piedmont-Piedmont-Sardinia (the peninsulas strongest most Liberal state) and its monarchy, the House of Savoy.

The case of Germany was somewhat different. German unification was affected by autocratic manipulation of diplomacy and war. The German Empire was reactionary and flying in the face of European Liberalism. German and Italian unification created two new great powers in Europe and the impact of these changes were to be widely felt for decades to come.

Many forces were working against Italian unification, the state was very much fragmented, questions of who rules after unification were toxic, the notion of papal rule was feared in certain influential quarters and the Habsburg monarchy presented a formidable obstacle. However, some factors promoted the ‘Risorgimento’ (Resurgence) of Italy. Nationalism was increasing in the middle and upper class circles. Professionals and academics also sought it and there was, as always had been, a hatred for Austrian rule over certain parts of Italy. Most people wanted resurgence independent of the pope and the Catholic Church.

The Two sources of possible leadership  for Italian unification were firstly; King Victor Emmanuel II (House of Savoy) was the King of Piedmont-Sardinia and he aimed to exert his control over the entire peninsula. He was King of Italy’s most prosperous region and in 1852 he made the wise decision to appoint the brilliant politician Count Camillo di Cavour to be his Prime Minister. Cavour was an aristocratic Liberal and wanted Italian unification by expanding Piedmont-Sardinia. The second was Giuseppe Mazzini, a political activist, revolutionary, nationalist and democrat who wanted Italian unification but not by the expansion of Piedmont-Sardinia. He was an enemy of monarchical control and saw unification as a ‘common faith and purpose’ that would make Italy a democracy. He claimed that unification was the work of all the people of Italy and not just a royal desire. He wanted to mobilise the people and was involved in setting up numerous political organisations to achieve not just Italian unification but European unification. His very existence and propaganda in Italy kept the concept of unification alive.

Austria’s domination of Italy was making unification very difficult. Cavour formed an alliance with Britain and France against Austria in the Crimean War. In 1854 France and Britain joined the Ottoman empire against Russia and Cavour saw by pledging Piedmont-Sardinia’s allegiance to the allies as an opportunity for future Italian unification. The war succeeded and at the signing of the ‘Peace Of Paris’ (1856) Cavour expressed his desire to the allies for Italian unification and the threat of war with Austria. Napoleon III wanted more influence in Italy and to set up an alliance he proposed a royal union between his nephew and the daughter of King Victor Emmanuel II and that would cement relations between Piedmont-Sardinia and France. Following this, France agreed to cooperate with Piedmont-Sardinia in war against Austria. The Austrians gave the excuse when they proposed recruiting Italian troops to fight for Austrian interests and thus they became the aggressors and forced Prussia and other German states to distance themselves from Austrian aggression.

Austria then invaded Piedmont-Sardinia and France mobilised it troops. However, French allegiance to Piedmont-Sardinia was called into question when Napoleon III forged a peace settlement with Austria. He believed that if Italian unification were to happen it would threaten the balance of power in Europe and that would result in damage to France. However, in the Treaty of Turin (1860), Napoleon III agreed to Piedmont-Sardinia’s annexation of most of central and northern Italy and Piedmont-Sardinia ceded Savoy and Nice and so all of northern and central Italy was unified.

Giuseppe Garibaldi was an Italian military and political figure who had a long career of struggle for Italian unification. A member of Mazzini’s ‘Young Italy’, a political movement aiming for Italian unification, he dedicated himself to the lifelong cause from an early age. After a long exile in Brazil garibaldi returned to Rome during the revolutions of 1848 and offered his services to Piedmont-Sardinia but was rebuffed. He went to Lombardy and assisted the provisional government of Milan against the Austrian occupation. The unsuccessful ‘First Italian war of Independence’ he led his legion to two minor victories. He next went to Rome and defended it against French occupation, which led to the siege of Rome.

The French prevailed but a truce was negotiated and Garibaldi withdrew from Rome. After some travel bringing him to America he returned to Italy in 1854 and participated in the Austro-Sardinian War and won victories for Piedmont-Sardinia. Garibaldi took up arms again in 1866 with the full support of the Italian government in the Austro-Prussian war in which Italy had allied with Prussia against Austria and Hungary in the hope of taking Venetia from Austrian rule. He defeated the Austrians and Venetia was ceded. After the war Garibaldi led a political party seeking the capture of Rome, the ancient capital. He led a march into Rome but the papal army with the help of the French were a good match for his badly armed volunteers and after an injury had to withdraw from the papal territory. He was sent to prison and on his release he returned to his island Caprera. He sought the abolition of the papacy as ‘the most harmful of all secret societies’. When the Franco-Prussian war broke out in 1870 the Italians favoured Prussia and the French troops were withdrawn from Rome and the Italian army captured the Papal States without Garibaldi. The newly declared French Third Republic won Garibaldi support, regardless of former French hostilities, and Garibaldi went to France and led an army of volunteers that was never defeated by Prussians. After his return to Italy he retired to Caprera but remained active and even set up the ‘league Of Democracy’ (1879) which advocated universal suffrage, abolition of ecclesiastical property, emancipation of women and maintenance of a standing army. He remained active until his death in 1882.

Garibaldi’s involvement in two major conflicts during his life, namely the Austro-Prussian war (1866) in which the Austrians were defeated and Venetia became part of Italy, and the French withdrawal from Rome (1870) making it the nations capital and isolating papal control, at the start of the Franco-Prussian war (1870) led to the final, but somewhat limited, unification of Italy.

The limits to Italian unification became apparent in the following decades. Most Italians remained loyal to their family, local towns and church as well as to powerful local leaders. The majority of the population were illiterate and most spoke local dialects rather than Italian. Mass emigration to the United States and Argentina only resolved some of the problems of over-population and the Catholic Church was anti-unification condemning it to its loyal supporters as anti-religious and not to be encouraged by participation with its political leaders. This meant, to the predominantly catholic population that to vote would be an act of evil.

 The king of Italy ruled through a corrupt and aggressive premier, Francesco Crispi, and his mafia style parliament. He was replaced by Giovanni Giolitti in 1903 and brought stability to Italian political life. In 1904 the non-voting stance of the Catholic church allowed corruption to prosper and they relaxed their rule in the hope that voters would shun the corrupt politicians and mostly defeat any Socialist candidates.

Aggressive nationalism, forceful colonisation in Africa and Libya and Crispi was forced to resign after his army was crushed in the latter country. He was replaced with Giolitti whose reforms frightened employers and conservatives. Right wing activists objected that Libya was being mismanaged while left wing activists demanded withdrawal and the split was so intense that to get support Giolitti had to strike a deal with Catholic leaders but the deal collapsed and in 1914 he was forced from office. The Italian Liberal state had survived many challenges, but greater ones lay ahead.

The unification of Germany, like Italy, had many formidable obstacles. Firstly, in the wake of 1848, the upper classes were wary of change and feared strong nationalistic tendencies which would lead to equalisation of all citizens and thus damaging the status quo. Secondly, which power, Austria or Prussia, could help Germany in the pursuit of unification? Some wanted Austrians excluded from a unified Germany and some wanted Prussians excluded. Thirdly, in both Austria and Prussia repression was rampant and that German unification would not be achieved through liberalism. Prussia had some advantages in territorial possessions, a strong economy and the population was homogenous (German speakers). It was a successful Protestant state and thus was in a strong position to spearhead and advance ‘natural unification’.

On the other hand ‘Catholic’ Austria dominated a multinational population. The Habsburg monarchy had a lot to lose by encouraging nationalism that would catch fire within all imperial boundaries. German nationalists were not agreed on the Austria Prussia question and liberals wanted a unified Germany with a parliament independent of Austrian or Prussian aristocracy or autocratic influence.

The first step in the process was to ensure the monarchy was equal to the task. The Liberal William I took control and made it clear from the outset that he was anxious to serve moderate conservatives but also wanted to rule constitutionally. Liberals won a clear victory and those who favoured German unification now had a public forum in the Prussian parliament of 1858. Businesspersons believed that unification would be good for trade and so the stage was set.


Meanwhile the Austrian war against Piedmont-Sardinia and France had divided Prussians; there was contempt for Austria for engineering the war on one side, on the other there were those who were impressed by Italy’s successful bid for unification and the strategy they employed. Thus proving that unification was not as elusive as it seemed. In 1858 pan-German associations formed as unification pressure groups started to appear. The largest of these was Nationalverein (National Union) seeking a constitutional and parliamentary German state. The Prussian government were very suspicious of the National Union because its members favoured political freedom. Members were mostly middle class and had already rebuffed membership of workers unions. Army reform was an issue that would contribute significantly to German unification. The minister of war wanted expensive reforms to the army budget but liberals demanded a draft for all citizens. Government, despite its Liberal majority, sanctioned funds for military reformation and this event was significant tin that it provided parliamentary sanction to the unchallenged power of the Prussian army. The Liberal opposition formed a new party ‘The German Progressive Party’ and declined to vote and the government had to be dismissed. A second Liberal government was then elected but they too rejected army reform and the king was forced to appoint ultra-conservative Count Otto Von Bismarck as the new prime Minister.

As prime Minister, Bismarck was convinced he could create a new German state that would not be too large, or too democratic, for Prussia to dominate. Bismarck spent three decades holding power and shrewdly manipulating domestic and international politics. His politics became known as ‘Realpolitik’ – the pursuit of a nation’s self interest based on costs and consequences of action. It lacked moral and ethical consideration and was primarily about Prussian domination of Europe and therefore German domination of Europe.

Bismarck announced that the government would operate without constitutional authorisation and did so for four years. He struck against liberalism by suppressing press freedoms and public congregations of a political nature.

Realpolitik refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic or ethical premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism. The term realpolitik is sometimes used pejoratively to imply politics that are coercive, amoral, or Machiavellian. Balancing power to keep the European pentarchy was the means for keeping the peace, and careful Realpolitikers tried to avoid arms races.

‘Realpolitik’ was coined by Ludwig von Rochau, a German writer and politician in the 19th century. In his writings he describes the meaning of the term: “The political organism of human society, the state, originates and subsists in virtue of a natural law which man, with or without consciousness or will, carries out… The imperative of Nature on which the existence of states depends is fulfilled in the historically given state through the antagonism of various forces; its condition, extent and achievements varying infinitely according to space and time. The study of the forces that shape, sustain and transform the state is the starting-point of all political knowledge. The first step towards understanding leads to the conclusion that the law of the strong over political life performs a function similar to the law of gravity over the material world. As used in the U.S., the term is often similar to power politics, while in Germany, Realpolitik is used to describe modest (realistic) politics in opposition to overzealous (unrealistic) politics, though it is associated with the nationalism of the 19th century.

Realpolitik policies were created after the revolutions of 1848 as a tool to strengthen states and tighten social order. The most famous German advocate of “Realpolitik” was Otto von Bismarck, the First Chancellor (1862–1890) to Wilhelm I of the Kingdom of Prussia. Bismarck used Realpolitik to achieve Prussian dominance in Germany, as he manipulated political issues such as the Schleswig-Holstein Question and the Hohenzollern candidature to antagonize other countries, possibly with the intention of war. Characteristic of Bismarck’s political action was an almost Machiavellian policy, demonstrating a pragmatic view of the real political world. One example of this is his willingness to adopt some of the “liberal” social policies of employee insurance, for example; realistically, by doing so, he could manipulate small changes from the top down, rather than face the possibility of major change, from the bottom up. Another example, Prussia’s seemingly illogical move of not demanding territory from a defeated Austria, a move that later led to the unification of Germany, is one of the often-cited examples of Realpolitik. Similarly, in the German Green Party, people willing to compromise are referred to as Realos (realists), and opponents as Fundis (fundamentalists or ideologues).

Another example of Realpolitik in use is Adolf Hitler’s attempt to obtain a predominantly German region of Czechoslovakia called Sudetenland in 1938. At first, Hitler demanded then President Edvard Beneš hand over that region of the country, but Beneš refused. Subsequently, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gave Sudetenland to Hitler in the (ultimately vain) hope of preventing a war, as codified in the Munich Agreement. Chamberlain was able to do this because Great Britain wielded power over Czechoslovakia, therefore it was able to overrule Beneš’ refusal.

E. H. Carr (Edward Hallett Carr) was a liberal realist and later left-wing British historian and international relations theorist who argued for realistic international policies versus utopian ones. Carr described realism as the acceptance that what exists is right, and the belief that there is no reality or forces outside history such as God. He argued that in realism there is no moral dimension, and that what is successful is right, and what is unsuccessful is wrong. Carr was convinced that the Bolsheviks were destined to win the Russian Civil War, and approved of the Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s opposition to the anti-Bolshevik ideas of the War Secretary Winston Churchill under the grounds of realpolitik. In Carr’s opinion, Churchill’s support of the White Russian movement was folly as Russia was likely to be a great power once more under the leadership of the Bolsheviks.

Realpolitik is related to the philosophy of political realism, and both suggest working from the hypothesis that it is chiefly based on the pursuit, possession, and application of power. Realpolitik, however, is a prescriptive guideline limited to policy-making (like foreign policy), while realism is a descriptive paradigm, a wider theoretical and methodological framework, aimed at describing, explaining and, eventually, predicting events in the international relations domain.

Russia and France had the most to lose if Germany became unified. The 1863 Polish revolt against Russian domination gave Bismarck a great chance to befriend the Russians. Other nations were sympathetic with the Polish while Bismarck took the side of the Russians and signed an agreement to side with the Russians against the Poles. Prussian-Austrian relations were soured. Bismarck’s first war was in Denmark over the Schleswig-Holstein question. The Schleswig-Holstein Question was a complex of diplomatic and other issues arising in the 19th century from the relations of two duchies, Schleswig and Holstein to the Danish crown and to the German Confederation.

Schleswig was a part of Denmark during the Viking Age, and became a Danish duchy in the 12th century. Denmark repeatedly tried to reintegrate the Duchy of Schleswig into the Danish kingdom. On March 27, 1848 Frederick VII of Denmark announced to the people of Schleswig the promulgation of a liberal constitution under which the duchy, while preserving its local autonomy, would become an integral part of Denmark. This led to an open uprising by Schleswig-Holstein’s large German majority in support of independence from Denmark and of close association with the German Confederation. The military intervention of the Kingdom of Prussia supported the uprising: the Prussian army drove Denmark’s troops from Schleswig and Holstein in the First Schleswig War of 1848–1851. The second attempt to integrate the Duchy of Schleswig into the Danish kingdom due to the signing of the November Constitution by King Christian IX of Denmark was seen as a violation of the London Protocol, leading to the Second Schleswig War of 1864.


Though Schleswig, Holstein and Denmark all had had the same hereditary ruler for some centuries, the inheritance rules were not quite the same. The Dukedoms of Schleswig and Holstein were inherited under the Salic law, which ignored females: the Kingdom of Denmark had a slightly different inheritance law, which included male heirs inheriting through the female line. In the 19th century this slight difference in inheritance law meant that when the childless King Frederick VII of Denmark died the Kingdom of Denmark would be separated from the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein because two different people would inherit the Kingship and Dukedoms. This finally happened on the death of Frederick in 1863.

The central question was whether the duchy of Schleswig was or was not an integral part of the dominions of the Danish crown, with which it had been associated in the Danish monarchy for centuries or whether Schleswig should, together with Holstein, become an independent part of the German Confederation. Schleswig itself was a fiefdom of Denmark, as the duchy of Holstein was a German fief and therefore part of the German Confederation with the Danish king as duke.This involved the question, raised by the death of the last common male heir to both Denmark and the two duchies, as to the proper succession in the duchies, and the constitutional questions arising out of the relations of the duchies to the Danish crown, to each other, and of Holstein to the German Confederation.

Much of the history of Schleswig-Holstein has a bearing on this question. Following the defeat of Germany in World War I, the Danish majority area of Northern Schleswig was finally unified with Denmark after two plebiscites organised by the Allied powers. A small minority of ethnic Germans still lives in Northern Schleswig.

The North German Confederation 1866–71, was a federation of 22 independent states of northern Germany. It was formed by a constitution accepted by the member states in 1867 and controlled military and foreign policy. It included the new Reichstag, a parliament elected by universal manhood suffrage and a secret ballot. The Reichstag could debate and deal with budgets, but it had limited power compared to the Federal Council, which represented the member states. The Confederation was dominated by its designer and first and only Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, who was also the prime minister of the Kingdom of Prussia, which had 80% of the population. After defeating Austria in war, Prussia had just annexed the previously independent nations of Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, Nassau and Frankfurt. In 1871 it became the basis of a new nation, the German Empire, which adopted most parts of the federation’s constitution and its flag. It succeeded the German Confederation. Its territory comprised the parts of the German Confederation north of the river Main (with the exception of Luxembourg), plus Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and Prussia’s eastern territories and the Duchy of Schleswig, but excluded Austria, Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, Luxembourg, Limburg, Liechtenstein and the southern parts of the Grand Duchy of Hesse. It cemented Prussian control over northern Germany in economic matters, especially through the Zollverein (Customs Union), which included the states of southern Germany that were not in the Confederation. The most important work of the new federation was to promote industrial freedom, as demanded by the liberal elements of the business community. For example, economic tolls and restrictions were ended and a federal postal and telegraph system was set up. The result was faster economic growth, and an increase in personal freedom.

The Confederation was replaced by the new German Empire in 1871. Its constitution was largely adopted by the Empire and remained in effect until 1918. This constitution granted immense powers to the new chancellor, Bismarck who was appointed by the President of the Bundesrat (Prussia). This was because the constitution made the chancellor ‘responsible’, though not accountable, to the Reichstag. This therefore allowed him the benefit of being the link between the emperor and the people. The Chancellor retained powers over the military budget, after the constitutional crisis that engulfed Wilhelm I in 1862. Laws also prevented certain civil servants becoming members of the Reichstag, those who were Bismarck’s main opposition in the 1860s.

The Confederation came into being after Prussia defeated Austria and the other remaining states of the German Confederation in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Its constitution, which came into force on 1 July 1867, was written by Bismarck, with major changes made by the delegates to the North German Reichstag. Executive power was vested in a president, a hereditary office of the King of Prussia. He was assisted by a chancellor responsible only to him. Legislative power was vested in a two-house parliament. The states were represented in the Bundesrat (Federal Council) with 43 seats. The people were represented by the Reichstag (Diet), elected by male universal suffrage. The Bundesrat membership was extended before 1871 with the creation of the Zollverein Parliament in 1867, an attempt to create closer unity with the southern states by permitting representatives to be sent to the Bundesrat.

For all intents and purposes, Prussia exercised effective control over the confederation. With four-fifths of the states its territory and population, the Hohenzollern kingdom was larger than the other 21 states combined. It had 17 votes in the Bundesrat, and could easily control the proceedings by making deals with the smaller states. Additionally, Bismarck served as Prussia’s foreign minister as well, and thus had the right to instruct the Prussian representatives to the Bundesrat.


Following the Confederation’s quick, decisive victory over the Second French Empire and the subsequently formed Third Republic in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, Bavaria, Württemberg, and Baden (together with parts of the Grand Duchy of Hesse which had not originally joined the confederation), unified with the states of the Confederation to form the German Empire, with William I taking the new title of German Emperor (rather than Emperor of Germany as Austria was not included).

Prussia’s victory over Austria increased tensions with France. The French Emperor, Napoleon III, feared that a powerful Germany would change the balance of power in Europe (the French opposition politician Adolphe Thiers had correctly observed that it had really been France who had been defeated at Sadowa). Bismarck, at the same time, did not avoid war with France. He believed that if the German states perceived France as the aggressor, they would unite behind the King of Prussia. In order to achieve this Bismarck kept Napoleon III involved in various intrigues whereby France might gain territory from Luxembourg or Belgium – France never achieved any such gain, but was made to look greedy and untrustworthy.

A suitable premise for war arose in 1870, when the German Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was offered the Spanish throne, which had been vacant since a revolution in 1868. France blocked the candidacy and demanded assurances that no member of the House of Hohenzollern becomes King of Spain. To provoke France into declaring war with Prussia, Bismarck published the Ems Dispatch, a carefully edited version of a conversation between King Wilhelm and the French ambassador to Prussia, Count Benedetti. This conversation had been edited so that each nation felt that its ambassador had been disrespected and ridiculed, thus inflaming popular sentiment on both sides in favour of war.

France mobilized and declared war on 19 July, five days after the dispatch was published in Paris. It was seen as the aggressor and German states, swept up by nationalism and patriotic zeal, rallied to Prussia’s side and provided troops. After all, it came as a sort of déjà vu: current French public musings of the river Rhine as “the natural French border” and the memory of the French revolutionary/Napoleonic wars 1790/1815 (many German territories were devastated serving as theatres of war and the sacking the old German empire by Napoleon) was still alive.

Russia remained aloof and used the opportunity to remilitarise the Black Sea, demilitarised after the Crimean War of the 1850s. Both of Bismarck’s sons served as officers in the Prussian cavalry. The Franco-Prussian War (1870) was a great success for Prussia. The German army, under nominal command of the King but controlled by Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, won victory after victory. The major battles were all fought in one month (7 August till 1 September), and both French armies were captured at Sedan and Metz, the latter after a siege of some weeks. (Napoleon III was taken prisoner at Sedan and kept in Germany for a while in case Bismarck had need of him to head a puppet regime; he later died in exile in England in 1873.)

The remainder of the war featured a siege of Paris, the city was “ineffectually bombarded”; the new French republican regime then tried, without success, to relieve Paris with various hastily assembled armies and increasingly bitter partisan warfare.

Bismarck acted immediately to secure the unification of Germany. He negotiated with representatives of the southern German states, offering special concessions if they agreed to unification. The negotiations succeeded; while the war was in its final phase King Wilhelm of Prussia was proclaimed German Emperor on 18 January 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors in the Château de Versailles. The new German Empire was a federation: each of its 25 constituent states (kingdoms, grand duchies, duchies, principalities, and free cities) retained some autonomy.

The King of Prussia, as German Emperor, was not sovereign over the entirety of Germany; he was only primus inter pares, or first among equals. However, he held the presidency of the Bundesrat, which met to discuss policy presented from the Chancellor (whom the president appointed). At the end, France had to surrender Alsace and part of Lorraine, because Moltke and his generals insisted that it was needed as a defensive barrier. Bismarck opposed the annexation because he did not wish to make a permanent enemy of France. France was also required to pay an indemnity.

Bismarck did not trust the Catholic Centre Party and the Social Democratic party and doubted their loyalty to him. In 1870 the pope asserted the doctrine of ‘papal infallibility’ and to Bismarck this meant that Catholics could be ordered not to obey his rule. He launched his ‘Kulturkampf’ (“cultural struggle”) and priests had to complete a secular curriculum in order to be ordained and the state would only recognise civil marriages. Gradually Bismarck began to realise that the Catholic party might be useful to him against the Social Democrats and he relaxed his laws and abandoned Kulturkampf. However Catholics and Jews were forbidden high posts in the civil service. The state helped German Protestants to prosper in Poland and buy up properties that would otherwise fall into the hands of Catholics who made up most of the population there. Bismarck became obsessed with destroying the Social Democrats who were proving popular at elections but still only held a handful of seats in the Reichstag (the main legislature of the German state under the Second and Third Reichs.) Two attempts to kill Emperor William II gave Bismarck, who claimed it was a social plot, the ammunition he needed to convince the Reichstag to pass antisocialist legislation that denied socialists the freedom of assembly, association and press. The police acted and suppressed socialist activities and forced workers to quit unions.

In 1888 William II became emperor and Bismarck lasted only two years as his chancellor. He was in favour of improving conditions for workers while Bismarck wanted more suppression and, after many bitter arguments, Bismarck resigned. His replacements could do little or nothing to control William II who wanted popularity with the people and defined himself as an agent of God. German conservatism was transforming and becoming more nationalistic and anti-Semitic. The economic crash of 1873 was blamed on Jewish greed. Some Germans identified Jews with liberalism and socialism and in 1892 the German Conservative Party made anti-Semitism part of its party platform. Jews were second class citizens and nothing they could say or do could change that. The social democrats were still gaining in popularity and were engulfed by the mood of aggressive nationalism that was sweeping across Germany. The German Empire embodied the decline of liberalism and the rise of aggressive nationalism in late 19th century Europe.

Germany and Italy were politically unified when leaders mobilised nationalist feeling in upper class circles and carried out aggressive foreign policies and nationalism threatened the existence of the Hapsburg monarchy. The unification of Germany and Italy altered the balance of power in Europe. Unified Germany (not Austria) was the strongest state in central Europe. The provinces that formed the Hapsburg domains represented a wide diversity of linguistic, cultural and historical diversity. However the largest group was the Germans who accounted for 35% of the population. The question here is how did the empire stay together with such a diversity of ethnic rivalries and demands? The answer to this is the process of state making and the discouragement of nationalism. The tradition of the Hapsburg monarchy was drenched in history and in these revolutionary times this represented tradition, which a concept was embraced by a population reliant on custom as security in the face of change. Secondly, the Hapsburgs relied on the middle classes and they reciprocated by investing in grand design and architecture which created a culture of fine art and this was a unification of all ethnic tastes and desires. Thirdly, there was widespread support by other European nobles for the Hapsburgs and some of these even depended on them for continued survival. Fourthly, Catholicism, the religion of the majority of the peoples of the Hapsburg domains was another factor for unity in Austria. Fifthly, the imperial army retained considerable prestige and they helped hold the monarchy together. German speakers held the bigger offices in the army and they rarely interfered (as in France) with social affairs such as strikes by workers. Nationalism was somewhat limited in the Hapsburg domains and the monarchy feared demands for autonomy or independence would pull the empire apart. Nationalism could also challenge the empires structure and the success of German and Italian nationalism also threatened the empires territorial integrity by raising the possibility that the very small Italian and, above all, the German speaking parts of the empire might prefer inclusion in Italy or Germany, respectively. Hungarians were the second largest ethnic group within the empire and they demanded political influence commensurate with the size of the Magyar territorial domains. Baron Alexander von Bach was an Austrian politician and his most notable achievement was instituting a system of centralised control at the beginning of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. He served as Minister of Justice in 1848 and 1849 and then Minister of the Interior from 1849 to 1859. A well-known liberal lawyer, he was first called a “minister of barricades.” However, he gradually accepted conservative views, endorsing the centralizing constitutional program of Prince Schwarzenberg in March 1849 and thus further inflaming Hungarian sentiments.

After the death of Schwarzenberg in 1852, he largely dictated policy in Austria and Hungary. Bach centralised administrative authority for the Austrian Empire, but he also endorsed reactionary policies that reduced freedom of the press and abandoned public trials. He represented later the Absolutist (or Klerikalabsolutist) direction, which culminated in the concordat of August 1855 that gave the Roman Catholic Church control over education and family life. On the other hand the economic freedom rose greatly in 1850s. The internal customs duties were abolished. Bach was created Baron (Freiherr) in 1854. He was also the guardian of Science Academy in 1849 – 1859. Prisons were full of political prisoners; during his administration, Czech nationalist Karel Havlíček Borovský was expatriated to Brixen (1851 – 1855). The pillars of so-called Bach system (Bachsches System) were, in the words of Adolf Fischhof, four “armies”: a standing army of soldiers, a sitting army of office holders, a kneeling army of priests and a fawning army of sneaks. His fall in 1859 was highly caused by the failure in Italian war against Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia and Napoleon III. Bach served as Ambassador to the Holy See in 1859-1867. He died secluded, in 1893.

In the wake of the Austrian defeat in Italy and mounting German hostility and the rise of neoabsolutism Francis Joseph dismissed Bach as head of government and promulgated a new constitution. The October Diploma (1860) re-established a form of conservative federalism. The October Diploma was a constitution adopted by Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph on October 20, 1860. The Diploma attempted to increase the power of the conservative nobles by giving them more power over their own lands through a program of aristocratic federalism. This policy was a failure almost from the start, and Franz Josef was forced to make further concessions in the February Patent of 1861. Even so, Historians have argued that the October Diploma began the “constitutional” period of the Habsburg Empire


In 1860, Franz Josef and the Habsburg Empire were “threatened with a crisis of existence.” 1856 had begun a period of diplomatic isolation following the defeat of Russia, a key Austrian ally, in the Crimean War. The second war of Italian Independence had ended in 1859 with an Austrian defeat at the hands of Napoleon III, and Franz Josef was forced to cede Lombardy to the French. These losses worsened the already weak state of the Austrian economy and exposed the weaknesses of the empire’s bureaucracy. Both liberals and conservatives were anxious for reform after a decade of near absolutist rule, while Hungarians and Czechs wanted greater autonomy over their own affairs. In March 1860, Franz Josef asked the Imperial Parliament, or Reichstag, to advise the emperor on matters of reform. The Reichstag, composed almost entirely of conservative aristocrats, naturally recommended a reconstruction of the empire based on the principles of aristocratic federalism. Their report was ignored by Franz Josef, but by the end of the year, he would adopt the principles of aristocratic federalism in his own document. It was the realities of foreign policy that led the emperor to adopt the conservatives’ ideas. He hoped to establish a Holy Alliance with Czar Alexander II of Russia and King William I of Prussia and believed that a strongly conservative domestic policy would be an advantage in the upcoming negotiations. He demanded that a constitution be written within a week and settled the general principles of the document during a train stop en route to the conference.

Historian A.J.P Taylor called the Diploma a victory for the Old Conservative nobility. The Habsburg government was reorganized on a federal basis, and the provincial diets were given the power to pass laws with the Emperor and the Reichstag. In a concession to the liberals, the membership of the Reichstag was increased by over a hundred new members. However, the Diploma called for the Reichstag to meet very infrequently, and its jurisdiction covered only part of the empire. The provincial diets were packed with the landed aristocracy, thus giving them more direct power over their own lands. Hungary was given special status in the Reichstag through a provision that called for non-Hungarian delegates to meet separately from the whole body to discuss non-Hungarian matters. This, however, fell far short of the Hungarian leaders’ desire for greater autonomy and recognition.

Almost immediately after the Diploma was passed, it became clear that it would not last long. The empire’s finances continued to fail, further showing the weaknesses of the current administration. Prussia and the German Confederation began to sense a weakness in the monarchy that could be exploited; while Hungarians were furious with the few reforms they had been given. In the end, it was the German liberals who were eventually able to effect change. These liberals made up a substantial number of the most powerful bureaucrats and, while they often opposed the emperor, they were supporters of a strong centralized state instead of a weak, federalized one. Through their influence, the emperor was pressured into appointing the liberal Anton von Schmerling as Secretary of State in December. Von Schmerling took to rewriting the October Diploma, and in February 1861, the emperor adopted the February Patent.

The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 (German: Ausgleich, Hungarian: Kiegyezés) established the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary. The Compromise re-established the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Hungary, separate from and no longer subject to the Austrian Empire. Under the Compromise, the Cisleithanian (Austrian) and Transleithanian (Hungarian) regions of the state were governed by separate Parliaments and Prime Ministers. Unity was maintained through rule of a single head of state of both territories and governments. The armed forces were combined with the Emperor-King as commander-in-chief. Certain key ministries were under the direct authority of the Crown, and served the whole Empire and Kingdom.

In the Middle Ages Austria was a quasi-independent state within the Holy Roman Empire, ruled by the House of Habsburg, while the Kingdom of Hungary was a sovereign state outside the Empire. In 1526 at the Battle of Mohács, Hungary was defeated and largely conquered by the Ottoman Empire. The crown of Hungary was inherited by the Habsburgs, with part of the Kingdom preserved from the Ottomans, who were subsequently driven out of Hungary in 1699. From 1526 to 1806, Austria and Hungary were in a “union of crowns,” having the same ruler but remaining two countries. In the 18th century, Hungary was legally subordinated to Austria, though remaining nominally sovereign. In 1804–6, the Holy Roman Empire was abolished, and the Austrian Empire was created. The Austrian Empire included Hungary as a constituent state, no longer sovereign. This was resented by the Hungarian people, or Magyars. Nationalist sentiment among the Magyars and other peoples of the region threatened the stability of the state and the power of the Austrian elite.

In the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1848, the Magyars tried to regain independence, and were defeated by the Austrian Empire only with the aid of the Russian Empire. After 1848, the Empire instituted several constitutional reforms, trying to resolve the problem, but without success. In 1866, Austria was completely defeated in the Austro-Prussian War and its position as the leading state of Germany ended forever, as the remaining German minor states were soon absorbed into the German Empire created by Prussia. Austria also lost almost all of her remaining claims and influence in Italy, which had been her chief foreign policy interest. The state needed to redefine itself to maintain unity in the face of nationalism.


Adoption: In the wake of the defeat by Prussia, there were renewed calls in Hungary for complete separation from Austria. To avoid this, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and his court floated the suggestion of a dual monarchy.

Hungarian diplomat Ferenc Deák is considered the intellectual force behind the Compromise. Deák initially wanted independence for Hungary and supported the 1848 Revolution, but he broke with the outright nationalists and advocated a modified union under the Habsburgs. Deák took the line that while Hungary had the right to full internal independence, questions of defence and foreign affairs were “common” to both Austria and Hungary under the Pragmatic Sanction. He also felt that Hungary benefited through continued unity with wealthier, more industrialized Austria, and that the Compromise would end the pressures on Austria of continually choosing between the Magyar and Slav populations of the Kingdom of Hungary. Imperial Chancellor Beust quickly negotiated the Compromise with the Hungarian leaders. Beust was particularly eager to renew the conflict with Prussia, and thought a quick settlement with Hungary would make that possible. Franz Joseph and Deák signed the Compromise, and it was ratified by the restored Diet of Hungary on 30 March 1867. Beust’s desired revenge against Prussia did not materialize. When in 1870, Beust wanted Austria-Hungary to support France against Prussia, Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Andrássy was “vigorously opposed,” effectively vetoing Austrian intervention.

Under the Compromise, Austria and Hungary each had separate parliaments that met in Vienna and Buda (later Budapest), respectively, that passed and maintained separate laws. Each region had its own government, headed by its own prime minister. The “common monarchy” consisted of the emperor-king, and the common ministers of foreign affairs, defence, and finance in Vienna. The terms of the Compromise were renegotiated every ten years.

The Compromise of 1867 was meant to be a temporary solution to the problems the state faced, but the resulting system was maintained until the forced dissolution of the state following World War I. The favouritism shown to the Magyars—the second largest ethnic group in the state after the Germans—caused discontent on the part of other ethnic groups like the Czechs and Romanians. Although a “Nationalities Law” was enacted to preserve the rights of ethnic minorities, the two parliaments took very different approaches to this issue. The basic problem in the later years was that the Compromise with Hungary only whetted the appetites of non-Hungarian minorities and regions in Hungary that were historically within the boundaries of the previous Hungarian Empire. In these, the majority of Hungarians felt they had unwillingly—and only under coercion—accepted the Compromise. The Austrian Archduke—whom was separately crowned King of Hungary—had to swear in his coronation oath not to revise or diminish the historic Imperial (Hungarian) domains to the Hungarian Nobility, Magnates, and Upper Classes. These Hungarian groups never acquiesced to granting “their” minorities the recognition and local autonomy, which the Germans had given of the Magyars themselves in the self-same Compromise. As such, several ethnic minorities faced increased pressures of Magyarization. Furthermore, the renegotiations that occurred every ten years often led to constitutional crises. Ultimately the Compromise—intended to fix the problems faced by a multi-national state—failed to sublet the internal pressures the old unitary state had felt. As to which extent the Dual Monarchy stabilized the country in the face of rising nationalism is debated even today—particularly by those ethnic groups thus disenfranchised.

The unification of Italy and Germany had both largely been affected by the expansion of the most powerful states that would become part of the unified state that resulted. Cavour transformed Piedmont-Sardinia into a liberal monarchy through reforms before achieving the unification of Italy. In Germany Bismarck had harnessed economic liberalism to the goals of conservative political nationalism in achieving the unification of Germany. In the wake of the 1848 revolutions nationalism had proven itself a major force for unification in Italy and Germany. In the Hapsburg lands nationalism was a force that came to challenge the existence of the empire. In the age of militant nationalism, ethnic tensions within the Austro-Hungarian Empire would become those of Europe. Each of Europe’s three other powers, Britain, Russia and France had political unification for centuries and had had no revolution in 1848. France emerged from this period with an authoritarian empire.

Primary Source.

John Merriman

A History Of Modern Europe.


Posted on March 30, 2012, in European History. and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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