The problem of the form of German unification was raised by the nature of the settlement of Germany made at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. This had failed to satisfy the hopes of those who had wanted to see some form of German national unity emerge from the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars; nor had the expectation of constitutional reforms in the individual states been fulfilled to any great extent. The German Confederation as established at Vienna was to prove an unsatisfactory—and unworkable—compromise. In Prussia much of the work of the period of reforms after 1808 was undone, and Austria under Metternich provided a pattern of reaction that, since 1819, had been followed by the majority of the other German states. For a decade after the Carlsbad decrees of 1819 political discussion, whether of constitutional reform or of German unification, was difficult, and political action almost impossible.
The French Revolution of July 1830 gave the signal for a revival of liberalism throughout Germany. The actual outbreaks of violence were few, and their effects small. In Brunswick an unpopular duke was replaced by his brother; the elector of Hesse, hated for his arbitrary rule and his extravagant mistress, was forced to grant a constitution that was to be repeatedly broken. There were smaller disturbances in Saxony, Bavaria and elsewhere, while some months later, at Gottingen in the kingdom of Hanover, members of the university seized the town-hall. The Polish national revolt in 1831 was almost as important as the July Revolution in arousing liberal enthusiasm in Germany, and Polish representatives took part in the gathering of liberals held at Hambach in the Bavarian Palatinate in May 1832. This ‘Hambacher Fest’ was a manifestation by liberal intellectuals—professors, students, lawyers, writers— expressing the reviving movement in favour of constitutional government and German unity. Inevitably it recalled the Wartburg festival of 1817, and indeed its political results were similar. Metternich and the Austrian government were already contemplating federal action against the liberal revival, and the Hambach demonstration was sufficient to overcome the hesitations of some of the other states. Accordingly, in June the majority of the German governments accepted six articles asserting monarchical principles that recalled the Carlsbad decrees of 1819. The ‘Metternich system’ seemed as firmly established as ever in spite of the example of the July Revolution in France. As the principles embodied in the Six Articles and similar measures were put into practice, the list of liberal martyrs grew. In Prussia, for example, the works of the exiled Heine and other writers of the ‘Young Germany’ movement were banned in 1835, while in Hanover in 1837 seven Gottingen professors who protested against the violation of the constitution by the new king (the former duke of Cumberland) were expelled from their chairs.
Even more important than the revived discussion of political problems, both as they affected the organisation of the individual states and of Germany as a whole, were the economic developments inaugurated by the creation of the German Customs Union (Zollverein) in 1834. The establishment thereby of the economic unity of the greater part of Germany under Prussian leadership improved trade, encouraged industry and led to the construction of the first sections of the German railway system. (The first railway in Germany, from Nuremberg to Furth, was opened in December 1835.) Although the states of north-east Germany, Hanover, Oldenburg, Brunswick and the Hansa cities, relying on their maritime connections and English support, remained outside the Zollverein in a rival organisation, the Tax Union (Steuerverein), the advantages of the Prussian system were too clear for them to keep aloof from it for long. Brunswick joined the Zollverein in 1844, Hanover in 1851 and Oldenburg in 1852, only Hamburg and Bremen surviving as free-trade ports until 1888.
Yet, in spite of the Zollverein, Germany remained a predominantly agricultural country until after the foundation of the empire. Nevertheless improvement of communications and industrial development soon had a political effect. The increase of population and its greater mobility contributed to the growth of new industrial areas, notably in the Ruhr and the Rhineland, and these in turn served as the basis of a new liberalism in Prussia. New leaders from the mercantile world joined the intellectuals who had hitherto formed the liberal party. David Hansemann and Ludolf Camphausen, for instance, made fortunes in industrial and railway development and brought to their political activities a practical spirit and practical demands. Removal of restraints on trade, participation of the middle class in government and administration, and the weakening of the power of the old Prussian nobility, these were to be the main points of their political programme, and by 1840 it looked as though some of them might be realised, since it was widely expected that the new king, Frederick William IV, who ascended the Prussian throne in that year, would inaugurate a period of political change.
By 1840 the Prussian state had consolidated the gains of 1815. Although in the Rhineland and Posen a quarrel with the Roman Catholic church over such topics as the education of the children of mixed marriages had culminated in 1837 with the arrest of the archbishops of Cologne and Posen, the new reign saw a reconciliation between the Prussian state and the Roman church. The new king had a romantic feeling for Catholicism (he showed great interest in the Oxford Movement in England), and his sympathy was demonstrated by the part he played in the refounding of Cologne Cathedral in 1842 (cf. ch. VI, pp. 139-40). At the same time the memories of the French administration on the Rhine had been obliterated, although the population had won their struggle to preserve the advantages of the legal code that the French had introduced. The successful assimilation of the new provinces was demonstrated in the international crisis of 1840, when there was great popular enthusiasm for the ‘Watch on the Rhine’ (a phrase originating in the title of a song by Max Schnecken-burger), and new slogans were added to the repertoire of German nationalism—among them Hoffman von Fallersleben’s song Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles, and Nicolas Becker’s Sie sollen ihn nicht haben, den freien deutschen Rhein.
The successful absorption of the new Prussian provinces, like the making of the Zollverein, was the work of the Prussian officials who had made the Prussian administrative system, and especially the educational system, the envy of liberals throughout Europe. This idealised view was not just based on memories of the reforms of Stein and Hardenberg. The Prussian bureaucracy was producing a new class of enlightened paternal administrator to reinforce the traditional Junker ruling caste, and the efficiency and loyalty of the Prussian administrative class was to make it an essential basis of any future unified Germany. A sense of unquestioning obedience to the promptings of duty derived from the Kantians, and of the paramount nature of the state’s claims derived from Hegel, produced the ideal organ for an enlightened autocracy. Hegel was the predominant intellectual influence of the period, but if his writings could inspire the servants of the Prussian state, they could also inspire revolution. The doctrine that the state was the embodiment of reason could be turned into a doctrine that if the existing state did not embody reason, it should be overthrown. Thus the ‘Young Hegelians’ helped to inspire the Revolution of 1848, and their influence was considerable among the Rhenish liberals, one of whose newspapers, the Rheinische Zeitung, was edited for a short time in 1842 by Karl Marx, himself a notable product of the Young Hegelian School.
The ‘Mettemich system’, for all its apparent stability, was being weakened not only by intellectual and economic developments. In Austria and Prussia there were new monarchs less likely to uphold the existing system than their predecessors. In Austria the Emperor Ferdinand, who came to the throne in 1835, was feeble-minded, and Metternich’s position became less strong as the influence of his rivals increased. In Prussia the accession of Frederick William IV began a new phase, socially and politically. The new king had grown up in the atmosphere of the conservative romantic revival with its enthusiasm for what it believed to be the ideas and institutions of the Middle Ages. His pathological fantasy and vanity were nourished on the doctrines of the Swiss conservative political philosopher, Karl Ludwig von Haller, who preached the ideal of the ‘Christian-patrimonial state’ in which an ordered system of estates and corporations was united under the authority of a benevolent Christian king ruling by the Grace of God. His enthusiasm for a romantic German past made many people hope that he would take practical steps to achieve a greater measure of German unity. Yet his feeling for tradition and for medieval institutions also led him to accept the supremacy of the Habsburgs as the ‘Arch-House’ in Germany, so that the relations between the two German great powers were not in fact immediately troubled.
Nevertheless, his accession was widely welcomed by all who hoped for a German national policy that would lead towards political unity. There were signs, too, that he would be prepared for certain liberal measures in internal policy. For instance, the old War Minister of the War of Liberation, Boyen, returned to office; the censorship was relaxed; men who had suffered for their liberal opinions like Ernst Moritz Arndt were rehabilitated. Hegel’s old opponent Schelling was brought back to a chair at Berlin University. It was hoped that the king would at last grant the representative institutions promised by his father in May 1815. Disappointment with his policy soon began to be expressed. The relaxing of the censorship only made demands for further reform more widespread. In 1841 the Diets of the individual Prussian provinces met for the first time in four years and the publicity given to their debates revealed a demand for constitutional change which increased during their subsequent sessions, now held regularly at two-yearly intervals. In East Prussia demands for freedom of the press were vigorously expressed by Johann Jacoby; in Posen the Poles criticised Prussian rule; and in the Rhineland the new liberal party led by Camphausen, Hansemann, Hermann von Beckerath and Gustav Mevissen constantly called for the fulfilment of the constitutional promises that had been made by Frederick William III in 1815.
However, the king’s ideas of a ‘patrimonial state’ were very far removed from the constitutional plans of his liberal subjects, and he postponed action as long as he could, while trying to content liberal demands by the formation of a joint committee of the Provincial Diets. He temporised until 1847, but at last on 3 February of that year summoned a United Diet composed of representatives of the provincial Diets; this met in Berlin in April. How far the king was out of touch with the demands of the time is shown by Metternich’s comment on the speech with which he opened the Diet: ‘Nothing was in stronger contrast to the present style in political matters than the deep personal pathos which ran through the whole speech, the pretentious accent laid on the illustrious speaker’s subjective convictions, the polemics against the ideas of the day.’ Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the United Diet dispersed at the end of a few months, the hopes of its liberal members unsatisfied, without even having secured an undertaking from the king that it would be regularly summoned in future.
But the growing discontent was not limited to Prussia. The economic difficulties of the ’forties and the example of successful agitation abroad combined with the growing movement for national unity to produce a desire for change. In the industrial areas of Prussia and Saxony, employers and apprentices were anxious to be rid of the surviving medieval restrictions; the peasant proprietors of the south-west wanted the abolition of the remaining feudal obligations; in all the small states the middle class—officials, lawyers, professors—were demanding a larger field for political activity in the shape of a more closely unified Germany. The local political situation varied. In some states, the two Mecklenburgs for instance, the old order had survived unchanged from the Middle Ages, with the sovereign’s power curbed by Estates composed of the nobility and gentry, and the other classes too weak to threaten the existing system. In others, such as Hesse-Kassel and Brunswick, the demands were for the most elementary constitutional guarantees against a despot. In Baden and Wurttemberg, where a genuine if limited parliamentary system existed, the liberals were agitating for an extension of the franchise and, above all, for German unity. In Bavaria the prevailing political issue of clericalism versus liberalism was obscured by the controversy about the relations between the king and the dancer known as Lola Montez.
Whatever the political and constitutional situation in the individual states, the demands that led to the revolutionary situation of 1848 were demands of a numerically small but active middle class wanting a share in political life. Only occasionally (as in the disturbances among the weavers of Silesia in 1844 and 1845) did new social forces make themselves felt in a savage form. Indeed, when there were outbreaks of real social unrest (in Baden in April 1848 or in Dresden in May 1849), the liberal middle classes combined with the conservatives and the regular armies in order to suppress radical revolt.
It only needed the example of the February Revolution in Paris to bring all these discontents into the open, and in March 1848 the German revolution began, the story of which is told elsewhere in this volume (see ch. XV).
By the beginning of 1849 it was plain that the revolutions had had no marked effect on the position of the reigning dynasties in Austria and Prussia. On 2 December 1848 the Emperor Ferdinand abdicated in favour of his eighteen-year-old nephew, Francis Joseph. The first stage of the war in Italy had ended in an Austrian victory four months before and the Piedmontese were finally defeated at the battle of Novara in March 1849.
Although the Hungarian revolt was not finally suppressed until the summer, the immediate threats to the integrity of the monarchy had been met. Moreover, the empire now had in Prince Felix zu Schwarzenberg a minister with a positive policy, great diplomatic gifts and a firm will. Until his death he conducted a great attempt to reassert Austria’s position in Germany and in the Austrian empire itself. The first step was to restore political order inside the monarchy; in March a new centralised constitution that treated the Austrian empire as a single whole was promulgated, and Schwarzenberg was ready to pursue an independent policy in Germany (see ch. XX, p. 526).
In Prussia, too, the revolution had failed by the end of 1848. The king had rapidly lost any sympathy he might have felt in March with the moderate liberals. The temper of the Berlin Assembly had grown more radical and the position of the moderate liberals had grown weaker. Although men like Camphausen were still politically active (Camphausen had ceased to be Prime Minister, but was still Prussian representative at Frankfurt), it was the conservatives who were becoming increasingly powerful, and exercising more and more influence over the unstable king. On 2 November a new ministry was formed under Count Brandenburg, the son of King Frederick William II by a morganatic marriage. On 5 December the Assembly was dissolved and a new constitution promulgated by royal command; the concessions to liberal ideas which the constitution contained were soon nullified by the restoration in May 1849 of the old restricted franchise. The constitution was amended after much discussion during the following year, and was published in its final form in January 1850. Although the basic rights of the individual appeared to be guaranteed, the king retained the right to nominate and dismiss ministers and, as the years 1862-6 were to show, it was perfectly possible to carry on government without the support of the Diet.
The appointment of the Brandenburg ministry, the dismissal of the Assembly, and the new constitution, all showed how far the king was listening to conservative advisers. Indeed, the real power now lay with a group of noblemen whose ideas found expression in the Kreuzzeitung and whose aim was the restoration of absolute rule and the revival of Prussian particularism. Otto von Bismarck-Schonhausen, who was beginning to make a name as one of the most brilliant speakers of this group, was full of enthusiasm for ‘specific Prussian qualities’ (spezifisches Preussentum) and spoke with suspicion and contempt of the movement for national unity as ‘the German swindle’. In November 1850 Otto von Manteuffel became Prime Minister, and with him the conservative ‘Camarilla’, inspired by the brothers Ludwig and Leopold von Gerlach, entered on a period of undisputed power, and Prussia on an era of complete reaction against the liberal ideas of 1848.
The success of the counter-revolution in Prussia and Austria meant that the Frankfurt Assembly had to take these two states into account: that is, German unity could be achieved only with the active support of one or other government. In January 1849 the new liberal constitution for a united Germany had passed its first reading in the Frankfurt Assembly, so that the question of the sovereign and frontiers of the new German state was becoming urgent. The last months of the Frankfurt Assembly (January-April 1849) were spent discussing this problem and ended in the decision to elect a hereditary emperor and the offer of the imperial crown to Frederick William IV on 28 March. The king himself was constantly wavering in his policy, tom between his romantic loyalty to the House of Habsburg and his personal vanity (‘ Our master’s head is organised differently from that of other men’, Brandenburg complained). The Prussian ministers, however, were ready to give moderate approval to a scheme for uniting Germany under Prussian leadership and excluding Austria. (This was later known as a ‘little German’ (Kleindeutsch) solution of the German problem.) The publication of the new Austrian constitution in March meant that there was no longer any chance of detaching the German-speaking provinces of Austria for inclusion in a united Germany, since Austria was now to be treated as a unified single state. Schwarzenberg’s aim was to secure Austria’s entry as a whole into the German Confederation, and this would inevitably involve the Austrian emperor in assuming the lead in Germany. ‘His Majesty is as Emperor the first German prince. This is a right sanctified by tradition and the march of the centuries, by the political power of Austria, by the text of treaties on which the as yet undissolved federal system rests. His Majesty is not disposed to renounce this right.’
Such unqualified assertions of Habsburg claims were bound to lose the support of those liberals who at Frankfurt had favoured keeping the German-Austrian provinces inside a united Germany (the ‘great German’ (Grossdeutsch) solution), and the field was clear for the advocates of Prussian leadership. On 28 March therefore the king of Prussia was elected hereditary emperor at Frankfurt by 290 votes against 248 abstentions. But when Eduard Simson, the President of the Assembly, travelled to Berlin to offer him the crown, the king made it quite clear that he regarded himself as a king by divine right who could only accept a crown offered him by the German princes; in private he spoke with contempt of a ‘pig’s crown’ that did not come by the grace of God but by the grace of ‘master bakers and butchers’. This refusal was in effect the end of the Frankfurt Assembly and its constitution. Although the constitution had been accepted in principle by many of the smaller states, the king of Prussia’s refusal of the imperial crown prevented any further effective action. As the spring and summer passed the members of the Assembly and the provisional government at Frankfurt resigned, were recalled or simply went away. The last risings of the left in Baden and Saxony were suppressed by Prussian troops; the Assembly, reduced to a radical rump, was removed to Stuttgart at the end of May, and in June was finally dispersed by order of the king of Wurttemberg. The revolution of 1848 was at an end.
The failure of the Frankfurt Assembly to produce a new political framework for Germany meant that the initiative passed to the governments of the individual states. Constitutionally, an ‘interim’ arrangement was proclaimed in September 1849 under which Prussia and Austria assumed joint responsibility for the affairs of Germany until May 1850 when a definitive constitutional system was to be introduced. This formal compromise, however, served only to provide the setting for a bitter struggle between Austria and Prussia, in which the other German governments looked nervously on.
Prussia now, in the summer of 1849, began at last to have a clear German policy to oppose to that of Schwarzenberg. This was due to the growing influence of General Joseph Maria von Radowitz. From May onwards he was largely responsible for Prussian policy, although he did not actually become Foreign Minister until September 1850. He was a Catholic who derived his political ideals from the same sources as Frederick William, so that his views were in fact a more consistent and balanced version of those of the king. Bismarck later called him ‘Property man to the king’s medieval fantasy’, but he had a more practical policy than the epigram implies. A passionate conservative and opponent of revolution, he differed from the Prussian nobles of the Gerlach school who were his colleagues—and most bitter opponents—in believing that to prevent revolution concessions must be made to the national demands that had found expression in 1848. An attempt must be made to see ‘whether our government could be led along a path which will not make the so-called German party its most bitter enemies at a time when a life and death struggle against the democratic party is beginning’, he wrote to his wife in April 1849. His immediate object was to make the most of the opportunity provided by the failure of the Frankfurt assembly, and he determined to assert Prussian leadership and win support from moderate liberal opinion by going some way to satisfy the desire for national unity, if possible with Austrian agreement, if not, without it. His first step, once it was clear that Schwarzenberg would not co-operate, was to secure the support of the two states adjacent to Prussia, Hanover and Saxony, and on 26 May an ‘Alliance of the Three Kingdoms’ was signed which agreed to an attempt to form a union of north German states. Radowitz next needed to secure some popular support, and in June a meeting of many former members of the Frankfurt Assembly was held at Gotha in a mood ‘of the most painful resignation, of patriotic renunciation’. Here those right-wing liberals who had supported at Frankfurt the idea of Prussian supremacy agreed to Radowitz’s plans—though only after considerable hesitation because of the conservative nature of the project and its sponsor. But Radowitz’s real difficulties were with his Prussian colleagues; for both his national aims and his Catholicism were suspect to the Protestant supporters of ‘specific Prussian’ particularism. It was only after much opposition in the Prussian Diet, headed by Ludwig von Gerlach and Bismarck, and with the support of the king that Radowitz succeeded in arranging for a Diet to meet at Erfurt in March 1850, to be composed of representatives from the north and central German states who were to form the new union.
The autumn and winter therefore were devoted to a diplomatic battle in which Schwarzenberg endeavoured to detach Prussia’s supporters. For Austria too had a positive policy that went beyond the mere assertion of traditional Habsburg supremacy in Germany, and the new programme had an economic as well as a political side. The Austrian Minister of Commerce, Karl Ludwig von Bruck, had definite ideas about regaining for Austria the economic initiative that had been lost with the formation of the Zollverein (cf. ch. XX, p. 530). He was bom in the Prussian textile town of Elberfeld and had made a fortune in the Austrian port of Trieste; he dreamed of an empire of 70 million people, a vast economic unit in central Europe under Austrian leadership that would unite the Zollverein with the Austrian economic sphere in the Danube basin. He was doomed to disappointment at every turn, but his ideas were sufficiently grand to win a certain amount of liberal support that would not have been given to Schwarzenberg’s hard-headed diplomacy alone.
However, this diplomacy was successful during the winter of 1849-50 in breaking up Radowitz’s union project even before the assembly of the Erfurt Congress. Hanover withdrew before the meeting, and the governments of Saxony, Wurttemberg and Hesse-Kassel were already losing interest. Moreover, the Austrians had in February 1850 agreed to support a plan for the amendment of the Federal Constitution put forward by Brunswick, Wurttemberg and Saxony. The constitutional basis of the Austrian attack on the Prussian project was that the German Confederation was still in being and that it was illegal to attempt constitutional change without the approval of the Federal Diet. To give point to the criticism, the Federal Diet was summoned for 10 May when the interim arrangement was due to end. As the smaller states wavered and Frederick William himself began to be worried lest Radowitz’s plans were too liberal, the Erfurt congress came to nothing. On the other hand, Schwarzenberg succeeded in persuading the Federal Diet in May to threaten sanctions against any state that attempted to break away from the Confederation.
The crisis came in the autumn of 1850. In two states, Hesse-Kassel and Holstein, the liberals were desperately trying to defend some of the ground won in 1848, and in both the sovereigns, the elector of Hesse and the king of Denmark, were hoping for the support of Austria and the Federal Diet against their subjects. It was principally the case of Hesse that provoked the crisis; indeed, Schwarzenberg deliberately exploited the elector’s appeal to the Federal Diet in the hope of finally destroying the Prussian Union. On 12 October the emperor of Austria met the kings of Bavaria and Wurttemberg and they issued a declaration that they would maintain the Confederation and intervene in Hesse if necessary. On 15 October the elector appealed for military help.
Prussia’s interest in Hesse was mainly strategic; Hessian territory divided the Prussian kingdom, and the Prussians had the right to use certain main military roads (the Etappenstrassen). At the same time it was essential for Radowitz’s policy that Prussian predominance over the neighbouring small states should be retained. Both Austria and Prussia sent troops into Hesse, the former to help the elector, the latter to safeguard the military roads. War appeared imminent and on 8 November there was a skirmish. Meanwhile, however, the Prussian government had already decided to negotiate. They had failed to get the support of the tsar (see ch. X, p. 265), while the king was losing his nerve and was genuinely appalled at the thought of a civil war between Germans. Radowitz and the heir to the throne, the prince of Prussia, were ready to challenge Austria, but Brandenburg and Manteuffel preferred to give way rather than break what they regarded as the natural solidarity of the conservative powers, and the traditional co-operation of Austria and Prussia against liberalism. Radowitz resigned on 3 November, his union project already defeated; Brandenburg died suddenly on 6 November and was succeeded by Otto von Manteuffel, at this period the spokesman of the extreme conservatives. Manteuffel soon began negotiations, and, with the help of Russian mediation, met Schwarzenberg and reached agreement with him at Olmutz on 29 November 1850. The union project was to be abandoned and the revision of the Federal Constitution referred to the free decision of the German princes.
War was averted, at the price of a diplomatic defeat of Prussia which was far more serious than the actual terms of the Olmutz agreement. For many Prussians the ‘humiliation of Olmutz’ remained a symbol of shame until it was obliterated by the victory of Koniggratz in 1866. In fact the compromise reached at Olmutz by which the federal constitution was to be freely revised at a meeting of the German princes at Dresden from December 1850 to March 1851 left nobody wholly satisfied.
The decision taken at Dresden was that the 1815 Federal Constitution should be restored. Under the circumstances, this was a victory for Manteuffel and the Prussian conservatives, who wanted to restore the system under which Prussia and Austria jointly defended a conservative, traditional Germany against revolution. Yet for many Prussians, whether they had believed in the liberal ideals of 1848 or in the constructive conservatism of Radowitz, this was a deeply unsatisfactory arrangement; the efforts of the past three years had been vain and the ‘humiliation of Olmutz’ seemed more important than the restoration of the old Confederation. Schwarzenberg, too, achieved less than he had hoped. He wanted Austria to dominate the new Confederation; he planned that there should be a strong executive power which Austria would control, and that Austria as a whole should enter the Confederation. Schwarzenberg’s desire to exclude the smaller states from the central executive enabled Manteuffel, in the negotiations preceding the final settlement, to pose as their champion. Eventually therefore Schwarzenberg had to abandon his more ambitious aims and content himself with a return to the position of Mettemich (cf. ch. xx, p. 538). Even more serious, perhaps, than the failure of Schwarzenberg’s constitutional hopes was Austria’s failure to use the political advantages won at Olmutz to gain admission to the Zollverein. Brack had not succeeded in winning the middle states of Germany for his idea of a central European economic sphere, and he failed at the time of the Dresden Conference to remould the Zollverein—which was due for renewal in 1853—so as to include Austria. Such remoulding as did occur was to Prussia’s advantage, for Hanover and the remaining states of the Steuerverein joined the Prussian system in 1851 or soon after, and Austria remained excluded from Germany just when the German economy was starting the first phase of its rapid expansion.
But if Prussia was smarting from defeat at Olmutz, and Schwarzenberg was unable to realise the whole of his plans for Austrian supremacy, it was the liberals throughout Germany who were most disappointed by the re-establishment of the old system. In 1848 German unity had not, after all, been won; even the pis aller that Radowitz’s plans had offered had not been achieved; Brack’s plans for a vast German economic sphere had come to nothing. In the individual states, as in Germany as a whole, the gains of the past years were being lost. In most states the constitutions were being revised in a conservative sense, in accordance with the recommendations of a Federal Committee appointed in August 1851 to remove the ‘filth of the year of shame’, as the king of Prussia put it. Many liberals and radicals had been forced to emigrate, or decided to leave Germany of their own free will—some, like Karl Marx, to continue political agitation abroad, others to make a new career in America, like Carl Schurz, who later became Secretary of the Interior in the United States.
In Austria the government attempted to create a centralised system run by a German bureaucracy, and followed a clerical policy that gave the Roman Catholic church more power than it had had since before the reign of Joseph II (see ch. xx, p. 533). In Prussia, too, the Manteuffel ministry expressed the same mood. An unimaginative, bigoted and inflexible government based on an efficient bureaucracy reintroduced a measure of political censorship and a political police. The king’s personal advisers, especially the brothers Gerlach, represented an even more extreme conservatism than Manteuffel himself, a conservatism based on a narrow Protestant piety and on a refusal to accept any of the ideas of even such mild liberals as had succeeded in getting themselves elected to the Prussian Diet. Prussian politics in the next decade, therefore, remained obstinately conservative and provincial, and held out little hope for those people in Prussia and the rest of Germany who wanted a positive lead towards national unity or constitutional reform.
This despair explains the change of atmosphere in the German liberal movement in the ’fifties. An increasing number of writers began to realise that the liberals of 1848 had paid too little attention to the importance of power in politics. ‘To be sovereign means to exercise power and only he who possesses power can exercise it. This direct connection between power and sovereignty is the fundamental truth and the key to the whole of history.’ This quotation from a pamphlet published in 1853 with the significant title ‘Foundations of Political Realism’ (‘Realpolitik’—it seems to be the first use of the word) is typical. Moreover, power in this connection meant primarily power as embodied in a strong united German national state. ‘The German nation’, Julius Froebel said in 1859, ‘is sick of principles and doctrines, literary existence and theoretical greatness. What it wants is Power, Power, Power! And whoever gives it power to him will it give honour, more honour than he can imagine.’ This mood, coupled with an increased respect for the facts of political life, was to produce the National Liberalism of the 1860’s and the enthusiastic support for Bismarck’s policy of forcible unification of Germany under Prussian leadership.
Yet the ’fifties were not just years of political stagnation. They were also years of economic development. The railway network was developed and completed: coal production rose, so that by 1860 Germany had outstripped both France and Belgium. The urban population in the industrial areas of the Ruhr, Silesia and Saxony increased, so that the growing industrial working class began to have political importance. Workingmen’s Associations were being founded by the end of the decade: economists like J. K. von Rodbertus or Hermann Schulze-Delitsch were suggesting new forms of organisation—state socialism on the one hand, producers’ and consumers’ co-operatives on the other—and the way was being prepared for the great socialist agitation begun by Ferdinand Lassalle. Germany was sharing in the general increase of capital in Europe that resulted from the opening up of new sources of supply of gold, and in 1857 over-speculation led to a financial crisis that increased dissatisfaction with the existing political system.
This economic development was to the advantage of Prussia and the Zollverein, while Austria’s economic position grew weaker. Bruck had resigned in May 1851 (although he returned to office as Minister of Finance in 1855), and the most his successor had been able to achieve was a commercial treaty with Prussia in 1853 that he described as a ‘not very advantageous armistice’. It was, in fact, increasingly hard to find a compromise between Prussia, whose expanding economy was accompanied by a movement for increasing freedom of trade, and Austria, whose backward industries and state monopolies still required protection, and in 1862 a treaty between Prussia and France gave France the ‘most favoured nation’ treatment till then enjoyed by Austria under the 1853 treaty. Moreover, Austria’s foreign policy imposed a growing strain on her finances: during the Crimean War the army was mobilised and forces were stationed on the Austro-Russian frontier, while the war with Italy in 1859 added to the burden. Throughout the years preceding the war of 1866, therefore, Austria was struggling with a growing deficit and increasing financial difficulties while the position of Prussia and the Zollverein was improving (cf. ch. XX, pp. 538-9).
It was not until 1859 that the political reaction began to be challenged, both in Prussia and in Germany as a whole. In that year the war between France and Austria in Italy was to raise a host of questions about the solidarity of the German Confederation, its military organisation and its responsibility for the non-German parts of the Austrian empire. At the same time the success of the movement for Italian national unity aroused the envy of German nationalists. The Crimean War in 1854-5 had already shown how difficult it was for the German Confederation to follow a common and consistent policy. While Austria had mobilised to force Russia to evacuate Moldavia and Wallachia, Prussia had remained strictly neutral (see ch. XVIII, passim). However, as Austria finally was not involved, the question of the whole relationship between Prussia and Austria and of the structure of the Confederation did not arise.
In 1859 the situation was very different. When the war began not only was the leading member of the Confederation directly involved, but also public opinion in Germany was deeply stirred and divided. Many saw the cause of Italian national unity as one with which German patriots and liberals were bound to sympathise; for them Austria was, in Arnold Ruge’s phrases, the ‘Hangman of Italy’ and the ‘Oppressor of Germany’. This view was commonest among the north German liberals and radicals, and was held, for instance, by Lassalle. Others, however, saw in the war an opportunity for demonstrating German national solidarity against the hereditary enemy, France. This view was commonest among the south German liberals who still hoped for the unification of a greater Germany under Austrian, not Prussian, leadership.
But the war did more than revive popular political discussion. It raised the whole question of Austro-Prussian relations in an acute form, and was to test the system of dual control established at Olmutz and Dresden. The Austrian government was naturally anxious to secure support from the whole Confederation, and above all the assistance of the Prussian army, but diplomatic negotiations failed to secure either. The Archduke Albert visited Berlin in April and tried vainly to persuade the Prussians to form a joint Austro-Prussian force on the Rhine; following Prussia’s example, the Confederation as a whole never mobilised. The most that Prussia was prepared to do was to mobilise six army corps on 14 June (ten days after the battle of Magenta and ten days before Solferino), but rather with a view to armed mediation than with the intention of supporting Austria.
This conspicuous lack of solidarity between Austria and Prussia was partly due to the influence of Bismarck. After a successful career as Prussian representative with the Federal Diet at Frankfurt, Bismarck had just been appointed Prussian ambassador at St Petersburg, where he had arrived at the end of March. At Frankfurt he had shown himself a skilled and ruthless diplomat who, in spite of his friendship with the Gerlachs and other pro-Austrian Prussian conservatives, had established clearly the independence of Prussian policy. At the same time he had come to realise how unsatisfactory the existing machinery of the Confederation was, and was already considering how it should be changed to Prussia’s advantage.
Prussia’s neutrality was a blow to Austria and to the Confederation as reconstructed in 1850-1. Francis Joseph proclaimed publicly, after the peace of Villafranca had ended the war, that he had been abandoned by his nearest and most natural allies. But the war of 1859 not only revealed the impossibility of producing a common policy acceptable to both Austria and Prussia; it also led to an examination of the machinery of the German Confederation. It was, indeed, clear that, even if Prussia had decided to support Austria, the Federal arrangements for joint action by the various states were quite inadequate. These arrangements dated from 1821, and they had never been tested. No Federal commander could be appointed until the war had actually started; the contingents from the middle and smaller states were combined in mixed corps within which there was no unity of organisation or method—for instance, within the VIII Corps, which included regiments from Wurttemberg and Baden, the field signal for retreat in the Baden army was the signal for attack in the army of Wurttemberg.
One of the consequences of the events of 1859 was therefore that the next five years were spent in proposals and arguments about the reform of the Federal constitution. These discussions were not just the concern of the individual governments. They were made the more urgent by the renewed popular activity that started in 1859. The habit of holding congresses with representatives from all over Germany was reviving; a congress of economists was held in 1858 and one of jurists in 1860. The centenary of Schiller’s birth in the autumn of 1859 also provided an opportunity for a demonstration of romantic loyalty to a German national ideal. The most important practical step, however, was the formation, in September 1859, of the German National Association (Deutsche Nationalverein).
The Nationalverein was the first national political movement that could claim to have a real organisation in most of the German states (although it was occasionally forbidden as being too liberal, for instance in the two Mecklenburgs, the most medieval of all the German states). It had a royal patron in Prince Ernest of Saxe-Coburg, and the support of the most prominent liberal politicians of central and north Germany, men who were to be prominent over the next thirty years, and to contribute much to the creation of the empire, such as the Hanoverians Rudolf von Bennigsen and Johannes Miquel (who had begun as a friend of Karl Marx and was to end as an extreme conservative Prussian minister). It included economists like Hermann Schulze-Delitsch, the pioneer of the co-operative movement in Germany, while many of its aims were furthered by political propagandists from the academic world like the young historian from Saxony, Heinrich von Treitschke, who was to become the most eloquent advocate of Prussia’s right to rule in a united Germany, though remaining a critic of many of the Nationalverein's methods. By 1862 the Nationalverein had 25,000 members, mostly in north and central Germany. For it was the chief organ of those liberals who had now come to believe in the Tittle German’ solution of the German problem, by which Austria should be excluded from Germany and the new Germany united under Prussian leadership. Although some liberals were prepared to make any sacrifice of liberal ideals of constitutional government in order to win national unity—‘Better the stiffest Prussian military rule than the wretchedness of the small states’, a leader of the liberals in Hesse-Darmstadt is reported to have said—the Nationalverein's tacit acceptance of the principle of Prussian leadership inevitably made Prussia’s internal politics a matter of concern to liberals all over Germany.
For Prussia the years between 1858 and 1862 were years of political crisis. Frederick William IV’s capriciousness, conceit, sensibility and fantasy had slowly turned into madness, and in the autumn of 1858 he was too ill to continue to rule. His brother, the prince of Prussia, thereupon became regent. The future Emperor William I was then a man of 61. He was a complete contrast to his imaginative and unreliable brother, and in his caution, practical sense and sound unpretentious judgment he was much more like his unspectacular father. He had been brought up as a Prussian officer, and as a boy he had fought in the Napoleonic wars; all his life his main interest was in the army and in military matters. On the other hand he had been hostile to the advisers of his brother and, though a believer in conservative monarchy and the existing territorial settlement in Germany, had never forgotten the ‘humiliation of Olmutz’. It was therefore expected that he would appoint a new ministry to replace that of Manteuffel, who was now disliked and mistrusted by everybody, including his former colleagues of the extreme conservative party. Moreover, William’s wife was the granddaughter of the duke of Weimar, Goethe’s patron, and reputed to sympathise with the liberal ideals of the romantic period; his son, too, had married Victoria, the English Princess Royal and the favourite daughter of the Prince Consort. With these liberal influences in his family and with the necessity of finding a new ministry, the prince regent’s assumption of power was hailed by Prussian liberals as inaugurating a ‘new era’ of constitutional government.
When looking for an alternative government to that of Manteuffel and the extreme conservatives of the Kreuzzeitung party, the regent turned to the party known, also from its newspaper, as the Wochenblatt party. While the Kreuzzeitung represented the views of the old Protestant Prussian nobility east of the Elbe, the Wochenblatt was the organ of some of the aristocrats of Westphalia and the Rhineland and of a large number of senior officials and diplomats. It was only by the standards of Prussia in the ’fifties that such a party could be regarded as ‘liberal’, but at least it stood for a monarchy genuinely subject to a constitution, and for a parliament with certain powers, however limited. Accordingly, a ministry was formed out of members of the Wochenblatt group and a few very moderate liberals, under the nominal presidency of a member of the younger branch of the royal house, Prince Anton of Hohenzollem-Sigmaringen; Rudolph von Auerswald, an old friend of the regent who had held office with Camphausen and Hansemann in 1848, was Minister without Portfolio and effective Prime Minister.
But the liberals’ hope that the ‘new era’ had begun was soon disappointed. The regent had been uneasy at their acclamations, and the government entered on office with a declaration of conservative principles and a statement on its German policy limiting Prussia to ‘moral conquests’. The regent’s own interests were restricted to military reforms, and the mobilisation in the summer of 1859 had revealed weaknesses in the Prussian military machinery that, in his view, made such reforms urgent. In December 1859 he appointed General Albrecht von Roon War Minister, and early in 1860 Roon announced his proposals for reforms. He was one of those Prussian officers who lived only for the army: early left an orphan, he had grown up as a member of the Prussian officer corps and served the army with austere devotion, thinking only of military efficiency and little of the ends which it was to serve. He soon became the minister to whom William paid most attention, and could be sure of royal support for his military reforms.
These were embodied in a bill placed before the Diet early in 1860 with a request that the credits necessary for their execution be voted. Some of Roon’s proposals were purely technical: the whole army was to be re-equipped with new types of weapon, for instance. The two most important changes, however, had serious political repercussions. Roon’s main aims were to rejuvenate the army, to increase the number with the colours at any given moment, and to increase the power of the professional officer corps. To achieve the first aim he proposed that each recruit should serve the full term of three years with the colours instead of the two years that had become customary. To achieve the other two aims he planned to abolish the independence of the Reserve Army (the Landwehr) by calling up its younger members to the regular army on mobilisation, and by embodying the reserve officers in the regular officer corps.
These proposals were bound to arouse opposition from even moderate liberals, however loyal they were to the ideal of an efficient Prussian army. The Landwehr was a treasured possession of the middle class, full of romantic memories of the war of liberation and the reforms that accompanied it. The loss of its independence and the subordination of its officers was a bitter blow both to the liberal ideal of a nation in arms and to the members of the middle class whose highest social ambition was to become officers of the Reserve. At the same time the proposed change lengthening compulsory service was unpopular and its social implications clear; three years of military discipline were, it was felt by William and his advisers, more likely to produce loyal subjects than two.
The opposition to the bill shocked the regent, for he felt that the ‘new era’ ministry had entitled him to the gratitude of the liberals of various shades who now were a serious force in the Diet. The opposition, indeed, was prepared to make far-reaching concessions; they were not opposed to military reforms as such and eventually limited their opposition to the extension of the period of service. In 1860 a compromise was reached that gave the government what it wanted for its immediate programme; the military budget was voted provisionally because of the threatening European situation. In 1861 the conflict was renewed and led to a prolonged period of constitutional struggle. In the spring a compromise military budget was voted by a majority of only eleven, and soon after, a new liberal party was formed by men who saw the importance of the principle of parliamentary control over military expenditure, and who also wanted Prussia to pursue a more active German policy. The new party was called the German Progressive Party (Deutsche Fortschrittpartei); its leaders were Max von Forckenbeck, a lawyer, later to become Mayor of Breslau and Berlin, and Leopold von Hoverbeck, a nobleman from East Prussia, who was prepared to oppose the other members of his class and found a party that was to rely for support on the urban middle class. It also included radicals of an older generation like Johann Jacoby from Konigsberg. Its objectives included the establishment of the ‘firm unity of Germany which cannot be thought of without a strong central power in Prussian hands and without a common German popular representation’. Thus the aims of the Nationalverein were finding support in a strong and influential party inside Prussia that appeared to be making a real stand for the preservation of a parliamentary constitution.
In the elections to the Diet at the end of 1861 the Progressive party had a surprising success; although the limited and indirect franchise prevented the creation of a mass party, the new party had shown that it commanded considerable middle-class support. The king (for Frederick William had died in January 1861) and Roon prepared for a hard struggle; among senior officers there was talk of a coup d'etat. In March 1862 the ministry of the ‘new era’ was dismissed and new elections were ordered, in the hope of destroying the majority won by the Progressives and old liberals in the previous December. However, in spite of every official effort to influence the elections, the new house again contained a liberal majority committed to rejecting the military budget needed to finance Roon’s reforms. Throughout the summer the king tried to find a government that would solve the dilemma by winning parliamentary support. None of the ministers he selected was able to find an answer. The name of Bismarck was often mentioned. In May he had been in Berlin, and it was widely expected that he would be asked to assume office. However, the king was still suspicious of his friendship with the Gerlachs and the Kreuzzeitung group, and mistrustful of his forceful and independent methods; and he had been transferred to the Prussian embassy in Paris.
By September the king’s position was desperate. His ministers refused to take the responsibility of governing without the vote of a budget and he talked of abdication. Then Roon finally accepted the idea of a government that would ignore the opposition in the Diet, and on 18 September telegraphed to Bismarck to hasten his return to Berlin. Even the king now saw that Bismarck was the only man with the strength of character and political skill to govern without the parliamentary support required by the constitution. Bismarck arrived in Berlin on 20 September 1862 and two days later agreed to take office.
Bismarck was now a man of 47, of great physical vigour and with a vast appetite for food and drink. His energy and penetrating intelligence made an instantaneous impression on all who met him, even on his opponents. Yet this intense nervous vitality occasionally in moments of crisis found relief in outbursts of tears or violent rage. Bismarck had met his wife in the pietist circles of the Prussian Protestant nobility, and from her friends he had acquired religious beliefs that were strongly held, although without any influence on the morality of his public conduct. He could exercise great charm when he chose and his letters to his wife sometimes reveal a poetic sensibility. Although his diplomatic experience had made him intellectually far removed from the young Junker who had come to Berlin to take his seat in the United Diet of 1847, he never lost his feeling for his Prussian estates and his origins in the north German plains; nor did he ever lose his Junker’s contempt for the landless middle classes of the cities. Yet his Junker background never prevented him from taking political action that conflicted with the views of his aristocratic compatriots if he thought it would serve his wider aims. It was this freedom from prejudice and utter lack of scruple that gave him his strength. He was contemptuous of ‘tedious humanitarian babblers’ and ‘the vague and changeable concept of humanity’; he was absolutely ruthless in the persecution of his enemies. And he was as free from political inhibitions as he was from moral ones; when he came to power he talked with equal scorn of the ‘nationality swindle’ of the liberals and the ‘sovereignty swindle’ of the rulers of the smaller states. It was on 29 September 1862, however, at his first appearance before the Finance Committee of the Prussian Diet as head of the government, that he revealed for a moment his political programme and methods in the most famous of all his phrases: ‘Germany is not looking at Prussia’s liberalism, but at her power... Prussia must preserve her power for the favourable moment, that has already several times been passed. Prussia’s frontiers are not suited to a healthy national life. The great questions of our time will not be decided by speeches and majority decisions—that was the mistake of 1848-9—but by Blood and Iron.’
Bismarck had been summoned to deal with the Prussian constitutional conflict and to carry through the army reforms. Yet inevitably he found himself involved with the ‘German question’, and the two problems— the Prussian constitutional conflict and the German national struggle— became inextricably involved until they were both resolved after, and indeed by means of, the war of 1866. The diplomatic manoeuvres and the popular agitation begun in 1859 both demanded that Prussia should adopt a positive policy towards the problem of German unity. The middle states had made various proposals for constitutional reform of the Confederation, chiefly at the instigation of Count Friedrich von Beust, the Saxon Prime Minister and the most energetic champion of the independence of the middle and small states. These plans had not come to anything because of the divergent interests of the states concerned and the suspicions (especially in Bavaria) that prevented them from wholeheartedly supporting Austria. Beust and Ludwig von der Pfordten, the Bavarian Minister, still believed, indeed, in a ‘Third Germany’ that would hold the balance between the two great powers.
Meanwhile the Austrian government began its last attempt to assert Austrian preponderance in Germany and to compensate Austria in Germany for her defeat in Italy. The constitutional reorganisation in the winter of 1860-1 gave some faint grounds for hope that the monarchy might become slightly more liberal. Popular support for the idea of a ‘Greater Germany’ including Austria and under her leadership was organised by the Reform Association (Reformverein) founded in Munich in October 1862 to counteract the influence of the pro-Prussian, ‘little German’ Nationalverein. Its leader was a veteran of the left wing of the Frankfurt Assembly of 1848, Julius Froebel, who had taken part in the Vienna rising of October 1848; now, however, his advice began to filter through into the channels of the Austrian bureaucracy. Count Rechberg, Austrian Foreign Minister from 1859 to 1863, genuinely believed in a policy of peaceful dual control of Germany, with Prussia and Austria each dominating its own sphere of influence. Other Austrians, however, like Anton von Schmerling, the Minister of the Interior, and Ludwig von Biegeleben, the official in charge of German affairs in the Foreign Ministry, believed in some form of ‘Greater Germany’ with Austria predominant.
By the summer of 1863 the various influences favouring a positive Austrian policy in Germany had led the emperor to propose a Congress of Princes at Frankfurt to discuss Austrian suggestions for the reform of the Confederation. The hopes of the south German liberals were high; yet the difficulties in the way of the Habsburg monarchy giving any satisfaction to popular and national demands were clearly pointed out in a poster displayed by the Nationalverein during the Frankfurt meeting in answer to propaganda urging Francis Joseph to become German emperor:
...Francis Joseph German Emperor? Yes, if he will, with complete abandon, become wholly nothing but a German Emperor. Yes, if, placing himself confidently at the head of the nation, he at once recognises the immutable constitutional rights of 1849. Yes, finally, if he also achieves peace and reconciliation with the other races of his Empire so that they stand gladly by us against every foe from East or West. Say ‘Yes’, Francis Joseph, and the whole great people dedicates to you property and possessions as the glorious restorer of Germany.
Quite apart from Austrian difficulties in satisfying popular demands, however, the Frankfurt Congress of Princes failed because the king of Prussia, without whose assent any reform of the Confederation was unthinkable, was not present. Bismarck had taken up office determined to assert Prussia’s right to be treated as a great power and the equal of Austria. At the same time, he was ready to co-operate with Austria provided Prussia’s position as paramount power in, at least, north and central Germany was recognised. (On 5 December 1862 the Austrian Minister in Berlin reported that Bismarck was urging Austria to abandon her German policy and to transfer the monarchy’s centre of gravity to Hungary.) Bismarck realised, however, that differences between the German states might provide the occasion for a European crisis and, especially, for French intervention. One of his first diplomatic acts, therefore, was to make sure that he could count on the goodwill of Russia. His championship of neutrality during the Crimean War, his period of office at the St Petersburg embassy and his conservatism had already made him a figure trusted by the Russian government. In January 1863 the revolt in Russian Poland enabled him to give practical help to the Russians, and in February General von Alvensleben went to St Petersburg and signed an agreement allowing for exchange of information about Polish activities, promises of armed help if necessary and permission to chase fugitives inside Prussian territory. When the convention became known it made the liberals in the Prussian Diet (to say nothing of public opinion abroad) more hostile to Bismarck and his policies than ever.
As yet, however, there was little reason to suppose that relations between Prussia and Austria would become so strained as to provoke a European crisis. Bismarck could still obtain his ends by diplomatic means. The most important of these ends in 1863 was to defeat Austria’s renewed attempt to reform the Confederation in her own interest. This was achieved by Prussia’s absence from the Frankfurt Congress, although this absence was secured only with difficulty. Early in August Francis Joseph visited King William at Gastein and invited him to attend the Frankfurt meeting later in the month. However, the invitation was refused and the Congress assembled without Prussia. The princes at Frankfurt (all the other sovereigns of the Confederation had accepted except the king of Denmark and the rulers of three of the smallest states) decided to make another attempt to persuade the king of Prussia to come. The king of Saxony went in person to deliver the invitation. All William’s instincts of conservative and monarchical solidarity were aroused: ‘a king as courier from thirty ruling princes’ made the invitation hard to refuse. Bismarck, however, after a struggle eventually persuaded him to stay away; it was the first of a series of such struggles in which the minister had to fight bitterly to overcome the monarch’s prejudices.
With this refusal the Austrian reform plan was doomed. The popular support of the south German liberals was soon lost; as one of them, Bluntschli, had remarked in the previous year: ‘With their hearts many people believe in a “great Germany”, with their heads they believe it to be impossible and so become “little Germans” from necessity.’ After 1863 the Austrian cause had little positive appeal. Bismarck immediately attempted to capture popular support by his counter-proposals. These included a division of power between Austria and Prussia, and, most important of all, the establishment of ‘a true national representation based on the direct participation of the whole nation...’. It was, however, still too soon for the liberals to trust Bismarck sufficiently to receive such a programme from him; nor were the governments of the several states prepared for such a radical measure.
In the autumn of 1863 it was the Schleswig-Holstein question that occupied the attention both of diplomats and liberal leaders. The Danish war in 1848 had shown how dearly German liberals were attached to the idea of separating the two duchies from the Danish crown and incorporating them both fully into Germany (cf. ch. IX, p. 219). Now in 1863 the king of Denmark had promulgated laws that would separate Schleswig from Holstein and assimilate Schleswig to the rest of the Danish kingdom under a centralised constitution. The Federal Diet had already decided to take action against Denmark when, on 15 November 1863, the situation was further complicated by the death of the Danish king. This added a controversy about the succession to that about the constitution, for the succession laws in the Duchies differed from those in the kingdom of Denmark. The candidate on whom the hopes of the liberal and national movement in Germany were set was Frederick, prince of Augustenburg. He was an inexperienced politician, but he was reputed to be liberal in sympathy and had the support of the Prussian crown prince. He had immediately proclaimed himself the lawful heir to the duchies and asked for federal help in establishing his claim. By the beginning of 1864 negotiations between the Diet, Prussia, Austria and Denmark had broken down. Federal contingents had entered Holstein in December 1863, and on 16 January 1864 Prussian troops followed them; on 1 February an Austro-Prussian force crossed into Schleswig and war with Denmark began.
Bismarck was conscious of the dangers of the situation; France, England and Russia might intervene; he was still facing a hostile majority in the Prussian Diet which refused to vote funds for the war. He had therefore been careful to associate Austria with every step against Denmark and a formal alliance was signed on 17 January. Russia, although the duke of Oldenburg was her candidate for the throne of the duchies, was inhibited by the Polish revolt and the Alvensleben Convention (cf. ch. IX, p. 236); Napoleon III allowed himself to be contented with vague hints of a general territorial rearrangement in Europe, while in England Palmerston and Russell were unable to execute the menaces which they had freely employed. The lack of any common policy among the great powers meant that their attempt to solve the problems raised by the war by means of a conference in London came to nothing; by August 1864 the war was over, Denmark defeated, and the preliminaries of peace had been signed, King Christian of Denmark renouncing his right to Schleswig-Holstein.
Bismarck’s policy had been equally successful at home. He had told the Prussian Diet in April 1863 that he would get money where he could find it, and had boasted ‘We are going to wage war with or without your consent’. Moreover, he made the most of Article 109 of the constitution, which laid down that taxes once voted continued to be levied until actually repealed by the Diet. Money therefore was raised by indirect taxation, from the postal services and from the income of the considerable state property, especially mines and forests. Roon’s reforms had been put into operation, and his administration and Moltke’s operational planning tested in a victorious war. Inevitably, Prussia’s success in a national war, in which she had played the largest part, strengthened the feeling that national unity under Prussian leadership was the only possible solution of the German problem. In spite of the continued hostility of the Progressive party in Prussia, individual liberal leaders began to support Bismarck’s policy, while between the Danish war and the war of 1866 he made contact with liberal leaders outside Prussia, such as Oetker in Hesse-Kassel and, eventually, Miquel and Bennigsen in Hanover.
Many Prussian conservatives, too, including the king, were given renewed confidence in Bismarck’s policy by the Prussian successes in the storming of the Duppel lines and the battle of Alsen. Neither they nor Bismarck, however, felt any enthusiasm for Augustenburg and the liberal and national forces which supported him. As early as 31 December 1863, when the war was just about to break out, Bismarck had admitted in the intimacy of his family circle that annexation of the duchies to Prussia was his ultimate aim. At the end of the war they were in joint Austro-Prussian occupation pending the Confederation’s decision about their future, and therefore any solution involving their subordination to Prussia alone was bound to lead to a conflict with Austria.
Prussia was in a strong position, since Austria had no real interest in Schleswig-Holstein and no desire to annex territory in north Germany. The most that Francis Joseph and Rechberg hoped was that they might use the promise of withdrawal from the duchies to persuade the Prussians to yield them territory in Silesia and to guarantee Austria’s remaining Italian possessions. The two victorious monarchs and their ministers had met at Schonbrunn in the summer of 1864 and established a temporary working arrangement for the occupation of the conquered territory. Rechberg had gained little—neither territorial compensation nor guarantee of Austria’s non-German possessions—and within a few months he had to resign his office. Support for Augustenburg had diminished owing to Bismarck’s opposition and his own tactlessness. The other members of the Confederation were being forced to withdraw their forces, leaving Austria and Prussia in occupation. The Prussians moved their naval base from Danzig to Kiel in March 1865. Under the circumstances popular support for Prussia’s claim to the duchies grew.
Throughout 1865 Bismarck seems to have pursued a policy that could be executed by either peace or war. His aim was to annex Schleswig-Holstein and eliminate Austria from north Germany. If Austria could be persuaded to renounce her German policy peacefully this would have the advantage of avoiding international complications, in which the policy of the powers, and especially of France, would be uncertain. In May, therefore, he restrained the king and some of the other Prussian ministers who apparently wanted to precipitate a crisis with Austria at once. In August another meeting of the emperor of Austria and the king of Prussia and their ministers led to the Convention of Gastein—a ‘papering over of the cracks’ as Bismarck called it—by which the administration of the duchies was provisionally divided, Austria governing Holstein and Prussia Schleswig. Their ultimate destiny was left uncertain, but, by accepting the Prussian proposals for a division of power, Austria not only abandoned the principle of working solely in the name of the Confederation, but also left Bismarck room for further diplomatic manoeuvres when it suited him.
By the end of 1865 Bismarck was ready for the next stage. The Gastein convention had given him the opportunity of picking a quarrel with Austria, and it had also been a defeat for those Austrians who wanted Austria to take a bold lead in the national movement. Prussian criticism of the Austrian administration in Holstein increased; in January 1866 a liberal meeting tolerated by the Austrian authorities gave grounds for a formal protest to Vienna. Finally on 28 February a crown council in Berlin decided that Prussia was ready for war for the possession of Schleswig-Holstein and supremacy in Germany. Two conditions seemed necessary for success: a favourable European situation and popular support inside Germany. Bismarck had met Napoleon III at Biarritz in the previous autumn, apparently without obtaining any definite promises; right up to the outbreak of the war Napoleon’s attitude was vacillating and uncertain. He wanted territorial advantages, and at one moment Bismarck, although he subsequently denied it vehemently, seems to have been ready to hint at concessions west of the Rhine. At no stage before the outbreak of war, however, was Napoleon ready to intervene decisively; only at the last minute did he gamble on an Austrian victory and sign a treaty with Francis Joseph by which, in return for French neutrality, Austria would cede Venetia at the end of the war. Bismarck had gambled on French neutrality and his gamble was justified.
The most important decision taken at the crown council of 28 February was to offer an alliance to Italy. Negotiations began almost at once and an offensive and defensive alliance was signed on 8 April, with an understanding that the treaty would lapse if there were no war within three months. (Italy was not the only one of Austria’s enemies whom Bismarck was prepared to mobilise against her, for early in June he made contact with some of the leaders of the Hungarian revolutionary movement.) Bismarck now had the Italian alliance, the hesitant approval of the king and the sanction of Roon and Moltke for his war policy. The Prussian conservatives (with the honourable exception of his old friend Ludwig von Gerlach, for whom Bismarck’s unscrupulousness and readiness to abandon conservative principles were too much) were prepared to follow his lead, even if with some misgivings. He still had to win popular support.
On 9 April a special meeting of the assembly of the Confederation was summoned, and Bismarck astonished everyone by proposing that a German Parliament elected by universal suffrage should meet to discuss constitutional reform. By this move he hoped both to win liberal support and to make reform of the Confederation rather than territorial ambitions in Schleswig-Holstein the issue on which the final breach with Austria should come. Liberal suspicions were still too strong for these proposals to receive a whole-hearted welcome, although they coincided with liberal demands. Moreover, Bismarck himself seems to have believed that universal suffrage would be a measure that would strengthen rather than weaken conservative influence; for, he thought, the votes of loyal peasants would outweigh those given to the middle-class liberals of the towns.
Yet Bismarck’s proposal sufficed to achieve his purpose of wrecking the federal constitution and bewildering both liberals and conservatives in the smaller states by his readiness to enlist the forces of revolution on his side. Individual members of the Progressive party and the followers of Lassalle came out in favour of war. A meeting of liberals at Frankfurt under the presidency of Rudolph Bennigsen declared itself in favour of neutrality. Inside Prussia, too, Bismarck was trying to get liberal support. He had attempted a compromise on the question of the army reforms in the previous year without success; relations with the Diet had soon deteriorated again as the result of prosecution of deputies for what was said in the chamber. Now Bismarck promised the new Finance Minister, August von der Heydt, that he would seek a vote of indemnity for his period of rule without parliamentary support. Karl Twesten, the leading champion of parliamentary freedom of speech earlier in the year, stated his readiness to move a vote of indemnity in return for a promise of constitutional behaviour in the future. Bismarck was prepared for this step, and it was prevented only by the personal opposition of the king.
Thus with the degree of support he could expect both at home and abroad still uncertain, but with Italy and the Prussian army firmly on his side, Bismarck proceeded to break up the Confederation and declare war. From the end of April onwards mobilisation began in Italy and Austria; Prussia mobilised in the first week of May. Each side accused the other of warlike preparations. Last attempts at mediation were made—by General Anton von Gablenz, brother of the Austrian governor of Holstein, and himself a Prussian officer whose family was scattered in the service of several of the middle and small states, who proposed the creation of a separate duchy of Schleswig-Holstein under a Prussian prince, and the division of military leadership in Germany between Prussia and Austria; and by Napoleon III who proposed, as usual, a European conference. Neither was successful. Francis Joseph and his ministers had genuinely tried for peaceful collaboration with Prussia, and had gone to the limit of concession, but they were confident that they could beat Prussia if war came, a view that was shared by most of the rest of Europe.
The middle and small states were in a difficult position. Many of the smaller states of the north and centre already had military conventions with Prussia, and, in any case, support of Prussia or neutrality were the only strategically possible alternatives for them. In all the states dynastic quarrels and the opposition of the liberals to the nobility made a coherent policy difficult. Although Hanover and Hesse-Kassel were geographically so placed as to make resistance almost impossible, their rulers were ready to march against Prussia, while the opposition were ready to welcome a Prussian victory. Bavaria and Saxony were the only kingdoms large enough to be militarily important. Pfordten and Beust, however, had delayed till the last moment the construction of a common front with Austria. When war came, Saxon troops fought well on Austria’s side, but Bavarian policy was hindered by the personality of the young king Ludwig II; he was to end-insane and already preferred the romantic solitude of his mountain castles and the company of actors and artists to the affairs of government. To the popular movements in the south Austria now had little to offer save the idea of loyalty to the Federal Constitution which had already proved unworkable, and which Austria herself had neglected in the provisional settlement of the Schleswig-Holstein question in 1865.
On 14 June the last full meeting of the Federal Diet took place at Frankfurt. Prussian troops had entered Holstein a week previously and diplomatic relations between Berlin and Vienna had already been broken off. At Frankfurt a motion, introduced by Bavaria, to mobilise the contingents other than those of Prussia and Austria was carried by nine votes to six, Luxemburg, the Mecklenburgs and three groups of the small states of the north and centre going with Prussia. The Prussian representative thereupon walked out. On the night of 15/16 June Prussian troops crossed the frontiers of Hanover, Saxony and Hesse-Kassel.
The military history of the war has been fully and finally told in Friedjung’s Struggle for Supremacy in Germany. The Hanoverian army was defeated on 27/28 June at the battle of Langensalza after an initial success, and capitulated on 29 June. The elector of Hesse had already been taken prisoner. One Prussian army advanced through Nassau and Frankfurt into Bavaria, while another concentrated against the Austrian and Saxon forces in Bohemia. On 3 July the Austrians were decisively defeated at Koniggratz (Sadowa). The struggle for supremacy was over.
Within two months of this victory Bismarck had settled the pattern of German unification and ended the constitutional conflict in Prussia. While the Prussian army was still advancing towards Vienna the possibility of French intervention remained, and a peace settlement became urgent. Bismarck succeeded in combining acceptance of French mediation with the imposition on Austria and the southern states of the terms of peace he wanted. A preliminary peace was signed at Nikolsburg on 26 July; the final Peace of Prague followed on 23 August. Bismarck’s hardest struggle had been with the Prussian military leaders and with the king himself, who combined a legitimist reluctance to dethrone dynasties with a conqueror’s desire to gain territory from Austria, Saxony and Bavaria. Bismarck, on the other hand, with the support of the crown prince, realised that, by limiting the new Confederation to north Germany and leaving the southern states intact, he would lessen the resentment of the defeated peoples, who in due course would be prepared to join the north in a united Germany, ready to march against France if necessary. Thus in the final settlement, Bavaria, Wurttemberg, Baden and Hesse-Darmstadt paid indemnities, but lost no territory; at the same time they signed treaties of alliance with Prussia by which their armies came under Prussian command in the event of foreign war. The rulers of Hanover and Hesse-Kassel were deposed and their territories, together with Schleswig-Holstein and the free city of Frankfurt, annexed to Prussia. The other states north of the River Main, and Saxony, joined the new North German Confederation. Austria lost Venetia, paid an indemnity and was formally excluded from any voice in German affairs. The way in which the ‘German Question’ would be solved had become clear.
But it was not only Austria’s position in Germany and the ‘great German’ idea that were destroyed at Koniggratz and in the peace settlement. Conservatives and clericals all over Germany suffered a defeat at the hands of the popular national forces that Bismarck was now able to exploit. In Prussia this new alignment of political forces was seen in the way in which the constitutional conflict was ended. The Diet had been dissolved on 9 May, and the final stage of the elections took place on the day of Koniggratz, 3 July. The Progressive party, which opposed the war, suffered a severe defeat in the atmosphere of patriotic enthusiasm. On 1 September Bismarck himself introduced a bill into the new Diet asking for an indemnity for the years in which government had been carried on without parliamentary support. On 3 September the indemnity was voted by 230 votes to seven with a number of abstentions. The government had won its case; and the limited value to the liberals of the indemnity law was shown by the king’s comment on his policy in the preceding years: ‘I had to act in that way, and I shall always act thus if similar circumstances arise again.’
The formation of the North German Confederation, the indemnity law and the decision that the new north German parliament should be elected by universal suffrage gave Bismarck a fresh basis of political support. The old conservative party split; for many of the Junkers felt that their principles had been flouted by Bismarck’s apparent concessions to parliament and his alliance with the popular and national movements, while as old-fashioned legitimists they were bound to condemn the ‘theft of the crowns’ of Hanover and Hesse-Kassel. A new party of Free Conservatives emerged to become Bismarck’s loyal supporters, while the old conservatives remained his constant critics. Even more serious was the effect of the new developments on the Progressive party. A large section of the party and many of its ablest leaders, including Forckenbeck and Twesten, now bound themselves to Bismarck’s national policy and voted for the indemnity law. Soon they were to join with liberals outside Prussia to form the National Liberal party under Bennigsen, and it was with their support that the new empire was to be founded. Caught in the dilemma of all nineteenth-century liberals between their political morals and national ideals, they had chosen the national ideals.