Nationalism: state-building in Germany (Part 4)

Nationalism: state-building in Germany (Part 4)

The Franco-Prussian War (1870-71)

Causes of War:

Stronger Prussia and worried France

  • The causes of the Franco-Prussian War are deeply rooted in the events surrounding the German unification. In the aftermath of the Austro-Prussian War (1866), Prussia had annexed numerous territories and formed the North German Confederation. This new power destabilized the European balance of power established by the Congress of Vienna (1815) after the Napoleonic Wars. Prussia then turned its attention towards the south of Germany, where it sought to expand its influence.
  • France was strongly opposed to the annexation of the Southern German States (Bavaria, Wurttemberg, Baden and Hesse), which would have created a too powerful a country next to its border.It is said: “It was France that was defeated in Sadowa
  • In Prussia, a war against France was deemed necessary to arouse German nationalism in those States that would allow the unification of a great German empire. This aim was epitomized by Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s quote: “I knew that a Franco-Prussian War must take place before a united Germany was formed.” Bismarck knew that France should be regarded as the aggressor in the conflict to bring the Southern German States to side with Prussia.

Internal Difficulties of Napoleon III

  • French ruler Napoleon III was on increasingly shaky ground in domestic politics. Having successfully overthrown the Second Republic and established the Bonapartist Second Empire, Napoleon III was confronted with ever more virulent demands for democratic reform from leading republicans, along with constant rumours of impending revolution. In addition, French aspirations in Mexico had suffered a final defeat with the execution of the Austrian-born, French puppet Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico in 1867.
  • The French imperial government now looked to a diplomatic success to stifle demands for a return to either a republic or a Bourbon monarchy. A war with Prussia and resulting territorial gains in the Rhineland and later Luxembourg and Belgium seemed the best hope to unite the French nation behind the Bonapartist dynasty. With the resulting prestige from a successful war, Napoleon III could then safely suppress any lingering republican or revolutionary sentiment behind reactionary nationalism and return France to the center of European politics.
  • He realised that something must be done to stabilise his tottering throne. he began by demanding territorial compensations to offset the growth of Prussia, which he felt entitled as the result of his agreement with Bismarck at Biarritz. He was, however, uncertain as to what he really wanted, and flitted from one proposal to another. Bismarck, now that peace has been concluded with Austria refused even an inch of German territory. He then turned to Belgium and then to Luxembourg from the King of Holland. Luxembourg occupied a curious international position. Ruled by King of Holland, it was a member of German confederation, until the latter dissolved in 1866, and was garrisoned by Prussian troops. The Dutch King was willing to sell it but it drew strong feeling in Germany and proposal was dropped. The powers then neutralised Luxembourg under a international guarantee. Napoleon now wanted compensation but Prussia was not ready for anything. Now Napoleon thought that war with Prussia was only way to save his position at home.

Bismarck and German nationalism

  • Prussia in turn was also beset with problems. While revolutionary fervour was far more muted than in France, Prussia had in 1866 acquired millions of new citizens as a result of the Austro-Prussian War. The remaining German kingdoms and principalities maintained a steadfastly parochial attitude towards Prussia and German unification. The German princes insisted upon their independence and balked at any attempt to create a federal state that would be dominated by Berlin. Their suspicions were heightened by Prussia’s quick victory and subsequent annexations.
  • Bismarck had an entirely different view after the war in 1866: he was interested only in strengthening Prussia through the eyes of a staunch realist. Uniting Germany appeared immaterial to him unless it improved Prussia’s position. He wished for unification to ‘Prussianise’ Germany and not other way around.
  • In these difficulties, Bismarck could have united Germany under Prussia only through war,

Immediate cause of War

  • The immediate cause of the Franco-German War, however, was the candidacy of Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern (who was related to the Prussian royal house) for the Spanish throne, which had been left vacant when Queen Isabella II had been deposed in 1868. The Prussian chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, and Spain’s de facto leader, Juan Prim, persuaded the reluctant Leopold to accept the Spanish throne in June 1870.
  • This move greatly alarmed France, who felt threatened by a possible combination of Prussia and Spain directed against it. Leopold’s candidacy was withdrawn under French diplomatic pressure, but the Prussian king William I was unwilling to bow to the French ambassador’s demands that he promise to never again allow Leopold to be a candidate for the Spanish throne. Bismarck edited William’s telegraphed description of this interview, and on July 14 he published this provocative message (the Ems telegram), which accomplished his purposes of infuriating the French government and provoking it into a declaration of war.
  • The French emperor, Napoleon III, declared war on Prussia on July 19, 1870, because his military advisers told him that the French army could defeat Prussia and that such a victory would restore his declining popularity in France. The French were convinced that the reorganization of their army in 1866 had made it superior to the German armies. They also had great faith in two recently introduced technical innovations: the breech-loading chassepot rifle, with which the entire army was now equipped; and the newly invented mitrailleuse, an early machine gun. The French generals, blinded by national pride, were confident of victory.

Bismarck’s Diplomacy isolates France

  • He isolated France by selling good wills to powers. Russia still remembered Bismarck’s offer to help during Polish trouble and Napoleon’s part in Crimean War. Bismarck improved relation by encouraging Russian design against Turkey and consenting to the repudiation by Russia of the Black Sea clauses of Treaty of Paris (1856).
  • He had also taken care of good will of Austria by treating her with moderation after Sadowa. He had not penalised Austria with any loss of territory and didn’t humiliate by sending troops to Vienna.
  • He retained friendship with Italy by holding out to her prospect of acquiring Rome which was defended by French troops.
  • He tried to convince Powers that new era of French aggression was likely to begin after Napoleon demands and Spanish matters. Public opinion was universally turned anti-French. English people became angry when Napoleon asked for Belgium as compensation.
  • Finally France was completely isolated. Even the southern German states who were hostile to Prussia did not side with France as they thought Napoleon wanted territorial compensation at the expense of German states.

Battle of Sedan

  • An important asset was the Prussian army’s general staff, which planned the rapid, orderly movement of large numbers of troops to the battle zones. This superior organization and mobility enabled the chief of the general staff, General Moltke, to exploit German superiority in numbers in most of the war’s battles. The efficient German mobilization contrasted with confusion and delay on the French side.
  • The speed of Prussian mobilization astonished the French, and the Prussian ability to concentrate power at specific points overwhelmed French mobilization. Utilizing their efficiently laid rail grid, Prussian troops were delivered to battle areas rested and prepared to fight, whereas French troops had to march for considerable distances to reach combat zones. After a number of battles, decisive battle was fought at Sedan.
  • Battle of Sedan (Sept. 1, 1870), decisive defeat of the French army in the Franco-German War, which led to the fall of the Second French Empire; it was fought at the French border fortress of Sedan on the Meuse River, between 120,000 French troops under Mac-Mahon and more than 200,000 German troops under General Moltke.

Siege of Paris and Proclamation of Germany Emperor

  • The humiliating capture of the French emperor and the loss of the French army, threw the French government into turmoil; Napoleon’s energetic opponents overthrew his government and proclaimed the Third Republic.
  • The German High Command expected an overture of peace from the French, but the new republic initially refused to surrender. The Prussian army invested Paris and held it under siege until mid-January.
  • On 18 January 1871, the German princes and senior military commanders proclaimed Wilhelm “German Emperor” in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles in France.

Treaty of Frankfurt

  • Under the subsequent Treaty of Frankfurt, signed in Frankfurt on 10 May 1871, France relinquished most of its traditionally German regions (Alsace and the German-speaking part of Lorraine); paid an indemnity, calculated (on the basis of population); and accepted German administration of Paris and most of northern France, with “German troops to be withdrawn stage by stage with each installment of the indemnity payment”. (to the surprise of Germany, the French paid the indemnity quickly).
  • Residents of the Alsace-Lorraine region were given chance until 1 October 1872 to decide between keeping their French nationality and emigrating, or remaining in the region and becoming German citizens.
  • Natural resources in Alsace-Lorraine (iron-ore, and coal), military annexation and unification of the German people appear to have played a role in Germany’s fight for the areas annexed. At the same time, France lost 20% of its mining and steel potential.
  • This treaty polarized French policy towards Germany for the next 40 years. The reconquest of Alsace-Lorraine, the “lost provinces,” became an obsession characterized by a revanchism which would be one of the most powerful motives in France’s involvement in World War I.

Consequences of Franco-Prussian War:

  • The Franco-German War had far-reaching consequences. It established both the German Empire and the French Third Republic.
  • With Napoleon III no longer in power to protect them, the Papal States were annexed by Italy (Sept. 20, 1870), thereby completing that nation’s unification.
  • The Germans’ crushing victory over France in the war consolidated their faith in Prussian militarism, which would remain a dominant force in German society until 1945.
  • The Prussian system of conscript armies controlled by a highly trained general staff was soon adopted by the other great powers.
  • Most importantly, Germany’s annexation of Alsace-Lorraine aroused a deep longing for revenge in the French people. The years from 1871 to 1914 were marked by an extremely unstable peace, since France’s determination to recover Alsace-Lorraine and Germany’s mounting imperialist ambitions kept the two nations constantly poised for conflict. Their mutual animosity proved to be the driving force behind the prolonged slaughter on the Western Front in World War I.
  • Russia tore up Treaty of Paris: Russia took the advantage of this war to tear up clauses of Treaty of Paris (signed after loss in Crimean War) which had neutralised the Black Sea and she began to fortify Sevastopol. At the conference held in London, the Powers recognised this.

Impact of German Unification

Overturning balance of power in Europe

  • A massive change and overturn in the balance of power in Europe, the Unification of Germany in 1871 struck chords across the globe. Bismarck made Germany the strongest military power on the continent. Bismarck had to be sure no country would attack Germany. This caused him to create a secret alliance with Austria-Hungary and a triple treaty including Russia, Austria and Germany: otherwise known as the Alliance of three Emperors. The new country stayed out of the imperialistic race with Africa and Asia to keep peace between the other European countries. Eventually it did get into the imperialistic race but only after Bismarck’s rule.

Indirect cause of World War One

  • Bismarck united Germany, but later on the country he united would cause the First World War. One example of how Bismarck caused World War One relates to the French. Germany, after defeating the French, they utterly humiliated them through the Treaty of Frankfort. After this treaty the French people had sour feelings towards Germany. The country had created this treaty to make sure the French would never attack Prussia again but the opposite occurred. This treaty, in the end probably caused the French to stand up to Germany in World War One. Bismarck manipulated several countries during this time and bad feelings just don’t go away. after unification Bismarck’s next goal was to prevent Germany from entering any other wars. His foreign policy created alliances which was a major long term cause of WW1. These alliances created tension within the continent and allowed Europe to get into a world war situation.

Economic growth

  • With Germany unified and a new emperor Germany exploded economically. Though previous to 1871 there had been signs that Germany would industrially take off. Economically Germany advanced in its complexity. Free trade between  states meant that export and import increased and innovations were taken up easily. Agriculture too expanded, along with industry, but because of a population growth, Germany was  forced to import grain. Iron became the major thrust of industrial growth after the acquisition of Lorraine in 1871. By 1900 Germany had surpassed Britain in the manufacture of steel. It was used primarily to build railroads, a merchant fleet, machinery for domestic use and export and, of course, armaments. The pride of this first German economic miracle was the electrical and chemical industry.
  • Another factor which propelled German industry forward was the unification of the monetary system, made possible in part by political unification. The Deutsche Mark was introduced in 1871, a new monetary coinage system backed by gold.
  • Germany was the pillar of the Second Industrial Revolution.

Germany as a colonial power

  • Bismarck had been opposed to colonies. But a change in trade policy brought renewed interest in colonies. Germany thus acquired colonies in Africa, Kiaochow in China, the Carolines and half of Samoa in 1900.Germany was a major force during the Scramble for Africa.
  • Search of new colonies also finally led to the Word War One.

No political and social reform

  • Internally, Germany between 1870 and 1914 presented a picture of seemingly incompatible contrasts.  While its economy forged ahead to make it the most advanced nation in Europe, its political structure resisted any liberalizing trends and remained conservative and autocratic.
  • Likewise, it maintained an increasingly obsolete social structure of rich landowners who had mechanized their farms at the expense of the peasants and even richer capitalists making profits at the expense of a downtrodden working class.
  • As the social and political systems lagged behind economic progress, tensions in the form of growing opposition parties (including socialists), protests, and strikes emerged more and more. Discontent was partially diverted away from the government by being focused against such groups as Catholics, socialists, and especially Jews.  This and World War I only put off resolving these tensions.

Political structure of German Empire

  • The 1866 North German Constitution became (with some adjustments) the 1871 Constitution of the German Empire. With this constitution, the new Germany acquired some democratic features: notably the Imperial Diet, which — in contrast to the parliament of Prussia — gave citizens representation on the basis of elections by direct and equal suffrage of all males who had reached the age of 25.
  • However, legislation required the consent of the Bundesrat, the federal council of deputies from the states, in and over which Prussia had a powerful influence. Prussia thus exercised influence in both bodies, with executive power vested in the Prussian King as Kaiser, who appointed the federal chancellor. The chancellor was accountable solely to, and served entirely at the discretion of, the Emperor.
  • Officially, the chancellor functioned as a one-man cabinet and was responsible for the conduct of all state affairs; in practice, the State Secretaries (bureaucratic top officials in charge of such fields as finance, war, foreign affairs, etc.) acted as unofficial portfolio ministers. With the exception of few years, the imperial chancellor was always simultaneously the prime minister of the imperial dynasty’s hegemonic home-kingdom, Prussia.
  • The Imperial Diet had the power to pass, amend, or reject bills, but it could not initiate legislation. (The power of initiating legislation rested with the chancellor.) The other states retained their own governments.

Chancellor of German Empire

  • In 1871, Otto von Bismarck was raised to the rank of Furst (Prince). He was also appointed as the first Imperial Chancellor of the German Empire, but retained his Prussian offices, including those of Minister-President and Foreign Minister. Because of both the imperial and the Prussian offices that he held, Bismarck had near complete control over domestic and foreign policy.
  • The office of Minister President of Prussia was temporarily separated from that of Chancellor in 1873, when Albrecht von Roon was appointed to the former office. But by the end of the year, Roon resigned due to ill health, and Bismarck again became Minister-President.

Policies of Bismarck after German Unification:

  • Explained in 5th Part (Last Part)


Q. At the end of the battle of Sedan (1870), “Europe lost a mistress and gained a master.” Comment.

  • (See the secrion of previous years solved papers for answer)

Q. Was German unification achieved more by ‘coal  and iron’ than by ‘blood and iron’?

  • (See the section of previous years solved papers for answer)

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