Bismarck united Germany not by majority of votes and speeches, but by a policy of blood and Irony


One of the major features of the 19th century history of Europe was the struggle for national unification and independence. In the 18th century Germany was divided into a number of states.

Some of these states were very small and did not extend beyond the limits of a city. During the Napoleonic wars many of their states ceased to exist. At the end of the wars these were still thirty-eight independent states in Germany.

Among them Prussia, Wurttemberg, Bavaria and Saxony were fairly large. Militarily and in extent Prussia was the most powerful. It was also the most powerful. It was also the most reactionary. The big landlords of Prussia known as Junkers formed the dominant section in Prussian society.


The division of Germany into a number of states had hampered the economic development of Germany. The social and political system in these states was also very backward. With the growth of national consciousness, particularly after the French Revolution, the people of these states had started demanding the national unification of Germany, establishment of democratic government and social and economic reforms. In 1815 the German states along with Austria were organised into a Germanic confederation. However, each state tried to preserve its independence and its oppressive political and social system.

In 1848 revolts occurred in every German state and the rulers were forced to grant democratic constitutions. To unite Germany and to frame a constitution of the united Germany, a constituent assembly met in Frankfurt. The initial success of the revolts had made the German democrats and nationalists think that victory had been achieved.

While they debated the clauses of the constitution the rulers prepared themselves to suppress the movements. The Frankfurt Assembly proposed the unification of Germany as a constitutional monarchy under the King of Prussia who would become emperor of Germany.

However, the King of Prussia declined the offer. With the failure of the revolution of 1848 to unify Germany, one phase in the struggle for unification came to an end. Now Germany was to be unified not into a democratic country by the efforts of the revolutionaries but by the rulers into a militaristic empire. The leader of this policy was Bismarck.


Bismarck belonged to the class of land-owning squires or Junkers of Prussia. There was nothing in his early career to give promise of his future greatness. He joined the Prussian civil service but was dismissed for his irregularity. He made his debut in politics in 1847 as a member of the Prussian Diet.

During the upheavals of 1848-89 he vigorously opposed the German democrats and liberals and made himself prominent as a fierce reactionary. From 1851 to 1862 he proved himself eminently successful in the Prussian diplomatic service. As a Prussian delegate in the federal diet at Frankfurt and as Prussian ambassador to Paris and St. Petersburg, he gained a deep knowledge of German and European affairs. His great opportunity came when he was called upon by the king to head the ministry.

In support of King’s army reform Bismarck had declared that Germany was looking not to Prussia’s liberalism but to her power. In words which have become classic he clarified his pointed view and said “not by speeches and resolutions of the majority are the great questions of the day to be decided they are to be decided by blood and iron”.

To Bismarck a powerful army was to be great instrument for carrying out a wider policy. The policy of ‘blood and iron’ meant a policy of war. He had in view, viz., and the unification of Germany through the night and leadership of Prussia. While he was Prussian delegate at Frankfurt, he had found much to his annoyance, that Austria would never treat Prussia as her equal.


Hence he developed anti-Austrian feelings and came to the conclusion that “Germany was too narrow for Austria and Prussia”. He had clear cut view that Germany must be united but the unification must be effected under the dominant leadership of Prussia. He was a Prussian to the core and to him a united Germany meant an extension of Prussian powers a Prussianised Germany.

But prussia would never be able to assume the leadership of Germany as long as there was Austria to thwart her projects. Hence Austria must go, and as she would not go voluntarily, war was necessary. This was the inescapable conviction of the loyal Prussian minister and he was determined to act upon it. He aligned with Austria in a war against Denmark over the possession of Schleswig and Holstein.

After Denmark’s defeat, he entered into an alliance with Italy against Austria, defeated Austria and dissolved the Germanic confederation. Thus Austria was separated from the other German states. In place of old confederation he united 22 states of Germany into North German Confederation in 1866. The constitution of this confederation made the King of Prussia the hereditary head of the constitution.

The unification of Germany was completed as a result of war between Prussia and France. In 1870 Louis Bonaparte, declared war on Prussia in the hope of maintaining his empire through military victory. The was partly provoked by Bismarck. The French armies were defeated and the French emperor was captured. Germany’s unification was completed as a result of the war which enabled Bismarck to absorb the remaining German states into a united Germany.

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