The entire credit for propagating the ideas of nationalism in Germany must go to Napoleon I. He was the first man who sowed the seeds of nationalism and democracy in that country.
When he became the Emperor of France in 1804, he based his foreign policy upon two fundamental principles:
(i) To split the power of big and powerful states like Austria, Prussia, Russia and England.
(ii) To increase the power of the weak and small states.
With a view to becoming the real Emperor of the continent, he declared war against the big powers. He defeated the King of Austria in the battle of Austerlitz. A treaty of Pressberg was concluded between them on December 26, 1805.
According to the provisions of this treaty, Napoleon destroyed the Holy Roman Empire and the German states were made free from it. He created the ‘confederation of the Rhine’ in 1806 in which the German states were included, Prussia and Austria being excludes.
The policy of Napoleon regarding the German states was really very strange. His main aim was to destroy the political power of Prussia and Austria and demoralize them.
For this purpose, he organized the small states of Germany and formed them as the buffer states between France and Austria-Prussia. It meant that Napoleon used the German states as an instrument for deadening the political power of Austria and Prussia.
In this way, the danger of invasion of France by Austria and Prussia could be easily removed by the reorganization of the German states and by the formation of a confederation of those states.
In the newly created confederation, the nobles and lords who enjoyed unlimited rights and privileges and who held the powers of administration were deprived of their powers, rights and privileges. Napoleon introduced a democratic setup of administration in the confederation.
He also introduced the Code Napoleon in all the states of the confederation. In this way, Napoleon did much for the national unification of Germany. At the time of the campaign against Russia in 1812, about 6, 00,000 soldiers of Napoleon lost their lives, and the military power of Napoleon was destroyed to a considerable extent.
Owing to this event, the national spirit of the people of Germany was greatly affected. They got ready to undergo any sacrifice in order to achieve the ultimate goal of national unity. The great ideals of freedom, nationalism, patriotism and fraternity were freely propagated throughout the German states.
Thus, it is clear that the idea of national unity was not a new thing for the people of Germany. They had learnt much about it from Napoleon Bonaparte. His contribution in the field of national unification of Germany was decisive and great.