Bismarck asserted that as the problem concerned Austria as well as Prussia no such decision could be taken without their prior permission. Bismarck also insisted on the dissolution of the Parliament of Frankfurt and the election of a new one. This attitude of Bismarck was quite humiliating to Austria and it decided to declare war against Prussia.
In the war, though the Austrian army succeeded in defeating Piedmont it could not make any concrete gains. On the other hand, taking full advantage of the pre-occupation of the Austrian army in Italy, Prussia invaded Austria in Bohemia and succeeded in establishing Prussian sway over Hesse, Cessle, Saxony, Hanover and Dresden. After this success the Prussian armies moved towards Bohemia and came face to face with the Austrian armies, stationed at Koniggratz. A war ensued in 1866 in which Austrian army, though numerically much stronger, was defeated by the Pruceton arrav/ Thp.v F.rmiemr of Austria was compelled to sign the Treaty of Prague in August 1866. In terms of this treaty the Confederation of Germany was dissolved. As a result the Austrian influence was eliminated from Germany.
The duchies of Schleswig and Holstein were annexed to Prussia. Venetia was given to Victor Emmanuel. Austria was required to pay a war indemnity. In the north of the Mein river a North German Confederation consisting of 20 German States was formed and its headship was given to the Emperor of Prussia. Thus the Treaty of Prague destroyed the influence of Austria in Germany, and recognized the military supremacy of Prussia.
The Treaty of Prague was quite insulting for Austria. It not only obliged her to free Hungary but also greatly undermined her international prestige. It is noteworthy, that though Austria was defeated Bismarck did not harshly treat her. He refused to attack Vienna and behaved quite liberally towards Austria. This liberal attitude towards Austria was probably dictated by the consideration that Bismarck realized that would be soon involved in conflict with Franco. He wanted Austria to support Prussia rather than France in the struggle between the two.
Franco-Prussian War, 1870-71. The growing power of Prussia greatly roused the jealousy of France. Even Bismarck realized that the unification of Germany could not be achieved unless France was defeated. In view of the expected inevitability of a war with France he had treated Austria generously and also allowed the south German States like Baden, Bavaria, Wurtemburg and Hesse to form an independence federation.
On the other hand, Napoleon III of France was disillusioned by the victory of Prussia over Austria and felt that it was not Austria but France that was defeated at Sadowa. Further he was looking for some adventure after his failures in Russia, Mexico and Germany to recover his lost prestige. Accordingly in 1865 he demanded from Prussia the States of Mainz, Bavaria, Plantine, situated on the left bank of the “Rhine. But Bismarck
refused to part with the same. The efforts of Napoleon III to acquire Belgium and purchase duchy of Luxemberg from the King of Holland were also foiled by Bismarck. As a result his prestige greatly suffered and he decided to punish Prussia.
Bismarck was well prepared for it and had already either won the sympathy of other powers in favour of Prussia or antagonized them with France. Thus he encouraged Russia to invade Turkey and nullify the terms regarding the Black Sea. He had already won over Austria by the liberal treatment after the War of Sadowa.
Italy also agreed to side with Bismarck because it felt that the withdrawal of French forces from Rome would smoothen the cause of Italy’s unification. Bismarck won over the sympathy of England and South German States by projecting the image that Napoleon III’s ambitious policy of expansion (in the nature of demand of Belgium, Bavaria, Luxemberg, Palantine etc.) posed a threat to the arrangements existing in Europe.
After preparing the ground for a war with France, Bismarck provoked France to launch an offensive by carrying certain amendments in a telegram (about the negotiations going on between the French Ambassador Benedetti and the Prussians Emperor) which was received differently by the French and the Prussians. While the Prussian people got the impression that the French ambassador had misbehaved with their Emperor, the France felt that the Emperor of Prussia had insulted their ambassador. The amended telegram was give wide publicity in the press. As a result the public opinion on both the sides was greatly excited.
Ultimately, on 19 July 1870 France declared a war against Prussia. However, the Prussian forces proved too strong for the French. The French forces under Napoleon HI were defeated at Sedan, and Napoleon was taken prisoner. This resulted in the demand for the abolition of monarchy and establishment of republican rule in France. The war against Prussia was continued by the French under their Foreign Minister (Jules Fabre) and Home Minister (Gambette).
However, ultimately Germany succeeded in capturing Strasberg and Metz. After a prolonged fight of about four months ultimately France surrendered to the German forces. A treaty was concluded on 18 January, 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The treaty imposed a war indemnity of Pound 20 crores on France. As long as France did not pay this indemnity the German armies were to stay in the main forts. France also agreed to the surrender of forts of Strasberg and Metz as well as the districts of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany.
The most important outcome of the Franco-Prussian war was the completion of unification of Germany and the establishment of the German Empire. Not only the King of Prussia was declared as the Emperor of Germany even the States of South German Federation decided to merge themselves into the North German Confederation.
It is noteworthy that what could not be accomplished by the Liberals otherwise was achieved by Bismarck through a series of successful wars. In fact under the prevailing conditions the unification of Germany could be achieved only through this method because the element of particularism was too strong in Germany and the states were not willing to make any surrender in this regard.
Further, what Bismarck really succeeded in creating in 1871 was a German Empire and not a Nation-State. The feeling of nationalism developed only afterwards.
In view of his contributions to the cause of German unification scholars have showered great praise on Bismarck. Prof. Phillips says, “Bismarck was the statesman of the school of Machiavelli sharing to full his contempt for those brain spun of fogs of fancy which are apt to obscure the path of practical politics.” J.A.R. Marriot says, “In the history of nineteenth century, Bismarck will always claim a foremost place.”
Even after Bismarck had accomplished unification of Germany, he continued to play a leading role in furthering nationalism in Germany. He accorded pre-eminent position to national interests in his policies and tried to keep public opinion on his side. As a result of his efforts, Germany emerged as one of the leading powers by the close of the century.