German Confederation, North German Confederation and Forging an Empire (1815–1971) Part II

By | October 22, 2021

Consequences of the revolution

The events of 1848 bore features of a social revolution, which led to a deep estrangement between liberals and democrats. Social and democratic motives carried the second wave of the revolution in the summer of 1848 (September 17 in Frankfurt am Main, September 21 in Baden). In May / June 1849, the attempt by the left to enforce the imperial constitution by force failed. The liberal bourgeoisie set themselves apart from the left-wing democrats (Dresden May Uprising; Rastatt surrender, 23.7.). Prussia tried to create a small German nation-state in the “Dreikönigsbündnis” of July 26, 1849 and in the “German Union” (1850). In the Olomouc punctuation (November 29th, 1850) the Austrian Prime Minister F. Fürst forced to Schwarzenberg Prussia to give up its unification policy. Overall, the revolutionaries of 1848 were overwhelmed with building a constitutional, rule of law and nation state at the same time. It had taken England and France several decades to complete this task. Nevertheless, the impulses of the revolution of 1848/49 changed German politics and society permanently; The first German parties emerged: Liberals, conservatives, Catholics and socialists organized themselves in their own associations and factions (including Catholic Pius societies, “General German Workers’ Association”, conservative “Associations for King and Fatherland”).

In the restored German Confederation, the Prussian-Austrian dualism emerged more sharply; the Prussian Bundestag delegate O. von Bismarck thwarted all attempts at federal reform. In the “New Era” of the Prince Regent (from 1861 King Wilhelm I) the beginnings of a liberal policy emerged. At the same time, the national movement regained importance. In 1859 the German National Association was established, with a small German focus, and in 1861 the liberal German Progressive Party, which quickly gained a majority in the Prussian state parliament. In 1862 a conflict broke out in Prussia over the army bill of War Minister A. von Roon between the Liberals and the Crown. O. von Bismarck, appointed Prime Minister of Prussia in 1862 enforced the army reform without the involvement of the state parliament and ruled 1862–66 without an approved state budget.

The army conflict turned into a constitutional conflict. In the Alvensleben Convention (February 8, 1863), Bismarck supported Russia against the Polish uprising and won its backing for its national policy. He allowed a federal reform plan presented by Austria at the Frankfurt Fürstentag to fail. Nevertheless, Bismarck took the initiative in terms of national policy by declaring war with Austria in 1864 on Denmark, which wanted to incorporate Schleswig. The Gastein Convention of August 14, 1865 regulated the condominium of both powers in Schleswig, Holstein and Lauenburg. Learn more about Germany and Europe, please click

German War and North German Confederation

In the dispute with Austria over the occupation of the Elbe duchies, Prussia left the German Confederation (June 1866). The subsequent federal execution against Prussia ended with its military victory (“German War”; Battle of Königgrätz or Sadowa, July 3, 1866) or in the Peace of Prague (August 23, 1866). Prussia annexed Schleswig and Holstein, Kurhessen, Nassau, Hanover and Frankfurt am Main. Austria had to consent to the establishment of the “North German Confederation” (August 18, 1866) without his participation. The southern German states concluded secret protective and defensive alliances with Prussia. The Liberals retroactively recognized Bismarck’s national policy in the Indemnity Act (September 14, 1866), which ended the Prussian constitutional conflict, but an agreement with Bismarck was reached to split liberalism. The suffrage of the Frankfurt National Assembly, the general, equal male suffrage, was taken over by the North German Confederation. The constitution, which he adopted on April 16, provided for the later entry of the southern German states, gave Prussia the Federal Presidium and subordinated it to foreign policy and the federal army. The North German Confederation was a federal state with strong Unitarian moments; criminal and commercial law were reorganized and freedom of trade and establishment was introduced everywhere. In 1867 the “liberal era” began.

Franco-German War and the founding of an empire

The domestic political crisis in France under Napoleon III. and his fear of foreign policy being encircled by the brief Hohenzollern candidacy for the throne of Prince Leopold von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen in Spain erupted in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, in which the southern German states also took part. After the military victory at Sedan (September 2, 1870), Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden and Hesse joined the North German Confederation in the November Treaties (November 15–23, 1870), with Bavaria and Württemberg retaining reservation rights. The North German Confederation was given the name German Empire by a resolution of the Reichstag on December 10, 1870 ; On January 18, 1871, the anniversary of the coronation of the first Prussian king (1701), King Wilhelm I of Prussia was proclaimed “German Emperor” in the Palace of Versailles.

Relations with France remained permanently strained by the forced cession of Alsace and Lorraine to the German Reich (Peace of Frankfurt, May 10).

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