From Revolution to Unification

Wilhelm's castle in Potsdam-Babelsberg
Wilhelm's castle in Potsdam-Babelsberg

Germany, 1849. The revolution had failed. The National Assembly was forced to dissolve in 1849, Prussian troops under Prince William had crushed the second revolutionary wave in Baden and the Palatinate, many democrats had emigrated.

Reaction wins

After the political reaction had won, the press was strictly censured, assemblies were forbidden and democrats had to fear house search, spying, confiscation, even harassment by the police and arrest. The Prussian constitution, imposed by the King Frederick William IV, provided for a two-house-parliament. The upper house, the Herrenhaus (“House of Lords”), was appointed by the King. The lower house, the Landtag, was elected by all male taxpayers. Yet, their votes did not have the same weight. According to the amount of taxes paid, the voters were divided into three classes. As a result, the few voters with a high income, and therefore a considerable amount of taxes paid, had a lot more political influence than large parts of the population with little or no income.

Foundation of the Empire

Although King Frederick William IV. had rejected the crown offered to him by the National Assembly, he was all in favor of a unified Germany. Yet, it had to be a union of the German States created by the free will of the princes and dukes, and under Prussian leadership. Austria’s Emperor Franz Joseph I was not amused , and when the Russian Tsar also disapproved, Frederick William abandoned his plans.

Some twenty years twenty years later, King William I (in German Wilhelm, 1861-1888) followed his older brother on the throne. He was one of the best known Prussian respectively German monarchs. For almost 30 years, he and his “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck decided about Prussia’s and Germany’s fate.

Bismarck, a staunch conservative, demanded that the multi-ethnic state of Austria should cede primacy in Germany to the mainly German state of Prussia. He was determined to unify German under Prussian leadership – if necessary with “Blood and Iron”. So he made it. After three wars, the Second Schleswig War against Denmark in 1864, the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and the German-French war of 1870/71, Prussia had emerged by far the biggest state in Germany. Austria had been expelled and re-orientated towards its eastern territories (Austro-Hungarian Monarchy).

After the victory of Sedan 1870, even the reluctant German states gave in to the patriotic enthusiasm, and Bismarck could win them over for unification. The Bavarian King Louis II, being the most prestigious among the German princes, offered the Emperor’s crown to King William I of Prussia (rumor has it that Bismarck pushed him). William was proclaimed German Emperor William I on January 18, 1871, in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The Empire was a federal state consisting of 25 federal states, 22 monarchies and the three free cities Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen, plus “Reichsland” Alsace-Lorraine.

The photos are from the German Wikipedia, public domain section.

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