Unification of Italy & Germany

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Unification of Italy & Germany

Section Overview

During the French Revolution, people in France expressed great pride in their nation. Nationalism later spread to other peoples, inspiring uprisings across Europe and in Latin America. In the 1860s, nationalism led to the unification of Italy. By 1871, Germany had also united. While you read through the following passages please make sure at the end you understand the significance of the following key terms: Giuseppe Mazzini, Count Camillo Cavour, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Otto von Bismarck and Kaiser.


Nationalism: a feeling of pride in and devotion to one’s nation. It is a feeling that develops among people who may share a common language, history, and set of traditions or goal. Nationalism often causes people to join together to choose their own form of government, without outside interference

Nationalism and Revolution

As you have learned, nationalism is a feeling of strong devotion to one’s country. This feeling often develops among people who share a common language and heritage. Nationalism played an important role in political revolutions of the 1800s.

Revolution and war in the 1790s created a strong sense of national unity in France. This feeling inspired French armies to battlefield success as they sought to spread the ideals of their revolution. Napoleon also inspired nationalism among the nations he conquered. However, nationalistic feelings encouraged conquered peoples to rise up against Napoleon. In the years following the French Revolution, nationalism led to the upheaval in Europe and elsewhere.

Unification Movements in Europe: Italy & Germany


Ever since the Roman Empire had fallen in the 400s, Italy had been divided into many small states. After Napoleon invaded Italy, he united some of the Italian states in the Kingdom of Italy. The Congress of Vienna, however, re-divided Italy and put much of it under Austrian or Spanish control.

The three great leaders of Italian nationalism were Giuseppe Mazzini, Count Camillo Cavour and Giuseppe Garibaldi.

  • Giuseppe Mazzini: formed the Young Italy national movement in 1831, but he was exiled for his views. His writings and speeches provided inspiration to the nationalist movement

  • Count Camillo Cavour: Prime Minister of the Italian state of Sardinia, shrewdly formed alliances with France and later with Prussia. He used diplomacy and war to drive Austrian power from Italy.

  • Giuseppe Garibaldi: Was a soldier who led the forces that won control of southern Italy and helped it to unite with the north.


Another unification movement occurred in Germany. In the early 1800s, most German-speaking people lived in small states, to which they felt loyalty. During Napoleon’s conquests, feelings of nationalism stirred in those Germans who wanted to be free from French rule, After Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, some nationalists called for a united Germany. Metternich, however, blocked this idea at the Congress of Vienna.

The Rise of Prussia:

In the 1830s, Prussia set up a trade union among German states called the Zollverein. This agreement ended trade barriers between the states and was a step toward unity. More important, it established Prussia as a leader among the states.

In 1862, Otto von Bismarck was appointed chancellor of Prussia. Over the next decade, Bismarck, a strong and practical leader guided the German unification. Bismarck was not driven by a feeling of German nationalism, however. His loyalty was to the Prussian king. Unification was merely a means for him to make the Prussian king the ruler of a strong and united German state.

“Blood & Iron” Bismarck believed that the only way to unify Germany was through a policy he called “blood and iron.” Bismarck had no faith in speeches and representative government. He believed that the only way to unite the German states was through war. In seven years, Bismarck led Prussia into three wars. Each war increased Prussia’s prestige and moved the German states closer to unity:

  • Danish War: In 1864, Prussia allied with Austria to seize land from Denmark

  • Austro-Prussian War: in 1866, Prussia turned against Austria to gain more land. Prussia overwhelmed Austria in just seven weeks. Several German states were united with Prussia in the North German confederation.

  • Franco-Prussian War: In 1870, Bismarck used nationalism and the bitter memories of Napoleon’s conquests to stir up support for a war against France. Prussia and its German allies

In 1871, the German states unified under the Prussian king, William I. As their ruler, William called himself Kaiser; a title derived from the name Caesar and meant Emperor.

Questions for Comprehension:

  1. What is nationalism? What role did it play in unifying Italy and Germany? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  2. Through what policy did Otto von Bismarck unify the German states? Please provide examples. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  3. Why is nationalism so important for a country? Does it bring about positive or negative events? Explain. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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