The Rise of Prussia



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The Rise of Prussia Like Italy, Germany also achieved national unity in the mid-1800s. Since 1815, 39 German states had formed a loose grouping called the German Confederation. The two largest states, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Prussia, dominated the confederation. Prussia enjoyed several advantages that would eventually help it forge a strong German state. First of all, unlike the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Prussia had a mainly German population. As a result, nationalism actually unified Prussia, while ethnic groups in Austria-Hungary tore it apart. Moreover, Prussia’s army was by far the most powerful in central Europe. Finally, Prussia industrialized more quickly than other German states.
Prussia Leads German Unification Like many other European powers, Prussia experienced the disorder of the revolutions of 1848. Rioters forced the king to call a constitutional convention and create a liberal constitution for the kingdom. In 1861, Wilhelm I came to power. The strong-minded Wilhelm first moved to reform the army and double the already powerful Prussian military, but the parliament refused him the money needed to accomplish this. Wilhelm saw parliament’s refusal as a challenge to his authority. Prussia’s wealthy landowning class, made up of conservatives who opposed liberal ideas, supported the king. Wilhelm drew all his ministers and army officers from this class, and in 1862 he named the Otto von Bismarck as his prime minister. Bismarck became a master of what came to be known as realpolitik, which means “the politics of reality.” The word described tough power politics with no room for idealism. Unable to persuade parliament to grant Wilhelm’s requests, Bismarck declared that he would rule without the consent of parliament and without a legal budget. These actions were in direct violation of the constitution, but Bismarck was defiant. In his first speech as prime minister, he told the parliament, “The great questions of the day will not be settled by speeches or by majority decisions – that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 – but by blood and iron.”
Germany Expands In 1864, Bismarck took the first step toward molding an empire. He formed an alliance between Prussia and Austria. They then went to war against Denmark to win two border provinces. This quick victory increased national pride among Prussians. It also won new respect from other Germans and lent support for Prussia as head of a unified Germany. After the victory, Prussia governed one of the provinces, while Austria controlled the other. Bismarck suspected that this arrangement would soon lead to friction between the two powers. And such tensions would suit his plans perfectly.
Bismarck Eliminates Austria To disable his powerful rival, Bismarck purposely stirred up border conflicts with Austria. The tensions provoked Austria into declaring war on Prussia in 1866. This conflict became known as the Seven Weeks’ War. The Prussians used their superior training and equipment to win a smashing victory that humiliated Austria. The Austrians lost the region of Venetia, which was given to Italy. They also had to accept the Prussian annexation of yet more German territory. Prussia soon controlled all of the northern German states.
The Franco-Prussian War By 1867, only a few southern German states remained independent of Prussia. The majority of these southern Germans were Catholics, and they resisted domination by Protestant Prussia. Bismarck was convinced that he could win the support of the southerners if they faced a threat from the outside, and provoked a war with France to do just that. Bismarck published an altered version of a telegram he had received. In the telegram, Wilhelm seemed to insult the French. Reacting to the insult, France declared war on Prussia in 1870. The Prussian army quickly took over much of northern France. For four months, Paris held out against the Germans. Finally, though, hunger forced them to surrender. Nationalistic fever seized the people in Germany, including those in the south. They finally accepted Prussian leadership. On January 18, 1871, at the captured French palace of Versailles, King Wilhelm I of Prussia was crowned kaiser, or emperor. Bismarck had achieved Prussian dominance over Germany and Europe “by blood and iron,” as he had set out to do.
3.3 How did nationalism lead to German unification?

Paragraph 1

Who dominated the German Confederation?

What advantages did Prussia have and why are these significant?


Paragraph 2

How did the revolutions of 1848 impact Prussia?

What did Wilhelm want to do to strengthen his kingdom? How did Parliament respond?

Who supported Wilhelm and how did he reward them?


How would you describe Bismarck’s ruling style?


How would you define blood and iron?



Paragraph 3 and 4

How did the war with Denmark impact Prussia?

What do you think Bismarck’s plans for Austria are?

Why did war begin with Austria?

What was the result of this war?

Paragraph 5

Why was it difficult for Prussia to gain the support of the southern German states?



What did Bismarck want to do to gain their support? How did he do it?


What was the result of this conflict?


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