Unification of Germany

The Unification of Germany into the German Empire, a Prussia-dominated nation state with federal features,[1] officially occurred on 18 January 1871 at the Palace of Versailles in France. Princes of the German states gathered there to proclaim King Wilhelm I of Prussia as Emperor of the German Empire during the Franco-Prussian War.

The German Empire from 1871–1918

A confederated realm of German princedoms had been in existence for over a thousand years, dating to the Treaty of Verdun in 843. However, there was no German national identity in development as late as 1800, mainly due to the autonomous nature of the princely states; most inhabitants of the Holy Roman Empire, outside of those ruled by the emperor directly, identified themselves mainly with their prince, and not with the Empire as a whole. This became known as the practice of kleinstaaterei, or "small-statery". By the 19th century, transportation and communications improvements brought these regions closer together. The Empire was dissolved in 1806 with the abdication of Emperor Francis II during the Napoleonic Wars. Despite the legal, administrative, and political disruption caused by the dissolution, the German-speaking people of the old Empire had a common linguistic, cultural and legal tradition. European liberalism offered an intellectual basis for unification by challenging dynastic and absolutist models of social and political organization; its German manifestation emphasized the importance of tradition, education, and linguistic unity. Economically, the creation of the Prussian Zollverein (customs union) in 1818, and its subsequent expansion to include other states of the German Confederation, reduced competition between and within states. Emerging modes of transportation facilitated business and recreational travel, leading to contact and sometimes conflict between and among German-speakers from throughout Central Europe.

The model of diplomatic spheres of influence resulting from the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15 after the Napoleonic Wars endorsed Austrian dominance in Central Europe through Habsburg leadership of the German Confederation, designed to replace the Holy Roman Empire. The negotiators at Vienna took no account of Prussia's growing strength within and declined to create a second coalition of the German states under Prussia's influence, and so failed to foresee that Prussia would rise to challenge Austria for leadership of the German peoples. This German dualism presented two solutions to the problem of unification: Kleindeutsche Lösung, the small Germany solution (Germany without Austria), or Großdeutsche Lösung, the greater Germany solution (Germany with Austria).

Historians debate whether Otto von BismarckMinister President of Prussia—had a master plan to expand the North German Confederation of 1866 to include the remaining independent German states into a single entity or simply to expand the power of the Kingdom of Prussia. They conclude that factors in addition to the strength of Bismarck's Realpolitik led a collection of early modern polities to reorganize political, economic, military, and diplomatic relationships in the 19th century. Reaction to Danish and French nationalism provided foci for expressions of German unity. Military successes—especially those of Prussia—in three regional wars generated enthusiasm and pride that politicians could harness to promote unification. This experience echoed the memory of mutual accomplishment in the Napoleonic Wars, particularly in the War of Liberation of 1813–14. By establishing a Germany without Austria, the political and administrative unification in 1871 at least temporarily solved the problem of dualism.