Unification of Germany
A confederated realm of German princedoms, along with some adjacent lands, 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 Holy Roman Empire was dissolved in 1806 following its invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte and the abdication of Emperor Francis II during the Napoleonic Wars. During which Napoleon had established his own German vassal state known as the Confederation of the Rhine which was soon dissolved in 1813.
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), ultimately settled in favor of the former solution in the Peace of Prague.
The process formally commenced with establishing the North German Confederation on 18 August 1866, initially as a German military alliance under the leadership of the Kingdom of Prussia, which was transformed in the subsequent year into a confederated state (a de facto federal state) that existed from July 1867 to December 1870 and was the earliest continual legal predecessor of the modern German nation-state known today as the Federal Republic of Germany. During the Franco-Prussian War, in November 1870, the south German states of Bavaria, Württemberg, and Baden (together with the parts of Hesse-Darmstadt that were left out of the Confederation) joined the North German Confederation. On 10 December 1870 the Reichstag of the North German Confederation had adopted a new constitution, still titled as one of the Deutscher Bund (German Confederation) in spite of establishing for the state a new name Deutsches Reich (German Realm or German Empire) and granting the title of German Emperor to the King of Prussia holding the Bundespräsidium of the Confederation; it entered into force on 1 January 1871, but lasted only four months. Following the victory in the war with France, the German princes and senior military commanders proclaimed Wilhelm "German Emperor" in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, and he accepted the title. This latter date was later customarily celebrated as the symbolic day of 'foundation of the German Empire' (Deutsche Reichsgründung), although it had no constitutional meaning. After a new Reichstag was elected on 3 March 1871, the transition from the Confederation to the Empire was completed when the permanent Constitution of the German Empire prevailing until the demise of the monarchy entered into force on 4 May 1871, while France recognised the empire on 10 May 1971 in the Treaty of Frankfurt.
Historians debate whether Otto von Bismarck—Minister 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.
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