German Wars of Unification

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Niederwald monument with crowning Germania in memory of the Wars of Unification

With the German Wars of Unification , Prussia pushed through the idea of ​​the German nation state in the sense of the small German solution . After the German-Danish War (1864), the German War (1866) and the Franco-German War (1870/71), the Prussian-dominated German Empire emerged .


After the defeated German Revolution of 1848/49 , the question of German unification was not yet resolved. The German Confederation was restored, but it did not satisfy national sentiments. In addition, the nobility also saw the benefits of national unification, especially from an economic point of view. A uniform German internal market should be the basis for the industrial revolution in Germany, which is picking up speed .

German dualism

In the revolution of 1848/1849 a small German solution was already emerging, but the struggle for supremacy in Germany was not yet resolved. Austria was still in front of the German Confederation, but the Kingdom of Prussia was economically and politically stronger than its competitor in the south . This dualism between Prussia and Austria was clarified in the German Wars of Unification.

Bismarck's appointment

As part of the Prussian constitutional conflict, Otto von Bismarck was appointed Prime Minister by the Prussian King Wilhelm I in 1862 . Bismarck ruled against the Prussian constitution and during this time laid the foundation for the German wars of unification. His army reform was the basis for the successful Prussian wars. His attitude towards solving political problems was also important for the following warlike attitude of Prussia. However, Bismarck is to be credited above all for being able to win over the liberal forces in Prussia for a German "unification from above".

German-Danish War

Remembrance of the 1st Unification War near Düppel , blown up in May 1945

Causes and reasons

After the defeated Schleswig-Holstein uprising , the Second Schleswig-Holstein War was essentially about the national connection of the Duchy of Schleswig . This was preceded by a constitutional conflict within the entire Danish state . Denmark, which administered Schleswig, Holstein and Lauenburg (Schleswig as a Danish fiefdom, Holstein and Lauenburg as member states of the German Confederation), introduced the so-called November Constitution in November 1863 after the German Confederation had rejected the previous state constitution, which Schleswig was constitutionally closer to Denmark should bind. However, this violated the London Protocol of 1852 , which emphasized the integrity of the entire Danish state as a "permanent principle", but also stipulated that Schleswig should not be tied more closely to Denmark under constitutional law than Holstein. Prussia took this as an opportunity to intensify tensions between Denmark and the German Confederation. The Bundestag decided to on October 1, 1863 Federal execution against the Danish ruled duchies Holstein and Lauenburg in the German Confederation, on December 23, 1863. troops entered the covenant in Holstein and Lauenburg one. At the beginning of February 1864 Prussia and Austria crossed the Eider and occupied Schleswig without the consent of the Bundestag.


The armies of Prussia and Austria defeated the Danish troops within a few months. Negotiations about a possible national division of Schleswig in the summer of 1864 failed. The decisive factor in the war was the storming of the Düppeler Schanzen on April 18, 1864 by the Prussian army. From the Prussian point of view, this was also necessary, because because of the London Protocol concluded in 1852, Bismarck feared military or political interference by France or Russia if the war lasted too long.


The Duchy of Holstein was awarded to Austria, while Prussia annexed the Duchy of Schleswig . In this war the northern border of the future German Empire was established. Another consequence of this war were administrative conflicts between Prussia and Austria, which gave rise to the Prussian-Austrian War.

German war

Theater of war in Bohemia

Causes and reasons

The reasons for this war were disputes over the administration of the duchies of Holstein and Schleswig as well as Austria's support for national efforts in Holstein. The main focus of this war, however, was the German dualism, the claim to leadership, which was now to be finally fought out.


Prussia and its allies were clearly superior to the Austrian and its allied forces. Reasons for this were, on the one hand, the technical superiority, the Prussian army , for example, had the breech-loader , and on the other hand, a better developed infrastructure, which enabled rapid troop transport.


As a result of the war, Prussia annexed the Kingdom of Hanover , the Duchies of Holstein and Nassau , the Electorate of Hesse and the Free City of Frankfurt am Main. Thus Prussia had a connection between its Brandenburg heartland and the economically important Rhine provinces . As a result of this war, Austria also had to cede Veneto to Italy. Austria received Veneto in the Peace of Campo Formio in 1797 (see History of Veneto ).

Nevertheless, Bismarck spared the Austrian Empire and renounced annexations, although the Prussian king, Wilhelm I , disagreed. The idea behind this was that Austria would be more favorable to Prussia in the future. More important, however, was that the dualism of the two rivals was ended in favor of Prussia. Austria's area of ​​interest now shifted to Eastern Europe. In addition, the German Confederation was dissolved and a new federal state was founded, the North German Confederation .

Franco-German War

Divine service of Jewish soldiers on Yom Kippur (1870)
German victory parade in Paris

Causes and reasons

In the Spanish succession controversy , Prince Leopold von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was seen as a promising candidate for the Spanish throne. France, however, feared to be encircled from two sides by states ruled by Hohenzollern , whereupon Napoleon III. demanded the withdrawal of Prince Leopold's candidacy. In fact, Leopold renounced the candidacy. The French government also demanded a written assurance from Wilhelm I, as head of the House of Hohenzollern, that Hohenzollern would never run for the Spanish throne again. Wilhelm rejected this request. Bismarck presented the process to the press in the " Emser Depesche " particularly harshly, which is why Napoleon III. thereupon Prussia declared war.


By declaring war on the member state of Prussia, the entire North German Confederation was attacked. Even before the founding of the federal government, Prussia had entered into protective and defensive alliances with the southern German states . France, on the other hand, remained isolated in terms of foreign policy, despite different expectations of Austria, Denmark and Italy. After the French emperor was captured in the aftermath of the Battle of Sedan , France continued to fight as a republic for a year. A better organization of the army contributed to the German victory.


Reichstag building , coat of arms of Alsace-Lorraine at the top under the imperial crown

During the war, the North German Confederation concluded the November treaties with Baden , Bavaria , Hessen-Darmstadt and Württemberg . The constitution of the German Confederation - the November Constitution of 1871 - established membership and changed the name of the North German Confederation to the German Empire. At the Presidium of the Federation , Prussia's king received the title of German Emperor . On January 18, the so-called imperial proclamation was issued in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles , even though Wilhelm already carried the title under the constitution. In the preliminary peace of Versailles , France had to cede Lorraine and Alsace to the new empire. The realm of Alsace-Lorraine was created , which was not subordinate to an upper president but directly to the emperor. In addition, there was an obligation to make war reparations amounting to 5 billion gold francs . The Peace of Frankfurt on May 10, 1871 sealed the end of the war.

British votes for the establishment of an empire

“That despite all the hasty and simple-minded statements by a certain section of the English press, the successes that Germany has recently achieved through the attainment of its state unity, the regaining of long-lost provinces, the chastisement of a nation and ruling family, which are the eternal troublemakers of European peace have been pursued with true sympathy and joy by the greater part of the English, whose knowledge of continental history over the past four centuries gives their judgment a special value. "

“The outcome of the Franco-German war and the emergence of the new nation state, 'the German Revolution', [is] a bigger political event than the French Revolution of the last century. […] The balance of power [is] completely destroyed and the country which suffers most from it and feels the effects of these great changes most, [is] England. "

The criticism of the opposition leader Disraeli was directed primarily against the liberal government of Great Britain and less against the German nation-state. The intent behind this statement was that incumbent Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone was failing in foreign policy; he had allowed Prussia to rise to become a major European power.

The founding of the German Empire was advantageous for the balance of power . Central Europe, which had been a crisis region for decades due to France's ambitions, finally came to rest. At the same time, Germany stabilized the European equilibrium system: both France and Russia were now held in check by Prussia-Germany. This was also very beneficial for Great Britain, whose world power position depended on the functioning of the equilibrium system.

In the wars of unification, the Prussian Prime Minister Bismarck sometimes exercised caution and moderation. The annexation of some northern German states violated the ideas of France, but not the interests of Russia or Great Britain. Austria was spared in 1866 - but not its allies like the Kingdom of Hanover . The founding of the German Empire in Versailles humiliated the “ hereditary enemy ” - the French era was unforgotten. The neighbors Russia and Great Britain would probably not have allowed France to be further humiliated. Bismarck's position in foreign policy in 1871 and after that that the Reich was saturated should allay the fears of the neighbors.


  • Frank Becker : Images of War and Nation. The wars of unification in the German bourgeois public, 1864–1913. (= Ordering systems. Vol. 7). Oldenbourg, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-486-56545-1 (At the same time: Münster, Universität, habilitation paper, 1998), ( full text ).
  • Nikolaus Buschmann: "The tribes of Germany must be melted together in cannon fire." On the construction of national unity in the wars of the founding phase. In: Ders., Dieter Langewiesche (Hrsg.): The war in the founding myths of European nations and the USA. Campus, Frankfurt am Main / New York 2003, pp. 99–119, ISBN 978-3-593-37368-3 .
  • Thorsten Loch, Lars Zacharias: How the Victory Column came to Berlin. A short history of the wars of unification from 1864–1871 . Rombach, Freiburg i.Br. 2012, ISBN 978-3-7930-9668-9 .
  • Dennis Showalter : The wars of German unification. Arnold et al., London et al. 2004, ISBN 0-340-58017-8 .
  • Rüdiger Döhler , Peter Kolmsee : Prussia's medical service in the wars of unification . Military Medical Monthly 8/2016, pp. 254–258.

Individual evidence

  1. Jürgen Müller: Der Deutsche Bund 1815-1866 (=  Encyclopedia of German History . Volume 78 ). Oldenbourg, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-486-55028-4 , p. 47 .
  2. The Second Schleswig War  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . By Inge Adriansen and Jens Ole Christensen, Museum Sonderjylland.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  3. The Holy Roman Empire (1873), foreword
  4. Konrad Canis : Bismarck's foreign policy after 1871. The question of alternatives. In: Rainer F. Schmidt : Germany and Europe. Foreign policy basic lines between founding an empire. Ceremony for Harm-Hinrich Brandt on his seventieth birthday, Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-515-08262-X , pp. 20–35, here: p. 20.