Unification of Germany


January 22, 2022

The formal unification of Germany into a politically and administratively unified nation-state officially took place on January 18, 1871 in the Mirror Hall of the Palace of Versailles in France. The princes of the German states gathered to proclaim William of Prussia emperor of the German Empire after the capitulation of France in the Franco-Prussian War. Unofficially, the transition of most German-speaking peoples to a federal state lasted for almost a century. The unification revealed a number of striking religious, linguistic, social and cultural differences among the inhabitants of the new nation, so the act of 1871 can be imagined as just one episode in a series of larger unification processes. The Holy Roman Empire, which included more than 300 independent states, was effectively disbanded when Emperor Franz II abdicated (August 6, 1806) during the Third Coalition War. Despite the legal, administrative, and political turmoil caused by the collapse of the empire, the peoples of the German-speaking states of the old empire shared common linguistic, cultural, and legal traditions, reinforced by the experience of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. European liberalism offered an intellectual basis for unification, challenging dynastic and absolutist models of social and political organization, and its German expression emphasized the importance of common traditions, education and linguistic unity of peoples in a geographical region. From an economic point of view, the creation of the Customs Union (Zollverein) in 1818 and its further expansion to include other states of the German Union weakened competition between and within the countries of the union. New modes of transport facilitated business and tourist travel, creating new connections and sometimes conflicts among German-speaking people in Central Europe. The model of diplomatic spheres of influence established at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815, after the Napoleonic Wars, consolidated Austria's dominance in Central Europe. However, the negotiators in Vienna did not take into account the strengthening of Prussia and did not envisage Prussia's competition against Austria for leadership among the German states. This German dualism proposed two solutions to the problem of unification: the Little German (Germany without Austria) and the Great German (Germany).

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