In 1815, ‘Germany’ of the German confederation was little more than a cluster of 39 different states, yet by 1871 the freshly proclaimed German Empire was in existence. What led to this transformation? The traditionalist Heinrich Treitsch, 1834-1896 believed that Prussia was predestined to play the central role in achieving unification. That Bismarck was the statesman of genius, whose diplomacy created the circumstances in which Prussia and the German people could triumph. Whilst H. Bï¿½hme argues an economic approach, as the memorandum written by the Prussian Finance Minister Motz in June 1829 states, “political unity” was a “necessary consequence of commercial unity”. Economic factors were of greater importance than the events of 1864, 1866, and 1870. A more revisionist interpretation is that taken by A.J.P.Taylor in the 1950’s, that both, the economy and Bismarck’s opportunism, rather than his skills as a master planner, led to unification. But of the all factors involved in creating Germany, was that of the economy vital in accounting for German unification?
J.M.Keynes argues that the key factor, which expanded rapidly the population and so allowed industrialization to go ahead leading to German unification, was primarily due to the Zollverien, the German customs league. As Keynes famously stated, in 1919, “The German Empire was not founded on blood and iron, but coal and iron”. Bismarck used the union as “an economic carrot and stick for political ends”1. Before the introduction of the Zollverien in March 1833, coal and lignite production had an annual average of about 1.6 million tonnes, compared to the UK’s 16.2 million tonnes. But between 1835 and 1839 it was up to 3.0 million and in 1845 – 49 it was 6.1 million. In comparison to Austria, who was excluded from Zollverien, whose production only increased by 0.6 million tonnes in those same years.2 Austria was desperate to have the economic success that Prussia had, as they first supported Middle German Commercial Union, and then Schwarzeburg attempted to set up an Austrian custom league which is rejected and fails, highlighting the importance and dominance of the Prussian Zollverien in Germany. However J.M. Keynes was an economist writing in 1955,a time when it was popular to play down the importance of German nationalism as a result of the two World Wars, he is bound to highlight the importance of the economy rather than any other factor.
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The introduction of the Zollverien derived the construction of extensive railways within the member states, as it increased mobility and therefore heightened economic opportunity. Friedrich List explained, ” the most important side of a general railway system for us Germans is not the financial, nor even the economic, but the political aspect. For no other nation is a railway of such incalculable values as a means to arouse and sustain the national spirit and to increase the defensive strength of the nation”. In a summary of the national benefits of the railway, he included the hope that it would destroy the “evils of small-town and provincial obscurantism and prejudice.”3 Yet F.List was one of the first great promoters of economic nationalism in the 1830s, his main business and commercial activity had been as a railway promoter, having worked in the United States constructing a colliery railway. So it is hardly surprising that he would emphasis the ‘national’ importance of railways.
The train allowed more people and ideas to disseminate, consequently increasing market integration and interdependence and offered a practical way of binding together a nation. The first German railway began operating in 1835 on the very short line between Nuremburg and Fï¿½rth (a distance of only six kilometres). But other lines followed, and by 1848 there were over 5,000 kilometres of track, and in 1870, 18,810 kilometres. By 1870, before the political creation of a united Germany, the railway had been accepted as both the “most striking embodiment of the idea of the modern world and the instrument of national integration”4. After the new wave of expansion in the 1850’s the historian Johann Gustav Droysen wrote in an essay ‘On the Present situation’ about how the railways encourage unification, “Transport and the railway and education are working silently but irresistibly to remove the rigidities and divisions within our nation”5
By the middle of century, the Zollverien had generated a substantial political momentum in that its non-Prussian members had come to identify their economic interest with integration with Prussia. One liberal from Brunswick for instance commented in 1844 “The Zollverien has become…in fact the nourishing ground of the idea of unity…We will have to get used to foreigners believing Germany to be principally the customs union”6. However it is hardly surprising that a liberal form the North of Germany, where the Zollverien was most prominent and successful in 1844, would notice and comment on the strength of the Zollverien, with a bias opinion.
Some revisionist historians have questioned how far economic factors can be held responsible for the process of German unification. As G.G. Windell pointed out the member states did not abandon their political sovereignty or their hostility to Prussia, siding with Austria instead of Germany in the 1866 Austro-Prussian war. Yet the economic drive did overrode the political considerations in Hess-Darmstadt, they wanted to side with Austria, but its commercial classes believe this to be a suicidal course, and they eventually prevailed with a pro-Prussian line, but only economically. So the importance of the Zollverien is debatable as it did not provide protection for Prussian industries nor create a unified German economy. As H.Bï¿½hme points out when the four southern states were incorporated into the Zollparlament in1867, they elected a substantial number of particularist representatives, opposed to union with the north7. Also the political unification in 1871 was before the economic, since Hambach didn’t become a member until 1881 and then Bremen joined later in1888, 17 years after political unity. Blackbourne stated “The Zollverien was certainly a major power flexing it’s muscles, but it is important to recognise that the customs union was a product of Prussian geographical division and fiscal interests, not part of a long-term ‘German programme’8.
G.A. Craig sees the reform of the army as a great importance in creating a united Germany, that German Unification was born out of military success. Since the strength of the Prussian army defeated the countries standing in the way of unification, Austria and France. The Prussian commander, Von Moltke was a gifted military leader. The Prussian army easily defeated Hesse-Cassel and Hanover in1866 before defeating the Austrians. On 3 July 1866 the Prussians smashed the Austrian army at Sadowa, having overrun the opposing German states. “They were better led by Moltke, than Denmark, Austria or France”9. In addition, the German war efforts were well planned. In 1870 nearly 500,000 soldiers were rapidly deployed on the Western front during the Franco-Prussian war, whilst French reservists were still arriving at barracks.”10 This is emphasised by many historians, G.A Craig elaborates to say that in both the victories of 1866 and 1870 it was Prussia’s ability to send their troops to the right places within the right times. As an American general put it, it was the knack of getting there “fustest with the mostest”11. Which in turn leads us directly back to the development of the railways and consequently founded on the foundation of the Zollverein, inherent to Germany’s economic success. So the economic and financial strength of Prussia gave her the military resources she needed to challenge first Austria and then France.
In 1893 Bismarck insinuates in his memoirs12 that from the start he had worked for the unification of Germany, which implies that the economic and military factors were of less importance. However Bismarck does have an ulterior motive when writing this. He will wish to heighten his responsibility for unification to emerge as the hero of Germany and the fatherlands most patriotic figure. Yet there is other evidence to reinforce this contention: for instance the remarks he is supposed to have made on a visit to London during the summer of 1862, when at a dinner party he spelled out to Disraeli more or less what subsequently happened. He said that when he was in charge he would initiate the reform of the army, find a pretext for war with Austria and destroy the Bund.13 Unfortunately, since the source of this is neither reliable, as it’s authenticity can be questioned as it as anonymous eyewitness written a lot later than the event with the benefit of hindsight, it is open to question, quite apart from it’s own inherent improbability. A.J.P.Taylor suggests in his biography of Bismarck (1955), the opposite of this, that Bismarck followed a purely day-to-day policy.
Maintaining that before 1866 Bismarck did not intend to disrupt the existing order in Europe unless events drove him to it.14 After victory over Austria in that year he had no vision of future action. The war with France in 1870 took him by surprise and was most unwelcome. In other words the fabled lion was in fact a lamb; Bismarck’s contemporaries and generations of statesman and scholars have been wrong about him. This interpretation seems very unlikely since Bismarck would not have famously edited the Ems telegram to make a hostile situation out of an amicable one, thus leading to much anti- French propaganda resulting in the orchestrated Franco-Prussian war. Though W.Carr does claim that the revision of the Em’s telegram was a more of a scare tactic towards Napoleon than an invitation for all out war.15 Also A.J.P Taylor writes only ten years after the end of the Second World War, as the first chief revisionist, when the majority of countries especially within Europe were suspicious of German nationalism, so he is bound to discredit a leading patriotic figure of national pride.
However the Socio-Economic (Marxist) view, as maintained by A. Farmer, argues that unification was an inevitable social evolution of which, both economic factors coupled with Bismarck’s diplomacy, were merely tools of a long-term process.16 As the industrial revolutions produced the rise of the middle classes, and nationalism was the expression of the middle class power. Accordingly Bismarck was acting on behalf of the middle class, in uniting Germany, leading to Marx’s famous inauguration of the working class.17 This was a popular belief during the 1960’s post the two world wars and the fall of Stalin’s dictatorship in Russia. Mostly likely written in this manner to counter the view that one person was largely responsible for the German unification, and maintain the Marxist theory of “all men and women contributing to produce and sustain social life incomplete equality”.18
The work of the revisionist historian W.Carr claims that Bismarck was not a follower of national liberalism rather that “at the bottom a loyal servant of his monarch, Bismarck simply intended like Frederick the Great to seize opportunities as and when they arose to make the kingdom of Prussia the dominant power”19 within Europe. The best example being the Ems telegram or the Schleswig-Holstein issue which had both issues been handled differently full-scale war could have easily been avoided and perhaps even not on the cards. As part of his opportunistic policy it was necessary for Bismarck to use all the resources available to get his way, and on closer examination perhaps his lifeline was the economic advances made during his time in government and hence more vitally the Zollverein. Had it not been for the prosperous times for Germany during the 1850’s Bismarck may not have been able to force through the army reforms, in1859, financed from taxation. Which led to the defeat of, first Austria and then France, as a result of the well trained ‘reformed’ army. Quick mobilisation, due to the railways, and Krupps needle guns which had five times the fire power of Austria all derived essentially from the strong German economic environment.
Another key factor in Bismarck’s diplomacy was his manipulation of the smaller states using the Zollverein. Since despite siding with Austria before the Battle of Konisgratz many of the same states joined the Prussian headed North German Confederation in 1866. Bismarck had given them little choice, either they were to join, or face expulsion for the Zollverein, an option which would be suicidal for their state economics. This method of manipulative politics was also put into practice on the smaller states, threatening those who wouldn’t join with exclusion from the Zollverien at the time of membership renewal, as was the case with Hanover, if they did not accept Bismarck ‘s desires. So had it not been for the economic developments the Zollverien may not have been established nor would as a result the army reforms and therefore military success, all which, were absolutely vital opportunities for Bismarck to manipulate the diplomatic circumstances.
As we have seen Germany’s economic developments played a significant part in the unification of Germany, directly encouraging economic unity, through the Zollverien, and perhaps therefore national unity. The main supporter of this interpretation is J.M.Keynes, the first revisionist of the traditional approach after the World Wars. Creating an alternative account for German unification and refuting that of the traditionalists, and thus an attempt to weaken German nationalism. The Zollverien also encouraged the growth of railways, which not only helped unite German people but also, played a major role in winning both the Austro-Prussian war and the Franco-Prussian. As we have seen F.List elaborate this position to place full emphasis on the railways for German unification. Though having earnt a living through promoting railways, it would be easy to account for a certain bias towards their overriding importance. Indirectly the Customs league allowed Bismarck to utilise the opportunities that arose both from the financial ability to reform the army and the manipulation of the smaller German states through the Zollverien.
However we have also seen the economic developments alone would not have gained German Unification from the lack of support Zollverien members gave Prussia against Austria in 1866. G.A. Craig highlighted the importance that the military had in enabling German unification, for Germany as Craig maintained was essentially built out of the two wars of 1966 and 1970. Bismarck’s diplomacy and manipulation of those wars obviously was also vital for German unification, without it anarchy could have resulted within the German Confederation. Bismarck and the traditional approach, written before the First World War, maintained the use of the prosperous economy was all part of an orchestrated plan. Though we know that this opinion was used firstly by Bismarck to emphasis his role in achieving German unity but also to generate more German patriotism. Leaving the economic factors as the foundation for German unification which is the argument most closely followed by modern historians writing in the last twenty years. Without any timely social pressures to discredit any of the factors involved and mostly allowing it to be objective, without bias.