After the failure of the Frankfurt Assembly, both Prussia and Austria put forth conflicting plans for German union. William I of Prussia was determined that neither Austria nor a newly aggressive France should thwart Prussian ambitions. He and his chief minister, Prince Otto von Bismarck, decided that Prussia must become unassailable and that unification must occur on Prussian terms.
Bismarck was a Prussian Junker (landless aristocrat) of forceful intellect, overbearing manner, and deep loyalty to the crown. Drawing on three decades of diplomatic experience, he astutely combined shrewd diplomacy with militarism in order to eliminate Austrian influence.
As a preliminary, Bismarck bought the neutrality of Russia, Italy, and France with friendly treaties. He then invited Austria in 1864 to join an invasion of Schleswig-Holstein, two Danish duchies. The Austrians and Prussians quickly defeated the Danes but soon fell out over control of the conquered duchies. On that excuse, Bismarck launched the Seven Weeks’ War against Austria in 1866. Skillfully coordinating three armies, Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke quickly defeated the Austrians at Königgrätz. Bismarck, however, did not want to alienate Austria irrevocably and therefore made an easy peace. Austria gave up Venice to Italian nationalists, while Prussia annexed Schleswig-Holstein, Hannover, and other states. In 1867 Bismarck organized the North German Confederation of 22 states without Austria; that year Austria became the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary.
Bismarck next maneuvered a war with France, partly to overcome southern German fears of an enlarged Prussia by gaining their support in military action. In 1870 the aggressive French emperor Napoleon III unwisely pressed William I to promise that a Hohenzollern would never take the vacant Spanish throne. Bismarck distorted William’s account of the incident to make it seem as if the French had been insulted and then published the account. The outraged French declared war. Stirred by new national loyalty, the southern German states joined forces behind Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War. Prussia’s seasoned armies conquered the disorganized French at Sedan and, after a long siege, took Paris in 1871. With these events, Bismarck convinced the southern German states that Prussian control was inevitable. At Versailles on January 18, 1871, he persuaded a reluctant William to become head of a restored German Empire, the Second Reich. "Germany" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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