AP EURO FOR Dummies
After the fall of Napoleon, Austria and Prussia were the 2 dominant states in the German
Confederation, and in 1848, it looked as if Germany would be unified when German
Parliament offered Frederick William the throne. However, his refusal delayed the
unification. After William I (r. 1861 – 1888) became the King of Prussia, he selected
Bismarck as his Prime Minister. Together, William and Bismarck fought the German
Parliament to instate military reforms, which would challenge Austrian supremacy in the
German Confederation. Even after Bismarck’s colorful “Blood and Iron” speech, the
parliament still refused to vote in favor of the reforms. However, Bismarck simply ignored
them and started collecting the taxes and implemented the reforms. This reform was one
of the key parts to Bismarck’s plan of unifying Germany. He wanted to modernize the
Prussian army by giving it the latest weapons. The first stage of his plan was to create an
alliance with Austria and attack the Danes over the disputed territories of Schleswig and
Holstein (Danish War). The Danish were easily defeated, and Schleswig came under
Prussian control and Holstein under Austrian control. After Bismarck created an alliance
with Italy and got a promise of not interfering from the French, Prussia declared war on
Austria, saying that the reason for the attack was over the governance of Holstein. Due
to Bismarck’s reforms, the Prussian army crushed the Austrians in a matter of 7 weeks
(Seven Weeks War). The final stage of Bismarck’s plan involved a war with the French.
Through his great cunning, Bismarck made it seem as though the French started it. This
began when the cousin of the Prussian king, Hohenzollern, was invited to take the vacant
throne of Spain. Napoleon couldn’t take two Hohenzollern rulers; so he first tried sending
a diplomat to the Prussian king, and William I agreed to withdraw his cousin’s name.
However, Bismarck rewrote the telegram informing him of what happened between the
diplomat and the king, to make it appear that the king had insulted France. The French
public was outraged, and demanded Napoleon III declare war on Prussia, which he did.
France was soundly defeated by the Prussians, which was a blow to their pride. Bismarck
was then able to convince or bribe the rulers of other German states to unite under
This unification significantly changed Europe’s history. Germany and France became
enemies, due to the debts France had to pay to them, and France was very bitter about
losing Alsace and Lorraine. Germany’s new economic power created tensions with the
British, which helped start the whole “rush to build colonial empires” thing, which started
when Bismarck told the French after their defeat to start building an empire in Africa.
Eventually, all the European nations wanted to create overseas empires as means to
further their political and economic interests within Europe, which was trying to adjust by
the tension created by Germany’s unification.
Germany was not exactly stable. Military commanders had much influence over the
nation (kinda like in Rome, and we all know how well that went over). Bismarck blamed
this instability on the Catholics and the Socialists (what’s with Germany and
scapegoating?). Bismarck was worried that the Catholics were more loyal to the Church
than Germany, so he insisted that he had complete supervision over Catholic education
and supervise all Catholic appointments. However, Bismarck eventually backed off, due
to Catholic resentment. Bismarck didn’t allow Socialists the right to assemble and to
publish writing. Bismarck also limited their political appeal, by making old-age pensions
and other social benefits for all Germans. However, Bismarck soon realized that
oppressing the German Social Democratic Party only increased the appeal.