Last Updated 07 May 2020

Why was Bismarck more successful than the 1848 revolutionaries in unifying Germany?

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Why was Bismarck more successful than the revolutionaries of 1848-49 in unifying Germany? There are numerous reasons why Bismarck was more successful than the revolutionaries in unifying Germany but the most important of these he identified himself by saying: „not through speeches and majority decisions, will the great question of the day be decided, that was the great mistake of 1848-but by iron and blood. The first factor leading to the failure of the Frankfurt parliament was their unclear aims and splits among them. They could not decide upon the eventual shape of the state. Would there be a Klein Deutschland without Austria or a Gross Deutschland which included Austria? Also the question of how much power the princes would have remained unsolved. Conservatives wanted constitutional decisions to be implemented by the individual princes while liberals wanted the parliament to have more power than the kings.

All in all they were too divided to get to a conclusion and organise a clear civil administration. Bismarck on the other hand was politically and ideologically a strong leader. He knew exactly what he wanted and he used whatever means necessary to achieve his goals. He was a Realpolitiker through and through. This included making sure the monarch and the state being preserved plus making sure that unification would take place under the Hohenzollerns, not Austria. He did that by making Italy an ally and defeating Austria with the Prussian army in 1866. Another big mistake of the 1848 revolutionaries was the failure to mobilise an army. Instead they relied upon the goodwill of the Prussian King Friederich Willhelm IV to provide them with an army. By 1849, the Austrians were ready to crush opposition and to bring back the old rulers and restore the Austrian dominated German confederation.

With no army of their own, the Frankfurt parliament was severely weekend and not strong enough to resist Austria. Also, although King Frederick William IV of Prussia promised to lead Germany to unity in 1848, later when the crown actually was offered to him, he refused to “pick up the crown from the gutter”. This left the parliament with no single leader. Finally, they also manage to bring up the middle and lower working class up against them. When they realised that the Frankfurt parliament was unsuccessful in solving working class problems, riots arouse and the only option left was to use Prussian and Austrian forces to handle the situation. Bismarck handled things much differently. He realised how important a good military was and therefore he made sure the Zollverein was supported financially which in turn made sure that Germany could be industrialised eve further. The result was a better railway system to transport goods and most importantly to enable a fast mobilisation of the Prussian army and their weapons which would become essential later in his victories against Austria and France.

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In contrast to the revolutionaries he also managed to stay popular with the people by introducing some liberal reforms especially in free trade and laissez faire policy. This kept the people happy and generally with enough money for essentials such as food and shelter so there would be no riots domestically and left him to expand his foreign policy, which eventually led to the unification of Germany. With all that said, it is obvious why Bismarck brought about unification while the revolutionaries were not. He was just a much stronger leader, clear in his aims and slay enough to implement his goals.

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