As Metternich was forced to resign, the German princes hastened to make peace in order to avoid political experiments like the ones that were developed by the republicans and socialists in France. They introduced, by appointing liberal ministers, civic and political reforms, guaranteeing the powers of the legislature and citizen rights.
However, the most important step was the attempt to achieve political unification, by founding a National Assembly that would insure the representation of all Germans. Elections were held and the Assembly met at Frankfurt on May 18. Ironically, the enthusiastic members of this assembly discovered the enormous differences of opinion between them. The liberals and the democrats were at the center of the political fight. The democrats were still trying to conspire for a much more radical course of action. The form of national unification was one of the major points of disagreement. The Grossdeutsch movement pleaded for an Austrian ruler, a member of the House of Habsburg. The Kleindeutsch party, on the other hand, proposed the leader of Prussia as the only one who would act solely in the best interest of the German nation. The conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie was defining the country's economic landscape. Popular support for the revolution began to diminish, fueled by the belief that the liberals were in position to help the masses and to improve their situation. The authority of the Frankfurt Assembly decreased and the forces of the right began to prepare a counterrevolution.
Meanwhile, in Austria, emperor Francis Joseph found a successor for Metternich in the person of prince Felix von Schwarzenberg. Under his rule, the Habsburg armies crushed the rebellions in Bohemia and pushed back the insurrections in Italy. At the same time, William IV of Prussia was unable to take a decision regarding the unified Germany. The Austrian Empire indicated that it would oppose a unified Germany, so the Frankfurt Assembly, which had finally prepared the draft of a constitution, offered the crown to the King of Prussia, who was still hesitant. Believing that his powers, according to the provisions of the new constitution were too limited, William IV refused to occupy the throne. Consequently, moderate politics suffered an enormous blow, while the radicals were not able to put the people in motion against the troops of the princes. By mid-1849, the revolution became a total failure.
The 1850s brought a period of revival of the liberal reforms and national unification currents, known as the "new era." Austria's defeat against France in 1859 and the example of Piedmont had a significant impact on the central European states. Popular unrest in the empire was in direct connection with the weakening of the Austrian armed forces. Francis Joseph introduced a form of parliamentary rule, while the consolidation of national unity in Italy sparked similar feelings in the German states. The person who influenced considerably the politics of the time was Prince (later King) William I of Prussia. He was a moderate conservative, although still a conservative. He had to face supporters of the introduction of liberal legislation and arrived at deadlocks with the members of the Parliament. Although he was considering abdication in favor of his more liberal son, he was convinced to appoint the Prussian ambassador to Paris, Otto von Bismarck, as his prime-minister. The appointment of this conservative prime-minister was a sign that liberal reforms had to wait for some period of time.
The war on Denmark Schleswig-Holstein Bismarck's goal was an alteration of the form of government, which implied the continuation of authoritarian policies under a facade of parliamentary institutions. His bullish personality made almost all his measures succeed. As for the international situation, it seemed that the time was favorable for the German reunification. Russia was not playing a significant role on the continent anymore, Napoleon III was not willing to commit to a war on the Rhine, so Bismarck could prepare a military campaign against Austria without the fear of foreign intervention. The first occasion Bismarck had was related to the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, which, although being ruled by the king of Denmark, were ethnically and politically linked to Germany. The Danish government sought in 1863 to make Schleswig an integral part of the Danish state, which sparked outrage in central Europe. Francis Joseph was convinced that the German confederation should occupy the duchies, according to an international agreement granting their separate status. A brief war against Denmark followed, thanks to the extremely well prepared Hohenzollern army. The peace of Vienna in 1864 was the occasion wherewith the duchies became joint possession of Prussia and Austria.
The Austro-Prussian War the Austrian rulers would have wished for an independent Schleswig-Holstein, which was not what Bismarck wanted. Relations deteriorated rapidly and both sides prepared for a military solution. The Seven Weeks' War that emerged between Prussia and Austria was the cause of a military revolution in Europe, which finally destroyed the balance of powers that had defined Europe for the previous half of century. The war was decided in favor of the Prussians, due to their superior military technology. However, Bismarck urged for a honorable peace. He felt that a strong Austria was essential for maintaining European stability, while also trying to stop Napoleon III from intervening in German national problems. The provisions of the Treaty of Prague permitted Francis Joseph to keep all his former territories, except Venetia, promised to the Italians. War indemnities were insignificant and there was no occupation. However, the emperor had to concede to the Prussian annexation of Schleswig Holstein, Nassau, Frankfurt-am-Main, Hesse-Kassel and Schleswig-Holstein. The German federation north of the Main River was now complete and the contest between Prussia and Austria was finally over.
The Franco-Prussian Conflict the system of international relations on the European continent was seriously altered, following the Seven Weeks' War. Governments were reexamining their position from both a diplomatic and a military point-of-view. However, the most affected nation was France, which was now confronted with a single unified German state, capable of seriously threatening German interests. French expansionary politics in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Rhineland were hindered by Berlin's tactics. Although Bismarck did not wish for a new armed conflict, a test of strength was welcomed by both the German and the French governments. The candidacy of Prince Leopold, a relative of William I, for the throne of Spain was the perfect opportunity. By some clever plotting, Bismarck made the French declare war on Prussia. The ensuing military struggle was a complete disaster for the French troops. The Germans were winning fight after fight. The French surrendered at Sedan on September 2, while Paris fell on January 28, 1871. The Treaty of Frankfurt meant the end of the War and the cession of Alsace-Lorraine and a huge indemnity of five billion francs.
Meanwhile the work of national unification was over even before the end of the hostilities. William I was proclaimed emperor of a united nation at Versailles and a Reich under the Hohenzollerns was formed. During a single lifetime, Germany had passed from division to union,…