Germany had never been united for many years as the attempts towards unification were always thwarted with divisions that were tribal in nature. Some regions were ruled by Bishops who were considered by the people as symbols of religious authority. Despite the territorial divisions, there was a feeling of common origin and common purpose. The increased prosperity resulted in increased focus on common economic interests. For over 1000 years until 1815, the states had been crafted in a loose form of Empire. However, after 1815, the states that remained after the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars regrouped and submitted to the presidency of Austria. There was a widespread movement to unity in 1848 which was resisted by Austria. Austria and Prussia had a period of rivalry in which both nations were seeking for domination of the confederation. Unification was finally achieved through the strategic exertion of power by Prussia under the leadership of Bismarck. This essay will discuss how important was the weakness of Austria to German unification.
The German confederation was introduced in 1815. Austria was the most powerful state within this confederation and this allowed Austria to control the politics and economic development of the confederation. However, Austria’s economy depended mainly on agriculture at a time when other European economic powers were moving towards industrialization. The lack of modernisation of the economy meant that Austria could create relatively lesser jobs when compared to Prussia thereby giving Prussia economic advantage over Austria. In addition, Manteuffel, the Prussian Prime Minister sought to unite the confederation and improve the economic and social wellbeing of the underprivileged subjects. He introduced many pro-poor policies such as low interest government loans that were designed to help the peasant farmers purchase land. This helped Prussia to be at the centre of the unification as other states would look up to Prussia to improve the economic and social wellbeing of their citizens.

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The other weakness that Austria experienced was the cracks that appeared within the social fabric of the nation. These cracks were also experienced in the army. Nationalism feelings swarmed throughout the nation and the army and this created divisions in the military. The nationalists did not want to work with other races. This led to the collapse of the army resulting in Austria being defeated by Italy in 1859. The defeat by Italy increased the international position of Prussia within the confederation. On the other hand, Austria lost the prestige and reputation and the war had negative effects on Austria’s finances. This resulted in budget deficits and budget cuts. Austria sought Prussia to help bridge the budget deficits but Prussia did not accede to help thereby creating a rift with Prussia over their lack of help and support. Austria and Prussia engaged in the Battle of Sadowa in which Austria was defeated and expelled from the confederation allowed Prussia to take dominance of the confederation.

As has been mentioned, Austria’s economy was negatively affected after the war with Italy in 1856. Russia had expected that Austria would support it in the Crimean war. However, Austria could not because of the difficult economic and financial conditions that it was experiencing. This lack of support affected the relationship between Austria and Russia resulting in Russia not supporting Austria in the war against Prussia thereby further weakening Austria’s position. Austria could also not obtain support from Britain and France. This had a massive effect on Austria’s prestige in the confederation and influenced public opinion within the states.

There were custom barriers in Germany which limited economic growth in the states. This is because states had the right of choosing the charges or taxes on goods that passed through their jurisdiction. This made goods very expensive and reduced trade among the states. The Zollverein was formed as a common customs union. This helped to manage tariffs and merge the different economic policies within the confederation. The Zollverein increased the economic dominance of Prussia in the confederation. Other states looked up to Prussia to lead the unification efforts. The Zollverein was becoming a source of nationalistic feeling and Germany used the Zollverein to sign economic agreements with Belgium and Netherlands. Due to their weakness, Austria began to lose interest in the affairs of the confederation and the other citizens of the confederation started to think of a unified Germany without Austria.

The other source of weakness for Austria was the imperial agent, Archduke John of Austria. He was the head of the provisional government. However, he lacked the will and political power to make the Frankfurt Assembly effective and pass laws that were friendly to Austria. During this time, Germany was known for the differences in opinion and absence of any personality who would influence and unify the people behind a common resolution or goal. The other political leaders in Austria were also not able to unite the people.

In conclusion, this essay has discussed how important the weakness of Austria was to German unification. There are different factors that contributed to Austria’s weakness. Some of the factors include Austria’s economic disadvantage, nationalist feelings that created divisions within the military, the Crimean War which affected Austria’s relations with Russia and the defeat in the 1856 war with Italy. While Austria was undergoing these challenges, Prussia was experiencing periods of economic growth. This made other nations within the confederation to look up to Prussia to lead the unification efforts.

    References
  • Hewitson, Mark. Nationalism in Germany, 1848-1866: Revolutionary Nation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Merkl, Peter H. German Unification in the European Context. Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010.
  • Noble, Thomas F.X., Strauss, Barry., Osheim, Duane., Neuschel, Kristen., and Accampo, Elinor. Western Civilisation: Beyond Boundaries. New York: Cengage Learning, 2010.