Germany 1815-1848

The time when nothing happened?
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The period between 1815 and 1848 has been characterized as the time when nothing happened, with the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815 on one side, and on the other the revolutions of 1848. However there was great important in the economic and political changes, as well as the fundamental problems of Germany at that time. In this essay I am going to present how far I agree with does judgement of events.


In the 19th century, Germany faced two fundamental problems. Firstly, it has been uncertain where its borders lie, nor has language been a clear guide. The German speaking people have not lived together in one united area, but in small communities scattered over eastern Europe, and non-German speakers have lived in the Germany we know today. As a result the frontiers of Germany have never been fixed, and in the early 19th century this unsolved problem became a debate over whether to include Austria in a big Germany (Grossdeutchland) or to leave it outside (Kleindeutshland). Secondly, the small German communities scattered over Europe, have been vulnerable to attack from their neighbours. This has led to a preoccupation with defence and sometime to an aggressive foreign policy.


Therefore, security was found within the European state system at the Congress of Vienna, and approved by the “great powers” (Prussia, Austria, France, Britain and Russia). The  problems setting the German frontier was delayed by the creation of The German Confederation in 1815.


As mentioned before; the German and non-German speaking communities were scattered over eastern- and middle Europe. It consisted of two great powers - Prussia and Austria - and 36 smaller states (37 from 1817, when Hesse-Homburg joined). Each state had its own ruler, own government and its own army. Germany was in no way a coherent political unit, it included Czechs, Danes, Slovenes and other nationalities. It was a patchwork of duchies and grand duchies, and four free cities - Frankfurt, Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck. In the Treaty of Kalisch from 1813, Prussia made an agreement with Russia, which promised Poland to Russia, and Saxony to Prussia. It met resistance from the other three great powers, it was agreed that Prussia should get just over half of Saxony, and Russia the bulk of Poland. This was a part of the territorial settlement after the end of the Napoleon Wars.


Prussia gained large areas of land and doubled its population (from 5 to 10 million) becoming the most powerful north German state. This act brought division between Catholics and Protestants and rural Prussia and industrialised Rhineland. While Prussia aimed to extend its territory, the Federal Act which set out Germany’s political structure, ensured Austrian control and the right to appoint the president the German Confederation’s diet in Frankfurt. The diet worked as a United Nations of Germany, were each state was represented, however the number of votes varied according to the size of his country’s population. Therefore the six largest countries - Austria, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Hanover and Wurttemberg had 24 votes of a total of 69, and was dominating. Therefore liberalism saw little scope in the diet. The German Confederation disappointed those Germans who were looking for a greater national unity, however the diet were one step closer to national unity.


The Vienna Settlement failed to recognise nationalist feelings. There was desperately little nationalist sentiment in Germany, and the nationalist feelings existed in a small part of a small middle class. It was mostly limited to universities, nevertheless Metternich was determined to repress any semblance of nationalism since Austria was vulnerable to unrest and irredentism from national minorities inside its own frontiers. During Wartburg festival , 13. November in Saxony 1817, 700 students from the university of Jena organised a meeting. They supported the Fatherland, and burned effigies of Metternich. Despite representing only a small part of the small middle class, the students manage to unite their 14 groups from across Germany into a single national organisation. When a student from the university of Jena assassinated the Russian secret agent, Kotzebue in 1819, Metternich summoned the Frankfurt Diet to pass a series of resolutions aimed to cutting back political rights in Germany. This act become known as The Karlsbad Decrees. After this event few examples of nationalism were seen or heard, just two incidents stand out; France in 1840 and Denmark in 1846, both was demonised.


The Karlsbad Decrees stamped out all kind of political discussion, however the liberalism survived and became strongest in the south-west. In 1832 the Hambach festival took place in the south-west German province of the Bavarian Palatinate. The massive meeting of 25.000 students, lectures and refugees called for a “united state of Europe”. This event led to extremely close supervising of universities and all political meetings were banned. The liberal ideas were growing and gained support from a growing middle class. The new king of Prussia in 1840 aspired to a liberal reputation.


In 1834 the free trade custom union was created known as Zollverein. This was a crucial event in this period. The Zollverein covered 18 states with 23 million people, however by 1844 only Hanover, Oldenburg, Mecklenburg, the Hanseatic towns and Austria were not members. The Zollverein led to an establishment of a common currency and system of weights and measures. Railways were also expanded to make quick trade and communication between member countries. The member countries were getting more united.


The Zollverein was indeed a Prussia idea, were it aimed to unite her with her distant Rhineland territories, and to isolate Austria economical which would in turn weaken its political influence.


In the late 1840s Germany was developing a stronger economy, but it was still vulnerable to poor harvest which occurred in 1846-1848. By 1848 the majority of the population were involved in agriculture and the minority were industrial workers. Between 1815-1848 there was growth of liberalism and nationalism in Germany, which was a guideline to the revolutions of 1848-49. With the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815 and the sudden changes of 1848-1849, the period between 1815 and 1848 could easily be misunderstood as a time when nothing happened. However this essay indicates the opposite.

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