Germany History - The Problem of National Unity 5

Germany History – The Problem of National Unity Part IV

On December 5, the struggle has an epilogue that opens an abyss between Frankfurt and Berlin, between Germany and Prussia: Prussia has its own constitution, thus reaffirming that it is and wants to remain a state personality in itself. In the proclamation of the following day, issued to justify the promulgation of the constitution, it is said among other things: “The constitution of the Germanic Empire will be completed within a few weeks. And then, if the eyes of the German people will seek the hand to which to entrust the power supreme, will Prussia have to appear at the review with its broken forces, still vacillating and uncertain between absolutism and anarchy? No, the situation of the homeland and of the world demands a strong and orderly Prussia; but strong can only be a Prussia free”. Skillful justification, if one thinks that the Prussian constitution, according to the reservations already contained in the proclamation of promulgation, is open to revision, and this will in fact take place in the course of ’49; what authorizes us to affirm that the king not only had grudgingly granted it,  but, supported by the nobility, had shown himself against it. However, the promulgation of the Prussian constitution is a very important event in the history of Germany. Meinecke rightly observes: that of December 5 “was a conservative and creative fact at the same time; conservative in that it rigidly maintained the characteristic of Prussia, creator in that it exploited national and liberal forces”. From a free and strong Prussia, dominant over all German states, Bismarck, the builder of the Empire, will move.

The ” constitution of the empire ” and the rejection of the king of Prussia to the imperial crown. – Fiery and tumultuous discussions take place in the National Assembly. Yet another attempt to prevail by the advocates of a Greater Germany is overwhelmed by the advocates of national unity to the exclusion of Austria. And finally in March 1849 we come to the publication of the constitution of the Empire, founded on the basis of the unity and sovereignty of the people, with a strong limitation of the rights of the individual states to the advantage of the imperial power, and the election, with a very small majority., of the king of Prussia as hereditary emperor of the Germans. But after a few weeks of reflection, Frederick William IV rejects the imperial crown, not only because he deems it necessary to accept the free approval of the princes, but also because he fears a war on the part of the Austria and the four German kingdoms. In reality he obeys above all his profound conviction on the sovereignty of divine right which prevents him from accepting a crown from the will of the people.

So much so that, while the first German parliament ceases to exist amid general disappointment and only a small minority of its deputies remain faithful to the black-red-gold flag, Frederick William IV himself takes the initiative for an understanding between the sovereign princes to achieve the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. The project of union appears shortly afterwards with the meeting of an assembly in Erfurt (Unionsparlament), in which the king of Prussia believes he can count on the support of the kings of Saxony and Hanover, bound to him by a treaty of alliance – according to the proposal made by Otto of Bismarck to the parliament of Erfurt, the future confederation should have three main bodies: the King of Prussia, as president, with his Union ministers, the House of Princes in which Prussia would not be represented, and the Lower House – but the energetic intervention of Austria, supported by Bavaria and from Württemberg and in full agreement with Russia, he forced Frederick William to abandon all hope of success, not without the humiliation of Prussia.

Austria against German unityOlm u̇ tz. – Because Austria, while the parliament of Erfurt is not yet dissolved, invites the German governments, with the exception of the Prussian one, to send plenipotentiaries to Frankfurt with the mandate to proceed with a revision of the Bund constitution. It thus succeeds in dividing the main German states into two adverse groups and, not paying for this, is on the point of unleashing a fratricidal war. In fact, the autocratic and reactionary Elector of Hesse, who entered the Prussian Union, frees himself from his commitment to throw himself into the arms of Austria, which has promised to free him from the burden of the constitution. The people of Hesse rise up and a war seems inevitable, when Bavaria sends an army to protect the elector and Prussia is forced to mobilize for the defense of its prestige and its interests. Except that the Prussian mobilization has no other purpose than to disguise a diplomatic retreat; for when the reserves of the Prussian army are still running under the banner, the new president of ministers, O. Th. V. Manteuffel, is already on his way to Olmütz, where he concludes the treaty with Austria that marks the harshest humiliation for Prussia (1850). The Prussian troops are withdrawn, the Union is dissolved and back to the old federal order and to the Bundestag, which is convened in Dresden.

According to collegetoppicks, the events that end with Olmütz’s Prussian setback clearly show that, while Frederick William IV still sees Austria and Russia as two friendly powers as representing the legitimist principle, the problem of German unity can hardly be solved without either against them; they also show that, while the King of Prussia is still far from the intention of forcing the German princes to renounce, even a part of their sovereignty, the same princes are not at all willing to make any renunciation in the national interest, and finally, that German unity will inevitably always find Austria adverse, which only with a disunited Germany can be sure of its state cohesion and its power.

Germany History - The Problem of National Unity 5

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