On 18th January 1871, Germany became a nation for the first time in history after a war against France by efforts of Otto von Bismarck.

How did Otto Von Bismarck unify Germany?

Germany, in the beginning, was not a single country. There were 39 individual states. Otto Van Bismarck, as a minister-president, sought to bring more and more German-speaking states under the regime of Prussia. 

Who was Otto Von Bismarck?

Otto von Bismarck was a Prussian politician who became Germany’s first-ever chancellor
Otto von Bismarck

Otto von Bismarck was a Prussian politician who became Germany’s first-ever chancellor served from 1871 to 1890. He was born in 1815 at Schönhausen, a noble family estate west of Berlin in the Prussian province of Saxony. His father, Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand von Bismarck was a Junker estate owner and a former Prussian military officer, and his mother, Wilhelmine Luise Mencken was the well-educated daughter of a senior government official in Berlin.

How did Otto Von Bismarck unify Germany?


On 18th January 1871, Germany became a nation for the first time in history after a war against France masterminded by Otto Von Bismarck, the “Iron Chancellor”.

Bismarck was grown up during the successful fight against Napoleon’s troops, knew that the states would rally together when faced with foreign enemies, he provoked wars against Denmark (1864), Austria (1866), and France (1870). Prussia gained confidence after all these victories and made all the German people feel a sense of common identity.

A Bunch of States – Germany

Before the unification of Germany in 1871, it was a collection of states. Custom, systems of rule, and religion varied across these states – of which there had been more than 300 on the eve of the French Revolution, and the idea of unifying them was as distant and disparaged as the United States of Europe is today. 

As the 19th century progressed, and particularly after several German states had recreated a role in defeating Napoleon, nationalism did become a genuinely popular movement.

Power of Prussia

The power balance of the German states was important. If one of them was more powerful than the others put together, then it might attempt the conquest of intimidation. By 1848, Prussia had been the strongest of the states for a century.

Yet, it was restrained by the combined strength of the other states and notably by the influence of the neighboring Austrian Empire, which would not allow any German state to have too much power and become a possible rival.

When Bismarck was appointed Minister-President of that country in 1862 his aims were revenge and the restoration of Prussia as a great European power.

After effectively taking command of the country unconstitutionally, he vastly enhanced the military for which Prussia would become famous. Bismarck managed to enlist the newly formed country of Italy to fight for him against their historic oppressor Austria.

The defeat of Austria in the Seven Weeks’ War

Read more about Austria-Prussian War

The victory of Prussia in the war in 1866 was a game-changer for the transformation of European politics.

Many of Prussia’s rival states joined Austria and was defeated by the Prussian military. Prussia’s confidence boosted up and they formed a coalition with other beaten states of North Germany.

Bismarck had masterminded the whole business and now reigned supreme – and though not a natural nationalist he was now seeing the possibility of a fully united Germany ruled by Prussia. Bismarck said unification would have to be achieved, if it was to be achieved, by “blood and iron.”

The south remained unconquered and the north was only tenuously under his control. It would take a war against a foreign and historic enemy to unite Germany, and the one that he had in mind was particularly hated across Germany after Napoleon’s wars.

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71

Read more about Franco-Prussian war

France was ruled by Napoleon III, the great man’s nephew, who did not have his uncle’s brilliance or military skill. With a series of clever diplomatic tactics, Bismarck was able to provoke Napoleon into declaring war on Prussia, and this aggressive move on France’s part kept the other European powers such as Britain from joining her side.

It also made a furious anti-French feeling across Germany, and when Bismarck moved Prussia’s armies into position, all the German states joined Prussia. The following war was devastating for the French.

The large and well-trained German armies won many victories, notably at Sedan in September 1870, a defeat which persuaded Napoleon to resign and the French fought on without their Emperor.

A few weeks after Sedan, Paris was under siege, and the war only ended when it fell in late January 1871. In the meantime, Bismarck had gathered the German general’s princes and Kings at Versailles and proclaimed the new and ominously powerful country of Germany, changing the political landscape of Europe.

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