German and Italian Unification of the 1870s
The unification of Germany and Italy were among the most significant events of the 19th century. By their unification, the two countries changed the very map of Europe, creating some of the strongest nations, and with it one of the greatest wars in the history of the world; the First World War. With the revolution period coming to an end after 1848, many nationalists and liberals in Europe embarked on national unity (Collier 8; Martel 4). These units focused their energy on cooperation with their individual countries, even as the governments adapted to the demands of the nationalists and liberals, turning the fortunes of the said governments; making them stronger as administrative units, than weaker as most had feared. Germany and Italy followed different paths in their unification; however, the progress of the unification of the two countries converged at one point, Germany, in their expansion and unification, indeed aiding the unification of Italy.
The 1800s were years of rising nationalistic sentiments across nations in Europe. The results of the nationalistic movements were the mergers of politically divided but culturally similar lands, Germany, and Italy providing the best examples of nations that were inclined towards unification. At the center of the German unification was Otto von Bismarck, who had seen the acceptance of liberal demands by King Frederick William IV as a waste of time and slowing the pace of German unification (Martel 4). Bismarck believed that the king should rule with the total obedience of the people. Moreover, Bismarck had slowly begun plotting against Austria, which was the then de facto German power capital. Bismarck had wanted Prussia to be the center of a united Germanyand, therefore, embarked on elevating the prestige of Prussia among all the German states (Martel 2).
The appointment of Bismarck as the chief minister in 1861 by King William 1 gave Bismarck the opportunity he wanted to raise the status of Prussia. The 1866 Prussia-Austria War saw the defeat of Austria and the creation of a stronger German state, particularly in northern Germany. While the southern German states had not joined Prussia, Bismarck manufactured a war with France, a push that finally made the rest of the southern German states join Prussia, finally creating a united German state (Martel 4).
For Italy, Count Cavour was at the center of its unification. In the period of 1820 and 1849, many Italians lived under foreign rule, with Piedmont-Sardinia being the largest and most powerful Italian state (Collier 8). Cavour was a schemer and a diplomat and saw Austria as the main threat to Italian unification. He, therefore, formed an alliance with the France’s Napoleon III, with an arrangement to drive Austria out of the northern Italian provinces. By provoking a war with Austria, combined efforts of Sardinia and French armies quickly drove the Austrian army from the northern Italian provinces in two battles, except Venetia (Collier 8).
To the south of the Piedmont-Sardinia kingdom were other Italian provinces under foreign rule. In his scheming and desire for expansion, Count Cavour secretly joined forces with nationalist movements led by Giuseppe Garibaldi. In their red shirts, Garibaldi led his soldiers in capturing Sicily. In his battling, Garibaldi declared that he was a representation of the authority of King Victor Emmanuel of Piedmont-Sardinia. Garibaldi’s conquest of southern Italian provinces and his stepping aside after the conquest of the southern states to let King Victor Emmanuel rule marked the unification of Italy. The final unification of Italy, however, came with Venetia becoming part of Italy and the taking over of the Papal States of Rome, with the exception of Vatican, which became an independent state under the Pope (Collier 15).
The major driving force towards the unification of both Germany and Italy was the rise of nationalism among the people of the two nations. Largely, the nationalist were not loyal to the kings but their people. It was the belief of the nationalist that the people who shared a common ancestry/nationality should unite under a single government (). These nationalistic feelings drove the nationalist into fighting for a united country that would bring together the people with a common ancestry scattered by foreign governments. Under Bismarck and Cavour as the chief nationalists, Germany, and Italy eventually united into independent nations.
Industrial growth was another reason for the unification of both Germany and Italy. Across Europe, it was a time of industrial growth with coal and iron at the center. Moreover, with the establishment of the railway, transportation was faster and easier, giving a sense of solidarity and unity among the scattered nationals. It had therefore become increasingly easy for the nationalists to plot their unification with such ease in transportation across Europe.
Specifically for Germany, the rise of Prussia became a driving force towards unification under a common rule. Prussia had emerged at the end of the 18th century as a force. Further, Prussia had a series of competent rulers who managed to build a strong political and military empire that the Germans in other states admired. For Italy, Piedmont-Sardinia, which was the strongest of the Italian states, gave the nationalists hope. Moreover, its alliance with France in defeating Austria became an even stronger driving force towards the unification of Italy. It is no wonder that after his conquest of the southern Italian states, Garibaldi easily stepped down and offered the conquered southern states to the king of Piedmont-Sardinia.
The final unification of Germany brought with it tension between France and the new nation. The French feared the strength of a unified Germany and, therefore, declared war on Prussia. Bismarck had the backing of the nationalist sentiments among the Germans and used this to his advantage, eventually defeating the French. This defeat marked the end of the French domination of Europe, and Germany emerged as Europe’s strongest powerhouse, with Prussia as the center of the newly formed German state.
The defeat of France by the newly formed German state, however, created a lot of diplomatic tension between Germany and France and indeed planted the seeds that eventually germinated into the First World War. Close ties also formed between Germany and Italy, given that the end of the Franco-Prussian War forced the withdrawal of the French troop guarding the pope and, in essence, completing the unification of Italy (Spielvogel651).The results of the unification further include thetension between the Roman Catholic and Italy. The Church had refused to recognize Italy as an independent state and for a long time remained that way, despite the fact that many of the Italians were Catholics.
The post-unification Italy faced some major economic problems, some of which have persisted to date. While the North had a free market economy, the South had a protectionist form of economy and the extension of the free market ideologies of the north to the south after the unification negatively affected the southern economy. Moreover, the new government did not take into consideration the implications of these differences, and eventually created a range of social and economic problems, collectively known as the Southern question (Spielvogel654).Failure to recognize these issues led to the escalation of corruption in the north and south as well as the birth and growth of organized crime (Italian Mafia).
For Germany, apart from the reputation and the presence of a strong army, coal and iron created a strong industry and economic prosperity. Moreover, there was a high standard of living in the newly formed German nation, a stark contrast to the poverty and struggling economy in Italy. All this happened, as the Kaiser became the rule of the newly formed German state, and despite the two legislative houses, the Kaiser still held supreme power.
Both the German and the Italian unification were defining moments for the two nations. The emergence of the sense of nationalism fueled the desire for a unified nation, a factor that the then leaders such as Bismarck and Cavour of Germany and Italy respectively exploited in fighting for the unification of their nations. Although through war, these leaders were able to unify their nations. With the unification, they were able to change the map and landscape of Europe at the close of the 19th Century.
Collier, Martin. OCR A Level History A: The Unification of Italy, 1815-70. New York: Pearson Publication. Web. 7 Dec 2015
Martel, Gordon ed. Modern Germany Reconsidered 1870-1945. New York: Routledge, 2003. Web. 7 Dec 2015
Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning. Web. 7 Dec 2015