The founding of the German Empire was something in the making since the end of the Thirty Years War. After being defeated at the hands of France and Sweden in 1648, Germany became even more fractured. Religion ceased to be as large an issue as before, and not much authority was put into the emperor afterwards. Germany could scarcely even be considered a loose confederation. At the beginning of the 18th century, Saxony, severely weakened after the Great Northern War, was replaced by Prussia as the main power in Germany (excluding Austria). After a few small wars with Austria, Prussia's ceding of Silesia eventually led to the Seven Years War. Commanding the already excellent army, thanks to his father, Frederick the Great managed to defeat his enemies in many battles, but, eventually, the alliance of Austria, Russia, Sweden, France, and other smaller nations began to defeat Prussia. However, increased efforts put forth by Great Britain, and a war weary Sweden's withdrawal (as well as the Russian tsar's replacement by one who admired Frederick), ended the war in an almost stalemate for Prussia. Prussia's next war would be against the Republic of France in 1792, although they were defeated at Viminy. Much of Germany sided with France during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, and Prussia suffered many defeats, the worst being Jena. After the embarrassing defeats, Prussia was kept under French terms until 1812, after the French defeat in Russia.
Between 1807-1812, Prussia had been reforming its military, and so when war was renewed with France, Prussia managed to obtain victory with the great assistance from a coalition of nations. War with France was renewed again in 1815, and attributed to the French defeat at Waterloo. The Napoleonic Wars had made Austria and Prussia cooperate, and a confederation was formed. The first call for unity was called for in 1848 with a series of revolutions throughout Germany. However, these attempts failed and the revolutions were put down. In 1862, a constitutional crisis over military reforms in the very liberal Landtag of Prussia caused Otto von Bismarck to be appointed as Prime Minister. Bismarck at first tried to create a compromise, but instead alienating both the government and the Landtag. In 1863, a meeting was called in Frankfurt between all German states. Prussia's failure to attend caused the conference at Frankfurt to collapse. In 1864, Otto von Bismarck convinced Austria to go to war against Denmark, with Prussia, in order to take the Denmark claimed Holstein and Schleswig. The war ended with a victory for Austria and Prussia.
Relations between Prussia and Austria then deteriorated, and after Bismarck made an alliance with Italy during the summer of 1866, Austria and Prussia went to war. Prussia faced a large alliance of Austria, Saxony, Hannover, and other small German nations, but Austria failed to coordinate their efforts. Prussia quickly defeated Austria's allies and after a lightning campaign in Bohemia, Austria was defeated. After the Seven Weeks War (as it only took 7 weeks), the German Confederation was replaced by Prussia's Northern German Confederation north of the Main River, southern German states, and Austria (which was excluded from German affairs). France, who had believed they would receive land for remaining neutral in the war, became angry when they did not receive it. After a period of deterioration, the French were made to look like the aggressors, and war was declared by France on June 10th, 1870. Southern Germany worked with Prussia in the war because of the French's apparent aggression. Prussia mobilized for war much faster than France, but, due to poor decisions made by France for how weapons should be handled, and the poor leadership of Napoleon III, the French armies were defeated many times before being bottled up in Metz.
Another French army was soon trapped in Sedan, and after a brief siege, 110,000 French (including the emperor himself) were taken prisoners. The German forces then laid seige to Paris. On January 18th, 1871, much to the dislike of many German kings (Prussia's included), Wilhelm I was declared the first Kaiser of Germany.
Government, Military, Territory, and Economy
Germany's government had a parliament (the Reichstag and Bundesrat), much like that of England. One house was full of appointed officials while another was elected officials. Otto von Bismark would allow members in the one house to be elected by men over 25. The German empire was run by the Kaiser, who was the king of Prussia. Otto von Bismarck's policies were very popular among traditional land owners and the ever growing class of businessmen, however, they received much criticism from the Socialist Party and the Catholic Church. Germany was composed of 26 states, however, most were small.
Germany had the most efficient, the best equipped, and, apart from Russia's (which was mostly a paper tiger), the largest military, which received most of its funding through the Reichstag. The main factor in Germany's efficient military was its military head staff, which had been founded in 1815 by Prussia, and could allow quick mobilization for war.
Germany's territory was the Germany we know today, Silesia, East Prussia, West Prussia, South Prussia, Alsace-Lorraine, and part of Belgium. Colonies were also put in Africa in Togo, Namibia, Tanzania, and north of the Congo. There were also colonies spread throughout the Pacific.
Germany's economy was arguably the best in the world. Industry had been growing rapidly before unity, but from 1871 to 1914 German industries were jumping by leaps and bounds. Prior to WWI, Germany was out producing steel production of the entire British Empire, previously the largest steel producing nation. Of course, there is more to it than that, but it works as a prime example. Despite this, Germany's industries were still only the third best, behind Britain and the US. However, if the German Empire had continued, it would probably have surpassed Britain and almost matched that of the US.
Stay at the Top
From 1871 to 1914, Germany's population rose by a third to 65 million. German industries boomed, and the arts flourished. Nationalism soared as Germany was seen more and more as a single nation. The National Liberal progressive parties, which represented the middle class, and Socialist Party became important in the German Empire. Between 1872 and 1879, Otto von Bismarck instituted a series of reforms within Germany as an attempt to lower the importance of the Catholic Church. This was known as the Kulturkampf (cultural struggle).
During this time, Bismarck brought exiled priests who had been disobedient and suppressed many religious orders. Relations between the Catholic Church and Bismarck cooled in 1879 when Bismark needed the support of the center to put in place high tariffs to protect German agriculture and industry. Bismarck's policies were popular with businessmen and land owners. Next, Bismarck turned to the increasingly popular Socialist Party. Blaming two assasination attempts upon the emperor as a spring board, Bismark had a new Reichstag elected, one that would support the high tariff and outlaw socialism. However, when the Socialist Party won many seats in the Reichstag in 1890, Bismark was ready to abolish the constitution, but he would never get the chance. Germany planted colonies in Africa, but these were more for prestige than for any real economic purposes. A league was attempted to be formed by Bismark between Russia and Austria-Hungary, however, his attempts failed and the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy was formed in its place. During the early 1900s, Germany's navy expanded greatly, and by WWI, it was the second largest navy in the world. In response, Russia, Britain, and France formed the Triple Entente and the powder keg's fuse was ready to be set. Kaiser Wilhelm I's was replaced by another king. However, this king was terminally ill, and really only served as a sort of buffer before Wilhelm II came to power. After that king died and Wilhelm II took the throne, fearing Bismarcks power, he forced him to step down and retire. Despite Bismarck's leaving the position of prime minister, his policies were mostly continued. During Wilhelm II's reign, very little occurred by way of major events prior to WWI.
Major economic growth caused capital-labor problems to arise. Wilhelm II often practiced contradictory foreign affairs policies. He said that Great Britain and Germany were friendly, and yet his policies forced Britain into an alliance with France and Russia. He supported a policy of friendship with Russia, and supported them in East Asia, but supported Austria in the Balkans. Wilhelm II believed that the Triple Alliance would help to prevent a war. His imperialistic policies aggravated friction that eventually culminated to WWI. Wilhelm II did achieve moderate success in curbing the growth of the Social-Democratic Party. A rapid naval expansion occurred in Germany during his reign, which also helped to add fuel to the international fire. Overall, the state of Germany was excellent prior to WWI with industry growing at an incredible rate. In 1914, Austria's archduke was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist, and Europe exploded into war.
Decline and Fall
After war was declared, Germany mobilized. Wilhelm II was talked into following the Schlieffen Plan by Molkte (the Younger), his military chief of staff, and invaded Belgium. Belgium was overrun and the French army was flanked. A German army pursuing fleeing French were attacked on the Marne by a French army. On September 6th, three days after the battle began, the Germans pulled back. After that a stalemate began in France. Germany also had initial success against Russian armies that invaded early on in the war. Realizing that he was incapable of leading the military skillfully, Wilhelm II allowed his military chiefs of staff, Paul von Hinderburg and Eric Ludendorf. In early 1915, a German/Austrian offensive was launched that caused the Russian armies to flee further, giving up Galicia and Poland. In 1915, the naval battle of Jutland ended indecisively, however, the German High Seas Fleet remained bottled up for the rest of the war, leaving Germany to depend on submarine warfare.
Austrian failures caused Germany to divert soldiers from their own front to fight on those of Austria. Italy, who had somewhat betrayed the league by remaining neutral, then joined the Allies and fought Austria. In 1916, the Germans attempted an offensive in Verdun to divert French troops to that front. The French troops were diverted, however, the Germans were repulsed. A stalemate ensued along all fronts for years until October, 1917, when an Austrian/German army drove the Italians to the Piave, and the German spring offensive of 1918. In 1917, the Reichstag presented a possible peace offer, however, Wilhelm II would not allow it, and the war continued. Economic crisis in Germany caused by British blockades caused an uprising in Germany in the summer of of 1918. The Kaiser fled and the Weimar Republic was founded.
List of Kaisers (Emperors):
Kaiser Wilhelm I 1871-1888
Kaiser Fredrick III 1888-1888 (99 days)
Kaiser Wilhelm II 1888-1918
Kaiser Wilhelm I (1797-1888)- The first emperor of Germany, Wilhelm I was born in 1797. When revolution swept through Germany in 1848, he fled to England, but returned one year later to command the troops that crushed the insurrection in Baden. When his brother was declared insane, Wilhelm became the regent of Prussia in 1858, and king upon his brother's death. Wilhelm then set about refoming the military, but met considerable opposition in the Landtag. He then appointed Bismarck as prime minister of Prussia, who through political maneuvering, successfully got the military reforms through. Bismarck accounted for most of the actions of Prussia, and Wilhelm usually simply let him do them.
After being crowned emperor of Germany on January 1871, Wilhelm became the symbol of reborn German unity, and the general public loved him, but his militarism and belief in a divine right brought fierce resentment from radicals. In fact, two attempts were made on his life. Wilhelm often disagreed with Bismarck on many things, but was usually persuaded to follow go along with him. Wilhelm died in 1888, leaving a crucial impression on Europe.
Otto von Bismarck 1815-1898 (Shown in picture: right): Bismarck was the most important leader in German unification. Born in 1815, he studied at Gottingen, Berlin, and was elected to the Prussian Landtag in 1847. Bismarck advocated German unity under Prussian rule, and opposed the radical liberal movements of the day. Prussian minister of the Frankfurt Diet (1851-1859) ambassador to Russia (1859-1862) and France (1862), he gained political experience. Appointed Prime Minister of Prussia in 1862, Bismark got the military reforms passed through the Landtag in 1862, and, throughout most of his administration, went through without parlimentary approval. Bismark then maneuvered Prussia into a successful war with Denmark, caused arguments between Austria and Prussia, and maneuvered Prussia into total victory in a war with Austria. After the war with Austria, he aggravated France by convincing a Hohenzollern prince into becoming a candidate for Spanish king, and denying France the land he had implied they would get for staying neutral. This created the image that France was acting aggressively against Germany, and caused Prussia to seem more like a guardian than the militaristic state it had been viewed as. In 1870, the two nations went to war, with Prussia winning victory after victory. Using the new sense felt for Prussia as a spring board, Bismark got Wilhelm elected as the German emperor. During his administration as German Chancellor, Bismark got into quarrels with the Reichstag, socialists, and the Catholic Church. Upon Wilhelm II's coronation, a power struggle occurred between the emperor and prime minister, and, in 1890, Bismarck was forced to step down. Bismarck retired to his dukedom and often criticised Wilhelm II's policies. In 1898, Otto von Bismark died.
Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke 1800-1891- 1800-1891, Prussian field marshal. Following his graduation from the Royal Military Academy of Denmark, he entered the Danish service, but resigned his commission in 1822 to join the Prussian army. He became (1833) a member of the general staff, and three years later with official sanction he entered the service of the Ottoman sultan as military adviser. His advice was not followed in the campaign against Muhammad Ali of Egypt, and he returned (1839) to Prussia, where he advanced rapidly and was made chief of the general staff in 1858. He worked tirelessly to mold the Prussian army into a formidable war machine. The successful completion of the Danish War (1864) and of the Austro-Prussian War (1866) was due to his tactics, and in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) Moltke's genius, evinced especially in his plan of mobilization, led to complete Prussian victory. On receiving news of the fall of Metz, William I made him a count. Moltke owed many of his military successes to the elasticity of his strategy. Unlike Napoleon, he gave his subleaders liberty in making decisions. When he resigned as chief of staff in 1888, he was made chairman of the committee for national defense. Moltke was a member of the North German Confederation (1867-71) and of the Reichstag (1871-91). He wrote noteworthy books on tactics, including The Franco-German War of 1870-71 (tr. 1892).
Kaiser Wilhelm II 1859-1841: Born in 1859, Fredrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert attended the University of Bonn. After a period of military service in the 1880s, he married the princess of Schleswig-Holstein. Almost immediatly after taking power, he forced Otto von Bismark to step down. Wilhelm, therefore, had a free hand to do as he wished in politics, unhindered. Wilhelm II, however, lacked the political genius (and somewhat totalitarian practices) of Bismark to achieve great success, making him a mediocre leader. His reign was marked by major economic growth, capital-labor relations, and often contradictory policies. Wilhelm's aggressive policies were largely responsible for the outbreak of WWI (although policies, treaties, and alliances had made war inevitable, Wilhelm II just made it come faster). When Germany was engulfed in uprisings in the summer of 1918, Wilhelm fled to the Neatherlands in exile. Representatives of the allies attempted to get him brought up on charges of war crimes, however these failed. In his remaining years, Wilhelm II spent his time in seclusion in Doorn Castle, Netherlands, after WWI. After his wife died in 1821, he remarried. Wilhelm II lived to see the rise of military importance of Germany. In 1941, he died and was buried with military honors.
a. Coronation of Wilhelm I as king of prussia 1861
b. Otto von Bismark appointed Prime Minister 1862
c. Failed convention at Frankfurt 1863
d. Danish war 1864
e. Austro-Prussian war 1866
1. Austria is utterly defeated at Koniggratz
f. Franco-Prussian war 1870-71
1. Sedan September 1870
2. Paris captured January 1871
d. Wilhelm I proclaimed first Kaiser of Germany
II. Bismarck Era
a. the Kulturkampf 1872-79
b. Germany and Austria form an alliance 1879
1. Italy joins in 1882
c. Germany plants colonies in Africa and the Pacific 1884-85
d. Kaiser Wilhelm I dies 1888
2. succeeded by Fredrick III
a. dies after 99 days
d. Wilhelm II takes control
1. power struggle with Bismarck
a. forced Bismark to step down
III. Wilhelm II years
a. outbreak of World War I
1. 1914, invasion of Belgium
2. 1914, First battle of the Marne causes a stalemate
3. 1914, a Russian offensive is decisively defeated
5. 1915, Invasion of Russia
6. 1915, Naval battle of Jutland ends in stalemate
a. submarine warfare becomes Germany's primary naval tactic
7. 1916, Verdun offensive ends in a stalemate
8. 1917, Russia surrenders
9. 1917, The US joins WWI
10. 1918, German spring offensive
a. halted at Second battle of the Marne
11. 1918, uprisings across Germany results in destruction of the German Empire