A Short History of Germany

By S. H. Steinberg | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
THE GERMAN CONFEDERATION (1815-1866)

Two men dominated the German political scene in the nineteenth century. The period stretching from the Congress of Vienna to the revolution of 1848 may be described as the age of Metternich, and the second half of the century as that of Bismarck. The names of Metternich and Bismarck stand not only for the opposing powers of Austria and Prussia; they also represent contradictory political methods. Both were confronted by the prevalent forces of liberalism and nationalism; neither of them was a liberal or a German nationalist himself. Metternich sought openly to crush the liberal and national movements, and was vanquished. Bismarck used them for his own purposes and conquered them. Having attained his ends, he promptly stifled and all but killed the liberal spirit of Germany, and diverted the national movement into the channels of Prussian power politics. ' Bismarck'--as Theodor Mommsen, the great historian and liberal politician, put it--'enlarged Germany and reduced the Germans.'

When the monarchs and their advisers returned from Vienna and Paris in 1815 they were united in one resolve: that a recurrence of the revolutionary upheaval of the last generation must be prevented by every means at their disposal. All of them wanted external and internal peace; some, like Austria and Prussia, because of the sacrifices, others, like Bavaria, WU-+00FCrttemberg and Baden, because of the gains which had just accrued to them. Nearly every German state had undergone great territorial changes for the better or the worse; and the constitutional change from the Holy Roman Empire to the German Confederation concerned them all. Talleyrand quickly convinced the victorious allies that the France of the restored Bourbons was no longer the aggressor of the Convention and Napoleonic days. The Holy Alliance set the seal upon the pacific tendencies which were only too natural after the carnage of the past twenty years. Thus the work of reconstruction and maintaining peace at home could be entered upon without disturbances from abroad. The German governments, however, were by no means agreed upon the course by which to secure this end.

In Austria, the time-honoured idea of a supra-national organization was still alive. The Holy Roman Empire was based on it: in

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