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Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition, Volume 11, Slice 8 "Germany" to "Gibson, William"

The German National Union Deutscher Nationalverein


In choosing this man of iron will as his instrument during the actual crisis the king's instinct had not betrayed him. For nine years Prussian delegate at the diet of Frankfort, Bismarck was intimately acquainted with all the issues of the German problem; with his accustomed calculated bluntness he had more than once openly asserted that this problem could only be settled by Austria ceasing to influence the German courts and transferring "her centre of gravity towards Budapest"; with equal bluntness he told the committee on the budget, on the 30th of September 1862, that the problem could not be solve "by parliamentary decrees," but only "by blood and iron." For the supreme moment of this solution he was determined that Prussia should be fully prepared; and this meant that he must defy the majority within the diet and public opinion without. Some sort of constitutional pretence was given to the decision of the government to persevere with the military reforms by the support of the Upper House, and of this Bismarck availed himself to raise the necessary taxes without the consent of the popular assembly. He regretted the necessity for flouting public opinion, which he would have preferred to carry with him; in due course he would make his peace with Liberal sentiment, when success should have justified his defiance of it. His plans were singularly helped by international developments. The Polish rising of 1863 came just in time to prevent

a threatened Franco-Russian alliance; the timid and double-faced attitude of both France and Austria during the revolt left them isolated in Europe, while Bismarck's ready assistance to Russia assured at least the benevolent neutrality in the coming struggle with the Habsburg power.

Views as to Germany unity.

Meanwhile, among the German people the object lesson of the Italian war had greatly stimulated the sentiment of national unity. As to the principle, however, on which this unity was to be based, the antagonism that had been fatal in 1849 still existed. The German National Union (_Deutscher Nationalverein_), organized in the autumn of 1859, favoured the exclusion of Austria and the establishment of a federation under the hegemony of Prussia; it represented the views of the so-called "Gothaer," the political heirs of the rump of the Frankfort parliament which had reassembled at Gotha in June 1849, and supported the Prussian Union and the Erfurt parliament. To counteract this, a conference of five hundred "Great Germans" assembled at Frankfort and, on the 22nd of October 1862, founded the German Reform Union (_Deutscher Reformverein_), which, consisting mainly of South German elements, supported the policy of Austria and the smaller states. The constitutional crisis in Prussia, however, brought both societies into line, and in 1863 the National Union united with the Reform Union in an attempt to defeat Prussian policy in the Schleswig-Holstein question.

The "Furstentag" of Frankfort.

This anti-Prussian feeling Austria now tried to exploit for her own advantage. On the 2nd of August the emperor Francis Joseph proposed to King William, during a meeting at Gastein, to lay before an assembly of the German princes a scheme for the reconstitution of the Bund. The king neither accepted nor refused; but, without waiting for his assent, invitations were sent out to the other princes, and on the 14th the congress (_Furstentag_) opened at Frankfort. Of the German sovereign states but four were unrepresented--Anhalt-Bernburg, Holstein, Lippe and Prussia; but the absence of Prussia was felt to be fatal; the minor princes existed by reason of the balance between the two great powers, and objected as strongly to the exclusion of the one as of the other from the Confederation; an invitation to King William was therefore signed by all present and carried by the king of Saxony in person to Berlin. Bismarck, however, threatened to resign if the king accepted; and the congress had to do the best it could without Prussian co-operation. On the 1st of September it passed, with some slight modifications, the Austrian proposals for the reconstruction of the _Bund_ under a supreme Directory, an assembly of delegates from the various parliaments, a federal court of appeal and periodical conferences of sovereigns. Everything now depended on the attitude of Prussia, and on the 22nd her decision was received. "In any reform of the _Bund_," it ran, "Prussia, equally with Austria, must have the right of vetoing war; she must be admitted, in the matter of the presidency, to absolute equality with Austria; and, finally, she will yield no tittle of her rights save to a parliament representing the whole German nation."

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