14.3 The Unification of Germany

In the early 1800s, German-speaking people lived in a number of small and medium-sized states, as well as in Prussia and the Austrian Hapsburg empire. Napoleon's invasions unleashed new forces in these lands, especially a sense of German nationalism. Early efforts to unify Germany failed, but by 1862 a strong-willed Prussian official, Otto von Bismarck, set out to build a strong, unified German state.

Painting of a man in military uniform on horseback, leading a parade surrounded by cheering onlookers, through the Brandenburg gate.

Napoleon rides triumphantly into Berlin. French rule inspired German nationalism and demands for a unified German state.


  • Identify the factors that promoted German nationalism.
  • Analyze how Bismarck achieved German unification.
  • Describe the German empire under Bismarck.
  • Explain the policies of Kaiser William II.

Key Terms

  • Otto von Bismarck
  • chancellor
  • Realpolitik
  • annex
  • kaiser
  • Reich
  • Kulturkampf
  • William II
  • social welfare

Moving Toward a Unified Germany

Impact of Napoleonic Invasions

Between 1806 and 1812, Napoleon made important territorial changes in German-speaking lands. He annexed lands along the Rhine River for France. He dissolved the Holy Roman Empire by forcing the emperor of Austria to agree to the lesser title of king. He also organized a number of German states into the Rhine Confederation.

At first, some Germans welcomed the French emperor as a hero with enlightened, modern policies. He encouraged freeing the serfs, made trade easier, and abolished laws against Jews. However, not all Germans appreciated Napoleon and his changes. As people fought to free their lands from French rule, a sense of German nationalism emerged. They began to demand a unified German state.

Napoleon's defeat did not resolve the issue. At the Congress of Vienna, Metternich opposed nationalist demands. A united Germany, he argued, would require dismantling the governments of the many German states. Instead, conservative peacemakers created the German Confederation, a weak alliance headed by Austria.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments