Describe the role of Bismarck and Cavour respectively in the process of unification of Germany and Italy.

Question – Describe the role of Bismarck and Cavour respectively in the process of unification of Germany and Italy. 29 March 2022

AnswerThe Congress of Vienna (1815) provided Europe with a framework that ensured the division of states. For example, Prussia get small German states in the west, Austria received Venice and most of northern Italy, and so on. Consequently, against this background, leaders such as Camilo Cavour and Otto von Bismarck began to formulate the necessary strategies to unify Italy and Germany respectively.

Role of Bismarck in the Unification of Germany:

The Congress of Vienna restored the German states under the German Confederation under the leadership of the Austrian Empire. The Prime Minister of Prussia (1862) and then Chancellor of the German Confederation, Bismarck, implemented the policy of ‘blood and iron’, setting three broad goals for the unification of the German states under the leadership of Prussia:

  • Ending Austrian influence from Germany,
  • Improve their economy while reducing the economic independence of smaller states,
  • To strengthen Germany against possible French aggression.

He did the following to achieve these goals:

  • He, together with Friedrich Bonn Motz, established a unified German Customs Union (Zolverein), which settled tariffs between German states and paved the way for a common market. Austria was not included under this.
  • He waged a war against Denmark in 1884, allied with Austria to take control of most of the territory of the German Confederation, including Schleswig and Holstein.
  • He allied with Italy in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and defeated Austria and eventually expelled it from the German Confederation. After this the federation itself ended.
  • Bismarck formed the North German Confederation in 1867 and organized 22 German states. The Constitution of the Confederation made the King of Prussia the hereditary head of the German state. However, southern German states such as Bavaria remained independent and adopted a pro-Austrian policy.
  • He thus manipulated a telegram sent to him by King Wilhelm I of Prussia, describing a meeting between the king and a French diplomat. Due to which both the king and the diplomat seemed to have humiliated each other. This concocted ‘Ems telegram’ event provoked the French Empire to declare war on Prussia, which resulted in the Franco-Prussian War (1870).
  • France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War led to Bismarck’s annexation of the remaining German states (except Austria) into Prussia, paving the way for the eventual unification of Germany. Additionally, the Treaty of Frankfurt (1871) granted Germany most of Alsace and parts of Lerrin.

Role of Cavour in the Unification of Italy:

  • The process of unification of Italy began with the Revolution of 1848, which opposed the results of the Congress of Vienna (1815). The prime minister of the state of Piedmont and Sardinia, Cavour played the most important role in the unification of Italy. His contributions include:
  • Cavour sided with France and Britain in the Crimean War (1853–56) in order to gain future cooperation and liberate the Italian states from foreign influence. He also used the outcome of the Paris Peace Conference to bring to international fame the cause of unification of Italy. He joined the Crimean War to seek future cooperation and not France’s cooperation as he claimed.
  • He entered into a secret oral agreement with Napoleon-III, namely the Plombieres Agreement (1858), to liberate the Italian territories from Austrian control and to create a political structure for the subsequent Italian unification. Ultimately, after a series of military actions by Piedmont- Sardinia on the Austrian-Piedmont frontier, Austria issued an ultimatum, urging a complete end to the mobilization of Piedmont’s forces. Failure to comply with this sparked the Second Italian War of Independence (1859), also known as the War of France–Austria, as France joined it. As a result of this war, Austria ceded Lombardy to France, in return for which it received Sardinia.
  • Inspired by Cavour’s success against Austria, the northern Italian states held elections in 1859 and 1860 and voted to join the state of Piedmont-Sardinia.
  • Garibaldi had considerable dominance in the southern Italian states, so Cavour used Garibaldi’s dominion to his advantage and organized a plebiscite in the southern states for the peaceful unification of Italy. He showed this merger in such a way that it appeared that the Piedmont kingdom was not expanding its territoriality, but it was a direct revolution by the people themselves.
  • During the Austro-Prussian War (1866) he also made an alliance with Prussia and at the same time fought the war against Austria i.e. the Third Italian War of Independence. Austria was defeated in both wars and handed Italy over to Venetia.
  • After the Franco-Prussian War (1870) the papal kingdom was annexed to Italy. Thus by 1871 Italy was finally unified and Rome was made its capital.

Bismarck and Cavour made a realistic analysis of power in pursuit of national interest. They resorted to wars such as the Crimean War, the Austro-Prussian War and the Franco-Prussian War to expand their territories and complete the processes of unification of Germany and Italy respectively.

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