In the mid nineteenth century, Germany was still fractured in a loose confederation of almost 40 states, with Bavaria, Austria, and Prussia vying for leadership. In the aftermath of the revolutions of 1848 and 1849, Germany attempted to unite under Austria. However, “The Greater or Lesser Germany Question”, that is whether Austria would enter the union with Hungary and its empire, was very divisive. Most German states wanted a union with Austria, but not its multicultural empire in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. And Austria refused anything less than complete integration. Neither side could come to a compromise and the Frankfurt Parliament dissolved.
A decade later, Otto von Bismarck determined that the only way Germany would unite was by force of arms. However, in the summer of 1862, the Prussian parliament balked at Kaiser Wilhelm’s request for a significant spending increase for the Prussian Army. On 20 September, 1862, Bismarck, the newly appointed Prussian chancellor, spoke before the parliament. He concluded with,
“Germany is not looking to Prussia’s liberalism, but to its power; Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden may indulge liberalism, and for that reason no one will assign them Prussia’s role; Prussia has to coalesce and concentrate its power for the opportune moment, which has already been missed several times; Prussia’s borders according to the Vienna Treaties [of 1814-15] are not favorable for a healthy, vital state; it is not by speeches and majority resolutions that the great questions of the time are decided – that was the big mistake of 1848 and 1849 – but by iron and blood.”
The parliament passed the Kaiser’s budget, and over the next eight years, Bismarck, now known as “The Iron Chancellor”, united Germany.