History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Divided Germany

Although Europe was now at peace, Prussia and Austria still continued so jealous of each other that the Empire could not be restored. Had either the King of Prussia or the Emperor of Austria been made German Emperor, war would certainly have broken out.

So having no Emperor most of the states of Germany joined themselves into a Confederation. This Confederation had a sort of permanent parliament or Diet, which sat at Frankfort-on-the-Main. To this Diet members from every state came to discuss matters common to all the states. But on the other hand, in things which concerned itself alone, every state did as it chose.

All the members of the Confederation agreed never to make war upon each other, and never to make an alliance with any foreign power which might be dangerous to any German state. But otherwise there was little union. Each of the German princes was an independent ruler, and most of them were autocrats. They did as they liked without consulting people or parliament.

Now most of the people felt that they had done so much to free their country from Napoleon's tyranny that they deserved to have some share in the government of it, and by the Act of Confederation it was agreed that a Constitutional Government should be set up in every state.

But this promise was only made in a time of great stress and danger. With the coming of peace and security again the rulers forgot their promises, and very little political freedom was granted to the people. The Czar, the Emperor of Austria, and King Frederick William, indeed, joined together in what they called the Holy Alliance. By this alliance they bound themselves to treat one another as Christians and brothers, and to govern their people in a Christian manner. But the real object of the alliance was to increase the power of the rulers, and to crush out any movement on the part of the people towards freedom.

Yet among the people the demand for freedom grew daily stronger. With it also grew a desire for real union. For the Confederation was little more than a name. Each state did very much as it liked. Every state had its own customs and regulations, so that goods could not be sent from one part of Germany to another without paying duty, often several times over.

Lewis I of Bavaria saw that this was hurtful to the whole Confederation, and he made a treaty with the King of Wurtemburg permitting free trade between the two countries. This was the beginning, and very soon the idea of a customs union for the whole of the German states was started. State after state joined the Union, until at length, so far as trade was concerned, Germany was united.

But it was Prussia and not Austria which was the centre of this union, and from it Austria stood gloomily aloof.

With this free trade among the German-speaking peoples, the merchant classes became more and more prosperous. And with their prosperity their demands for political freedom became so great that in many states the refusal of the rulers to grant it brought the people to the verge of rebellion. Then, when in 1830 the French had a second revolution and drove Charles X from the throne, there was great excitement throughout the states of Germany.

In Saxony, in Bavaria, in many of the smaller states there were revolts and riots. Everywhere the revolutionists chose red, black and gold for their banners, for these were supposed to have been the colours of the old Holy Roman Empire. Everywhere they demanded a liberal government. But everywhere the rebellion was crushed out, and Germany sank again into seeming quiet.

But it had needed stern measures to repress the outbreak. And the head and front of this repression was Metternich, the Austrian minister. He thought that peace rather than liberty was what Europe needed, and he crushed out every attempt at liberty. For he did not see that by doing so he was endangering the very peace he desired.

For a time, however, Metternich seemed to have succeeded. But Germany only appeared to be quiet. There was no real quiet, and discontent spread rapidly, the desire for free government and the desire for a united Germany growing ever greater.

Both the King and the Emperor who had suffered so much at Napoleon's hands were by this time dead. In 1835 Francis I of Austria had died, and had been succeeded by his son Ferdinand, who proved but a weak ruler. He was, in truth, more or less mad, and the power was really in the hands of Metternich.

In 1840 Frederick William III died, and was succeeded by his son Frederick William IV.

Frederick William IV was a strange mixture. He tried to be a constitutional monarch, yet he was filled with ideas about the divine right of kings. He tried to be a practical man, yet he was a dreamer. His reign, however, seemed to begin well, he made fine speeches, and promised his people many things. But soon they found those promises meant nothing, and discontent grew strong against him.

Then when in 1848 the French people had a third revolution and declared their country a republic, the unrest in Germany became more intense than ever. Indeed, the people became so violent in their demands for political freedom that many of the lesser princes yielded, and in all haste changed the government. Throughout the whole of Germany there was a revolution. But it was in Austria and in Prussia that it was most violent, for there it was most keenly resisted.

As day by day news came to the courts of Vienna and Berlin that the lesser states had yielded, the excitement grew ever greater. Petition after petition was sent to the Emperor of Austria. He was, however, entirely in the hands of Metternich, and Metternich had no mind to yield to the demands of the people.

But the patience of the people was at an end, and, suddenly, one day a wild crowd burst into the parliament hall. Amid loud shouts and threats they forced the members to send a deputation to the Emperor with their demands.

While they waited for his answer the noise and confusion grew intense. Benches and chairs were broken, blows were given and received, and above all the clamour was heard the cry, "Down with Metternich, down with Metternich."

Metternich could not stand against the fury of the people, so he gave up his post. A few days later he fled to England. But the fall of the hated Metternich did not bring peace to Austria, and there followed a time of terrible confusion, Austrians, Hungarians, Bohemians, and Italians all struggled together. The Emperor was far too weak a man to guide the state in those stormy times, so at length he abdicated, and his nephew Francis Joseph came to the throne at the age of eighteen. He at once set himself to crush the revolution in Austria. And then he turned his attention to the rest of the Empire, determined to crush the revolution there. At the same time he determined to crush the attempt of Prussia to become leader of the German states.