After the 1815 “Congress of Vienna”, Prussia was officially one of the great powers in Europe. However in the German confederation Prussia had to compete with Austria for dominance, which finally resulted in a war in 1866. Building up to this Prussia became increasingly strong compared to Austria, the reasons for which have to be explored.
In 1815 Prussia’s population consisted of 73.5% rural people, while Austria had 80% rural people. However, after 1815 Prussia experienced a fast population growth, which meant that many people decided to move to the cities for work and so for example Berlin grew from 172,000 in 1800 to 419,00 in 1850. This enabled a big potential for industry in the cities because workforces were now available. One of the reasons why Prussias’s industry was dominant over that of Austria was that it, after the 1815 “Vienna conference”, annexed the Rhineland and therefore gained access to one of the greatest reserves of natural resources in central Europe with not only the Rhineland but also Silesia and the Saarland. Prussia could expand their industry without having to be concerned about resource scarceness, which lead to industry expansion. This is a major factor of the dominance over Austria, as Austria couldn’t rely on such great resources and therefore their economy wasn’t boosted.
Another reason as to why Prussia became dominant is that Prussian economic policies strongly supported economic development, such as the tax reforms and the road building programme by Friedrich von Motz, who was Minister of Finance between 1825 and 1830. This and the abolishment of Surfdom in 1821 enhanced Prussias industry and economy because new jobs were created and government funds lead to more market orders.
Austria on the other hand maintained strict control over all trade prohibited greater expansion of the economy. The development of the economy in Austria was only seen in Bohemia, and a railway construction in 1828 as well as a port in Triste, which lead to Austria lagging in comparison to Prussia, economically.
The biggest factor however, which significantly influenced Prussia emerging as the dominant power in 1866 was the establishment of the “Zollverein” on the 1st January 1834. The Zollverein covered 18 states in 1834 which increased to 25 by 1836. It united most of the German states under itself and showed great economic success. However many historians such as Helmut Böhme argue that Prussia not only wanted economic advance but also wanted to extract Austrias influence from Germany. Prussia enjoyed the leadership of the “Zollverein” and by 1844, excluding only Hannover, Bremen and Hamburg, all German states were members. This enabled Prussia to lead an economically virtually unified Germany. Putting Prussia in a strong position, a position which Austria failed to occupy by not joining the “Zollverein”. Austria, due to national markets, which she didn’t want to disturb didn’t join the Zollverein and this not only led to a weaker position but also to economic stagnation, while Prussias economy was flourishing.
This is shown through the output in Prussia during the industrial revolution which reaches Prussia 1850. Prussias economy experiences a great advance, the railway network increases from 3869 km to 7169 km between 1850 and 1860, not only does Prussia’s transport system improve but also the industrial output such as coal, which increases from 700,000 tons in 1850 to 2.2 million in 1860 in the Ruhr area. Austria on the other hand, couldn’t keep up with Prussia, their export even decreased between 1853 and 1856 from 184.3 million thaler to 150.3 million.
In 1866 Austria was economically inferior to Prussia, as they didn’t join the Zollverein, they didn’t have the resources Prussia did and their policies were too strict and didn’t allow room for industrial expansion. Furthermore Austria didn’t industrialise the way Prussia did and had a greater portion of the population still living in rural areas.
One of the problems of the Austrian Empire was that it consisted of numerous different cultures e.g. Hungary, Croats, etc. This meant that there were different notions of nationalism within the Empire and these mostly didn’t include a patriotic feeling for the Austrian Empire. Such was the case with Kossuth, the leader of a radical Hungarian Magyar movement. His fiery speeches were soon printed in Vienna and initiated uprisings, Metternich overestimating the revolutions fled Austria and on the 15th March, Hungary was granted independence under Austrian rule. Other parts of Austria wanted the same status, however after the new Emporor Franz Joseph came to the throne, he appealed to the Russians who helped and ended the 1848 revolutions. The revolutions in Austria weakened the Empire because for one Metternich, who had managed to supress liberalism for such a long time, resigned but also it demonstrated that Austria didn’t have full control over her territories anymore, which puts her in a diplomatically weaker position.
Metternichs abdication swept the excitement from Austria over to Prussia in 1848. King Friederich William IV. promised elections and took a very liberal standpoint, however after he came back to his throne he decided that this liberal experiment had gone on for long enough and changed his mind. Although this didn’t necessarily bring any change, in other parts of the German confederation there were liberal changes such as in 1846 when the grand duke of Baden accepted a liberal constitution. After the liberal wave that swept through the German confederation in 1848 the central diet which was led by Austria was replaced by the Frankfurt assembly which was under the lead of Austria. This not only shows a change in dominance but also the German states have a stronger feeling of unity. This went as far as the Frankfurt assembly offering Frederick William the crown after Austria stated that either the entire empire or none of the empire would enter the new Germany. Frederick William defied the crown, however this offer was an implication that Prussia was becoming the dominant force in the German confederation.
Josef von Radowitz tried to amplify this influence through the “Erfurt Union” which would be a union of the northern German states under Prussian presidency. This Union was quickly annulated through the “Olmütz agreement” in November 1950, where Prussia had to give in to the revival of the “German Confederation”. The events at Olmütz didn’t enhance Prussias dominance over Austria, however again through the “Erfurt Union” Prussias intentions became obvious.
Austrias diplomatic isolation leading up to 1866 ensured Prussia diplomatic dominance and it was through Bismarck’s cunning diplomatic manuevers that this was achieved. Austrias isolation began with the Crimean war (1853-1856) in which Austria refused to help Russia although the Russians themselves had aided Austria militarily during the 1848 revolutions.
Prussia on the other hand, had become more affiliated with Russia through the Alvensleben convention of 1863. Prussia sent General Alvensleben to grant Russian troops permission to follow the Polish rebells into Prussian territory. This meant that the first great power in Europe was no longer friendly to Austria and in case of war wouldn’t side with her.
In February 1864, Prussia and Austria attacked Denmark with the outcome that Prussia received Schleswig and Austria received Holstein. Britain substained to intervene here and therefore most likely would refrain from siding with anyone in a war over the spoils. The war with the Danes provoked diplomatic complications between the two powers but led to the result that Bismarck knew that Britain wouldn’t side with Austria in case of war.
Austrias diplomatic isolation was further enhanced by Frances neutrality. To ensure this Bismarck met with Napoleon III in Biarritz and although it is not known what was decided at this conference, looking at a letter written to William I. by Bismarck and the war then one can extrapolate what happened at the conference. Bismarck knew of Napoleons wish to expand and therefore implied that France could gain any French speaking territory after the war. This evoked the French to stay neutral.
Austrias diplomatic isolation was completed through the Italian affair, as Austria still held on to Venetia, Italy became a natural enemy of Austria. Bismarck connived a military alliance together with Italy and therefore would trigger a two front war with Austria, should war be declared between April and July 1866.
Bismarcks contribution to Prussia becoming the dominant power were significant, which can also be seen through the “iron and blood” speech. With this he convinced the the Landtag that Prussia could only be victorious through military power and ”Not through speeches and majority decisions”. Prussia would need “Iron and blood” and Bismarck wanted to upgrade the prussian military. This is important for Prussia becoming the dominant force becauseas Bismarck rightly said battles are through men and weapons.
Prussia became the dominant German state between 1815 and 1866 through Bismarcks cunning political manuevers, economical advancement as well as diplomatic success. Through this they became dominant over Austria, who didn’t have such rich natural resources and were diplomatically blind at times.