THE GERMAN CONFEDERATION

(1815 - 1866)


"Jede Zeit hat ihre Aufgabe, und durch die Lösung derselben rückt die Menschheit weiter"

-Heinrich Heine-

Public Domain: Flags through the ages and cross the world, 1975.
Public Domain: Flags through the ages and cross the world, 1975.

The German Confederation (Deutscher Bund) was established by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to replace the destroyed Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. From 1803 to 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte reshaped Europe's political map and destroyed the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation by installing the Rhenish Confederation, consisting of 16 German states, in 1806. Shortly after the Rhenish Confederation was established, emperor Franz II abandoned his imperial crown, and the Holy Roman Empire as Napoleon's potential rival came apart. Even though the Holy Roman Empire was not an actual state but a confederation of 300 sovereign German kingdoms under the leadership of a German emperor, many Germans perceived the French interference as devastating and humiliating. The Congress of Vienna aimed to restore the former conditions in Europe. In place of the former Holy Roman Empire, the German Confederation was legitimized by Austrian chancellor Klemens von Metternich as a response to the chaotic stage Napoleon left behind. The strongest state of the Confederation was Prussia.

 

The German Confederation was a loose association of 39 German-speaking countries and cities. It had no head of a state, and the only organ was the Federal Assembly that met in Frankfurt am Main. There were efforts to improve the Confederation in 1834 with the establishment of a customs union, the Zollverein.

 

Even though not every German welcomed the German Confederation, it can be seen as the first step on the path leading to the unification of Germany. Those German soldiers who fought in Free Corps against Napoleon sought a unified Germany and were therefore highly disappointed in the results of the Congress of Vienna, which reestablished the power of principalities in the form of a confederation. Liberal ideas of a unified Germany were seen as subversive goals. Former Free Corps who patriotically fought for German unity and against Napoleon formed a countermovement to the German Confederation. More than 100 students, among them former Free Corps, met in Kamsdorf (Jena) and founded the first German student league to preserve their idea of a unified German state under the motto "honor, freedom, fatherland." Their concept of "nationalism" aimed to form a country and should not be mistaken with the exaggerated and more aggressive form of nationalism that arose across Europe in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

PURPOSE OF THE

NORTH GERMAN CONFEDERATION

Replacement of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation

Protection of its members

Guarantee of the external and internal peace of Germany

stronger voice in Europe

led by Austria