German Confederation

Quick Reference


An alliance of German sovereign states. At the Congress of Vienna (1815) the 38 German states formed a loose grouping to protect themselves against French ambitions. Austria and Prussia lay partly within and partly outside the Confederation. The Austrian chancellor Metternich was the architect of the Confederation and exercised a dominant influence in it through the Federal Diet at Frankfurt, whose members were instructed delegates of state governments. As the rival power to Austria in Germany, Prussia tried to increase its influence over other states by founding a federal customs union or Zollverein. In the Revolutions of 1848 a new constituent assembly was elected to Frankfurt, and tried to establish a constitutional German monarchy, but in 1849 the Austrian emperor refused the crown of a united Germany because it would loosen his authority in Hungary, while the Prussian king, Frederick William IV, refused it because the constitution was too liberal. The pre-1848 Confederation was restored, with Bismarck as one of Prussia's delegates. In 1866 Bismarck proposed that the German Confederation be reorganized to exclude Austria. When Austria opposed this, Bismarck declared the Confederation dissolved and went to war against Austria. In 1867, after Prussia's victory over Austria in the Austro-Prussian War (1866), the 21 secondary governments above the River Main federated into the North German Confederation (Norddeutscher Bund), with its capital in Berlin and its leadership vested in Prussia. Executive authority rested in a presidency in accordance with the hereditary rights of the rulers of Prussia. The federation's constitution was a model for that of the German Second empire, which replaced it after the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War (1871).

Subjects: World History.

Reference entries