How Did the French Revolution and Napoleonic Era Lead to the Unification of Germany and Italy in the 19th Century?
The fall of the Roman Empire resulted in the creation of smaller independent city-states in Italy and elsewhere, followed by the rise of nation states. Napoleon III united much of Europe under his rule. As that broke down, other European powers, especially Austria, the Holy Roman Empire, France and Prussia strove for control of the Empire While the larger nations fought against each other for control; internal groups in Italy and Germany other groups worked for an independent, united country with a constitution inspired by the French Revolutionary model.
In Italy the Carbonari, or coal-burners, were an early 19th century secret organization formed in southern Italy. Drawing their inspiration from the French Revolution, they were one of the most influential Italian unification groups. Early in his career, Napoleon III had fought on the side of the Carbonari for Italian unification. Later the group condemned him to death for failing; they almost succeeded in 1858. Other groups and individuals worked towards Italian unification many more overtly. Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi were prominent figures as were the more conservative monarchic Count Cavour and Victor Emmanuel II who later became the first King of the United Italy.
Germany in the 19th Century was also under the sway of the Austrian Empire. The German princes sought unification with Prussia to consolidate Germany as a unified and defensible entity separate from Austria. In 1866, Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke stated that the war of 1866 was fought because “Austria had exhausted her strength in conquests south of the Alps, and left the western German provinces unprotected, instead of following the road pointed out by the Danube. Its center of gravity lay out of Germany; Prussia’s lay within it. Prussia felt itself called upon and strong enough to assume the leadership of the German races.” Wilhelm, King of Prussia assumed the throne and accepted the German imperial title on January 18, 1871.
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