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Örjan Martinsson

Prussia 1807-1947

= Prussia 1807   = Territorial gains 1815   = German Confederation

When Napoleon’s Russian campaign ended in disaster 1812 Prussia joined France’s enemies again and its status as great power was restored at the Congress of Vienna. Its population and territory were roughly the same size as before 1806, but the territory had shifted to the south-west and a greater proportion of its population was therefore of German nationality in a greater extent. The German Confederation was created at the same time as a replacement for the dissolved Holy Roman Empire, this institution would however with time be more and more regarded as temporary solution only. The issue of Germany’s unification would dominate the next half century

= Prussia 1815   = Territorial gains   = Territorial loss 1857

There were two alternatives in how Germany would be unified, the Great German alternative that included all German states and the Little German alternative that excluded Austria with its large non-German population. Prussia preferred the Little German solution because its king would in that case be the obvious choice as German emperor. The unification of Germany appeared to be imminent during the revolutionary year of 1848 and Prussia’s king Friedrich Wilhelm IV was the year after offered the Imperial crown by a German national assembly in Frankfurt, but he declined the offer, most likely because of the threat from Austria and Russia. A few months later Prussia along with Hanover and Saxony made another attempt to under less revolutionary forms pull through a Little German solution, but it failed again because of opposition from Austria and Russia and German Confederation was restored instead. Prussia had simultaneously with these events also supported Schleswig-Holstein’s rebellion against Denmark, but the other great powers put pressure on Prussia and the conflict was settled on the basis of status quo 1852. The revolution of 1848 had also resulted in that Prussia lost control over Neuchatel in Switzerland, which was formally recognised by Friedrich Wilhelm IV 1857, but this loss was compensated by the inheritance of the principality of Hohenzollern 1849.

The conflict over Schleswig-Holstein erupted again 1864 and together with Austria the Prussian troops defeated the Danish army. Denmark was forced to cede Schleswig-Holstein and Lauenburg in the peace, but Austria and Prussia could not agree on how these territories would be governed, Austria wanted Schleswig-Holstein to be an independent state while Prussia wanted to incorporate it Prussia. The two powers agreed to a temporary solution 1865, which meant that Schleswig would be under Prussian administration and Holstein under Austrian administration until a permanent settlement could be reached. Lauenburg was incorporated into Prussia after the Austrian had sold their half of that duchy

= Prussia 1865   = Territorial gains 1866
= Other members of the North German Confederation

The feud over Schleswig-Holstein’s future proved to be hard to solve, the main reason to this was Prussia’s unwillingness to compromise. Austria offered Holstein to Prussia in exchange for a corresponding territory in Silesia, but Prussia led by their chancellor Bismarck refused to accept that offer. Instead they resumed the old issue of Germany’s unification, but the German princes voted down Prussia’s proposition to this. When the majority in the German Confederation took side with Austria, Prussia responded by declaring its secession from the Confederation whereby war became unavoidable. Although Hanover, Saxony, Bavaria and other German states supported Austria in the war the Prussians triumphed. The well-equipped Prussian army used with great skill the railroad to move its troops fast and was victorious on all fronts. Vast territories were conquered, including all of Hanover, and the German Confederation was dissolved and replaced by the North German Confederation that was completely dominated by Prussia when Austria and the southern German states were left out.

= Prussia   = Territorial gain 1871   = Other parts of the German Empire

Prussia’s growth of power was regarded with disapproval by France’s emperor Napoleon III. He considered the possibility of a unified Germany as a great threat to France but the war of 1866 ended before he could intervened. Napoleon III was however determined to repair his mistake as soon as possible and an insignificant diplomatic dispute in 1870 was used as pretext to declare war against Prussia. But to his surprise the southern German states joined the war on Prussia’s side and the French army was decisively defeated. At Versailles the victors declared the unification of Germany with the Prussian king as its emperor 1871. France was forced to cede Alsace-Lorraine, which was to be administrated jointly by the German part states as an Imperial territory.

= Prussia   = Territorial gains 1890-1929   = territorial losses 1919-21   = Other German part states.

After 1871 the history of Prussia is identical with Germany’s since it comprised nearly two thirds of Germany's population and territory, and the Prussian king and head of state were also Germany's emperor and chancellor. But Prussia lost its special status after the First World War and it became a regular German part state. The weakening of Prussia's power was also added by the fact that the territories Germany was forced to cede after the First World War were predominately Prussian. But Prussia was because of its large population still the dominating part state of the Weimar republic.

Already in 1890 had the small island of Heligoland in the North Sea been incorporated with Germany and given to Prussia. During the interwar period was Prussia most of the time ruled by social democratic governments and it was at that time Prussia's last territorial gains occurred when the small German part state of Waldeck was incorporated 19222 and 1929. But when Hitler took power in Germany 1933 was the central power strengthened whereby Prussia practically ceased to exist as a political entity, although the formal dissolution of Prussia would not come until 1947 when the allied control council divided its territory into smaller part states.

Back to Prussia's start page.