Exam preparation materials

Chapter 18. Nationalism and Statebuilding, 1848-1900


Summary: In the second half of the nineteenth century, nationalism became a tool of conservative state-builders, and Italy and Germany became unified nation states.

Key Ideas

• In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Romantic and conservative tendencies of nationalism came to the fore.

• Between 1855 and 1866, Italy was unified by the actions of the Conservative statesman Count Camillo Cavour and the Romantic nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi.

• The conservative Prussian aristocrat Otto von Bismarck used diplomacy and war to unify Germany under the rule of the Hohenzollern dynasty of Prussia.

• Nationalism was a key component in the destruction of the anachronistic Austrian-dominated Hapsburg Empire.

Key Terms



Crimean War

Treaty of Villafranca





Austro-Prussian War

Ems telegram

Compromise of 1867


In the second half of the nineteenth century, nationalism triumphed over all the other competing ideologies. In areas where people lived under foreign domination, nationalism was used by conservative statesmen to bring about the unification of Italy and Germany. In the Hapsburg Empire, the nationalist aspirations of ethnic minorities worked to undermine Austrian domination. In France and Russia, the force of nationalism was used to end the remaining dreams of liberals and to strengthen the hold of autocratic rulers.

The End of Liberal Nationalism

In the first half of the nineteenth century, liberals and nationalists tended to ally themselves against the forces of conservatism. Both believed that political sovereignty resided in the people, and they shared an optimistic belief that progress towards their goals was inevitable. Campaigns for liberal reform (which attempted to break the conservative aristocracy’s grip on political power and to promote individual rights) tended to merge with the struggle for national rights or self-determination. Accordingly, most liberals supported in principle the idea of a free and unified nation state in Germany and Italy, the rebirth of Poland, and Greek independence; most conservatives opposed these ideas.

However, both partial victory and eventual defeat drove a wedge between liberals and nationalists. When liberals won temporary victories over conservative aristocrats between 1830 and 1838, fundamental differences between the agendas of liberal reformers and nationalists began to emerge. The emphasis on individual liberty and limited government did not mesh well with the nationalist emphasis on the collective national tribe or with the desire of nationalists for a strong national government. In short, liberals believed in promoting the rights of all peoples; nationalists cared only about their own rights.

When, in 1848, the more radical liberal agenda of democratic reform emerged, the conservative tendencies of nationalism came to the fore. Nationalists not only shared the conservatives’ belief in the value of historical traditions, they tended to mythologize the past and dream of the return of an era of national glory. Ultimately, however, what drove a wedge between liberals and nationalists was the failure of liberals to hold the power they had temporarily seized. As the conservative reaction in the second half of 1848 smashed liberal movements everywhere in Europe, nationalists dreaming of a strong unified country free from foreign rule increasingly turned to conservative leaders.

The Unification of Italy

The Forces Against Unity in Italy

The settlement after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 had greatly disappointed those hoping for an Italian nation state. The Italian peninsula consisted of separate states controlled by powerful enemies of Italian nationalism:

• The Hapsburg Dynasty of Austria controlled, either directly or through its vassals, Lombardy and Venetia in the north, and the duchies of Tuscany, Parma, and Modena.

• The pope governed an area known as the Papal States in central Italy.

• A branch of the Bourbon dynasty (which ruled France) controlled the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the south.

• An Italian dynasty, the House of Savoy, controlled both the Island of Sardinia in the south and Piedmont in the northwest.

In addition to political divisions and foreign interests, the Italian peninsula was also divided by economic and cultural differences:

• The northern areas of the peninsula were well developed economically and more sophisticated culturally than the still largely rural and agricultural areas of the south.

• Culturally, the people of the more developed northern region felt little connection to the poor peasants in the south, who often spoke an entirely different dialect.

• Socially and politically, the middle-class merchants and manufacturers, located mostly in the north, wanted a greater degree of unity for easier trade and tended to support liberal reforms; they were opposed by the staunchly conservative, traditional landed elites.

Italian Nationalism to 1850

Italian nationalism had been forged in opposition to Napoleon’s rule. After 1815, dreams of a unified Italy were kept alive in secret societies like the Carbonari, secret clubs whose members came mostly from middle-class families and from the army. In 1820, the Carbonari briefly succeeded in organizing an uprising that forced King Ferdinand I of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to grant a constitution and a new Parliament. But Austrian troops, with the blessing of the Concert of Europe, crushed the revolt. The Austrians put down a similar revolt by Carbonari in Piedmont in 1831—1832.

In the 1840s, Giuseppe Mazzini’s Young Italy had carried the banner of Italian nationalism. Both a Romantic and a liberal, Mazzini fought for the establishment of an Italian republic that would serve, as he believed ancient Rome had, as a beacon for the rest of humanity. By mid-century, Mazzini had forged a movement known as the Risorgimento, which was composed mostly of intellectuals and university students who shared his idealism. From 1834 to 1848, the Risorgimento attempted a series of popular insurrections, briefly establishing a Roman Republic in 1848 until it was crushed (like its liberal counterparts throughout Europe) by the forces of reaction. In defeat, it was evident that the Risorgimento had failed to win the support of the masses.

Cavour and Victory over Austria

At mid-century, a new leader of Italian nationalist hopes emerged in the person of Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the chief minister of King Victor Emmanuel II of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. Cavour differed from Mazzini and other previous leaders of the Italian nationalist movement in several significant ways:

• Cavour was a conservative aristocrat with ties to the most powerful Italian ruler on the peninsula, rather than a middle-class intellectual.

• Cavour advocated a constitutional monarchy under Victor Emmanuel II, rather than a republic.

• Cavour was a cautious and practical statesman, rather than an idealist.

Cavour’s strategy was that of an opportunist: he sought to increase the amount of territory under the control of Piedmont whenever possible and to weaken the opponents of Italian unification by playing them against each other. Between 1855 and 1860, Cavour took advantage of several such opportunities and managed to unite all of northern Italy under Piedmont:

• In 1855, Cavour brought Piedmont and its army into the Crimean War on the side of England and France, who were fighting Russia. This resulted in no immediate gains, but

the peace conference afforded Cavour an opportunity to denounce Austrian occupation of Italian lands.

• In 1858, Cavour reached a secret agreement with Napoleon III of France gaining a promise of French support should Austria attack Piedmont.

• In 1859, Cavour goaded the Austrians into attacking Piedmont by mobilizing forces and refusing an ultimatum to disarm. French and Piedmontese troops defeated the Austrians at the battles of Magenta and Solferino, driving the Austrians out of Lombardy. Further gains by Piedmont were thwarted by Napoleon III’s abrupt signing of the Treaty of Villafranca with the Austrians.

• By 1860, inspired by the Piedmontese victory over Austria, the majority of the northern and north-central duchies shook off their Austrian rulers and voluntarily united with Piedmont.

Garibaldi and Victory in the South

The success of northern Italians in throwing off Austrian domination inspired their southern counterparts. A series of peasant revolts, tinged with anti-Bourbon sentiment, arose in the south.

Southern Italian nationalists found a different kind of leader in Giuseppe Garibaldi and, in 1860, launched a series of popular uprisings that put all of southern Italy under his control. The southern nationalist movement differed from its northern counterpart in several significant ways:

• Garibaldi was a Romantic nationalist who had been an early supporter of Mazzini.

• The southern movement was a genuine revolt of the masses rather than the political maneuverings of a single kingdom.

• Garibaldi hoped to establish an Italian republic that would respect the rights of individuals and improve the lot of the peasants and workers.

In May of 1860, Garibaldi raised an army of 1,000 red-shirted Italian patriots and landed in Sicily to aid a peasant revolt underway there. In a few short months, Garibaldi and his red-shirts provided leadership to a nationalist revolt that took control of most of southern Italy and set its sights on Rome.

The Kingdom of Italy and the Completion of Italian Unification

Cavour had publicly condemned Garibaldi’s conquests but secretly aided them. When Garibaldi’s troops began to threaten Rome, Cavour persuaded Napoleon III, who had sworn to protect the pope, to allow the Piedmontese army to invade the Papal States in order to head off Garibaldi. By September of 1860, Piedmont controlled the Papal States and set up a ring around Rome.

When Piedmontese forces, led by King Victor Emmanuel II himself, met Garibaldi and his forces outside Rome in September of 1860, Garibaldi submitted and presented all of southern Italy to Victor Emmanuel; in the end, Garibaldi’s dream of a unified Italy was stronger than his commitment to the idea of a republic. In March of 1861, the Kingdom of Italy was formally proclaimed. It was a constitutional monarchy under Victor Emmanuel II and a parliament elected by limited suffrage. It contained all of the Italian peninsula except the city of Rome (which was still ruled by the pope and protected by French troops) and Venetia (which was still occupied by Austrian troops). The unification of Italy was completed when Venetia came into the Kingdom of Italy during the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, and Rome (with the exception of the Vatican City) followed during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

The Unification of Germany

Forces Against Unity in Germany

Unlike Italy, Germany in the middle of the nineteenth century was free of direct foreign domination. It existed as a loose confederation of independent states. Within that loose confederation, several forces worked against national unity:

• cultural differences between the rural, conservative, Protestant north and the urban, liberal, Catholic south

• a long history of proud independence on the part of the individual German states

• the powerful influence of Hapsburg Austria, which controlled or influenced a large portion of the German Confederation

Prussian Leadership

With the failure of the liberal Frankfort Assembly in 1848, leadership in the German nationalist movement passed to Prussia. Prussia was a strong northern kingdom ruled by the Hohenzollern dynasty and supported by a powerful class of landed aristocrats known as Junkers. Prussia also had the strongest military in Germany, and led the way in establishing the Zollverein, a large free-trade zone. This combination of military and economic power led many Germans to look to Prussia for leadership.

Bismarck and War with Denmark and Austria

In 1861, Prussia’s new monarch, William I, wanted to reorganize and further strengthen the military, but the liberal legislature resisted, and a power struggle between the monarch and the legislature ensued. William turned to the conservative Junker Otto von Bismarck to be his prime minister. Bismarck forced a showdown, and it quickly became apparent that the support of the Prussian people was with the king, the army, and Bismarck. With the power of the army and the government full established, Bismarck set out on a policy to unify Germany under the Prussian crown that has come to be known as Realpolitik, which asserted that the aim of Prussia policy would be to increase its power by whatever means and strategies were necessary and useful. Bismarck asserted that the unification of Germany would be accomplished by a combination of “blood and iron.”

Bismarck quickly concluded that a war with Austria was inevitable, and he engineered one in an episode that has come to be known as the Schleswig-Holstein Affair. He began by enlisting Austria as an ally in a war with Denmark over two duchies, Schleswig and Holstein, that had a large German-speaking population. Once Denmark was forced to cede the two duchies, Bismarck provoked an argument with Austria over control of them. Bismarck’s next moves were a perfect illustration of Realpolitik in action:

• First, Bismarck obtained Italian support for a war with Austria by promising Italy the province of Venetia.

• Next, he ensured Russian neutrality by supporting Russia’s actions against its rebellious Polish subjects.

• Then, he met secretly with Napoleon III of France and persuaded him that a weakening of Austrian power was in the best interests of France.

• Finally, and only after those preparations were in place, he carried out a series of diplomatic and military maneuvers that provoked Austria into declaring war.

In the resulting Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Prussian troops surprised and overwhelmed a larger Austrian force, winning victory in only seven weeks. The result was that Austria was expelled from the old German Confederation and a new North German Confederation was created, which was completely under the control of Prussia.

War with France

All that remained was to draw the south German states into the new Confederation. But the south (which was predominantly Catholic and liberal) feared being absorbed by the Protestant and authoritarian Prussians. Bismarck concluded that only one thing would compel the south Germans to accept Prussian leadership: a war with a powerful foreign enemy. So he set about engineering one.

The opportunity came when both France and Prussia got involved in a dispute over the vacant throne in Spain. Bismarck, with the support of the Prussian military leadership, edited a communication between Napoleon III and William I (a communication that is now known as the Ems telegram) to make it seem as though they had insulted one another, and Bismarck released this telegram to the press. Tempers flared, and France declared war. The south German states rallied to aid Prussia. Combined German forces quickly routed the French troops, capturing Napoleon III, and taking Paris in January of 1871.

The Second Reich

On January 18, 1871, the unification of Germany was completed. The heads of all the German states gathered in the Hall of Mirrors in the palace of Versailles outside Paris and proclaimed William I Kaiser (emperor) of the German Empire (formally the Second Reich, honoring the old Holy Roman Empire as the first Reich). The new empire took the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine from France and billed the French 5 billion francs as a war indemnity.

Nationalism in the Hapsburg Empire

In an age of nation-building, the Hapsburg Empire, with its Austrian minority dominating an Empire consisting of Hungarians (also known as Magyars), Czechs, Serbs, Romanians, and other ethnic groups, was an anachronism. The forces of nationalism, therefore, worked to tear it apart. After Austria’s defeat by Prussia in 1866, the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph attempted to deal with what has come to be called “the nationalities problem.” By agreeing to the Compromise of 1867, he set up the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, where Franz Joseph served as the ruler of both Austria and Hungary, each of which had its own parliament. This arrangement essentially set up an alliance between the Austrians and the Hungarians against the other ethnic groups in the empire.

Nationalism in France

Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte had originally been elected president of the Second Republic in 1848. When the National Assembly refused to amend the constitution to allow him to run for a second term, he staged a coup d’etat on 2 December 1851. The public overwhelmingly sided with Louis-Napoleon, who granted them universal manhood suffrage. They responded, in two plebiscites, by voting to establish a Second Empire and to make LouisNapoleon hereditary emperor.

Like his namesake, Louis Napoleon attempted to increase his popularity by expanding the Empire, but soon his foreign adventures began to erode his popularity. By 1870, the liberal parliament had begun to reassert itself. The humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War brought down both Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire; it also set in motion a Nationalism and Statebuilding, 1848-1900 battle between monarchists and the people of Paris who, having defended Paris from the Germans while the aristocrats fled, now considered themselves to represent the nation of France.

Nationalism in Russia

At mid-century, Russia’s government was the most conservative and autocratic in Europe. The peasants of Russia were still bound to the land by serfdom. The Crimean War (1853—1856), in which Russia essentially battled Britain and France for control of parts of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, damaged the reputation of both the tsar and the military. Alexander II, who ascended to the throne in 1855, was determined to strengthen Russia by reforming and modernizing it. He abolished serfdom, made the judiciary more independent, and created local political assemblies.

However, Russia was plagued by its own nationalities problem. Alexander attempted to deal with it by relaxing restrictions on the Polish population within the Russian Empire, but this fanned the flames of nationalism and led to an attempted Polish Revolution in 1863. Alexander responded with increased repression of Poles and other ethnic minorities within the Russian Empire. And after an attempt on his life in 1866, Alexander gave up all notions of liberal reform, and proceeded to turn Russia into a police state.

• Rapid Review

The failure of the revolutions of 1848 broke the fragile alliance between liberalism and nationalism. The unification of northern Italy under Victor Emmanuel II was accomplished through the statesmanship of the conservative Count Camillo Cavour. The Romantic nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi led a massive popular uprising and took control of southern Italy, then presented it to Victor Emmanuel in the name of Italian unity to create the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. The remaining two areas, Venetia and Rome, came into Italy in 1866 and 1870, respectively.

Germany was unified under the William I of Prussia through the machinations of the conservative Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck. A unified German Empire, called the Second Reich, was proclaimed, following a Prussian victory in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. The Habsburg Empire was plagued by a nationalities problem and became Austria-Hungary in 1867. France’s defeat led to the fall of the Second Empire, while Alexander II turned Russia into a police state.

• Chapter Review Questions

1. The strongest conservative element in nineteenth- century nationalism was

(A) the desire for a republican form of government

(B) its emphasis on the concept of natural borders

(C) its desire to resist the rule of traditional aristocratic dynasties

(D) its belief in the value of historical traditions

(E) its belief that political sovereignty rested with the people

2. Cavour was able to unite northern Italy under the Kingdom of Piedmont through a combination of

(A) war and diplomacy

(B) diplomacy and bribery

(C) peasant revolts and military action

(D) war and secret dealings with the pope

(E) diplomacy and royal marriage

3. Garibaldi’s capitulation to King Victor Emmanuel II illustrates

(A) the failure of nationalism in Italy

(B) the triumph of liberal nationalism

(C) the degree to which the nationalist desire for unity had triumphed over the liberal desire for individual rights

(D) the power of the Hapsburg dynasty in Italy

(E) the power of the Bourbon dynasty in Italy

4. The Schleswig-Holstein affair is an example of

(A) the Risorgimento

(B) Russian conservatism

(C) German liberalism

(D) French imperialism

(E) Realpolitik

5. Which of the following was the factor that brought south Germans into Bismarck’s new German Confederation?

(A) their Catholicism in the face of war with France

(B) their liberalism in the face of war with Austria

(C) their nationalism in the face of war with a foreign enemy

(D) their desire for a strong, authoritarian central government

(E) the existence of dominant aristocratic class of Junkers in south Germany

6. By agreeing to the Compromise of 1867, the Hapsburg Emperor Franz Joseph was

(A) acknowledging the rights of all ethnic groups within the Hapsburg Empire

(B) enlisting the Hungarians in an alliance against the other ethnic minorities within the Empire

(C) acknowledging Prussian supremacy in the German Confederation

(D) ending serfdom in Russia

(E) ending the Crimean War

7. In France, the Second Empire was brought to an end by

(A) France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War

(B) Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup d’etat on 2 December 1851

(C) two plebiscites

(D) the Crimean War

(E) the unification of Italy

8. In Russia, Tsar Alexander Il’s attempts to liberalize Russia were brought to an end by

(A) the abolition of serfdom

(B) the Crimean War

(C) the unification of Germany

(D) the Russian Revolution

(E) the Polish Revolution of 1863 and an attempt on his life in 1866

• Answers and Explanations

1. D. The belief in the value of historical traditions was the strongest conservative element in nationalism, which tended to use a mythologized version of history as a way to create a unified national identity. Choice A is incorrect because nationalism tended to put concerns for the strength and unity of the nation ahead of concerns for a particular form of government. Choice B is incorrect because the emphasis on the concept of natural borders was shared by liberal and conservative nationalists alike. Choices C and E are incorrect because the desire to resist the rule of traditional aristocratic dynasties like the Haps- burgs and the Bourbons and their belief that political sovereignty rested with the people were liberal tendencies of nationalism, not conservative elements.

2. A. Cavour’s successful strategy for uniting northern Italy under Piedmont worked through a combination of secret diplomatic arrangements with France and successful war with Austria. Choice B is incorrect because the smaller Kingdom of Piedmont was in no position to bribe the wealthier French Bourbons and Austrian Haps- burgs. Choice C is incorrect because peasant revolts were important in the unification of southern Italy, not northern. Choice D is incorrect because Cavour’s secret dealings were with Napoleon III of France, not the pope. Choice E is incorrect because no royal marriages were concluded in the unification of northern Italy.

3. C. Garibaldi had pledged to establish an Italian republic that protected the rights of all individuals; his willingness to hand over the southern portion of the peninsula to an aristocratic monarch, therefore, illustrates the degree to which the nationalist desire for unity had triumphed over the liberal desire for individual rights. Choice A is incorrect because Garibaldi’s willingness to hand the south over to King Victor Emmanuel and Piedmont guaranteed that a unified Kingdom of Italy would come into being and, therefore, illustrates the triumph (not the failure) of Italian nationalism. Choice B is incorrect because Garibaldi’s willingness to forego his dream of a republic illustrates the death of liberal nationalism (not the triumph). Choice D is incorrect because the fact that the fate of Italy was being decided by two Italians demonstrates the degree to which Austrian Hapsburg’s power in Italy had declined. Choice E is similarly incorrect because the meeting between Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel II illustrates the limited ability of the French Bourbon dynasty to dictate events in Italy.

4. E. Bismarck’s use of the Schleswig-Holstein Affair to manufacture a war with Austria is an example of his policy of Realpolitik, which increased Prussian territory and power by any means available. Choice A is incorrect because the Risorgimento refers to the mid-nineteenth- century Italian nationalist movement. Choice B is incorrect because Russia was only tangentially involved in the Schleswig-Holstein Affair. Choice C is incorrect because Bismarck’s disregard for the rights of individuals and groups of people is the antithesis of liberalism. Choice D is incorrect because France had only a minor role in the Schleswig-Holstein Affair and did not stand to increase the size of its empire as a result.

5. C. Bismarck used the strong nationalist feelings of south Germans who were aroused by war with France to convince them to join his new Confederation and accept Prussian dominance. Choices A and B are incorrect because both the Catholicism and the liberalism of south Germans caused them to fear being dominated by the Protestant and conservative Prussians. Choice D is incorrect because the liberal south Germans had no desire for the strong, authoritarian central government favored by Prussians. Choice E is incorrect because the Junkers were the dominant aristocratic class in Prussia, not south Germany.

6. B. The Compromise of 1867 set up the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary with two parliaments, each under Emperor Franz Joseph; it was done as a concession to the Hungarians in order to enlist them in an alliance against the other ethnic groups in the Empire. Choice A is incorrect because the Compromise did nothing for any ethnic group other than the Hungarians. Choice C is incorrect because the Compromise did not acknowledge Prussian supremacy in the Confederation: The Austrians had been expelled from the Federation by the victorious Prussians following the Austro-Prussian war of 1866. Choice D is incorrect because the compromise did not concern Russia; serfdom in Russia was ended by Royal decree. Choice E is incorrect because the Compromise had nothing to do with the Crimean War, which ended in 1856.

7. A. The Second Empire was brought to an end by France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War; Napoleon III was captured and the victorious Germans proclaimed the Second Empire to be dissolved. Choices B and C are incorrect because it was the Second French Republic (not the Second Empire) that was brought to an end by a combination of Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup d’etat on 2 December 1851 and two plebiscites that declared France to be an Empire and Napoleon III to be its hereditary emperor. Choice D is incorrect because, although France’s involvement in the Crimean War hurt Napoleon III's popularity, it did not jeopardize the Second Empire. Choice E is incorrect because the unification of Italy had no direct bearing on the fall of Second Empire in France.

8. E. Alexander II’s attempts to liberalize Russia were brought to an end by the combination of the Polish Revolution of 1863 (which was sparked by his granting Polish subjects more autonomy) and an attempt on his life in 1866 (which spurred him to crack down on his enemies and to build a police state). Choice A is incorrect because the abolition of serfdom was part of his attempts to liberalize Russia. Similarly, choice B is incorrect because the poor performance of the Russian military in the Crimean War was part of his motivation for modernizing and liberalizing Russia. Choice C is incorrect because Alexander II’s liberal phase was over before German unification in 1871. Similarly, choice D is incorrect because Alexander II’s liberal phase was over before the Russian Revolution, which did not occur until 1917.

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