Compare and contrast the state-building policies of Austria and Prussia between 1849 and 1866/71

This essay achieved a high 2:1 in the second year of my undergraduate.

Compare and contrast the state-building policies of Austria and Prussia between 1849 and 1866/71

The period between 1849 and 1866/71 is one of significance for both the Austrian and Prussian states. Simultaneously a phase of imperial growth for Prussia and decline for the Habsburgs, there are differing arguments as to the reasons for this, ranging from Prussian domination of the Zollverein to the opinion that it was the Austrian Empire was suffering from a degree of imperial overstretch.[1] The definition of ‘state-building’ is of course open to interpretation. For the purposes of this essay, ‘state-building’ policies will be considered those that benefit the state. Infrastructure or domestic, economic, political and foreign policies are all areas which might be considered among those used for state-building purposes. Although there are several common themes to both Austrian and Prussian state-building in this period, and most have to do with the so-called ‘German Question,’ it seems more efficient to split Austrian and Prussian policy into smaller areas so as to consider each more closely.

In the area of infrastructure policies, potentially the most obviously associated with state-building, it is difficult to compare the two nations, as there were very few similarities, if any. In Prussia, the focus was on promoting obedience to the state, for which the Protestant church was used merely as a tool. The attitude to education in Austria by contrast was surprisingly liberal, as shown by Thun’s reforms in the early 1850s.[2] This initial liberalism was massively counteracted in 1855 by the Concordat with Rome, which gave the Catholic church far more latitude in the application of education, and is described by Macartney as the closest the Austrian government came to returning to pre-1848 conditions.[3]

The Prussian government structure did not change a massive amount over the period, while the Habsburg administrative structure changed at least temporarily under Bach in the early 1850s – into that of a unitary state. [4] Inevitably, this caused a certain degree of ‘germanisation,’ which caused more domestic problems than it solved, and led to the ‘Ausgleich’ with Hungary of 1867.[5] All of these contrasts are down to the fact that Prussia had a large majority of one ethnicity, language and religion -that of German Protestants- while the Austrian Empire was made up of a myriad of nationalities and ethnicities, and her peoples spoke a similar number of different languages, which caused issues both financial and otherwise.[6]

The two states’ economic policies are therefore the first areas in which comparisons can be drawn. At least initially, both Prussian and Austrian statesmen recognised the importance of state-owned railways, and thus sponsored their construction.[7] Even if Prussian railway building outstripped Austria, and later proved decisive in the 1866 war, it seems prudent to compare the states, as it emphasises just how important railways were considered as modes of transport for goods and troops alike.[8] Bruck’s championing of the Austrian state railways was not the only way in which he attempted to emulate the Prussian economic system. He attempted to remove the internal trade barriers, and promoted liberal trade in general, against the prior protectionist tendencies of the Habsburg Empire.[9]

The final and potentially most significant way in which the Austrian and Prussian economic policies were alike was their recognition of the importance of the Zollverein. The impact of the Zollverein on the economic fortunes of the two states would seem to be undeniable, and this is evidenced by the repeated Austrian attempts to gain membership in the union, and the corresponding Prussian defence of its dominance.[10] In short, the Habsburg government recognised that the Prussian economic development was the way in which Austria should proceed, and attempted to enact similar policies. It is arguably due to the noted differing domestic situations of the two states that they enjoyed far more success in Prussia and the German Confederation than they did in the multiethnic Habsburg Empire.

As in the other aspects of state-building policies, it is easy to contrast the two economies, mainly due to the fact that the Prussian liberal tendencies with regards to trade were somewhat more inherent than in Austria.[11] The Habsburg policies following the disruption of the Crimean War between 1853 and 1856 were largely protectionist, promoting instead a large, internal domestic market,[12] something which arguably kept Austria out of the Zollverein,[13] kept her industrially underdeveloped and financially weak,[14] and arguably was brought about by state monopolies.[15] Rightly recognised as a cause of economic stagnation, it contrasts greatly with the growth displayed in Prussia in the 1850s.[16] Many argue that this growth was due to the combination of state-run industries, such as coal in the Saar, Ruhr and Silesia regions, steel and pig iron,[17] and the aforementioned liberal trade restrictions. The same freedom of entrepreneurship was only introduced in Austria as part of wider industrial reforms in 1859, acting as a strong example of the economic differences between Austria and Prussia.[18]

One of the themes of not just the Austrian state-building policies, but also the entire period was Austria trying to either gain entry to or unite with the Zollverein.[19] This school of thought was once again championed by Bruck, and his ideas of an economic ‘Mitteleuropa,’[20] and certain of his statements revealed just how highly he valued membership in the Zollverein.[21] The contrast drawn between this policy and that of Prussia is that Prussia simply protected its dominance of the customs union, brought about by an economy already shown as having been growing in strength, rightly recognising its significance not just economically but also politically.[22] The economic policies of both of the empires were important for their state-building designs, as a strong economy would have given a solid basis for domestic consolidation.

Immediately following the 1848 revolutions, both Prussia and Austria were in similar positions politically, both having comparatively liberal constitutions in place,[23] having had comparable experiences of revolution in their respective capitals. Similarly, in the years following 1849, both constitutions suffered significant conservative reforms: in the Habsburg Empire there came the Sylvester Patent in 1851,[24] while in Prussia there was a more subtle decree regarding the state prosecutors, and a liberally-supported revision to move from universal franchise to a three-class franchise system.[25] This essentially secured a conservative majority,[26] something considered of benefit to the Prussian state.

Both states then endured a period of political stagnation which lasted almost a decade. While this led to dissatisfied minorities in the Habsburg Empire,[27] Prussia had no such problems, and the state was left free to focus on economic development, something potentially more important for her in terms of achieving her aims.[28] The next real political reforms in Austria did not come in until after 1860, with the October Diploma and the February Patent of 1860 and 1861 respectively,[29] and the next point at which politics came to the fore in Prussia was in 1860, over the military reforms of Moltke, which led to the infamous ‘constitutional gap.’[30] This would seem to show the affinity shared by the conservative state in both Prussia and Austria, their reluctance to diverge from pre-1848 attitudes, and the resultant conservatism inherent of any contemporary state-building.

The contrasts between the two political systems are striking. As already noted, the Prussian executive was somewhat more subtle in re-instituting absolutism than the Habsburgs. This meant that when they were faced with a constitutional crisis in 1862, following Bismarck’s handling of the military reforms, it showed just how resilient the Prussian state could be.[31] Especially poignant when compared with the result of Austrian political difficulties in 1867,[32] it emphasises the contrasting levels of success of political state-building in the two nations. The other main area in which Prussia succeeded where Austria failed was in the political reformation of the German Confederation. Although Prussia did suffer some setbacks, most notably with the Union Plan in 1849,[33] Austria enjoyed no success whatsoever in reorganising the Confederation. By contrast, Prussia under Bismarck was able to –with the aid of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866- force through reforms for the federal constitution, and the introduction of universal manhood suffrage, both of which were viewed as the best way to integrate the new states of the North German Confederation.[34] The appearance at least of a liberal state meant that the southern German states were far more receptive to Prussian diplomacy in the years between 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, making the transition from ‘Prussian state’ to ‘German nation’ a smoother one.

While foreign policy may seem by its nature an area not overly related with state-building, it was in fact crucial in both Prussian and Austrian efforts to consolidate in the period following the 1848 revolutions. The comparisons that can be drawn between the respective foreign policies of Austria and Prussia are few, but significant. For example, both states had the established aim of gaining dominance in the German Confederation.[35] The proposal of the Erfurt Union in 1849[36] and the defence of the Zollverein[37] both show Prussian intentions. Dominance in Germany was also mentioned by Schwarzenberg, Buol and Rechberg,[38] and arguably shown as an aim by their repeated efforts to join the Zollverein.[39]

Austrian foreign policy is an area subject to historiographical debate, with questions asked about Schwarzenberg’s time as minister-president. Traditionally portrayed as conducting aggressive foreign policy throughout his time in office, there is a lot of support for this viewpoint,[40] although more recently this has been challenged, particularly by Austensen.[41] Others attribute the aggressive Austrian foreign policy to other factors, including the influence of Metternich and Prokesch.[42] Inevitably, this should be contrasted with the non-confrontational nature of the contemporary Prussian foreign policy, as shown by the acceptance of the ‘humiliation’ at Olmütz in 1850.[43] Another obvious point at which to contrast the Prussian and Habsburg foreign policies is the handling of the Crimean War between 1853 and 1856. Prussian absolute neutrality ensured that, while it did not endear her to either Britain or France, she did not alienate Russia.[44] The contrast with the Austrian policy of pro-western ‘armed neutrality’ and attempted mediation is stark. Not doing enough to raise her standing with Britain and France, she simultaneously succeeded in losing Russia as an ally.[45]

Consistent themes ran through both Prussian and Austrian foreign policy following the Crimean War. For Austria, the priority was securing Austro-Prussian cooperation in the face of the revolutionary threats posed in Hungary and Italy.[46] In a sense, Austrian policy was also contradictory, as it aimed not to cooperate with Prussia, but also prevent any significant expansion.[47] In direct opposition to this, Prussia under Bismarck was concerned mainly with diplomatically isolating Austria, as is shown by the support offered to Russia during the Polish uprising of 1863, and the alliance formed with Italy in early 1866.[48] This in turn exposed the possibility of a Prussian military victory over Austria, and the potential for expansion in the German Confederation.

As has been shown there are far more contrasts to draw between Austrian and Prussian state-building than there are comparisons, and this is exemplified by the ability of Prussia to inflict a military defeat on Austria in the war of 1866. Although a few comparisons have been pointed out, it seems that Austria was trying to catch up with Prussia in all fields following the initial liberalist tendencies resulting from the 1848 revolutions. The economic policies and resultant growth provided the Prussian state with the tools it required to strengthen itself and its army, which was undoubtedly crucial in the victory over Austria at Königgratz. Perhaps the easiest way to explain it is to say that Austria was busy attempting to return to the Concert Europe of 1815, while Prussia was able to adapt to the new social, economic and political conditions following the Springtime of the Peoples.

Word Count (including title): 2,934

[1] E. Dorn Brose, German History 1789-1871: From The Holy Roman Empire to the Bismarckian Reich (Oxford, 1997), p.271

[2] C.A. Macartney, ‘The Austrian Empire and its Problems, 1848-67,’ in ed. J.P.T. Bury, The New Cambridge Modern History vol.X: The Zenith of European Power 1830-1870 (Cambridge, 1964), p.530.

[3] C.A. Macarteny, ‘The Austrian Empire,’ p.533, see also, D. Blackbourn, The Fontana History of Germany, 1780-1918: The Long Nineteenth Century (London, 1997), p.229.

[4] E.E. Kraehe, ‘Austria and the Problem of Reform in the German Confederation, 1851-1863,’ The American Historical Review 56 (1951), pp.276-94, C.A. Macartney, ‘The Austrian Empire,’ p.531, R. Austensen, ‘Austria and the “Struggle for Supremacy in Germany” 1848-1864,’ The Journal of Modern History 52 (1980), p.199.

[5] C.A. Macartney, ‘The Austrian Empire,’ p.533.

[6] R. Elrod, ‘Realpolitik or Concert Diplomacy: The debate over Austrian Foreign Policy in the 1860s,’ Austrian History Yearbook 17 (1981), p.87, E.E. Kraehe, ‘Austria and the Problem,’ pp.279, 280, C.A. Macartney, ‘The Austrian Empire,’ pp.533, 535, 537-8.

[7] For Prussia, see D. Blackbourn, The Fontana History, pp.184-5, E. Dorn Brose, German History, p.270, J. Breuilly, ‘Revolution to Unification,’ in ed. J. Breuilly, Nineteenth-century Germany: Politics, Culture and Society 1780-1918 (London, 2001), p.140, and J. Joll, ‘Prussia and the German Problem, 1830-66,’ in ed. J.P.T. Bury, The New Cambridge Modern History vol.X: The Zenith of European Power 1830-1870 (Cambridge, 1964) p.505, and for Austria see D. Blackbourn, The Fontana History, p.232, E. Dorn Brose, German History, p.269.

[8] E. Dorn Brose, German History, p.270.

[9] R. Austensen, ‘Austria and the “Struggle for Supremacy,”’ p.199, E. Dorn Brose, German History, p.269, R. Elrod, ‘Realpolitik,’ p.86, C.A. Macartney, ‘The Austrian Empire,’ pp.534-5.

[10] E.E. Kraehe, ‘Austria and the Problem,’ pp.276, 280, 286, 290, R. Elrod, ‘Realpolitik,’ pp.89-91,

[11] J. Joll, ‘Prussia and the German Problem,’ p.505.

[12] E. Dorn Brose, German History, p.269

[13] E.E. Kraehe, ‘Austria and the Problem,’ p.282.

[14] M.S. Anderson, The Ascendancy of Europe 1815-1914 (Harlow & London, 2003), p.20.

[15] J. Joll, ‘Prussia and the German Problem,’p.505.

[16] M.S. Anderson, The Ascendancy of Europe, p.24.

[17] D. Blackbourn, The Fontana History, p.185, J. Joll, ‘Prussia and the German Problem,’ p.505, J. Breuilly, ‘Revolution to Unification,’ p.140, H.W. Koch, A History of Prussia (London & New York, 1978), p.242.

[18] M.S. Anderson, The Ascendancy of Europe, p.24, D. Blackbourn, The Fontana History, p.232.

[19]E.E. Kraehe, ‘Austria and the Problem,’ p.278.

[20] W.O. Henderson, The Zollverein (Cambridge, 1939), p.203, E.E. Kraehe, ‘Austria and the Problem,’ p.278, E. Dorn Brose, German History, p.272.

[21] See Bruck, cited in W.O. Henderson, The Zollverein, p.211.

[22] E.E. Kraehe, ‘Austria and the Problem,’ p.282, E. Dorn Brose, German History, pp.271, 284.

[23] C.A. Macartney, ‘The Austrian Empire,’ p.526.

[24] D. Blackbourn, The Fontana History, p.226, R. Austensen, ‘Austria and the “Struggle for Supremacy,”’ p.200.

[25] H.W. Koch, A History of Prussia, p.243, E. Dorn Brose, German History, p.265.

[26] H.W. Koch, A History of Prussia, p.243.

[27] C.A. Macartney, ‘The Austrian Empire,’ pp.542-5.

[28] J. Joll, ‘Prussia and the German Problem,’ p.505.

[29] E.E. Kraehe, ‘Austria and the Problem,’ p.281, C.A. Macartney, ‘The Austrian Empire,’ pp.542-5.

[30] G.A. Craig, The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945 (Oxford, 1955), pp.136-7, J. Joll, ‘Prussia and the German Problem,’ pp.509-11, E. Dorn Brose, German History, pp.279-80, D. Blackbourn, The Fontana History, pp.240-1, J. Breuilly, ‘Revolution to unification,’ p.143, W.E. Mosse, The European Powers, p.104, H.W. Koch, A History of Prussia, p.248.

[31] J. Breuilly, ‘Revolution to unification,’ p.144, W.E. Mosse, The European Powers, p.104, D. Blackbourn, The Fontana History, p.241, G.A. Craig, The Politics of the Prussian Army, pp.136-7, J. Joll, ‘Prussia and the German Problem,’ pp.509-11.

[32] E.E. Kraehe, ‘Austria and the Problem,’ p.280, C.A. Macartney, ‘The Austrian Empire,’ p.550.

[33] E. Dorn Brose, German History, p.274, H.W. Koch, A History of Prussia, p.243, W.E. Mosse, The European Powers, pp.39-40.

[34] J. Breuilly, ‘Revolution to unification,’ p.520, J. Joll, ‘Prussia and the German Problem,’ p.520.

[35] E.E. Kraehe, ‘Austria and the Problem,’ p.276.

[36]H.W. Koch, A History of Prussia, p.243, E. Dorn Brose, German History, p.274.

[37]E. Dorn Brose, German History, p.284

[38] R. Austensen, ‘The Making of Austrian Prussian Policy, 1848-52,’ Historical Journal 27 (1984), pp.861-76, R. Austensen, ‘Austria and the “Struggle for Supremacy,”’ pp.195-225.

[39] W.O. Henderson, The Zollverein, p.203, E.E. Kraehe, ‘Austria and the Problem,’ p.278, E. Dorn Brose, German History, p.272.

[40] See R. Austensen, ‘Austria and the “Struggle for Supremacy,”’ pp.198, 207, R. Elrod, ‘Realpolitik,’ p.85, A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe (Oxford, 1954), p.22, H. J. Schoeps, Von Olmütz nach Dresden1850-1851: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Reformen am deutschen Bund, Veröffentlichungen aus den Archive preussicher Kulturbesitz VII (Cologne and Berlin, 1972), pp.46-9, 153, 154 and H. Böhme, Deutschlands Weg zur Grossnacht: Studien zum Verhältnis von Wirtschaft und Staat während der Reichsgründungszeit 1848-1881 (Cologne and Berlin, 1966), pp.8, 14, 15 cited in R. Austensen, ‘The Making of Austrian Prussian Policy,’ p.862.

[41] R. Austensen, ‘Austria and the “Struggle for Supremacy,”’ p.219.

[42] E. Dorn Brose, German History, p.274, R. Austensen, ‘The Making of Austrian Prussian Policy,’ pp.865-7.

[43] H.W. Koch, A History of Prussia, p.243, E. Dorn Brose, German History, p.274.

[44] J. Breuilly, ‘Revolution to unification,’ p.141, H.W. Koch, A History of Prussia, p.246, W.E. Mosse, The European Powers, p.56, G.A. Craig, The Politics of the Prussian Army, p.133

[45] M.S. Anderson, The Ascendancy of Europe, p.19, E.E. Kraehe, ‘Austria and the Problem,’ p.280, J. Breuilly, ‘Revolution to unification,’ p.141, E. Dorn Brose, German History, p.275.

[46] R. Elrod, ‘Realpolitik,’ pp.89-91, R. Austensen, ‘Austria and the “Struggle for Supremacy,”’ pp.211, 216-7, R. Austensen, ‘The Making of Austrian Prussian Policy,’ pp.861, 866-7, 874-6.

[47] H. Rumpler, ‘Österreich – Ungarn und die Gründung des deutschen Reiches,’ in ed. E. Kolb, Europa und die Reichgründung: Preussen-Deutschland in der Sicht der grossen europäischen Mächte 1860-1880 (Munich 1980), pp.144-5, cited in R. Austensen, ‘The Making of Austrian Prussian Policy,’ p.861.

[48] For the Polish uprising see J. Breuilly, ‘Revolution to unification,’ pp.144-5, W.E. Mosse, The European Powers, p.110, H.W. Koch, A History of Prussia, p.246, and for details of the alliance with Italy see J. Breuilly, ‘Revolution to unification,’ pp.147-8, H.W. Koch, A History of Prussia, p.247.

Bibliography

Anderson, M. S., The Ascendancy of Europe 1815-1914 (Harlow & London, 2003)

Austensen, R., ‘Austria and the “Struggle for supremacy in Germany” 1848-1864,’ The Journal of Modern History 52 (1980), pp.195-225

Austensen, R., ‘The Making of Austrian Prussian Policy, 1848-52,’ The Historical Journal 27 (1984), pp.861-76

Böhme, H., Deutschlands Weg zur Grossnacht: Studien zum Verhältnis von Wirtschaft und Staat während der Reichsgründungszeit 1848-1881 (Cologne and Berlin, 1966)

Blackbourn, D. The Fontana History of Germany 1780-1918: The Long Nineteenth Century (London, 1997)

Breuilly, J., ‘Revolution to Unification,’ in ed. J. Breuilly, Nineteenth-Century Germany: Politics, Culture and Society 1780-1918 (London, 2001)

Craig, G. A., The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945 (Oxford, 1955)

Dorn Brose, E., German History 1789-1871: From the Holy Roman Empire to the Bismarckian Reich (Oxford, 1997)

Elrod, R., ‘Realpolitik or Concert Diplomacy: The debate over Austrian Foreign Policy in the 1860s,’ Austrian History Yearbook 17 (1981) pp.84-97

Enderink, S. F. W., ‘Austria and Prussia: German Unification in the nineteenth century,’ Comparative History (June, 2010)

Evans, R. J. W., Austria, Hungary, and the Habsburgs: Essays on Central Europe, c.1683-1867 (New York, 2006)

Green, A., Fatherlands: State-Building and Nationhood in Nineteenth-Century Germany (Cambridge, 2001)

Hawgood, J. A., ‘Liberalism and Constitutional Developments,’ in ed. J. P. T. Bury, The New Cambridge Modern History vol. X: The Zenith of European Power 1830-1870 (Cambridge, 1964), pp.185-212

Henderson, W. O., The Zollverein (Cambridge, 1939)

Joll, J., ‘Prussia and the German Problem, 1830-66,’ in ed. J. P. T. Bury, The New Cambridge Modern History vol. X: The Zenith of European Power 1830-1870 (Cambridge, 1964), pp.493-521

Koch, H. W., A History of Prussia (London & New York, 1978)

Kolb, E., Europa und die Reichgründung: Preussen-Deutschland in der Sicht der grossen europäischen Mächte 1860-1880 (Munich 1980)

Kraehe, E. E., ‘Austria and the Problem of Reform in the German Confederation, 1851-1863,’ The American Historical Review 56 (1951), pp.276-94

Macartney, C. A., ‘The Austrian Empire and its Problems, 1848-67,’ in ed. J. P. T. Bury, The New Cambridge Modern History vol. X: The Zenith of European Power 1830-1870 (Cambridge, 1964), pp.522-51

Mosse, W. E., The European Powers and the German Question, 1848-71: With Special Reference to England and Russia (Cambridge, 1958)

Schoeps, H. J., Von Olmütz nach Dresden1850-1851: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Reformen am deutschen Bund, Veröffentlichungen aus den Archive preussicher Kulturbesitz VII (Cologne and Berlin, 1972)

Schroeder, P. W., ‘Austro-German Relations: Divergent Views of the Disjoined Partnership,’ Central European History 11 (1978), pp.302-12

Showalter, D., The Wars of German Unification (New York, 2004)

Siemann, W., ‘The Revolutions of 1848-1849 and the persistence of the old regime in Germany (1848-1850),’ in ed. J. Breuilly, Nineteenth-Century Germany: Politics, Culture and Society 1780-1918 (London, 2001)

Simms, B., The Struggle for Mastery in Germany, 1779-1850 (New York, 1998)

Taylor, A. J. P., The Struggle for Mastery in Europe (Oxford, 1954)

Feedback:

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All the following feedback is rated on the following scale: Outstanding-Excellent-Good-Competent-Pass-Fail.

Breadth of Reading: Good

Critical approach to historiography: Excellent-Good

Focus on question: Good

Organization of the material: Good-Competent

Depth of understanding and insight: Excellent-Good

Use of examples: Good

Introduction and Conclusion: Excellent-Good

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General Comments and Advice: This was a very good essay which showed a lot of engagement and thinking. Your comparisons were well made but a stronger overall argument would have been good for structuring the essay. The individual discussions of the various points were very well done and your conclusion shows you had a good overall argument. In general, your footnotes were good, though you don’t reference materials you have not read directly.

 

 

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