Austro-Prussian War (1866)

Austro-Prussian War (1866)

Bismarck had rightly anticipated a quarrel between Austria and Prussia regarding the future of the two duchies acquired jointly from Denmark. A temporary agreement was reached in the Convention of Gastein (1865). According to this agreement Prussia assumed control of Schleswig and Austria of Holstein. Bismarck was certain that this arrangement would strain the relationship between the two powers.

Bismarck had planned to go to war with Austria in order to exclude her from German Confederation. However, before planning a war against Austria he took precautions to prevent the danger of foreign intervention on behalf of Austria. His cooperation with Russia in the suppression of the Polish revolt (1863) earned him the friendly neutrality of the Tsar. With shrewd diplomatic move Bismarck also managed to ensure the neutrality of Napoleon III. He was also given an understanding that if Prussia was given a free hand in Germany, France might get some ‘compensation’. On the other hand Napoleon III, who was involved in the affairs of Mexico, decided to remain neutral in a contest between Prussia and Austria.

Bismarck also secured Italian cooperation against Austria. Through a secret agreement in April 1866, Bismarck promised Venetia to the Italian Kingdom, which was still under the Austrian occupation. From England Bismarck expected no trouble.
Following the preliminary preparations for the decisive conflict with Austria, Bismarck wanted a pretext to go to war against Austria. He got this opportunity following a dispute between Prussia and Austria regarding the administrative arrangements of the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Besides, in June 1866, Bismarck brought forward a proposal for the dissolution of the existing Frankfurt Parliament and election of a new National Assembly. Bismarck further indicated that in the proposed new scheme of reform of German Confederation, Austria would not have any place.

These developments irritated Austria and she mobilized her army against Prussia. Austria managed to get support of a number of German states, especially Saxony,, Bavaria, Wurttemberg and Hanover. The Prussian army also moved towards the Austrian
borders. In the Austro-Prussian War, also known as the Seven Week‘s War, the Austrian army was defeated by the Prussian
forces at Sadowa on 3 July 1866.

The Austro-Prussian War came to an end by the Treaty of Prague (1866). Bismarck shrewdly prevailed upon the King of Prussia to offer very generous terms to Austria as he did not want to alienate her. He wanted to secure Austria’s neutrality in a possible future war against France to bring about the final unification of Germany. By the terms of the Treaty of Prague, the Confederation of Germany was dissolved. This eliminated Austrian influence in Germany. Venetia was handed over to Italy. The Duchies of Schleswig-Holstein were annexed to Prussia. Austria was compelled to pay a war indemnity of only 3,000,000 pounds to Prussia.

In the place of the old German Confederation, Bismarck established the North German Confederation comprising of all
German states lying north of the river Main. The King of Prussia became the Emperor of the North German Confederation. The
Confederation was to have a bi-cameral legislature. The two houses were the parliamentary assembly, the Reichstag, elected by
manhood suffrage and a federal council, Bundesrath, comprising of deputies from different states.

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