The Unification of Italy and Germany

Nationalism and Enlightenment ideas energized people in Europe to push for more democratic forms of government in the 1800's. In Latin America and the Caribbean, it inspired people to revolt against European rule and seek to create their own nations. It also helped to unify people who felt they shared a common ancestry and culture to come together. This was the case with the unification of Italy and Germany. 

In the mid 1800's, neither country existed yet. They were broken up into many smaller states that sometimes shared connections but other times fought for autonomy. However, the people in these states mostly shared the same language, culture, history, and religion; all the things that make up nationalist feelings.

Italian Unification

After the Congress of Vienna, the Italian Peninsula was still divided. The largest region was the Kingdom of the Two Sicilie, which was most of southern Italy. This area had been under Spanish and Austrian control before achieving independence. The kingdom was formed when the Kingdom of Sicily merged with the Kingdom of Naples, which was officially also known as the Kingdom of Sicily. Since both kingdoms were named Sicily, they were collectively known as the "Two Sicilies".

To the north, the Kingdom of Sardinia had been under Spanish and French control. In 1852, Count Cavour became Prime Minister of the state and sought to use political negotiation and conflict to help unify all of Italy. He allied with France and engineered a war with Austria that helped bring more land into the kingdom. 

In southern Italy, Italian nationalists were led by Giuseppe Garibaldi. He led the Red Shirts, an army who wore bright red shirts into battle. They captured the island of Sicily and then crossed into the Italian mainland. They conquered Southern areas and agreed to unite with Piedmont-Sardinia in the north.

They agreed to hand over power to Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia. Soon after the Austrian province of Venetia, home to the famous city of Venice joined. 

Lastly, the Papal States, a large region of central Italy under the control of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church came under Italian control. When it did, the city of Rome became the new capital of a united Kingdom of Italy.

German Unification

There were over 30 German states that had an alliance known as the German Confederation. While the Austrian Empire usually dominated it, the state of Prussia took the lead in the unifying them into Germany.

In 1862, the King of Prussia Wilhelm I selected Otto von Bismarck to be his prime minister. Bismarck had a political philosophy known as “realpolitik”. This philosophy is based on practical objectives rather than on ideals and meant that Bismarck was willing to do whatever it took to achieve his goals. 

Bismarck took control of the government and famously told his Parliament that, “ It is not by means of speeches and resolutions that the great issues of the day will be decided…  but by blood and iron”. 

Bismarck initiated a war with Austria known as the Seven Weeks War that brought Prussia more territory. He next helped to engineer a conflict with France over border states in 1870. This became the Franco-Prussian War and the Prussian victory was the final piece to unifying the German state. 

The Prussian king Wilhelm I was crowned the Kaiser of the Second Reich (with Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire being the First Reich). Germany was now united and a large, powerful force in Europe.