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March 12 , 2010

Bismarck and the Guelph Problem 1866–1890

A Study in Particularist Opposition to National Unity


Many historians have concerned themselves with the founding of the German Empire in 1871 and the means used to unite the disparate sections of Germany, many of which had older traditions than did Bismarck's Prussia. Understandably writers have given more attention to the victor than to the vanquished. Except for polemicists who seek to prove the wrong done or to vindicate the action taken, scholars have been interested in writing about trends which were to become significant in the new Reich, about the new governmental structure itself, and about the diplomacy and statesmanship which were used to form the new German nation-state. But the consolidation of many diverging strands of political, economic, and social traditions in the new state left many issues unsolved and in fact seemed to create new ones. Many of these problems, while not overtly affecting the basic outline of German history, have nonetheless influenced it and have become at times serious matters of concern for the Reich Chancellor. One of the problems was the threat of particularist sentiment to the national unity which Bismarck was trying to create. Although there was an awareness among some nineteenth century Ger­ mans of a specific German nationality, the majority of people did not think in terms of a German unity but regarded themselves as Bavarians, Saxons, or belonging to some other Stamm, or tribal subdivision of the Germans.
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