Divisions among the nationalists

Many middle and working class Germans wanted unification of the states. But they had very different reasons.

Middle class

For the middle classes, unification could bring:

  • an increased ability to influence government and decision-making
  • written constitutions
  • democratically elected parliaments
  • improved ability to trade
  • increasing economic benefits – building on the proven benefits of the Zollverein

Working class

The new working class that had emerged in the towns wanted:

  • significant social change
  • improved working conditions
  • improved living conditions
  • increased power in parliament to bring about these changes

The middle classes would have seen some of the workers aims as a threat to their economic status. Concessions to the workers would have potentially affected income.

Scale of unification

Nationalists were also divided over the question of what territory should be included in a future united Germany. Some believed a united Germany should include Austria (Grossdeutschland). Others believed that Austria and its empire should not be included in a united Germany (Kleindeutschland).

Effects of division

Lack of trust and differing opinions meant that different groups of nationalists struggled to work together. The nationalists were unable to present a united front to their opponents.

The German princes had promised increased democracy after the defeat of Napoleon. But they were not held to these promises and none were met.

When the Frankfurt Parliament met in 1849, debate on the constitution, elections and the rights of individuals went on for a long time. This allowed the Austrian and Prussian rulers to regain control of their lands before the parliament could take decisive action.