After the Thirty Years’ War (1618 – 1648), Brandenburg-Prussia was recovering from the war’s horrors with great pace thanks to the Great Elector Friedrich Wilhelm’s competent rule. The political situation in Germany at the time was a mess as the Holy Roman Empire had around 300 states in itself. Brandenburg was just beginning its rise but there already was a state that was dominating Germany, the Habsburg state. At the end of the 17th century, the Habsburg monarchy was ruling over Austria, Hungary, Transylvania, Slovenia, Croatia as well as the Holy Roman Empire, which included all the small states in Germany.
Even though Austria managed to stay a great power in central Europe in 18th century, they were now starting to get challenged on their own territory. Just at the beginning of the century, Frederick I raised the rank of his country into kingdom and founded the Kingdom of Prussia by consolidating his territories in Brandenburg to the west and Prussia to the east. In the middle of the 18th century, Prussia was so strong next to Austria that both powers fought for supremacy among the German states during the Seven Years’ War (1756 – 1763). Although at the end of the war, the balance of power between the participating states had not changed significantly, Prussia began to play a significant role in the European scene. The war, however, also initiated the Austro-Prussian rivalry, which led to the founding of the German Reich in 1871. Prussia had risen to become the second German great power alongside Austria.
The founding of a German nation state was the main focus of 19th century Europe. The German Confederation (1815-1866) took the place of the Holy Roman Empire (until 1806) under Austria’s leadership, comprising of 37 sovereign princes and four free cities. The supreme authority was the Bundestag in Frankfurt am Main, the states all sent representatives to the parliament. Although the German Confederation represented a further development of Germany compared to the former Empire, the policy of the Federation was dominated by the rivalry of the two largest German states, Austria and Prussia. Apart from enforcing the Restoration, the Austrian Federation was above all a tool to prevent a nation-state unification of Germany, which Austria would have either ruled out (small German solution) or split (Greater German solution). It turned out that a German nation state was only possible if the Habsburg multinational empire was abandoned or the Austrian Germans were excluded.
Economic considerations played an essential role in the merger of many German states in the German Customs Union of 1834 (Zollverein). The right of the individual states in the German Confederation to determine their internal affairs, such as tariffs, traffic routes and currency, had proved to be an economic obstacle. Austria had shown no interest in the creation of a customs union after 1815. The German Customs Union was therefore under the leadership of Prussia and under the exclusion of Austria. As the struggle for supremacy in Germany between Austria and Prussia continued in the economic field, Prussia was able to prevent the inclusion of Austria in the German Customs Union and thus create its economic supremacy. In connection with the accelerated bourgeois development in Prussia, this brought a substantial advantage over Austria in the solution of the German question.
In 1864 Prussia declared war against Denmark together with Austria, which finally had to cede Schleswig, Holstein and Lauenburg to Prussia and Austria. Due to the Austro-Prussian conflict, the worsening dualism led to the reform of the German Confederation in the German War in 1866, when the federal government finally broke up. His successor joined in the same year the small German North German Confederation.
The German War was the result of Prussian politics since Frederick the Great and Otto von Bismarck, who sought to solve the German constitutional question by founding a German Reich under the leadership of Prussia with the exclusion of Austria. As a result of the war, Prussia gained the approval of Austria for the dissolution of the German Confederation and in northern Germany an area of extension. On the other side was the founding of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. With the founding of the North German Confederation in 1866 – 1867 by 22 German states, to the benefit of which Prussia renounced independent regulation of foreign affairs, trade, customs, post, army and navy, Prussia became the leading state, the Prussian President Bismarck Chancellor. The supremacy of Prussia against Austria had been enforced only by military means.