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After the fall of the Holy Roman Empire the question of German unity became inevitable. But how to unify such a patchwork quilt of nation states? Prior to the end of the empire some states within its boundaries were elevated in rank. Bavaria, Saxony, and Württemberg became Kingdoms under the influence of Napoleon. Baden became a Grand Duchy and after the Napoleonic wars, Hanover also became a kingdom. The real question was would it be Prussia or Austria to gain the upper hand and unit Germany under their authority?

From 1806 until 1813 the German States formed the Confederation of the Rhine without the inclusion of Austria and Prussia. The Confederation was to be run by common constitutional bodies, but the individual states wanted unlimited sovereignty. This loose confederation suffered some of the same problems the old Holy Roman Empire suffered from and that is there was not a strong central government.

The Holy Roman Emperor had at its head an Emperor. The Confederation, since it was not considered an empire was ruled by Karl Theodor von Dalberg, the former Arch Chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire and he carried the of a Prince-Primate of the confederation. This made him President of the College of Kings and presided over the Diet of the Confederation, designed to be a parliament-like body though it never actually assembled. The President of the Council of the Princes was held the Prince oef Nassau-e. At its heart the Confederation was a conservative minded military alliance. As mentioned, this body was under the influence of Napoleon who elevated many of the states to Kingdom status. During its short existence the members of the confederation found themselves more subordinated to Napoleon than they had been to the Habsburgs.

The Confederation of the Rhine collapsed in 1813, with the aftermath of Napoleon’s failed campaign against the Russian Empire. Many of its members changed sides after the Battle of Leipzig, when it became apparent Napoleon would lose the War of the Sixth Coalition. In 1814 the major European powers gathered in Vienna for the Congress of Vienna which redrew the map of Europe after the defeat of Napoleon. German unity did not come at this juncture but instead we saw the creation of the German Confederation with both Austria and Prussia included. The Habsburg Emperor of Austria was its nominal head, holding the title of President of the Confederation.

This Confederation, which was basically the old Holy Roman Empire in all but name, lasted until 1866 when Prussia began to consolidate its power among the German states and began the path of unification without Austria. Prior to that, in 1848, there was an attempt to create a more liberal unified German Empire. That is what we will look at in depth next week.