Prussia's War Against Germany, 1866

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Prussia’s War against Germany, 1866

On 1 August 1864, King Christian of Denmark ceded all rights to the twin duchies of Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia and Austria. They passed under a joint Austro-Prussian military occupation, pending a formal decision concerning their future by the German Confederation. All of this was formalized with the 30 October 1864 Treaty of Vienna and by all appearances it appeared a new day had dawned for Austro-Prussian relations. In the afterglow of a successful war, it seemed like the inauguration of an era of joint cooperation between the two German powers. This is what Austria desperately wanted. Bismarck however had other plans. Bismarck’s objective was to annex both duchies to Prussia and to neutralize Austrian influence in the German states once and for all. In Bismarck’s prophetic words of August 1864, “War was inevitable.” Already in 1863 Bismarck had suggested to the Russians that Prussia might soon launch a massive preemptive strike on the Habsburg Empire exactly as, “Frederick the Great had in 1756.”

As per Bismarck’s calculations, the Austrians were at an awful geopolitical disadvantage. The duchies were extremely remote from Austria, over 800 miles away. Vienna was only lukewarm about keeping a military presence in Holstein. The situation on the ground was even more tenuous with the presence of a Prussian military communication and railroad corridor running directly through Holstein to resupply the Prussian garrison in Schleswig. Bismarck knew that Austria desperately wanted a diplomatic settlement to get out of Holstein. During October of 1864 negotiations began. Vienna offered Berlin the following terms: Prussia could either recognize Schleswig-Holstein as an independent state under the Augustenburg dynasty or Prussia could annex Schleswig-Holstein and compensate Austria with land from Polish Silesia.…...

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