At Tilsit (1807), Napoleon ‘had but to raise his hand and Prussia would cease to exist’. The Prussians were helpless bystanders as France and Russia annexed over half their dominions. The critical intervention of Prussia’s most decorated soldier, General Blücher, at Waterloo exacted a sweet revenge on Napoleon; at Vienna (1815) Prussia was rewarded with the return of her lost territories as well as Westphalia and the Rhineland. Prussia then embarked upon a rapid process of modernization and industrialization, with the emancipation of both the Jews and serfs, and the creation of a large, professional standing army. Chancellor Bismarck picked his wars judiciously, annexing Schleswig from Denmark (1864) and crushing Austria at Sadowa (1866). Austria’s humiliation left Prussia uncontested master in Germany, forming the North German Federation with the annexation of Hanover, Hesse and Holstein. When France was also crushed (1871), the German Empire was formed by acclaim, the southern states, Mecklenburg and Oldenburg flocking to Prussia’s triumphant banner.
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