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Zollverein Founded in 1834, the Zollverein (Deutscher Zollverein or German Customs Union) had been renewed in 1841 for a term ending December 31, 1853. By 1848 its revenues had steadily increased, and it included most German states, the major exceptions being Austria and those of north-west Germany. Prussia had succeeded to win the full cooperation of the revenue services of the participating states to the extent that theZollverein machinery was not seriously affected by the events of 1848-49. Moreover, the Zollverein had neither a centralized bureaucracy nor a national public forum that could have become the target of a revolutionary thrust. The budding attempts to make the Zollverein responsive to popular interest in the period before the 1848 revolutions (Vormärz), such as the Heppenheim program of October 1847 whose program included a call for a customs union parliament, were swept away by the revolutionary surge that sought the solution of the German customs problem within the framework of the new constitution for the proposed Reich. Thus the National Assembly at Frankfurt became the forum for customs policy; but debates were hampered by the hitherto unresolved struggle between the free trade and protectionist forces, and its decision for a nationwide customs system remained a hollow achievement, as the constitution it adopted was kleindeutsch in nature (like the Zollverein) and was abortive to boot.

One of the members of the Frankfurt parliament working on the problems was the Austrian businessman Karl Ludwig Bruck, who became Austrian minister of commerce in the fall of 1848 and as such proposed a year later that Austria (including Hungary), the Zollverein, and the north-west German states to be joined into a custom union. To facilitate such an arrangement, Austria was to undertake major reforms, in particular to remove the custom line between Austria and Hungary, to abolish its trade prohibitions, and to revise its tariff. Bruck had with this proposal the modernization of the Austrian economy in mind, but his plan also supported his government's policy of diminishing Prussia's leadership role in Germany. Bruck found an equally astute opponent in Rudolf Delbruck of the Prussian ministry of commerce. Delbruck stonewalled the Austrian proposal, which had obtained a favorable reactions in the south German capitals, and proceeded to persuade Hanover in the fall of 1851 to join the Zollverein by offering extraordinary fiscal and other concessions. This coup drove the south German states back into the arms of the Zollverein, which was duly renewed for a twelve-year period starting January 1, 1854.

In some respect it may appear that the Zollverein emerged structurally more cohesive from the revolutionary period; certainly Prussia's leadership role had been enhanced. Yet the Vörmarz movements for popular participation in trade policy died with the revolution. Also the member governments declined in stature, as Prussia pointedly preempted the decision-making process by entering into unilateral trade agreements with other countries (such as France in 1862) leaving the other Zollverein states no choice but to go along. The Austrian bid for union with the Zollverein resulted in greater economic cooperation, but it also polarized the two German powers over the Zollverein issue by heightening Prussian awareness of its kleindeutsch stake.

The Zollverein remained a highly efficient fiscal tool, but its structure became increasingly less suitable for developing a trade policy commensurate with the growing industrialization of Germany.
Arnold Price


William O. Henderson, The Zollverein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1939).

Hans-Werner Hahn, Geschichte des Deutschen Zollvereins (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1984).

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