The failed revolution of 1848 was followed by a phase of ultra-conservatism, i.e. a return to out-dated political concepts. The ideals of the French Revolution - Freedom, Equality and Fraternity - no longer played a major part in the politics of Germany. None the less, in Prussia there was a constitution and a representative body of the people, even if those institutions would not satisfy our modern expectations of democracy today. The right to vote was defined by the law of three classes, which divided the population into three tax groups and weighted their votes according to income. The poor class, who made up 80% of the population, was entitled to as much influence as the 4% of entrepreneurs and the upper class.
In the Deutscher Bund, Prussia under the leadership of Bismarck tried continually to assert its leading role, above all vis à vis the other Great German Power, Austria. This dominance of Prussia, compared with the other German states, was not only due to its efficient military might, but had also become possible as a result of especially progressive industrialisation there.
The Industrial Revolution was a development which began in England with the invention of the steam engine, the mechanical loom and the spinning machine, which changed the whole economy from top to bottom. The accompanying social changes were also farreaching. A society shaped by agriculture changed into an industrial society with a new class; the workers. From 1850 this development also became noticeable in Prussia, and above all in the Ruhr Region.
Since 1815 the West Provinces of the Rhineland and Westphalia had belonged to the State of Prussia. The Region was very successful, due to the abundance of raw materials, especially in the mines, and through the manufacture of iron and steel, thus becoming a driving element of progress. Large factories were erected there, which required vast numbers of workers. Small villages near those factories soon became large towns. Industrial areas and conurbations came into existence.
Steam ships and the railway had led to a revolution in transport. Rapid expansion of railway lines in turn caused an increase in steel production and made new demands on steel processing. In these circumstances, companies like Krupp, Thyssen, the Bochum Zechenverein (mining association), Klöckner, Haniel, Mannesmann and many others, were able to develop into internationally known enterprises, which displayed their output at world exhibitions. With the foundation of the German Reich (Empire), commercial hindrances connected with the past were abolished, a common market was introduced and transport routes were extended, meaning that the Prussian West Provinces in particular were able to profit from the economic upturn during the foundation years, when unification of Germany was accompanied by industrial growth.