Historians have deduced that liberal nationalism failed in Germany during the 19th century because in 1914 Germany was a Reich dominated by the militaristic elite; everything that liberals objected to. To see whether or not the liberal nationalists achieved anything one must first asses their aims. The liberal nationalists wanted a constitution (based on a clear law structure) which was not dominated by the Prussians. Their form of nationalism came from below; it was representative of the people.
They were also supporters of laissez faire, an economic principle which was based on a free market economy in which the government did not intervene. This economic principle included free trade between states and colonies in an attempt to make the middle classes prosper. The last liberal nationalist objective was that Germany should not be in a confederation. The liberals did make some impact on the nation as some of their principles were recognised.
All citizens were included in the nation, not just Germans living in Germany; this would have removed some tension with minority discrimination. This cause was always a catalyst for the much needed political scrutiny of the autocratic regime by students and professors (seen in mass meeting such as the Carlsbad Decrees in 1819). Liberal nationalism shaped the image of the nation in the 1840s – it produced a natural and romantic image in German literature and paintings (e. g. Casper David Frederick).
They were in a good position to shape the nation because they were in control of the press, just as Palmerston did at the same time they dictated public opinion. The liberal nationalists were strong in the area of bureaucracy and government administration which ensured that there was a centralised currency and law system. Their main economic objective of free trade was achieved in 1834 with the establishment of the Zollverein, whilst this confederation did not automatically lead to political union it meant that Germany would prosper due to the industrialisation that subsequently occurred.
The presence of liberal nationalists both helped and restrained Bismarck when he created the third Reich, their support was vital to him and yet he had to create a federal, accountable and representative state instead of the elite dominated kind that he would have wanted (it would have been easier for him to control). Their liberal economics meant that the Prussians would dominate the economy and therefore they would have a great influence on the political sphere. Their determination for representation of the people was successful due to the implementation of universal manhood suffrage and a democratically elected Reichstag.
Despite all these successes the liberal nationalist ideal failed. Ultimately this was due to the militaristic conservatives had no interest in it; they were concerned with Weltpolitik (expansion of the empire). However on the path from the liberal heyday of the 1840s to the outbreak of the Great War the liberal cause was struck numerous blows. In 1840 one can see the first sign of the militaristic tendencies of the Germans by the ‘Watch on the Rhine’. This defensive fear and hostility to the other would ultimately cause the downfall of the liberal nationalists.