During the mid-nineteenth century, Europe experienced two notable leaders, Count Camillo Benso di Cavour and Otto von Bismarck. A brilliant statesman, Cavour was a dominant figure in the Sardinian government from 1850 until his death in 1861. A master of politics, Bismarck was the chief minister of Prussia and the first chancellor to the German confederation. Bismarck achieved his tremendous goals of power for himself, the consolidation of the German empire, and the resurgence of Prussia as a great power by devising his moves scrupulously and ending his battles as soon as he got what he wanted, and although they both used wars, deception, and ingenuity to prosper, Cavour only achieved his limited goal of amalgamating Italy.

Cavour's goals, similar to Bismarck's, were realistic, but they were moderately limited. He entered the world of politics a year after Bismarck, in 1848, and became a member of the Sardinian monarchy in 1852. Until 1859 he was interested only in uniting the northern and central Italian states under the greatly expanded Sardinia, and worked in the 1850's to make Sardinia a liberalized constitutional state capable of leading northern Italy. He realized that he could not consolidate Italy under Victor Emmanuel without the help of a powerful ally, such as Napoleon III, so Cavour worked for a secret diplomatic alliance with him. In 1858 Cavour prompted Austria into attacking Sardinia, and after the victory of the combined Franco-Sardinian forces, Napoleon III abandoned Cavour. Napoleon made a compromise peace with the Austrians, which resulted in Sardinia recieving only Lombardy and Cavour's resignation in a rage. Cavour returned to power in 1860, and the central states of Italy agreed to join the greatly expanded kingdom of Sardinia. Soon after, Cavour secretly supported Guiseppe Garibaldi in his attempts to liberate the kingdom of the two Sicilies, but then Cavour sent his army to occupy the papal states except for Rome, and intercepted Garibaldi. Cavour immediately organized a plebiscite in the conquered provinces, and the people of the south voted to join Sardinia. Cavour had succeeded in his goal to amalgamate Italy.

In his efforts to secure power for himself and Prussia, Bismarck was exceptionally flexible and pragmatic. As an ambassador to the German confederation that was against Austria from 1851 to 1859, Bismarck worked toward a basic goal that was well-known by 1862;to consolidate Prussia and regain its great power status. To do this he knew he needed to control all the northern states of the German confederation. Bismarck joined Austria in a war against Denmark, and after Denmark's defeat Bismarck moved Austria into a tricky position. Since both Prussia and Austria shared the conquered provinces of Denmark, Austria was forced to accept Prussian domination in the northern states or Prussia would start a war with Austria. Austria refused to give up its historic role in German affairs, ao this resulted in the Austro-Prussian war of 1866. After Austria's defeat the German confederation was dissolved, and was replaced by the new Northern German confederation that was controlled by Prussia. Bismarck also wanted the southern states to join the confederation, and he knew that a war with France would gain their whole hearted support. Even before France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 the southern states had already agreed to join Germany. After being the weakest of the great powers in 1862, Prussia had become the strongest in less than a decade.

In the unification of both Italy and Prussia, war and deciet played a major role. Both Bismarck and Cavour tricked Austria into starting war with them, so they would get what they wanted. France was used as a tool for consolidation, for Cavour made Austria look like the bad guy so France would join in a war against them, and Bismarck lured France into instigating war so he would gain the support of the south German states. But unlike Cavour, Bismarck did not need aid in the attainment of his goals, for he had Parliament agreeing to his illegal affairs and allowing him to have power, but Cavour needed the ally Napoleon III to help him unify Italy. Thus Bismarck and Cavour had similar tactics and goals, but Bismarck did not need help in attaining them.

Cavour was instrumental in bringing about the proclamation of Victor Emmanuel and the proclamation of Italy as a unified state. His diplomacy paved the way for Italy's unification. In his effort in German affairs, Bismarck did not simply resort to "blood and iron". His moves were carefully prepared diplomatically and he ended wars as soon as his immediate objectives had been obtained. He kept his options open, pursuing one goal after another as he moved with skill and cunning toward them. It is for these reasons that Cavour is considered one of the most influential statesmen of the nineteenth century, and Bismarck is believed to be the most important German historical figure between Luther and Hitler.