North German Confederation
The North German Confederation in 1870
The North German Confederation (red). The southern German states that joined in 1870 to form the German Empire are in orange. Alsace-Lorraine, the territory annexed following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, is in tan. The red territory in the South marks the original princedom of the House of Hohenzollern, rulers of the Kingdom of Prussia.
|Common languages||German, Danish, Low German, East Frisian, North Frisian, Czech, Lithuanian, Polish, Sorbian, Yiddish|
Protestant (Lutheran, Reformed, United)
|Government|| Confederal |
|Otto von Bismarck|
• Federal Council
|Historical era||New Imperialism|
|18 August 1866|
|16 April 1867|
|19 July 1870|
|18 January 1871|
|Today part of|
Part of a series on the
|History of Germany|
|Early Modern period|
The North German Confederation (German : Norddeutscher Bund) was the German federal state which existed from July 1867 to December 1870. The Confederation came into existence after the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 over the lordship of two small Danish duchies (Schleswig-Holstein) claimed by Prussia in 1866. Although de jure a confederacy of equal states, the Confederation was de facto controlled and led by the largest and most powerful member, Prussia, which exercised its influence to bring about the formation of the German Empire. Some historians also use the name for the alliance of 22 German states formed on 18 August 1866 ( Augustbündnis ).
The growing power of Prussia was worrying other great powers, especially Second French Empire, which was ruled by the French Emperor Napoleon III. In 1868, Spain overthrew queen Isabella II, and a German prince was a candidate for her throne. France, not wanting to be encircled by a German-Spanish alliance, declared war on the Confederation. In 1870–1871, the south German states of Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, Württemberg and Bavaria joined the country. On 1 January 1871, the country adopted a new constitution, which was written under the title of a new "German Confederation" but already gave it the name "German Empire" in the preamble and article 11.
The constitution established a constitutional monarchy with the Prussian king as the bearer of the Bundespräsidium , or head of state. Laws could only be enabled with the consent of the Reichstag (a parliament based on universal male suffrage) and the Federal Council (a representation of the states). During the four years of the Confederation, a conservative-liberal cooperation undertook important steps to unify (Northern) Germany with regard to law and infrastructure. The political system (and the political parties) remained essentially the same in the years after 1870.
The Confederation had nearly 30 million inhabitants, of whom eighty percent lived in Prussia.
For most of 1815–1848, Austria and Prussia worked together and used the German Confederation as a tool to suppress liberal and national ambitions in the German population. In 1849, the National Assembly in Frankfurt elected the Prussian king as the Emperor of a Lesser Germany (a Germany without Austria). The king refused and tried to unite Germany with the Erfurt Union of 1849–1850. When the union parliament met in early 1850 to discuss the constitution, the participating states were mainly only those in Northern and Central Germany. Austria and the southern German states Württemberg and Bavaria forced Prussia to give up its union plans in late 1850.
In April and June 1866, Prussia proposed a Lesser Germany again. Corner stone of the proposal was the election of a German parliament based on universal male suffrage.The proposal even explicitly mentioned the Frankfurt election law of 1849. Otto von Bismarck, the minister-president of Prussia, wanted to gain sympathy within the national and liberal movement of the time. Austria and its allies refused the proposal. In summer 1866 Austria and Prussia fought with their respective allies in the Austro-Prussian War.
Prussia and Austria signed a Nikolsburg preliminary (26 July) and a final peace treaty of Prague (23 August). Austria affirmed the Prussian view that the German Confederation was dissolved. Prussia was allowed to create a "closer federation" (einen engeren Bund) in Germany north of the river Main. Bismarck had already agreed on this limitation with the French emperor Napoleon III prior to the peace talks.
The liberals in the Prussian parliament favored a wholesale annexation of all North German territories by Prussia. In a similar way, Sardinia–Piemont had created the kingdom of Italy. But Bismarck chose a different approach. Prussia incorporated (in October 1866) only the former military opponents Hannover, Hesse-Kassel, Nassau, the free city of Frankfurt and the Hesse-Homburg area of Hesse Darmstadt. These areas were combined into the two new Prussian provinces of Hannover and Hesse-Nassau. Schleswig and Holstein also became a Prussian province.
On 18 August 1866, Prussia and a larger number of North and Central German states signed a Bündniß (alliance). The treaty created a military alliance for one year. It also affirmed that the states wanted to form a federal state based on the Prussian proposals of June 1866. They agreed to have a parliament elected to discuss a draft constitution. Later in 1866, other states joined the treaty. Saxony and Hesse-Darmstadt, former enemies in the war of 1866, had to agree their accession to the new federation in their respective peace treaties (Hesse-Darmstadt only joined with its northern province, Upper Hesse).
Bismarck sought advice from conservative and democratic politicians and finally presented a draft constitution to the other state governments. A major factor in determining the form the new federal government would take was the aftermath of the recently concluded American Civil War, which had seen the southern states forcibly re-incorporated into the United States of America and slavery abolished. While few Germans were particularly sympathetic toward the precise institution (i.e. slavery) which had precipitated civil war in America, the prevailing viewpoint outside the U.S. at this time was that the slaves had only been emancipated as a reprisal for Southern secession from the American Union. With this in mind, many Catholics especially in Southern Germany feared that Prussia might one day might attempt to engineer a similar sort of secession crisis within a united Germany and use it as a pretext to launch a violent repression against Catholicism throughout Germany.
Thus, it was Bismarck's intention to make the new federal state look like a confederation in the tradition of the German Confederation, and explains the name of the country and several provisions in the draft constitution - Bismarck needed to make the federal state more attractive (or at least less repulsive) to southern German states which might later join.
At the same time, in late 1866, Prussia and the other states prepared the election of a North German parliament. This konstituierender Reichstag was elected in February 1867 based on state laws. The konstituierender Reichstag gathered from February to April. In close talks with Bismarck it altered the draft constitution in some significant points. The konstituierender Reichstag was not a parliament but only an organ to discuss and accept the draft constitution. After that, the state parliaments (June 1867) ratified it so that on 1 July the constitution was enabled. In August, the first Reichstag of the new federal state was elected.
During the roughly four years of the North German Confederation its major action existed in legislation unifying Northern Germany. The Reichstag decided on laws concerning, for example:
The North German Confederation also became a member of the Zollverein , the German customs union of 1834.
The North German Constitution of 16 April 1867 created a national parliament with universal suffrage (for men above the age of 25), the Reichstag. Another important organ was the Bundesrat, the 'federal council' of the representatives of the allied governments. To adopt a law, a majority in the Reichstag and in the Bundesrat was necessary. This gave the allied governments, meaning the states and their princes, an important veto.
Executive power was vested in a president, a hereditary office of the House of Hohenzollern, the ruling family of Prussia. He was assisted by a chancellor responsible only to him – an office that Bismarck designed with himself in mind. There was no formal cabinet; the heads of the departments were not called ministers but secretaries. Those were installed and dismissed by the chancellor.
For all intents and purposes, the confederation was dominated by Prussia. It had four-fifths of the confederation's territory and population – more than the other 21 members combined. The presidency was a hereditary office of the Prussian crown. Bismarck was also foreign minister of Prussia, a post he held for virtually his entire career. In that role he instructed the Prussian deputies to the Bundesrat. Prussia had 17 of 43 votes in the Bundesrat despite being by far the largest state, but could easily get a majority by making alliances with the smaller states.
In June 1867 a conference took place between Prussia and the south German states, who were not members of the North German Confederation. After pressure from Prussia, new Customs Union (Zollverein) treaties were signed the following month. Henceforth, the governing bodies of the Customs Union were the Bundesrat and Reichstag of the North German Confederation, augmented by representatives of the south German governments in the former and members from these states elected in the same way as the others in the latter. When augmented thus for customs matters, the institutions were known as the Federal Customs Council and the Customs Parliament (Zollparlament).On 1 January 1868 the new institutions came into force. Bismarck hoped that the Zollverein might become the vehicle of German unification. But in the 1868 Zollparlament election the South Germans voted mainly for anti-Prussian parties.
On the other hand, the two Mecklenburg duchies and three Hanseatic cities were initially not members of the Customs Union. The Mecklenburgs and Lubeck joined soon after the North German Confederation was formed. Eventually, after heavy Prussian pressure, Hamburg acceded to the Customs Union in 1888. Bremen joined at the same time. Despite this, all these states fully participated in the federal institutions, even while outside the Customs Union and not directly affected by their decisions in that regard.
In mid-1870, a diplomatic crisis concerning the Spanish throne led eventually to the Franco-Prussian War.During the war, in November 1870, the North German Confederation and the south German states of Bavaria, Württemberg, and Baden (together with the parts of Hesse-Darmstadt which had not originally joined the confederation) united to form a new nation state. It was originally called Deutscher Bund (German Confederation), but on 10 December 1870 the Reichstag of the North German Confederation adopted the name Deutsches Reich (German Realm or German Empire) and granted the title of German Emperor to the King of Prussia as Bundespräsidium of the Confederation. On 1 January 1871 the new constitution gave the country the name 'German Empire' and the title of Emperor to King William. He accepted the title on 18 January 1871. This latter date was later regarded as the creation of the Empire, although it had no constitutional meaning.
A new Reichstag was elected on 3 March 1871. The constitutions of 1 January and 16 April 1871 constitution of the Empire were nearly identical to that of the North German Confederation, and the Empire adopted the North German Confederation's flag.
One of the functions of the confederation was to handle mail and issue postage stamps.
| Prussia (Preußen) |
|Grand Duchies (Großherzogtümer)|
| Hesse (Hessen) |
(Only Upper Hesse, the province north of the River Main)
|Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha)||Coburg|
|Reuss-Gera (Junior Line)||Gera|
|Reuss-Greiz (Elder Line)||Greiz|
|Waldeck and Pyrmont (Waldeck und Pyrmont)||Arolsen|
|Free and Hanseatic Cities (Freie und Hansestädte)|
The German Confederation was an association of 39 predominantly German-speaking sovereign states in Central Europe, created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 as a replacement of the former Holy Roman Empire, which had been dissolved in 1806.
The Austro-Prussian War or Seven Weeks' War, known in Germany as Deutscher Krieg and by a variety of other names, was fought in 1866 between the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia, with each also being aided by various allies within the German Confederation. Prussia had also allied with the Kingdom of Italy, linking this conflict to the Third Independence War of Italian unification. The Austro-Prussian War was part of the wider rivalry between Austria and Prussia, and resulted in Prussian dominance over the German states.
The German Bundesrat is a legislative body that represents the sixteen Länder of Germany at the federal level. The Bundesrat meets at the former Prussian House of Lords in Berlin. Its second seat is located in the former West German capital of Bonn.
The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom that constituted the state of Prussia between 1701 and 1918. It was the driving force behind the unification of Germany in 1871 and was the leading state of the German Empire until its dissolution in 1918. Although it took its name from the region called Prussia, it was based in the Margraviate of Brandenburg. Its capital was Berlin.
Prussia was a historically prominent German state that originated in 1525 with a duchy centered on the region of Prussia on the southeast coast of the Baltic Sea. It was de facto dissolved by an emergency decree transferring powers of the Prussian government to German Chancellor Franz von Papen in 1932 and de jure by an Allied decree in 1947. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organised and effective army. Prussia, with its capital first in Königsberg and then, when it became the Kingdom of Prussia in 1701, in Berlin, decisively shaped the history of Germany.
The Zollverein, or German Customs Union, was a coalition of German states formed to manage tariffs and economic policies within their territories. Organized by the 1833 Zollverein treaties, it formally started on 1 January 1834. However, its foundations had been in development from 1818 with the creation of a variety of custom unions among the German states. By 1866, the Zollverein included most of the German states. The foundation of the Zollverein was the first instance in history in which independent states consummated a full economic union without the simultaneous creation of a political federation or union.
The Reichsrat was one of the two legislative bodies of Germany during the Weimar Republic (1919–1933), the other being the Reichstag.
The Unification of Germany into the German Empire, a Prussia-dominated nation state with federal features, officially occurred on 18 January 1871 at the Versailles Palace's Hall of Mirrors in France. Princes of the German states gathered there to proclaim Wilhelm of Prussia as Emperor of the German Empire after the French capitulation in the Franco-Prussian War.
The Constitution of the German Empire was the basic law of the German Empire of 1871-1918, from 16 April 1871, coming into effect on 4 May 1871. German historians often refer to it as Bismarck's imperial constitution, in German the Bismarcksche Reichsverfassung (BRV).
The North German Constitution was the constitution of the North German Confederation, which existed as a country from 1 July 1867 to 31 December 1870. The Constitution of the German Empire (1871) was closely based on it.
The German emperor was the official title of the head of state and hereditary ruler of the German Empire. A specifically chosen term, it was introduced with the 1 January 1871 constitution and lasted until the official abdication of Wilhelm II on 28 November 1918. The Holy Roman emperor is sometimes also called "German emperor" when the historical context is clear, as derived from the Holy Roman Empire's official name of "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" from 1512.
Gerson von Bleichröder was a Jewish German banker.
The term Lesser Germany relates essentially to Germany without Austria. In the 19th century, a part of the Austrian Empire belonged to the German Confederation. In the revolutionary era of 1848–1850, it was discussed whether Austria or a part of Austria could belong to a new German federal state. In 1867–1871, the 'Lesser Germany' became reality: a federal state under leadership of Prussia and without Austria. After that, the term lost its significance because since then 'Germany' is usually identified as this Lesser Germany.
The Reichstag was the Parliament of the North German Confederation, founded after the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. It functioned until the establishment of the German Empire in 1871. Parliamentary sessions were held in the same building as the Upper House of the Prussian Landtag, the Prussian House of Lords, located at 3 Leipziger Straße in Berlin, Germany. The same location is now the home of the German Federal Bundesrat.
The North German Confederation Treaty was the treaty between the Kingdom of Prussia and other northern and central German states that initially created the North German Confederation, which was the forerunner to the German Empire. This treaty, and others that followed in September and October, are often described as the August treaties, although not all of them were concluded in August 1866.
The Constitution of the German Confederation or November Constitution (Novemberverfassung) was the constitution of the German federal state at the beginning of the year 1871. It was enacted on January 1, 1871. This is a slightly changed version of the Constitution of the North German Confederation; it is not to be confused with the constitutional laws of the German Confederation of 1815.
The proclamation of the German Empire, also known as the Deutsche Reichsgründung, took place in January 1871 after the joint victory of the German states in the Franco-Prussian War. As a result of the November Treaties of 1870, the southern German states of Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, with their territories south of the Main line, Württemberg and Bavaria, joined the Prussian-dominated "German Confederation" on 1 January 1871. On the same day, the new Constitution of the German Confederation came into force, thereby significantly extending the federal German lands to the newly created German Empire. The Day of the founding of the German Empire, January 18, became a day of celebration, marking when the Prussian King William I was proclaimed German Emperor in Versailles.
The November Treaties concluded in November 1870 on the accession of the kingdoms of Bavaria and Württemberg and the grand duchies of Baden and Hesse to the North German Confederation. A new foundation was not envisaged but the North German Federation was to expand with the southern German states in order to form the German Empire.
The Imperial Plan of 1870 was a diplomatic initiative set out by the Prussian Minister President and Federal Chancellor of the North German Confederation, Otto von Bismarck. Accordingly, the Prussian King was able to assume the title of Emperor.
Daniel Christian Friedrich Krüger was a diplomat in the service of the city state of Lübeck and also jointly of the Hanseatic cities of Lübeck, Hamburg and Bremen. He was born in Lübeck on 22 September 1819 and died in Berlin on 17 January 1896.
Media related to North German Confederation at Wikimedia Commons