North German Confederation
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The North German Confederation (german: Norddeutscher Bund) was initially a German military alliance established in August 1866 under the leadership of the
Kingdom of Prussia The Kingdom of Prussia (german: Königreich Preußen, ) was a German kingdom that constituted the state of Prussia Prussia, , Old Prussian: ''Prūsa'' or ''Prūsija'' was a Germans, German state on the southeast coast of the Baltic Se ...
, which was transformed in the subsequent year into a confederated state (a ''de facto''
federal state A federation (also known as a federal state) is a political entity characterized by a union of partially self-governing provinces, states, or other regions under a central federal government (federalism Federalism is a combined or c ...
) that existed from July 1867 to December 1870. A milestone of the
German Unification The unification of Germany (, ) was the process of building the modern German nation state with federal features based on the concept of Lesser Germany (one without multinational Austria), which commenced on 18 August 1866 with adoption of ...
, it was the earliest continual legal predecessor of the modern German nation-state known today as the Federal Republic of
Germany Germany,, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central Europe. It is the second most populous country in Europe after Russia, and the most populous member state of the European Union. Germany is situated between ...
. The Confederation came into existence following the Prussian victory in the
Austro-Prussian War The Austro-Prussian War, also by many variant names such as Seven Weeks' War, German Civil War, Brothers War or Fraternal War, known in Germany as ("German War"), (; "German war of brothers") and by a variety of other names, was fought in 186 ...
of 1866 over the lordship of two small Danish
duchies A duchy, also called a dukedom, is a Middle Ages, medieval country, territory, fiefdom, fief, or domain ruled by a duke or duchess, a ruler hierarchically second to the king or Queen regnant, queen in Western European tradition. There once exis ...
(
Schleswig-Holstein Schleswig-Holstein (; da, Slesvig-Holsten; nds, Sleswig-Holsteen; frr, Slaswik-Holstiinj) is the Northern Germany, northernmost of the 16 states of Germany, comprising most of the historical duchy of Holstein and the southern part of the form ...
) resulting in the Peace of Prague, where Prussia pressured Austria and its allies into accepting the dissolution of the existing
German Confederation The German Confederation (german: Deutscher Bund, ) was an association of 39 predominantly German-speaking sovereign states in Central Europe. It was created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 as a replacement of the former Holy Roman Empire, w ...
(an association of German states under the leadership of the
Austrian Empire The Austrian Empire (german: link=no, Kaiserthum Oesterreich, modern spelling , ) was a Central Europe, Central-Eastern Europe, Eastern European multinational state, multinational great power from 1804 to 1867, created by proclamation out of ...
), thus paving the way for the Lesser German version of German unification in the form of a federal state in Northern Germany. Construction of such state became a reality in August 1866, following the
North German Confederation Treaty The North German Confederation Treaty (in German ''Augustbündnis'', or Alliance of August) (also called the North German Federation Treaty and the Treaty of 18 August 1866) was the treaty between the Kingdom of Prussia and other northern and centr ...
, initially as a military alliance only, while its first federal constitution establishing a constitutional monarchy with the Prussian king holding as the head of state the ' was adopted on 1 July 1867. Laws could only be enabled with the consent of the ' (a parliament based on universal male suffrage) and the Federal Council (, a representation of the states). During the initial three and a half years of the Confederation, a conservative-liberal cooperation undertook important steps to unify (Northern) Germany with regard to law and infrastructure. The designed political system and the political parties remained essentially the same also after 1870. Shortly after its inception, tensions emerged between the North German Confederation and the
Second French Empire The Second French Empire (; officially the French Empire, ), was the 18-year Empire, Imperial Bonapartist regime of Napoleon III from 14 January 1852 to 27 October 1870, between the French Second Republic, Second and the French Third Republic ...
, which was ruled by the French Emperor
Napoleon III Napoleon III (Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte; 20 April 18089 January 1873) was the first President of France (as Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte) from 1848 to 1852 and the last monarch of France as Emperor of the French from 1852 to 1870. A neph ...
. In Summer 1870, a dispute over a new king for Spain escalated into the Franco-Prussian War. At the time, the original Confederation had nearly 30 million inhabitants of whom 80% lived in
Prussia Prussia, , Old Prussian: ''Prūsa'' or ''Prūsija'' was a Germans, German state on the southeast coast of the Baltic Sea. It formed the German Empire under Prussian rule when it united the German states in 1871. It was ''de facto'' dissolved ...
, thus making up roughly 75% of the population of the future German Empire. Under these circumstances, the South German states of
Baden Baden (; ) is a historical territory in South Germany, in earlier times on both sides of the Upper Rhine but since the Napoleonic Wars only East of the Rhine. History The margraves of Baden originated from the House of Zähringen. Baden is ...
, Hesse-Darmstadt, Württemberg and
Bavaria Bavaria ( ; ), officially the Free State of Bavaria (german: Freistaat Bayern, link=no ), is a state in the south-east of Germany Germany,, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central Europe. It is the sec ...
previously opposed to the Confederation ultimately decided to join it. A new short-lived constitution subsequently entered into force on 1 January 1871 proclaiming in its preamble and article 11 the "
German Empire The German Empire (),Herbert Tuttle wrote in September 1881 that the term "Reich" does not literally connote an empire as has been commonly assumed by English-speaking people. The term literally denotes an empire – particularly a hereditary ...
" despite being titled as one of a new "German Confederation", but it lasted only four months. Following the victory in the war with France, the German princes and senior military commanders proclaimed Wilhelm "German Emperor" in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. Transition from the Confederation to the Empire was completed when the
Constitution of the German Empire The Constitution of the German Empire (german: Verfassung des Deutschen Reiches) 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 imper ...
which prevailed until the demise of the monarchy entered into force on 4 May 1871, while France recognised the empire on 10 May 1871 in the Treaty of Frankfurt.


Prelude

For most of 1815–1833, Austria and Prussia worked together and used the
German Confederation The German Confederation (german: Deutscher Bund, ) was an association of 39 predominantly German-speaking sovereign states in Central Europe. It was created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 as a replacement of the former Holy Roman Empire, w ...
as a tool to suppress liberal and national ambitions in the German population.


''Zollverein''

The first major step towards a Lesser German solution was the ''
Zollverein The (), or German Customs Union, was a coalition of States of the German Confederation, German states formed to manage tariffs and economic policies within their territories. Organized by the 1833 treaties, it formally started on 1 January 1 ...
'', a customs union formed by the treaties of 1833, with
Prussia Prussia, , Old Prussian: ''Prūsa'' or ''Prūsija'' was a Germans, German state on the southeast coast of the Baltic Sea. It formed the German Empire under Prussian rule when it united the German states in 1871. It was ''de facto'' dissolved ...
being the primary driver behind the customs union. Although it was formally inaugurated on 1 January 1834, its origins may be traced to a variety of custom unions among the German states, formed beginning from 1818. The ''Zollverein'' was not subordinate to the Austrian-led
German Confederation The German Confederation (german: Deutscher Bund, ) was an association of 39 predominantly German-speaking sovereign states in Central Europe. It was created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 as a replacement of the former Holy Roman Empire, w ...
(1815-1866) and
Austria The Republic of Austria, commonly just Austria, , bar, Östareich is a country in the southern part of Central Europe, lying in the Eastern Alps. It is a federation of nine States of Austria, states, one of which is the capital, Vienna, ...
itself was excluded because of its highly
protectionist Protectionism, sometimes referred to as trade protectionism, is the economic policy The economy of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state. In the case ...
trade policy, the unwillingness to split its customs territory into the separate Austrian, Hungarian and Galician-Lodomerian ones, as well as due to opposition of Prince von Metternich to the idea. Nevertheless, the ''Zollverein'' managed to include by 1866 the majority of the German states.


Frankfurt Parliament and the Erfurt Union

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. A corner stone of the proposal was the election of a German parliament based on universal male suffrage. The proposal explicitly mentioned the Frankfurt election law of 1849.
Otto von Bismarck Otto, Prince of Bismarck, Count of Bismarck-Schönhausen, Duke of Lauenburg (, ; 1 April 1815 – 30 July 1898), born Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, was a conservative German statesman and diplomat. From his origins in the upper class of J ...
, 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 The Austro-Prussian War, also by many variant names such as Seven Weeks' War, German Civil War, Brothers War or Fraternal War, known in Germany as ("German War"), (; "German war of brothers") and by a variety of other names, was fought in 186 ...
.


Peace of Prague and dissolution of German Confederation

Prussia and Austria signed a Nikolsburg preliminary (26 July) and a final peace treaty of Prague (23 August). Austria accepted the Prussian demand for the German Confederation to be dissolved. Prussia was allowed to create instead a "closer federation" () 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.


Formation of the North German Confederation


Military alliance

On 18 August 1866, Prussia and a larger number of North and Central German states signed the
North German Confederation Treaty The North German Confederation Treaty (in German ''Augustbündnis'', or Alliance of August) (also called the North German Federation Treaty and the Treaty of 18 August 1866) was the treaty between the Kingdom of Prussia and other northern and centr ...
establishing a (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. At the same time, the original East Prussian craddle of the Prussian statehood as well as the Prussian-held Polish- or Kashubian-speaking territories of
Province of Posen The Province of Posen (german: Provinz Posen, pl, Prowincja Poznańska) was a Provinces of Prussia, province of the Kingdom of Prussia from 1848 to 1920. Posen was established in 1848 following the Greater Poland Uprising (1848), Greater Poland U ...
,
West Prussia The Province of West Prussia (german: Provinz Westpreußen; csb, Zôpadné Prësë; pl, Prusy Zachodnie) was a Provinces of Prussia, province of Prussia from 1773 to 1829 and 1878 to 1920. West Prussia was established as a province of the Kin ...
, the Lauenburg and Bütow Land and Draheim were formally ′annexed into Germany. 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). Later in 1866, other states joined the treaty. The liberals in the Prussian parliament favored a wholesale annexation of all North German territories by Prussia. In a similar way, Sardinia–Piedmont had created the
Kingdom of Italy The Kingdom of Italy ( it, Regno d'Italia) was a state that existed from 1861, when Victor Emmanuel II of Kingdom of Sardinia, Sardinia was proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy, proclaimed King of Italy, until 1946, when civil discontent led to ...
. 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.


Towards a federal constitution

Bismarck sought advice from conservative and democratic politicians and finally presented a draft constitution to the other state governments. At the same time, in late 1866, Prussia and the other states prepared the election of a North German parliament. This was elected in February 1867 based on state laws. The gathered from February to April. In close talks with Bismarck, it altered the draft constitution in some significant points. The 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. A major factor in determining the form the new federal government would take was the aftermath of the recently concluded
American Civil War The American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 26, 1865; also known by Names of the American Civil War, other names) was a civil war in the United States. It was fought between the Union (American Civil War), Union ("the North") and t ...
, which had seen the southern states forcibly re-incorporated into the
United States of America The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...
and
slavery Slavery and enslavement are both the state and the condition of being a slave—someone forbidden to quit one's service for an enslaver, and who is treated by the enslaver as property. Slavery typically involves slaves being made to perf ...
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.


Constructing the nation-state

During the roughly three and a half years of the North German Confederation its major action existed in legislation unifying Northern Germany. The Reichstag decided on laws concerning, for example: * free movement of citizens within the territory of the Confederation (1867) * a common postal system (1867–1868) * common passports (1867) * equal rights for the different religious denominations (1869) * unified measures and weights (with the obligatory introduction of the metric system) * penal code (1870) The North German Confederation also became a member of the , the German customs union of 1834.


Political system

The North German Constitution of 16 April 1867 created a national parliament with universal suffrage (for men above the age of 25), the . Another important organ was the , the 'federal council' of the representatives of the state 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, depending on the state, their princes), an important veto. Executive power was vested in a
chancellor Chancellor ( la, cancellarius) is a title of various official positions in the governments of many nations. The original chancellors were the of Roman courts of justice—ushers, who sat at the or lattice work screens of a basilica or law cou ...
, being the only responsible federal minister of the country. There was no formal cabinet, and in the time of the North German Confederation there were only two government departments anyway: the as the general office of the chancellor, and, since early 1870, the foreign office. The chancellor was installed and dismissed by the . This office belonged automatically to the Prussian king (art. 11). The holder was de facto the head of state of the North German Confederation. (Bismarck wanted to avoid the title with its republican air.) 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 Prussian king was a kind of head of state. Chancellor Bismarck was also prime minister and foreign minister of Prussia. In that role he instructed the Prussian votes in 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.


Customs union

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 () 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 ().Henderson, William. The Zollverein. Publ Cambridge University Press, 1939; p.314 On 1 January 1868, the new institutions came into force. Bismarck hoped that the might become the vehicle of German unification. But in the 1868 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 Lübeck 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.


Postage stamps

One of the functions of the confederation was to handle mail and issue postage stamps.


Transition to the German Empire

In mid-1870, a diplomatic crisis concerning the Spanish throne led eventually to the Franco-Prussian War. During the war, in November 1870, the south German states of
Bavaria Bavaria ( ; ), officially the Free State of Bavaria (german: Freistaat Bayern, link=no ), is a state in the south-east of Germany Germany,, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central Europe. It is the sec ...
, Württemberg, and
Baden Baden (; ) is a historical territory in South Germany, in earlier times on both sides of the Upper Rhine but since the Napoleonic Wars only East of the Rhine. History The margraves of Baden originated from the House of Zähringen. Baden is ...
(together with the parts of Hesse-Darmstadt that were left out of the Confederation) joined the North German Confederation. On this occasion, the country adopted a new constitution, and the name of the federal state was changed to (German Empire). According to a minority among German experts, the North German Confederation and the southern states created a new federal state (the German Empire). Indeed, Bismarck allowed the south German states to save face and therefore used terminology suggesting a new creation. But Kotulla emphasizes that legally only accession of the southern states to the North German Confederation was possible; the legal basis for such an accession was art. 79 of the North German federal constitution. On 10 December 1870 the Reichstag of the North German Confederation had adopted a new constitution, still titled as one of the (German Confederation) in spite of establishing for the state a new name (German Realm or German Empire) and granting the title of
German Emperor The German Emperor (german: Deutscher Kaiser, ) was the official title of the head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona who officially embodies a state (polity), state#Foakes, Foakes, pp. 110–11 " he ...
to the
King of Prussia The monarchs of Prussia were members of the House of Hohenzollern who were the hereditary rulers of the former German state of Prussia Prussia, , Old Prussian: ''Prūsa'' or ''Prūsija'' was a Germans, German state on the southeast coast ...
holding the of the Confederation; it entered into force on 1 January 1871, but lasted only four months. Following the victory in the war with France, the German princes and senior military commanders proclaimed Wilhelm "German Emperor" in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. This latter date was later customarily celebrated as the symbolic day of 'foundation of the German Empire' (), although it had no constitutional meaning. After a new Reichstag was elected on 3 March 1871, the transition from the Confederation to the Empire was completed when the permanent
Constitution of the German Empire The Constitution of the German Empire (german: Verfassung des Deutschen Reiches) 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 imper ...
prevailing until the demise of the monarchy entered into force on 4 May 1871, while France recognised the empire on 10 May 1971 in the Treaty of Frankfurt.Ernst Rudolf Huber: ''Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte seit 1789.'' Vol. III: ''Bismarck und das Reich.'' 3rd edition, W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart t al.1988, p. 747. The three constitutions (1867, January 1871, and April 1871) were nearly identical. It took roughly a decade to develop the country into a fully grown federal state, with several governmental departments (a kind of ministries), responsible state secretaries (a kind of ministers, 1878), and an imperial court (, 1879).


List of member states

All of the member states had already belonged to the German Confederation of 1815-66. Austria and the south German states Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden and the Grand Duchy of Hesse (Hesse-Darmstadt) remained outside of the North German Confederation. Though, the northern province of the Grand Duchy of Hesse did join. In northern, central and eastern Germany, Prussia: * had gathered a number of allies that joined the North German Confederation via the August treaties () of August 1866; * annexed four former enemy states (Hanover, Kurhessen, Nassau, Frankfurt) which became parts of Prussia (October 1866); * included its own territories formerly outside of the Holy Roman Empire and the German Confederation, namely the East Prussian craddle of its statehood as well as the Prussian-conquered Polish territories (
Province of Posen The Province of Posen (german: Provinz Posen, pl, Prowincja Poznańska) was a Provinces of Prussia, province of the Kingdom of Prussia from 1848 to 1920. Posen was established in 1848 following the Greater Poland Uprising (1848), Greater Poland U ...
,
West Prussia The Province of West Prussia (german: Provinz Westpreußen; csb, Zôpadné Prësë; pl, Prusy Zachodnie) was a Provinces of Prussia, province of Prussia from 1773 to 1829 and 1878 to 1920. West Prussia was established as a province of the Kin ...
, the Lauenburg and Bütow Land and the former Starostwo of Draheim), in the new state, thus formally annexing them into Germany * forced the remaining states into the North German Confederation via the peace treaties. Lauenburg is sometimes mentioned as one of the member states, sometimes not. It was one of the three duchies that had earlier belong to Denmark. Lauenburg was a state with the Prussian king as duke until 1876, when it became a part of the Prussian province of Schleswig-Holstein.


See also

* North German Constitution * Former countries in Europe after 1815 *
German unification The unification of Germany (, ) was the process of building the modern German nation state with federal features based on the concept of Lesser Germany (one without multinational Austria), which commenced on 18 August 1866 with adoption of ...


Notes


References


Further reading

* Craig, Gordon A. ''Germany, 1866–1945'' (1978) pp. 11–2
online edition
* * Hudson, Richard. "The Formation of the North German Confederation." ''
Political Science Quarterly ''Political Science Quarterly'' is an American peer review#Different styles of review, double blind Peer review, peer-reviewed academic journal covering government, politics, and policy, published since 1886 by the Academy of Political Science. It ...
'' (1891) 6#3 pp: 424–438
in JSTOR
* Nipperdey, Thomas. ''Germany from Napoleon to Bismarck: 1800-1866'' (1996), very dense coverage of every aspect of German society, economy and government * Pflanze, Otto. ''Bismarck and the Development of Germany, Vol. 1: The Period of Unification, 1815–1871'' (1971) * Taylor, A.J.P. ''Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman'' (1967
online edition
{{coord, 52, 31, N, 13, 24, E, type:country_source:kolossus-ptwiki, display=title Modern history of Germany Former confederations Kingdom of Prussia Kingdom of Saxony 1860s in Germany 1870s in Germany 1860s in Prussia 1870s in Prussia States and territories established in 1867 States and territories disestablished in 1871 1867 establishments in Germany 1871 disestablishments in Germany 1867 establishments in Prussia 1870s disestablishments in Prussia 19th century in Germany 19th century in Prussia