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Second Reich

1900 - 1914
The German Empire is proclaimed, Versailles, 18 January 1871

Study the picture closely. What impression does it give you of

the founding of the new German State?
Learning Objectives: To understand the
social, political and economic structure
of Germany in 1900 – 1914.

Success Criteria: To be able to describe

the constitutional structure of the
Second Reich and the roles of each
To assess the strengths & weaknesses of
the constitution.
Timeline of the Second
1900 – June 2nd German Naval Law introduced
OctoberCount Bernhard von Bulow becomes Chancellor
1902 – December
Tarrif Law introduced
1903 - Sickness Insurance Law gives greater help to sick workers
1904 - Herero uprising begins in German South West Africa
1906 – DecemberParliamentary crisis leads to election
1907 – January Reichstag elections see Socialist SPD lose votes
1908 – DecemberLaw passed restricting hours of factory work
1909 – July Bulow resigns; Dr von Bethmann-Hollweg – Chancellor
1911 – May Reform of Alsace Lorraine constitution
1912 – January Reichstag elections; SPD become largest party
1913 – June Reichstag pass Army and Finance Bills increasing the size
of the armed forces
December The Zabern Affair
The Constitution
Wilhelm I proclaimed Emporor or KEY TERM
Kaiser. The New German Empire The set of rules by which a
was born out of military victories
against France. This war had been country is run. It is supposed
fought by numerous German to reflect the values and
states in an alliance, including traditions of that country.
Prussia & Bavaria. The Prussians
had led the army of the North Sometimes a constitution is
German Confederation (formed written; sometimes it is a
1867). The German Confederation
was defined by a constitution collection of accepted
where the states kept their own traditions that are not written
Government but military matters down.
were controlled by the King of
Prussia. Under this constitution,
there was to be a central law-
making body with limited powers.
Victory against France in 1871 led
to the unification of the North
German Confederation with
southern kingdoms, including
Bavaria & Wurttemberg. The
unification, however, was on
Prussia’s terms, and the
constitution adopted was a
refinement of the North
German Confederation. The
main aim of the author of the
constitution and Germany’s
first Chancelor, Otto von
Bismarck, was to preserve the
power of the elite.

Otto von Bismarck

Bismarck was Minister-President
of Prussia from 1862 to 1890
and Chancellor of Germany from
1871 – 1890. He was fiercely
comservative and had little
regard for any form of
parliamentary democracy.
The Constitution
(Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia)

Chancellor & Government Ministers

(Federal Council and Upper House)
(Lower House)

Provincial Diets and Assemblies,

Led by Prussian Landtag
Main Features: A Federal
The new German Reich Federal State
included 25 States – four A state that is made up of
kingdoms (Prussia, Bavaria, individual states that have
Saxony & Wurttemberg) 6
control over certain aspects
Grand Duchies, 12 duchies
and principalities, 3 free of internal affairs but are
cities (Hamburg, Bremen also a part of a central
and Lubeck) plus the state.
territory of Alsace-Lorraine,
which had been siezed from The states retained their own
France in 1871 and was to govts.
be ruled by a governor on Had different constitutions
behalf of all of the German Some allowed universal suffrage
states. Others retained 17th C style
constitutions with near with near
absolutist rulers (Schwerwin &
The States had wide ranging
Responsibility for education;
The Kaiser:
By the terms of the constitution the Kaiser held considerable powers.
This made the personality of the Kaiser as important as any other
• The Kaiser was always to be the Prussian King which reinforced
Prussia’s status in the new state.
• Kaiser held full control over foreign and diplomatic policy. He
therefore had to make alliances, sign treaties, wage war and
make peace. In times of war, he was commander in chief of the
armed forces of all of Germany’s states.
• The Kaisers influence over the government of the country was
considerable. He appointed and dismissed the Chancellor and
had the power to dissolve the Reichstag.
• It was the Kaisers responsibility to publish and oversee the
implementation of federal law (the law made by the central
• The Kaiser was also the guardian of the constitution.
Kaiser Wilhelm II
Wilhelm I had become King of Prussia in
1861 and had ruled as Kaiser from
1871 until his death in 1888 and
was seen as a competent & sensible
ruler. He was succeeded by his son,
Wilhelm II, aged 28 when he came
to the throne. Wilhelm believed it
was the Kaiser’s responsibility to
reule rather than share power with
the Reichstag. In May 1891 he
stated: “There is only one man in
charge of the Reich and I will not
tolerate another”. The problem was
that Wilhelm was a poor decision
maker, his attention span was short
and he did not work hard. Wilhelm
was happiest when surrounded by
members of the military, and it was
to them he turned for advice. He
had a poor opinion of democracy
and the Reichstag.
The Chancellor
• Directly responsible to the Kaiser. In charge of the appointment and
dismissal of state secretarieswho oversaw the running of the
government ministries.
• Was also Minister-President of Prussia.
• The Chancellor could ignore the resolutions passed by the
Bismarck gave the position of Chancellor considerable powers to
manipulate both the Kaiser and the Reichstag. However, the
success of the chancellor depended upon his political ability, the
character of the Kaiser & the composition of the Reichstag.
Eventhough the chancellor could ignore the Reichstag resolutions, he
needed to be able to negotiate legislation through the Reichstag.
He had to strike deals and manage the politicians. This worked well for
Bismarck as he worked well with Wilhelm I and for a long time the
Reichstag were docile and obedient. His successors were not so
lucky. Caprivi & Hohenloe found it very difficult as they had difficult
working relationships with the Kaiser.
• Made up of 58 members nominated by the states’ assemblies. It was part
of the law making process and in theory could change the constitution.
• It was created by Bismarck to act as a barrier to radical legislation. The
Bundesrat could veto legislation if 14 or more members voted against a
Dominance of Prussia assured as it held 17 of the 58 seats, ensuring no
legislation could be passed without the consent of the Prussian Chamber
of Deputies. The catch in this arrangement was that the electorate for the
Prussian Empire was divided by what was known as a ‘3 class franchise’.
• Voters were organised into 1 of 3 bands
• The votes of those who paid more tax counted for more than those who
paid less.
• The lowest group of voters was made up of c.92% of the electorate.
As a result, the Prussian Chamber of Deputies was always dominated by
Conservatives; in the 1908 elections in Prussia, 418,000 voters translated
into 212 Conservative seats whereas 600,000 votes (mostly from the third
tier) were rewarded with six Social Democrat (Socialist) seats.
Why might the Prussian voting system
provoke protest and from who?
The Reichstag
• Lower House, held joint legislative power with the Bundesrat. Had influence
over areas such as financial affairs & the banking system.
• Held control over the defence budget.
• Passed an annual budget, however, this power was reduced by Bismarck. His
switch to protectionism in 1879 brought the federal govt increased income
and some financial independence from the Reichstag.
• Eventhough the Reichstag could be dissolved, it could not be permanently
dismissed, and could hold elections soon after dissolution.
The Reichstag was elected on a system of universal male suffrage of men over
the age of 25. The powers of the Reichstag were limited:
• Primary function was to debate and to accept or reject legislation.
• Reichstag members could not become mebers of the government. If they
wished to do so, they had to resign their seats.
• The Chancellor was not responsible to the Reichstag & did not even have to
answer its questions.
• The military was also not accountable to the Reichstag.
• In order to ensure that only a certain class of person would stand for election,
Bismarck included the stipulation that the position would be unpaid.
The Army
• The Army was of huge significance in the new state.
• The Army lay outside the formal constitution.
• Its importance stemmed from the state being founded on the back of
military victories.
• Because of this, Bismarck made the army directly responsible to the Kaiser.
• The Kaiser appointed the military council (made up of senior military
• The military cabinet advised and chose the General Staff
• The General Staff organised all military affairs
• The War Minister was a member of the General Staff and was accountable
only to the Kaiser & Military Cabinet
• The Army swore an oath of allegiance to the Kasier and not the state.
There were few officers in the army that had any respect for democracy.
Bismarck ensured that the army was a ‘state within a state’ which also had
the right to declare marshall law.
The army ran itself with little or no outside interference beyond that of the
Kaiser. This system worked for Bismarck as he was able to manage it.
Other Chancellors found this difficult.
The Beaurocracy
• Role of the Beaurocracy was not
identified by the constitution.
• This did not mean that the civil
servants did not have an important
role to play in development of policy.
• Friedrich von Holstein was the Kaiser’s
Chief Adviser on Foreign Affairs. His
impact upon policy decisions and
events, therefore, was considerable.
The Constitution created a political
structure that was not clear, that was
fragmented and that was dominated
by conservative elites.
Enshrined in the constitution was the
dominance and veto of Prussia.
After looking at the terms of the
constitution, where does the real
power lie?
The Reichstag?
In fewer than 300 words, write a summary
of the strengths and weaknesses of the
German Constitution.