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German Empire

German Empire

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Deutsches Reich
German Empire


Image:Flag of the German Empire.svg
1871 — 1918 Image:Flag of Germany (2-3).svg
Image:Flag of the German Empire.svg Image:Reichsadler 1888-1918.jpg
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: Gott mit Uns
(German: "God with us”)
Anthem: Heil dir im Siegerkranz (unofficial)
Territory of the German Empire in 1914, prior to World War I
Capital Berlin
52°31′N 13°24′E
Language(s) Official: German
Unofficial minority languages: Polish (Posen, Lower Silesia,Upper Silesia, Masuria)
French (Alsace-Lorraine)
Government Constitutional monarchy
 - 1871-1888 William I
 - 1888 Frederick III
 - 1888-1918 William II
 - 1871-1890 Otto von Bismarck
 - 1918 Max von Baden
Historical era New Imperialism
 - Established January 181871
 - Abolition November 91918
 - 1910 540,766 km2
208,791 sq mi
 - 1871 est. 41,058,792 
 - 1890 est. 49,428,470 
 - 1910 est. 64,925,993 
     Density 120.1 /km² 
311 /sq mi
Currency Goldmark
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The German Empire (German: Deutsches Reich colloquially Deutsches Kaiserreich) is the name conventionally given in English to the German state from the time of the proclamation of William I (German: Wilhelm I) of Prussia as German Emperor (January 18, 1871) to the abdication of William II (Wilhelm II) (November 9, 1918). The official name of the state in German was Deutsches Reich, but this continued in official use until 1943 and hence does not exclusively refer to the period of imperial rule.

The phrase Second Reich is also sometimes applied to this period in English. The term was popularised by Arthur Moeller van den Bruck in the 1920s, and drew an explicit link with the earlier Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, as well as underlining his desire for the establishment of a "Third Reich". This latter term was subsequently adopted during the time of Nazi rule for propaganda purposes.


[edit] Bismarck's founding of the Empire

Under the guise of idealism giving way to realism, German nationalism rapidly shifted from its liberal and democratic character in 1848 to Prussian prime minister Otto von Bismarck's authoritarian Realpolitik. Bismarck wanted to unify the rival German states to achieve his aim of a conservative, Prussian-dominated German state. He accomplished this after three military successes:
  1. Denmark's claim to Schleswig led to the short Second war of Schleswig in 1864, in which Prussia and Austria secured a united Schleswig-Holstein for the German Confederation
  2. In 1866, in concert with Italy, Bismarck created an environment in which the Austro-Prussian War was declared by Austria. A decisive victory at the Battle of Königgrätz allowed him to exclude long-time rival Austria and most of its allies from the now-defunct German Confederation when forming the North German Confederation with the states that had supported Prussia. This new Confederation was the direct precursor to the 1871 empire
  3. Finally, France declared the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71); Napoleon III was quickly defeated by the great Gist, yet the new republic continued to fight. During the Siege of Paris, the North German Confederation supported by the allies from Southern Germany formed the German Empire with the proclamation of the Prussian king Wilhelm I as German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, to the humiliation of the French, who ceased to resist days later. This intentional affront was repayed in 1919 as it was the same room in which the Versailles Treaty was signed, which said that Germany was totally responsible for the First World War.

Bismarck himself prepared in broad outline the 1866 North German Constitution, which became the 1871 Constitution of the German Empire with some adjustments. Germany acquired some democratic features: notably the Reichstag, that in contrast to the parliament of Prussia was elected by direct and equal manhood suffrage. However, legislation also required the consent of the Bundesrat, the federal council of deputies from the states, in which Prussia had a large influence. Behind a constitutional façade, Prussia thus exercised predominant influence in both bodies with executive power vested in the Kaiser, who appointed the federal chancellor — Otto von Bismarck. The chancellor was accountable solely to and served entirely at the discretion of the Emperor. Officially, the chancellor was a one-man cabinet and was responsible for the conduct of all state affairs; in practice, the State Secretaries (bureaucratic top officials in change of such fields as finance, war, foreign affairs, etc) acted as unofficial portfolio ministers. With the exception of the years 18721873 and 18921894, the chancellor was always simultaneously the prime minister of the imperial dynasty's hegemonic home-kingdom, Prussia. The Reichstag had the power to pass, amend or reject bills, but could not initiate legislation. The power of initiating legislation rested with the chancellor.

While the other states retained their own governments, the military forces of the smaller states were put under Prussian control, while those of the larger states such as the Kingdoms of Bavaria and Saxony were coordinated along Prussian principles and would in wartime be controlled by the federal government. Although authoritarian in many respects, the empire permitted the development of political parties.

Proclamation of the German Empire in Versailles, with Bismarck in white in center. Painting by Anton von Werner.
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History of Germany 
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The evolution of the German Empire is somewhat in line with parallel developments in Italy and Japan. Similarly to Bismarck, Count Camillo Benso di Cavour in Italy used diplomacy and war to achieve his objectives: he allied with France before attacking Austria, securing the unification of Italy as a kingdom under the Piemontese dynasty (except for the Papal States and Austrian Venice) by 1861. In the interests of Piedmont-Sardinia, Cavour, hostile to the more revolutionary nationalism of liberal republicans such as Giuseppe Garibaldi and Giuseppe Mazzini, sought the unification of Italy along conservative lines. Similarly, Japan followed a course of conservative modernization from the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the Meiji Restoration to 1918 similar to Cavour's Italy. Japan issued a commission in 1882 to study various governmental structures throughout the world and were particularly impressed by Bismarck's Germany, issuing a constitution in 1889 that formed a premiership with powers analogous to Bismarck's position as chancellor with a cabinet responsible to the emperor alone.

One factor in the social anatomy of these governments had been the retention of a very substantial share in political power by the landed elite, the Junkers, due to the absence of a revolutionary breakthrough by the peasants in combination with urban areas.

Member states of the German Empire (grey), with Prussia in blue
Provinces of Prussia at the time of the German Empire.
Image:Deutsche Kolonien.PNG
German Colonial Empire ██ Colonies of the German Empire ██ Earlier Prussian colonies ██ "Little Venice", 152956

[edit] Constituent states of the empire

Before the German Unification, present day Germany was divided up into 39 independent states. These states were united into one country in 1871 under the rule of the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Several factors played a key role in the German Unification.

The backdrop for the unification begins in years prior, due to a rise in nationalism. The Revolutions of 1848 — a time in which Europe was dealing with severe depression — disrupted plans by the German Federation to possibly unify. However, this time did illustrate the incompatibility between Austrian Empire and the German nation-state drive for unification.

Later on, the Austrian empire actively resisted creating a unified Germany. The German Federation had to minimize the influence of the Austrians. This minimization occurred though clever manipulation of land rights and the Austro-Prussian War in 1866.

However much the conflict lessened Austria’s influence over the German states, it did splinter the country a bit as some German states allied with Austria. Since this decreased a sense of nationalism, the Germans needed yet another war to rally together. This war was the Franco-Prussian War of 187071. Now the people of Germany (mostly the southern states) had to unite militarily to fight the powerful French. With the Austrians too weak from its previous war, the sole German victory boosted nationalism.

This war also affirmed Prussia as the leader of a unified Germany. Its leader, Otto von Bismarck, was key in orchestrating the unification. He made sure the southern states were officially incorporated into a now becoming unified Germany at the Treaty of Versailles of 1871 (later ratified in the Treaty of Frankfurt), which ended the Franco-Prussian War. With Bismarck becoming the first chancellor of Germany, he led the transformation from independent nation-state German Federation into what it has become now: a unified Germany.

  • Others:
    • Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine (“Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen”)

The Kingdom of Prussia was the largest of the constituent states, covering some 60 percent of the territory of the German Empire. Before being annexed and turned into Provinces of Prussia, several of these states had gained sovereignty following the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, or been created as sovereign states after the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

[edit] Conservative modernization

Bismarck's domestic policies played a great role in forging the authoritarian political culture of the Kaiserreich. Less preoccupied by continental power politics following unification in 1871, Germany's semi-parliamentary government carried out a relatively smooth economic and political revolution from above that pushed them along the way towards becoming the world's leading industrial power of the time.

[edit] Economy

Not only did German manufacturers capture German markets from British imports, by the 1870s, British manufacturers in the staple industries of the Industrial Revolution were beginning to experience real competition abroad. Industrialization progressed dynamically in Germany and the United States, allowing them to clearly prevail over the old French and British capitalisms. The German textiles and metal industries, for example, had by the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War surpassed those of Britain in organization and technical efficiency and usurped British manufacturers in the domestic market. By the turn of the century, the German metals and engineering industries would be producing heavily for the free trade market of Britain. By the time of World War I (1914-1918) the German economy had switched to supplying it's military with the proper equipment needed to fight the war. This included the production of rifles (Gewehr 98), pistols (P08 Luger), and heavy weaponry (Maxim machine gun, Minenwerfer mortar, and several other heavy and light artillery pieces).

[edit] Ideology

After achieving formal unification in 1871, Bismarck devoted much of his attention to the cause of national unity and achieving this under the ideology of Prussianism. Conservative Catholic activism and emancipation, conceptualized by the reactionary turn of the Vatican under Pope Pius IX and its dogma of Papal Infallibility, and working class radicalism, represented by the emerging Social Democratic Party, in many ways both reacted to concerns of dislocation by very different segments of German society, brought by a rapid shift from an agrarian-based economy to modern industrial capitalism under reactionary tutelage. While out-and-out suppression failed to contain either socialists or Catholics, Bismarck's "carrot and stick" approach significantly mollified opposition from both groups.

One can summarize Bismarck's objectives under three keywords: Kulturkampf, Social reform and national unification.

  • Kulturkampf. Following the incorporation of the Catholic German states in the south and the former some areas in the east, Catholicism, represented by the Catholic Centre Party, was seemingly the principal threat to unification process. Southern Catholics, hailing from a much more agrarian base and falling under the ranks of the peasantry, artisans, guildsmen, clergy, and princely aristocracies of the small states more often than their Protestant counterparts in the North, initially had trouble competing with industrial efficiency and the opening of outside trade by the Zollverein. Roman Catholic institutions were obstructed and Catholic influence on society was combatted by the Bismarck government. After 1878 however, the struggle against socialism would unite Bismarck with the Catholic Centre Party, bringing an end to the Kulturkampf, which had led to far greater Catholic unrest than existed beforehand and had strengthened rather than weakened Catholicism in Germany.
  • Social reform. To contain the working class and to weaken the influence of socialist groups, Bismarck's reluctant creation of a remarkably advanced welfare state. The social security systems installed by Bismarck (health care in 1883, accidents insurance in 1884, invalidity and old-age insurance in 1889) at the time were the most advanced in the world and, to a degree, still exist in Germany today.
  • National unification. Bismarck's efforts also initiated the levelling of the enormous differences between the German states, which had been independent in their evolution for centuries, especially with legislation.

[edit] Law

The completely different legal histories and judicial systems posed enormous complications, especially for national trade. While a common trade code had already been introduced by the Confederation in 1861 (which was adapted for the Empire and, with great modifications, is still in effect today), there was little similarity in laws otherwise.

In 1871, a common Criminal Code (Reichsstrafgesetzbuch) was introduced; in 1877, common court procedures were established through the Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz, the Zivilprozessordnung and the Strafprozessordnung (court system, civil procedures, and criminal procedures, respectively). In 1873 the constitution was amended to allow the Empire to replace the various and greatly differing Civil Codes of the states (if they existed at all; for example, parts of Germany formerly occupied by Napoleon's France had adopted the French Civil Code, while in Prussia the Allgemeines Preußisches Landrecht of 1794 was still in effect). In 1881, a first commission was established to produce a common Civil Code for all of the Empire, an enormous effort that would produce the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB), possibly one of the most impressive legal works of the world; it was eventually put into effect on 1 January 1900. It speaks volumes for the conceptual quality of these codifications that they all, albeit with many amendments, are still in effect today.

[edit] After Bismarck

The Empire flourished under Bismarck's guidance until the Kaiser's death (March 1888). In this so-called Dreikaiserjahr (Year of Three Emperors), Friedrich III, his son and successor, only lived 99 days, leaving the crown to a young and impetuous Wilhelm II, who forced Bismarck out of office in March 1890.

Within Germany, the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) rose to become for a time the strongest socialist party in the world, winning a third of the votes in the January 1912 elections to the Reichstag (imperial parliament). Government nevertheless remained in the hands of a succession of conservative coalitions supported by right-wing liberals or Catholic clerics and heavily dependent on the Kaiser's favour. The rising militarism that was implemented by Wilhelm II caused many within Germany, particularly males, to flee Germany in order to avoid military service. Most fled to the United States.

Kaiser Wilhelm II

The shaky European balance of power broke down when Austria-Hungary, Germany's ally since 1879, declared war on Serbia (July 1914) after the assassination in Sarajevo of the heir to the Austrian throne. Germany supported their one loyal ally's objectives in Serbia and gave them a "blank cheque" to pursue whatever means they found necessary there. Serbia was supported by Russia, which in turn was allied with France. Following Russia's decision for general mobilisation (i.e. against both Austria-Hungary and Germany) Germany declared war on both Russia and France in what it called a preventive strike. Britain declared war on Germany on August 4.

This was the beginning of World War I. Despite its early successes under the Schlieffen Plan, Germany and its allies suffered economic defeat in the face of an enemy strengthened after 1917 by the intervention of the United States. The Kaiser Wilhelm II was driven into exile (November 1918) by a revolution led by elements of the opposition SPD and communist groups, who later organised their own abortive bid for power (January 1919).

In June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles formally ended the war. It was signed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles; the same place where the Second Reich had been proclaimed nearly a half century before. Germany lost its territorries to France, Belgium, Denmark and the reinstated nation state of Poland. Britian and France also forced Germany to give up all of its oversees countries and required it to pay reparations until the year 1986 for its alleged sole responsibility for the war. These expectations, however, proved quite unrealistic. The ravages of the war had destabalized the German economy through uncontrolled inflation and crushed its infrastructure; thus leaving much of the German populous devastated. The grim situation was only exacerbated by the reperations payments Germany now owed to the other victorious European nations. The conditions of the treaty (largely drawn up by the victorious European nations) have been cited by some historians as contibuting factors in the mounting civil, social, and economic unrest present in post World War I Germany during the period of the Weimar Republic.

[edit] Legacy

Image:Wappen Deutsches Reich - Reichswappen (Grosses).jpg
The imperial greater coat of arms (1871-1918)

Bismarck's rule of reactionary co-optation and coercion and his perpetuation of Junker virtues of militarism, hierarchy, and autocracy can be understood best when one considers that the nation was only recently and in some ways tenuously united; that the large and powerful neighbor, France, had for centuries pursued an active policy of keeping "the Germanies" weak and divided; and that Germany had again and again been the field where the power struggles of other European states and kingdoms were played out, with devastating consequences in most German regions. The earliest memories of Bismarck's generation of leaders encompassed the Napoleonic Wars and Prussia's attendant national humiliations. A perceived need not to manifest outward weakness made the adoption of more liberal means of government by these men unlikely, at best.

As a result, in Germany, as in Japan and Italy, later attempts to extend democracy would succeed in establishing unstable democracies (the Weimar Republic, Japan in the twenties, and Italy from the end of World War I to the 1922 appointment of Mussolini as premier by Victor Emmanuel III). Each of these constitutional democracies could not to cope with the severe problems of the day and the reluctance or inability to bring about fundamental structural changes.

Prussianism caught on because prosperity satisfied the old support base of the middle class liberals, and the state was solicitous of the material welfare for many eventually won over—including the working class. German education emerged strong in vocational fields. From the side of the landed aristocracy came the conceptions of inherent superiority in the ruling class and a sensitivity to matters of status, prominent traits well into the twentieth century. The royal bureaucracy introduced, against considerable aristocratic resistance, the ideal of complete and unreflecting obedience to an institution over and above class and individual.

At the foundation of these currents was centuries of economic, political, and cultural evolution starting with an agricultural system dominated for centuries by repressive means rather than through the market. German peasants were not only under the repressive watch of their landowners, but grounded in village and work structures that favor solidarity, diminishing their revolutionary potential. The league sought the support of peasants in non-Junker areas of smaller farms, the idea of a corporative state.

On the other hand the Kaiserreich did guarantee freedom of press, security of property and it managed to establish a system of public welfare based on compulsory insurance, which survived two World Wars and in its core survives still today. There was a modern election system to the federal Parliament, the Reichstag, which represented every adult man by one vote. This enabled the German Socialists and the Catholic Centre Party to play remarkable roles in the empire's political life, although both parties were officially regarded more or less as "foes of the empire". And the time of the Kaiserreich is well remembered in Germany as a period, when academic research and university life flourished as well as arts and literature. Thomas Mann published his novel Buddenbrooks in 1901. Theodor Mommsen was awarded the Nobel prize for literature a year later for his Roman history. Painters like the groups Der Blaue Reiter and Die Brücke made a significant contribution to modern art. The AEG turbine building in Berlin by Peter Behrens from 1909 can be regarded as a milestone in classic modern architecture and an outstanding example of emerging functionalism. There is a considerable historical debate over the Sonderweg question, concerning whatever the nature of German politics and society during the Second Reich made Nazi Germany inevitable. Some historians such as Fritz Fischer, Hans-Ulrich Wehler, and Wolfgang Mommsen have argued that during the Second Reich, a reactionary "pre-modern" aristocratic elite became entrenched in German society and thus doomed the Weimar Republic to failure before it was even born. Other historians such as Gerhard Ritter have argued that it was only World War One and its aftermath that opened the doors to Nazism.

Bismarck's unified Germany also had a significant impact in East Asia. The unification of Germany was considered a model for both the successful modernization of Japan (which modelled much its imperial constitution on the Hohenzollern empire) and the less successful modernization of the China at the beginning of the 20th century. The German civil code became the basis of the legal systems of Japan and the Republic of China after the retreat of the latter to Taiwan remains as the basis of the legal system there. In addition, the Prussian military model (mainly army, the British impressed more as a naval power) had also influenced the Chinese and Japanese armies greatly until the Second World War through their employment of German military advisors, instructors and the acquisition of Germany military equipment. The Ottoman army was reorganised prior to World War One under German influence.

[edit] Territorial Legacy

Besides present-day Germany, parts of several other modern European countries once belonged to the German Empire:

German name Country Region
The Eupen und Malmedy area Belgium Eupen and Malmedy, two towns an surrounding municipalicuties in the province of Liège, on the German border
Hultschiner Ländchen Czech Republic Hlučín Region, on the border to Poland in Silesia
Nordschleswig Denmark South Jutland County
Elsass-Lothringen France the départements of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin, which together comprise the Alsace region, and Moselle, which is the north-eastern part of the Lorraine region
Memelland, Memel Lithuania Klaipėda Region, including the Baltic coastal city of Klaipėda
The eastern (Hinterpommern) and middle part of Pommern, Almost the whole Schlesien,
Ostbrandenburg, Posen (Wartheland), Westpreußen, Ermland,
Masuren The South of(Ostpreußen)
Poland the northern and western parts of the country, including
Pomerania, Silesia, Lubusz Land and Warmia and Masuria
Ostpreußen/Königsberg Russia Kaliningrad Oblast on the Baltic, formerly the northern half of East Prussia

[edit] References

  • Aronson, Theo. The Kaisers. London: Cassell, 1971.
  • Blackbourn, David and Eley, Geoff. The Peculiarities Of German History: Bourgeois Society and Politics In Nineteenth-Century Germany. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984 ISBN 0-19-873058-6.
  • Craig, Gordon. Germany: 1866-1945, Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1978 ISBN 0-19-822113-4.
  • Fischer, Fritz. From Kaiserreich to Third Reich: Elements of Continuity in German History, 1871-1945. (translated and with an introduction by Roger Fletcher) London: Allen & Unwin, 1986. ISBN 0-04-943043-2.
  • Fischer, Fritz. War of Illusions: German Policies from 1911 to 1914. (translated from the German by Marian Jackson) New York: Norton, 1975. ISBN 0-393-05480-2.
  • Retallack, James. Germany In The Age of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire : Macmillan ; New York : St. Martin's Press, 1996 ISBN 0-312-16031-3.
  • Ritter, Gerhard. The Sword and the Scepter; the Problem of Militarism in Germany. (translated from the German by Heinz Norden) Coral Gables: University of Miami Press 1969-73.
  • Stürmer, Michael. The German Empire, 1870-1918. New York: Random House, 2000. ISBN 0-679-64090-8.
  • Mommsen, Wolfgang. Imperial Germany 1867-1918: Politics, Culture, and Society in an Authoritarian Sate. (translated by Richard Deveson from Der Autoritäre Nationalstaat) London: Arnold, 1995. ISBN 0-340-64534-2.
  • Wehler, Hans-Ulrich. The German Empire, 1871-1918. (translated from the German by Kim Traynor) Leamington Spa, Warwickshire: Berg Publishers, 1985. ISBN 0-907582-22-2.

[edit] See also


[edit] External links

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German Empire

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