Unification 1862-1871
Foreign Policy

The Kaiserreich's Domestic Policy, 1871-1890

A.) Federalism

During the FRANCO-GERMAN WAR, on January 2nd 1871, Germany's princes and heads of state (excluding Austria and Liechtenstein) assembled in the HALL OF MIRRORS in Versailles, where they elected Prussia's king Wilhelm emperor of a unified Germany.
The new German Kaiserreich was established as a federation of principalities. The federal states, especially the southern German states of BAVARIA, BADEN and WÜRTTEMBERG, insisted on a high degree of political autonomy, especially in cultural affairs - Bavaria had a Catholic population majority as opposed to Prussia's protestant majority. The Kaiserreich would take charge of diplomatic representation, national defense, financial policy. Economic policy, Internal affairs, justice were shared responsibilities. Bayern and Wuerttemberg enjoyed a higher degree of autonomy than the other federal estates, proudly expressed in both countries continued issuance of postage stamps (Württemberg until 1902, Bavaria until 1919).
The Kaiserreich experienced a combination of authoritarian centralism and federal particularism, in form of the KULTURKAMPF : the Catholic church found itself under attack in Prussia, a state making up both c. 70 % of the Reich area and population, while in Bavaria it continued to be the dominant and favoured religion.

B.) The Reichstag

The Kaiserreich consisted of 38 member states (mostly statelets), but PRUSSIA alone accounted for ca. 70 % of the territory and population. So state autonomy was of minor importance, as it was applied only in a fraction of the Kaiserreich, while the larger part was administrated from BERLIN - the capital of both Prussia and Germany.
Bismarck gave the Empire a seemingly modern constitution. The REICHSTAG (national assembly) was elected according to the principle one man-one vote (for comparison : Prussia voted according to the DREIKLASSENWAHLRECHT, 1/3 of the representatives elected by the payers of high taxes, 1/3 by the payers of a moderate amount of taxes, 1/3 by those who paid minimum taxes. UNIVERSAL MANHOOD SUFFRAGE was introduced However, the REICHSTAG was designed as a debate club with very limited competences. It had the right to approve taxes (or refuse to do so) abd to request the resignation of individual portfolio ministers, but not of the CHANCELLOR.
The KAISER had the right to appoint a man of his choice chancellor; the chancellor would then appoint portfolio ministers, preside cabinet meetings and determine active policy. This constitution was modelled after the duo KAISER WILHELM I. and Bismarck himself - an Emperor who did not actively interfere in politics and wholeheartily trusted in his chancellor.
Germany's political parties were very young, still in their formation phase. While these parties did not actively participate in government, some, the NATIONAL LIBERALS for instance, supported Bismarck. Other parties, the Catholic ZENTRUM and the SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY, formed a constant opposition, with little prospect to actively participate in decision-making. Bismarck's attempt to combat both political camps, in the KULTURKAMPF, a campaign directed against the Catholic Church (1872-1886) and the ANTI-SOCIALIST LAWS (1878-1890) led to a radicalisation of politicians, both in the left-wing socialist and in the imperialist camp. The constitution granted the Emperor great influence over government by leaving the appointment of the chancellor entirely up to him. Wilhelm's successor FRIEDRICH WILHELM died only months after having ascended to the throne; he was followed by WILHELM II., an ambitious man convinced to be chosen by destiny.
Otto von Bismarck proved being a man with a vision when he, in less than 10 years, achieved what millions of Germans had dreamt of and the 1848ers had failed to achieve : unification. On the other hand, Bismarck was a conservative, a man of the generation of Metternich, who despised political parties and parliamentarism. His neglect to establish a system of checks and balances and his attitude to trust in the 'good old way' would cost Germany and the world dearly.

C.) Minorities

The provinces of POSEN and WESTPREUSSEN had a clear Polish population majority; there were sizable Polish minorities in EAST PRUSSIA and UPPER SILESIA. These Poles had felt comfortable as citizens of Prussia, for Prussia had not been a state German by definition. In a Kaiserreich proud of it's Germanness they felt displaced, and the KULTURKAMPF did not help either, for the Poles were mostly Catholics. The Polish representatives in the Reichstag opposed government policy.
Another faction in the opposition was the so-called WENDIANS, representatives from the Prussian province, former Kingdom of Hannover. They still resented the fact that Hannover was annexed by Prussia in 1866 after the GERMAN-GERMAN WAR.
Then there was ALSACE-LORRAINE (Elsass-Lothringen), a region without self-government; as REICHSLAND it was under military administration. The German government did not trust the Alsatians and Lorrainers, and the majority of them did not feel at home in the German Empire.

Bismarck and the Catholics, from historyhelp
Bismarck and the Liberals/Socialists, from historyhelp
SSV¢„s historie i Slesvig-Flensborg (History of the South Schleswig Electoral Union; i.e. the political organization representing the Danish minority), from SSV, in Danish
DOCUMENTS George Makepeace Towle, Bismarck in the Reichstag and at Home, 1880. from Modern History Sourcebook
Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei, Eisenacher Programm, 1869; Gothaer Programm, 1875, posted by Marxists' Internet Archive; in German
Images from Chronik 2000 Bilddatenbank : Assault on Bismarck's Life; Assault on Bismarck's Life, July 13th 1874; Ferdinand Lasalle; Banner of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiter-Verein, founded by F. Lasalle in 1863; Banner of the 1st International
Quod Numquam, Encyclical by Pope Pius IX., Feb. 5th 1875, On the Church in Prussia; Iampridem, Encyclical by Pope Leo XIII., Jan. 6th 1886, On Catholicism in Germany
Article Antisemiten, Kulturkampf, from Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1888-1890 edition, in German
REFERENCE Article Germany, in : Statesman's Year Book 1878, pp.93-189 (data on 1877) [G]
Article : Germany, in : Appleton's Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events 1886 pp.385-392 [G]
M.G. Norton, In and Around Berlin (1889), posted by Gutenberg Library Online

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on October 22nd 2007

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