The German Empire (1871-1918) Part I

By | October 19, 2021

The imperial constitution

The imperial constitution (April 16, 1871) was more federally oriented than that of the North German Confederation. The German Reich was a constitutional monarchy, an “eternal league of princes”. The Reich Chancellor (previously Federal Chancellor) was appointed by the Federal Presidium, the Kaiser, and not elected by the Reichstag. Until 1918 he remained the only Reich Minister in charge; its state secretaries were the department heads. The parties remained in the forecourt of power; the Reichstag embodied the principle of popular sovereignty. Federalism (Bundesrat) acted as a brake on parliamentarization, while parliamentarism ensured the prevention of particularism.

Economy and society, social policy

In economic development, new technologies and organizational forms shaped high industrialization. The electricity brought a gain in productivity compared to the steam engine; the electric motor opened up new opportunities for handicrafts and small businesses. Thanks to industrialization, Germany became one of the leading economic powers. In world trade, it moved into second place after the USA by the turn of the century. At the same time, economic crises shook society. Industrialization and urbanization accelerated; While in 1871 only 36% of the population lived in cities with over 2,000 residents, in 1910 it was already 60%. In Prussia, the proportion of residents in municipalities with fewer than 2,000 residents fell from 63% (1871) to 38% (1910). The share of those employed in agriculture and their relatives in the total population fell from 42% (1882) to 28% (1910). Since 1895, more people have been employed in and dependent on industry in Germany than in agriculture. The empire was no longer a society of estates; the market increasingly determined social relationships, but at the same time cultural imprints were preserved through region, denomination and origin.

The speculative fever of the Wilhelminian era has been followed by slower and fluctuating economic growth for 20 years since 1873. Confidence in the self-healing powers of the economy and belief in progress were shaken. Supported by intellectuals such as the historian and publicist H. von Treitschke anti-Semitism increased in German society. In 1879 Germany switched from free trade to protective tariff policy and protectionism, which intensified after 1890. New forms of ownership by large corporations (corporations, trusts) also changed social relationships; Property and property were no longer in one hand. The social figure of the manager took the place of the sole owner and personal company director. In the company hierarchy, the “private civil servants”, the salaried employees, gained importance as a new social class from around 1890. This “new” middle class developed a different political and social way of thinking than the competition-weary “old” middle class, which sought state protection. Bismarck tried with his social policy of the 1880sto bind the workers more closely to the state. Health insurance (1883), accident insurance (1884) and old-age and disability insurance (1889) were introduced against economic protests. Economic interest groups (Central Association of German Industrialists, Federation of Industrialists, Federation of Farmers) influenced politics. Learn more about Germany and Europe, please click

Foreign and domestic policy of the Bismarckian era

In terms of foreign policy, Bismarck paid attention to the isolation of the French ambitions for revenge and to the agreement with the other powers. He favored the merging of the three conservative imperial states of Germany, Austria and Russia (Dreikaiser agreement of 1873). In 1887 the German-Russian reinsurance treaty was signed, which included a neutrality obligation for Russia in the event of a French attack on the German Reich. Bismarck’s cautious colonial policy in 1884/85 made it possible to acquire “protected areas” in Africa (Cameroon, Togo, South West Africa, East Africa) and in the Pacific (German New Guinea, Bismarck Archipelago, Marshall Islands) without major conflicts with the world power Great Britain.

The domestic policy of the “liberal era” up to 1879 was among other things. shaped by a strengthening of empire competence. In 1873 responsibility for public law was transferred to the Reich and the drafting of the “Civil Code” (BGB) began. Dimensions, currency and weights have been standardized. The establishment of the inner empire after 1871 stood v. a. under the sign of the “Kulturkampf” and the socialist laws. In both cases, a large group of the population was denied civic equality rights: with the “May Laws” (May 4-14, 1873; especially the Expatriation Act), a conflict broke out between the modern secular state and the Catholic Church, which was granted historical privileges, as in most other European countries. In Germany he was v. a. held in Prussia, Baden and Bavaria, however, the Center Party successfully mobilized the Catholic minority. The Kulturkampf, which lasted until 1878/79, tore deep rifts in society and shaped the party landscape into the 20th century. That was in 1878 after two assassinations on Kaiser Wilhelm I’s Socialist Law (October 21) forbade any public activity by the Social Democrats; the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany, founded in 1875, and its newspapers were banned; only the parliamentary group remained. In 1890 the Socialist Law was not extended. The German four-party system of liberalism, conservatism, political Catholicism and socialism emerged during the Bismarckian era and remained largely stable between 1871 and 1928. The struggles of the time of the establishment of the empire were kept alive in the political memory, the parties became ideological parties. Their social milieus possessed a dense network of party-affiliated associations. The Reichstag elections in 1887 ushered in the age of the political masses (turnout in 1884: 60.6%; 1887: 77.5%).

In the three emperor year 1888 the early death of Emperor Friedrich III destroyed. the hopes for domestic liberalization. On June 15 joined Wilhelm II. 29-year government of. After sharp disputes about the continuation of social legislation, he forced Bismarck to resign (March 20, 1890).

The German Empire (1871-1918) 1