Reichstag (German Empire)

The Reichstag was from 1871 to 1918, the Parliament of the German Empire. The Reichstag embodied next to the Emperor the unity of the empire. He represented the national and democratic element in addition to the federalism of states and the monarchical - bureaucratic executive in the power structure of the empire. Together with the Bundesrat, he assumed the imperial legislation and had the co-decision power over the budget of the empire. It also had certain rights of control over the executive and could be produced by public debates. However, the executive kept in the political system of the Empire a preponderance opposite the Reichstag. He did not have an influence on the appointment or dismissal of the Chancellor. Nevertheless, the Reichstag had considerable weight in the power structure of the empire. From 1871 to 1894 the Reichstag met in the Leipziger Strasse 4, Berlin. It was not until 1894, the Reichstag building was completed.


The Constitution of April 16, 1871 changed the legal form of the Parliament, as it was mapped out for the Reichstag of the North German Confederation by its Constitution of 17 April 1867 at first. The right to vote was based on the model of the empire Electoral Act 1849.

The deputies elected by universal, equal and secret ballot (see Reichstag elections in Germany ). Electors all men over 25. This choice was by international standards, but also with regard to the state parliaments, very largely. In most countries, there has been limited by a kind of census suffrage. Otto von Bismarck hoped with the granting of equal suffrage, would that rural populations choose conservative and so limit the influence of the liberals. By the end of the Empire women were excluded from the election. Also entitled to vote standing in active military service people were not (though this had the passive right to vote ) because they wanted to avoid the politicization of the military, as well as persons who were dependent on public poor relief, people have been opened over the assets of proceedings for bankruptcy or insolvency was and people who had been declared forfeited incapacitated by a court judgment or their civic rights. At the general election in 1912 22.2 % of the population ( 14.442 million men) were eligible to vote. This percentage was significantly higher than the percentage of voters in state elections in the states, for example in Bavaria or Saxony, where the right to vote was still subject to additional Terms and Conditions.

Importance of run-off elections

Was elected in single-member districts with an absolute majority vote. Thus, there was only directly elected members. It was chosen the one who could unite the absolute majority of the votes in the first ballot. Was not done this, it came between the two candidates with the highest number of votes in a runoff election. The run-off elections gained increasing importance during the parliamentary elections in the Empire. While in the general election in 1874 had to be held only in 46 of the 397 constituencies (11.6%) run-off elections, there were in the Reichstag elections in 1890 already 147 constituencies ( 37%) and in the Reichstag election 1912 190 constituencies ( 47.9 %). This reflected the fact that the meaning of " strongholds " of the parties declined, while in particular established the Social Democracy as a rich wide mass movement. The Social Democrats were involved in an increasing number of run-off elections ( in 1912 to 120 of the 190 ballots ), of which they lost the majority ( in 1912: 45 won election run of 120 ), because social democratic candidates faced in the runoff usually a grand coalition of all the bourgeois parties. Particularly successful in the run-off elections were the liberal centrist parties that could win the vast majority of their seats in the Reichstag as a rule only in the runoff. For example, the National Liberals took in the 1912 election in part on 68 ballots, of which they won 41. In the first round only three direct candidates had been successful. The German Progress Party took part in 1912 55 ballots, of which they won 42. In the first round they had to score a single direct mandate.

Special features of the constituency geometry

In 1871, the Reichstag from 382 as of the year 1874 - as a result of the inclusion of fifteen Members of the Empire State Alsace- Lorraine - from 397 deputies. This number was valid until the end of the Empire. The constituencies were first cut so that it included about 100,000 people. The exceptions were eight small states, which formed their own constituencies, even if they had fewer than 100,000 inhabitants. Since the constituency boundaries oriented at the boundaries of the individual German states, were some constituencies from widely separated areas. So, for example, comprised of constituency 1 in the Duchy of Brunswick, the area around the city of Brunswick, but also the Brunswick enclaves Thedinghausen ( near Bremen ) and Blankenburg ( Harz ). The constituency 1 in the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg covered the area around the city of Oldenburg and in addition the Oldenburg principality of Lübeck enclaves in Holstein and the Principality of Birkenfeld in the Mosel area. Was particularly pronounced in the fragmentation of the constituencies in the Thuringian territories.

Due to the different population growth, primarily due to the internal migration to the cities and industrial centers, creating large differences in the population of each constituency. For comparison, in the constituency of Schaumburg -Lippe lived in 1912 just over 10,000 residents in the constituency Teltow- Charlottenburg, however, almost 340,000. However, both posted one of its Members. This blank of constituencies such disadvantaged parties that had their electorate, especially in the cities.

Member of Parliament

The deputies were considered representative of the entire kingdom and people were not bound by the constitution to instructions. The parliamentarians enjoyed immunity and indemnity. This was associated with the protection provided by permanent representatives before disciplinary sanctions for their political actions as parliamentarians.

Was strongly emphasized the separation between the executive and Parliament. A deputy who was appointed to the Imperial line or in a country government, had to resign his mandate.

Diets were not paid because there should be no career politicians. In practice, this meant that you had to be dispensable in time and could not afford this office financially. So were not disadvantaged wealthy or non-civil servants candidates. One could connect deputies activity and the profession as lawyers and journalists. Max Weber also expected Prussian Junker, industrialist, rentiers and high officials to this group. In contrast, the majority of entrepreneurs was only rarely be spared because of their occupation. This applies even more for the workers.

A balance could be the support of his own party or interest group. The SPD about paid since 1876 its members a kind of content. In addition, numerous parliamentarians were employed as officials or journalists the party press. In 1898 were about 40 % of the Social Democratic Party MPs employees and another 15-20 % were employed in the free trade unions. In the conservative camp of the Agrarian League deputy financially supported and expected in return political support. Also, industry associations and the Catholic Church acted similarly. An expense allowance, did in fact since 1906. The 3000 marks a year were too low to live on. Practice has shown that these rules could not prevent something like a Berufspolitikertum.

Convocation and dissolution

The Reichstag had no self- right of assembly, but was convened annually by the emperor. The negotiations of the Reichstag were public (Article 22 of the Constitution ). In fact, the press reported widely on the debates. The term was first three, by 1888 five years. A legislature was in several sessions, usually four or five, partitioned. This lasted about one to four months. Goods in a session legislative proposals, petitions and other parliamentary business not completed, these were considered as completed and had to be re- introduced in the next session. Partial but there could be exceptions to this.

The Federal Council could dissolve under the consent of the emperor the Reichstag at any time. After the resolution had to take place for new elections within sixty days. The newly elected Reichstag had to be convened within 90 days. Despite these provisions, the government had with the dissolution of the Reichstag an effective means against unwanted parliamentary majorities in hand. In fact, the Reichstag was dissolved several times in domestic crises. This was in 1878, 1887, 1893 and 1906 the case.


Templates for new laws could be introduced under Article 16 by the Federal Council in Parliament. But the Reichstag itself had referred to in Article 23, the right of legislative initiative. The validity but the laws needed in any case, the consent of the Bundesrat. Against the will of the represented in the Federal Council of State governments therefore no law was enforceable.

In a first reading of a law only a general debate on the principles of the draft should take place. Only in the second reading could be debated on the various items. It also amendments could now be made. In the third reading, finally, there should be a synthesis of the results from the first and second reading. New applications made had the support of at least thirty deputies have. Finally, the whole design was put to the vote.

The core competence of the Reichstag was the budget law and thus the decision on the budget of the empire into law (Article 69). While Bismarck had proposed a force for three years budget, the Parliament set up by a one-year period. Were there any unplanned expenditure had to be passed a supplementary budget. The Parliament decided not doing over the total, as originally intended by Bismarck, but the expenses were broken down in detail and the Parliament could advise separately on each item. In this context, the budget debate has been the central dispute over the total action of the government.

Here were qualifications in terms of the military budget. This was not a year but decided in longer periods. These were the temporaries of 1867 and 1874. Septennaten you put in the so-called after the military budget for seven years fixed. It was followed by the Quinquennate with a five-year term. A reduction of the military budget was almost impossible and the attempt on items related to the military to influence encountered difficulties.

In the years between the adoption of the military budget, the Parliament had no participation on this possibility by far the biggest area of ​​expenditure of the empire. However, this was not a German peculiarity, but in terms of the military budget also occurred in other states have similar limitations in the budget law.

In the area of ​​revenue there were limits of parliamentary influence. Indirect taxes and duties were fixed for a longer period and therefore the scope of Parliament was limited. The matricular the countries were already outside the competence of the Reichstag. The Parliament could reject new revenue, but it could not prevail alone them.

Especially in the area of ​​foreign policy, the participation rights of Parliament were limited. Only in customs, trade, transport and similar areas was the approval of international treaties necessary (Articles 4 and 11). This was not true of the alliance policy. Such agreements need to Parliament not even have to be made known. The declaration of war and peace was for the emperor. It took him although the consent of the Bundesrat but not the Reichstag.

Control function

The Parliament had the right of interpellation or petition for each area of government action. For an interpellation, it required the approval of 30 deputies. The answers to the issues raised, however, was the discretion of the chancellor. In general, the government withdrew hardly the challenge posed by the deputies. Bismark has used this on the contrary, in matters of foreign policy for comments. The control function has been further developed in the committees. With a smaller reform of the Rules of Procedure of the Reichstag in 1912 the right to a small request has been introduced in addition to the Chancellor for each Member. Its answer was no ensuing debate. Furthermore, it was the right of interpellation been extended, that could be put to the standing room in question. This was about in connection with the Saverne affair in 1913 the case when the Reichstag the Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann -Hollweg criticized by a large majority. This was, however, no constitutional consequences, because it was not only covered by the Rules of Procedure of the Constitutional Law.

An influence on the appointment or dismissal of the Chancellor had not the Reichstag. This was for the emperor. The parliamentary influence on the appointment of state secretaries of the imperial offices was even lower, but these were simply subordinates of the Registrar. The Chancellor was not tied directly to parliamentary majorities. Although he was responsible to the Reichstag. But this aspect has never been determined clearly. The right to a vote of no confidence did not exist. Parliament only had the opportunity with the help of debates and the like his attitude to make it clear. The right to call the Registrar before the Reichstag did not exist.

Rules and Reichstag Bureau

For its internal organization, the Reichstag oriented to the Rules of Procedure of the Prussian House of Representatives. This essentially remained until the end of the Empire and beyond to effect in 1922. Speeches should be made according to the rules of procedure only from the rostrum or by the deputies benches. Since, in practice, many MPs were staying at the table with the voting boxes, and speeches were held there from and the other deputies were grouped around the speaker and commented on the posts. This was largely unpunished by the President of the Reichstag.

There were parliamentary committees but their expansion was hesitant. Its membership was based on the strength of the fractions. In elderly Convention (ie Elders ) was agreed by the Committee Chair. In contrast to the Rules of Procedure of the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic did not specify the number or abandonment of certain committees.

Deputies elected a Reichstag president and his deputy. This represented the Parliament to the outside and had the task of maintaining order inside. The President laid down the agenda. The Parliament could reject it only by a majority. Furthermore, he gave the word, even if it involved mostly in the order of the messages. Indeed, there was often a list of speakers, which was partially determined in consultation with the political groups in the senior Convention. The President could call speaker to order, ask him to withdraw the word or excluded from the session with disrespect. For example, it was inadmissible to debate about the person of the emperor. Dared this a parliamentarian, the President intervened.

A special position in Parliament enjoyed Chancellor and the members of the Federal Council, but they did not fall under the disciplinary powers of the President, had to be but a part of the law.

Fractions and seniors Convention

Fractions were not part of the Rules of Procedure. De facto, however, they were the crucial internal divisions of the Parliament. In contrast, the measures provided for in the Rules of Procedure the drawn departments played no role. The Reichstag was based on the liberal conception of a free mandate. Indeed, there were non-attached, or so-called wild deputies. Off and transfers from the fractions were not rare. Nevertheless, the fractions were a central factor of parliamentary work. This ultimately determined the Rules of Procedure, occupied the Bureau, determined the speaker and the composition of the committees.

The fractions in the Empire were generally groupings of MPs of the same party. The fractions selected a board mostly from the respective party leadership. In addition to the members, there were also the so-called interns. These were members of the (still) did not belong to the respective party. Financed by taxes, the groups have their members. There were regular group meetings, where they agree agreed on the parliamentary procedure.

A veritable whip, there were rare. An exception was the Polish faction. Nevertheless, the threat was with fraction exclusion is an important means of fractional internal discipline. The moral expectation with the fraction to vote is not to be underestimated. Ultimately, the party discipline became generally stronger. There was of course always the option to stay away from a vote. On the weakest party discipline was with the bourgeois parties. These individual voting behavior was not unusual for long.

Outside of the official Rules of Procedure also moved the elderly Convention. in this governing body of the Parliament of leading representatives of the political groups came together to vote about the agenda, committee appointments or procedural matters. The decisions of the elderly Convention were not subject to the principle of majority rule but were taken unanimously. Since about 1890, the factions were represented according to their strength in the body.

The position of the President of the Reichstag against the elderly Convention was related to its political support. When he came to a strong faction, he had to follow to a greater extent the Convention, as if he came from a strong faction. A human teeth between the Reichstag and seniors Convention Bureau initially was not. By 1884 the members of the Bureau were not even members of the Senior Citizens Convention. Since then, the first vice president was also director of the Senior Citizens Convention. In 1899, the President took over this function itself

Position in the power structure

Although the responsibility of the government had limits before Parliament, the Chancellor was still dependent on the consent of Parliament for legislation and the budget. In the age of legal positivism, a rule was based on regulations no longer possible. The newly founded kingdom needed numerous laws, and the increasingly complex economy and society led to a further need for legal regulations.

The Chancellor took so majorities in the Reichstag. The significance of the Reichstag grew up in the context of structural political and social changes. Universal suffrage had a mass political mobilization result. The turnout rose from 51% in 1871 to 85 % in 1912., The parties and interest groups of any kind formulated their interests and brought this in Parliament to its best advantage. The Reichstag had so far held a key position in the central institutionalized decision-making structure of the Reich. However, the parliamentarians took this position very hesitant to push a parliamentary system of the empire.

Of course, the position of the Reichstag against the government also depended on the internal structure and the majority ratios. The German multi-party system made ​​it difficult to form a parliamentary majority. Bismarck about played the parties against each other, sat on shifting majorities or coalitions docile. Since the conservative turn of 1878 /79, the fractions often limited to reacting and preventing government action. The low level of compromise between the parties themselves facilitating the government's enforcement of its objectives. If necessary, they picked up the middle of the parliamentary resolution. In the subsequent election campaign partly demagogic campaigns should ensure that the elections failed in the government. The possibility of dissolving played in the background for parliamentary decisions always a role.

After the era Bismarck dissolution threat became less important. It played a role that trained firm political voters warehouse. For the government, there was hardly mobilizable non-voters to win. Except for the election of 1907 brought new elections no longer changes, which would have improved the position of governments. But the contrast between the political camps deteriorated further, making it difficult joint action against the government.

President of the Reichstag

Max von Forckenbeck

Albert Levetzow

Wilhelm von Wedel- Piesdorf

Konstantin Fehrenbach

Significant Reichstag deputies of the imperial period

  • Ludwig Bamberger (NLP, Liberal Association, German Liberal Party, Liberal Association )
  • Theodor Barth ( NLP, Liberal Association, German Liberal Party, Liberal Association )
  • August Bebel (SAP, then SPD)
  • Rudolf von Bennigsen (NLP )
  • Eduard Bernstein ( SPD)
  • Edward George of Bethusy - Huc ( Free Conservative Party)
  • Wilhelm Blos (SPD )
  • Ludwig Brüel (DHP, even Guelph party )
  • Karl Frohme (SPD )
  • Albert Hanel ( German Progress Party, German Liberal Party, Liberal Association )
  • Wilhelm Hasenclever ( ADAV, SAP, predecessor parties, the SPD)
  • Wilhelm Hasselmann ( ADAV, SAP)
  • Max Hirsch ( German Progress Party, German Liberal Party, FVP )
  • Leopold von Hoverbeck ( German Progress Party )
  • Wojciech Korfanty (Polish National Democratic Party, shortly Poland Party)
  • Philipp Ernst Maria Lieber ( center )
  • Karl Liebknecht (SPD )
  • Wilhelm Liebknecht (SAP, then SPD)
  • Ludwig Löwe ( German Progress Party, German Liberal Party)
  • Hermann von Mallinckrodt ( center )
  • Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke ( Conservative Party )
  • Theodor Mommsen (NLP )
  • Friedrich von Payer ( DTVP )
  • August Reichenspergerplatz ( center )
  • Peter Reichenspergerplatz ( center )
  • Eugen Richter ( German Progress Party, German Liberal Party, FVP )
  • Heinrich Rickert (NLP, Liberal Association, German Liberal Party, Liberal Association )
  • Burghard von Schorlemer - Alst ( center )
  • Hermann Schulze- Delitzsch ( German Progress Party, German Liberal Party)
  • Paul Singer (SAP, then SPD)
  • Leopold sun man ( DTVP )
  • August Franz Schenk von Stauffenberg ( German Liberal Party), Reichstag Vice-President
  • Heinrich von Treitschke (NLP, Non-attached )
  • Rudolf Virchow ( German Progress Party, German Liberal Party, FVP )
  • Ludwig Windthorst ( center )
  • Richard Lipinski (SPD )