Germany: Notes - Archontology

Germany: Notes

Adoption of the Federal Constitutional Agreements (1870-1871)

On 8 Dec 1870, the representatives of the Norddeutscher Bund (North German Confederation) and of the four south German states formally approved the draft of the Federal Constitutional Agreements by signing the joint agreement in Versailles, France. The Bundesrat and the Reichstag of the North German Confederation passed the resolutions (10 Dec 1870 and 11 Dec 1870) in consent with the four southern German governments on replacement of the name Norddeutscher Bund by the name Deutsches Reich, and the name Bundespräsidium by the name Deutscher Kaiser in the text of the constitution. In the address dated 10 Dec 1870, the North German Reichstag asked the Prussian king, Wilhelm I, to accomplish the process of unification of Germany by assuming the Reich Crown. The address was delivered to the king by the Reichstag deputation in Versailles on 18 Dec 1870. Wilhelm answered that he was ready to accept the dignity of emperor as soon as the approval was received from the German princes and the free cities. After the North German Reichstag (9 Dec 1870) as well as the diets of Baden (21 Dec 1870), Hessen (20 Dec 1870 and 29 Dec 1870) and Württemberg (23 Dec 1870 and 29 Dec 1870) ratified the November agreements, they were promulgated by publication in Bundes-Gesetzblatt des Norddeutschen Bundes (No. 51, 31 Dec 1870) effective 1 Jan 1871. The Bavarian second chamber in a split vote ratified the agreements only on 21 Jan 1871 (102 in favor, 48 against). On 30 Jan 1871, king Ludwig II signed the agreements with retroactive effect to 1 Jan 1871. In this way, the German empire under the Federal Constitutional Agreements promulgated 31 Dec 1870 came into existence with effect from 1 Jan 1871.

Proclamation of the Emperor in Versailles, France (1871)

The German empire became a legal entity on 1 Jan 1871, but it still lacked executive bodies. After Wilhelm I showed his willingness to accept the imperial dignity on 18 Dec 1870, he announced that he accepted the crown on 14 Jan 1871 in a letter addressed to Grand Duke Friedrich I of Baden, who acted as spokesman of the princes and of the free cities. The proclamation of the new emperor took place in the Hall of Mirrors of the Versailles Palace between 12:00 noon and 13:00 18 Jan 1871. In the course of the meeting attended by the German ruling princes and nobility, military commanders, diplomats and officials, Wilhelm announced that he accepted the crown and Otto von Bismarck read out his appeal to the German nation (dated 17 Jan 1871). The ceremony culminated in the speech of Grand Duke Friedrich I of Baden, who proclaimed Wilhelm the German Emperor (Deutscher Kaiser). Bismarck undertook the office of German Empire chancellor after the amendments to the federal constitution were made on 16 Apr 1871. The Bundesrat of the German Empire convened on 20 Feb 1871 and the elections to the Reichstag were held on 3 Mar 1871. The latter convened for the first session on 21 Mar 1871.

Appointment to the Offices

Under German legal and political tradition, the appointment to high state offices does not constitute a public act subject to promulgation in official gazette. The procedure of appointment of Reichskanzler and Bundeskanzler was normally carried out in the course of the meeting between the appointing authority (Kaiser, Reichspräsident, Bundespräsident) and the appointee who receives an instrument of appointment (Ernennungsurkunde) and verbal confirmation. Although the instrument bears date, place and signature of the issuing authority, the omission of its contents from official publications makes the verification of dates more difficult.

[1] "Dokumente zur deutschen Verfassungsgeschichte", ed. by Ernst Rudolf Huber (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1961-1966).