1902 Encyclopedia > Germany > Germany - Government

(Part 11)



The German empire is a union of 25 sovereign states,—4 kingdom, 6 grand-duchies, 5 duchies, 7 principalities, 3 free towns. Alsace-Lorraine, ceded by France at the peace concluded 10th May 1871, forms a twenty-sixth constituent of the confederation, but it is administered by the central authority. The supreme direction of the military and political affairs of the empire has, by the vote of the Reichstag or diet of the North German confederation, been vested in the king of Prussia, who accordingly bears the title of German Emperor (Deutscher Kaiser).

The imperial dignity is hereditary in the line of Hohenzollern, and follows the law of primogeniture. The emperor exercises the imperial power in the name of the confederated states. In his office he is assisted by a federal council or bundesrath, which represents the Government of the individual states of Germany. The members of this council, 59 in number, are appointed for each session by the Governments of the individual states. The legislative functions of the empire are vested in the emperor, the bundesrant, and the Reichstag or diet. The members of the latter, 397 in number, are elected for a space of three years by universal suffrage. Vote is by ballot, and one member is elected by (approximately) every 100,000 inhabitants.

As regards its legislative functions, the empire has supreme and independent control in maters relating to military and affairs and the navy, to the imperial finances, to German commerce, to posts and telegraphs, and also to railways, in so far as these affect the common defence of the country. Bavaria and Würtemberg, however, have preserved their own postal and telegraphic administration. The legislative power of the empire also takes precedence of that of the separate states in the regulation of matters affecting freedom of migration (Freizügigkeit), domicile, settlement, and the rights of German subjects generally, as well as in all that relates to banking, patents, protection of intellectual property, navigation of rivers and canals, civil and criminal legislation, judicial procedure, sanitary police, and control of the press and of associations.

The executive power is in the emperor’s hands. He represents the empire internationally, and can declare war if defensive, and make peace as well as enter into treaties with other nations; he also appoints and receives ambassadors. For declaring offensive war the consent of the federal council must be obtained. The separate states have the privilege of sending ambassadors to the other courts; but all consuls abroad are officials of the empire, and are named by the emperor.

Both the federal council and the Reichstag meet in annual sessions convoked by the emperor who has the right of proroguing and dissolving the diet; but the prorogation must not exceed 60 days, and in case of dissolution new elections must be ordered within 60 days, and the new session opened within 90 days. All laws for the regulation of the empire must, in order to pass, receive the votes of an absolute majority of the federal council and the Reichstag. The subjoined tables gives the number of votes which the separate states have in the federal council. Each state may appoint as many members to the federal council as it has votes. The table also gives the number of the deputies in the Reichstag. The official order of precedence of the 26 states is given in a former table (see p. 455); here they are arranged in the order of the number of their inhabitants.


The federal council is presided over by the chancellor of the empire (Reichskanzler). Imperial measures, after passing the federal council and the Reichstag, must obtain the sanction of the emperor in order to become law, and must be countersigned, when promulgated, by the chancellor of the empire. All members of the federal council are entitled to be present at the deliberations of the Reichstag. The federal council, acting under the direction of the chancellor of the empire, is also a supreme administrative and consultative board, and as such it has nine standing committees, viz:—for army and fortresses; for naval purposes; for tariffs, excise, and taxes; for trade and commerce; for railways, posts, and telegraphs; for civil and criminal law; for financial accounts; for foreign affairs; and for Alsace-Lorraine. Each committee includes representatives of at least four states of the empire.

For the several branches of administration a considerable number of imperial offices have been gradually created. All of them, however, either are under the immediate authority of the chancellor of the empire, or are separately managed under his responsibility. The most important are the chancery office, the foreign office, and the general post and telegraph office. But the heads of these do not form a cabinet.

By the electoral law of 31st May 1869 every German of twenty-one years of age is entitled to be an elector, and every one who has completed his twenty-fifth year, and has resided for a year in one of the federal states, is eligible for election. The deputies are unsalaried, but during the session they have the right of traveling free by rail. The following table shows the political composition of the Reichstag after the four elections form 1871 to 1878:—


All the German states we constitutional, except Alsace-Lorraine and the two grand-duchies of Mecklenburg. The six larger states have adopted the two-chamber system, but in the composition of the houses great differences are found. The following table gives analyses of the membership for the session of 1878. As regards the lower house, 60,000 inhabitants elect one deputy in Prussia, 33,000 in Bavaria, 35,000 in Saxony, 20,000 in Würtemberg, 24,000 in Baden, 18,000 in Hesse.


The lesser states also have chambers of representative numbering from 12 members (in Reuss) to 46 members (in Brunswick), and in most states the different classes, as well as the cities and the rural districts, are separately represented. The free towns have legislative assemblies, numbering from 120 to 200 members. In the so-called landtagen (diets) of Mecklenburg, which have but few privileges, 684 rittergüter (allodial estates) are represented and only 40 towns.

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