North German Confederation

North German Confederation
North German Confederation
Norddeutscher Bund
Wappen Deutscher Bund.svg
Flag Coat of arms
The North German Confederation (red). The southern German states that joined in 1871 to form the German Empire are in orange. Alsace-Lorraine, the territory annexed following the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, is in a paler orange. The red territory in the South is part of the Kingdom of Prussia.
Capital Berlin
Political structure Confederation
 - 1867–1871 William I
 - 1867–1871 Otto von Bismarck
Legislature Reichstag
 - State council Reichsrat
 - Constitution tabelled April 16, 1866
 - Federation formed July 1, 1867
 - Elevation to empire January 18, 1871
Today part of  Germany
 Czech Republic

The North German Confederation (German: Norddeutscher Bund) 1866–71, was a federation of 22 independent states of northern Germany. It was formed by a constitution accepted by the member states in 1867 and controlled military and foreign policy. It included the new Reichstag, a parliament elected by universal manhood suffrage and a secret ballot. The Reichstag could debate and deal with budgets, but it had limited power compared to the Federal Council which represented the member states. The Confederation was dominated by its designer and first and only Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, who was also the prime minister of the Kingdom of Prussia, which had 80% of the population.[1] After defeating Austria in war, Prussia had just annexed the previously independent nations of Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, Nassau and Frankfurt. In 1871 it became the basis of a new nation, the German Empire, which adopted most parts of the federation's constitution and its flag.

It succeeded the German Confederation. Its territory comprised the parts of the German Confederation north of the river Main (with the exception of Luxembourg), plus Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and Prussia's eastern territories and the Duchy of Schleswig, but excluded Austria, Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, Luxembourg, Limburg, Liechtenstein and the southern parts of the Grand Duchy of Hesse.

It cemented Prussian control over northern Germany in economic matters, especially through the Zollverein (Customs Union), which included the states of southern Germany that were not in the Confederation. The most important work of the new federation was to promote industrial freedom, as demanded by the liberal elements of the business community. For example, economic tolls and restrictions were ended and a federal postal and telegraph system was set up. The result was faster economic growth, and an increase in personal freedom.[2]

The Confederation was replaced by the new German Empire in 1871. Its constitution was largely adopted by the Empire and remained in effect until 1918. This constitution granted immense powers to the new chancellor, Bismarck who was appointed by the President of the Bundesrat (Prussia). This was because the constitution made the chancellor 'responsible', though not accountable, to the Reichstag. This therefore allowed him the benefit of being the link between the emperor and the people. The Chancellor retained powers over the military budget, after the constitutional crisis that engulfed Wilhelm I in 1862. Laws also prevented certain civil servants becoming members of the Reichstag, those who were Bismarck's main opposition in the 1860s.

The Confederation came into being after Prussia defeated Austria and the other remaining states of the German Confederation in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Its constitution, which came into force on 1 July 1867, was written by Bismarck, with major changes made by the delegates to the North German Reichstag. Executive power was vested in a president, a hereditary office of the King of Prussia. He was assisted by a chancellor responsible only to him. Legislative power was vested in a two-house parliament. The states were represented in the Bundesrat (Federal Council) with 43 seats. The people were represented by the Reichstag (Diet), elected by male universal suffrage. The Bundesrat membership was extended before 1871 with the creation of the Zollverein Parliament in 1867, an attempt to create closer unity with the southern states by permitting representatives to be sent to the Bundersrat.

For all intents and purposes, Prussia exercised effective control over the confederation. With four-fifths of the states its territory and population, the Hohenzollern kingdom was larger than the other 21 states combined. It had 17 votes in the Bundesrat, and could easily control the proceedings by making deals with the smaller states. Additionally, Bismarck served as Prussia's foreign minister as well, and thus had the right to instruct the Prussian representatives to the Bundesrat.

Following the Confederation's quick, decisive victory over the Second French Empire and the subsequently formed Third Republic in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, Bavaria, Württemberg, and Baden (together with parts of the Grand Duchy of Hesse which had not originally joined the confederation), unified with the states of the Confederation to form the German Empire, with William I taking the new title of German Emperor (rather than Emperor of Germany as Austria was not included).

7-kreuzer stamp, 1868


Postage stamps

One of the functions of the confederation was to handle mail and issue postage stamps; for details, see postage stamps and postal history of the North German Confederation.

List of member states

State Capital
Kingdoms (Königreiche)
Flag of Prussia 1892-1918.svg Prussia (Preußen)
(including Lauenburg)
Flagge Königreich Sachsen (1815-1918).svg Saxony (Sachsen) Dresden
Grand duchies (Großherzogtümer)
Flagge Großherzogtum Hessen ohne Wappen.svg Hesse (Hessen)
(Only Upper Hesse, the province north of the Main River)
Flagge Großherzogtümer Mecklenburg.svg Mecklenburg-Schwerin Schwerin
Flagge Großherzogtümer Mecklenburg.svg Mecklenburg-Strelitz Neustrelitz
Flag of Oldenburg.svg Oldenburg Oldenburg
Flagge Großherzogtum Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach (1813-1897).svg Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach) Weimar
Duchies (Herzogtümer)
Flagge Herzogtum Anhalt.svg Anhalt Dessau
Flagge Herzogtum Braunschweig.svg Brunswick (Braunschweig) Braunschweig
Flagge Herzogtum Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha (1826-1911).svg Saxe-Altenburg (Sachsen-Altenburg) Altenburg
Flagge Herzogtum Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha (1911-1920).svg Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha) Coburg
Flagge Herzogtum Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha (1826-1911).svg Saxe-Meiningen (Sachsen-Meiningen) Meiningen
Principalities (Fürstentümer)
Flagge Fürstentum Lippe.svg Lippe Detmold
Flagge Fürstentum Reuß jüngere Linie.svg Reuss, junior line Gera
Flagge Fürstentum Reuß ältere Linie.svg Reuss, senior line Greiz
Flagge Fürstentum Schaumburg-Lippe.svg Schaumburg-Lippe Bückeburg
Flagge Fürstentümer Schwarzburg.svg Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt Rudolstadt
Flagge Fürstentümer Schwarzburg.svg Schwarzburg-Sondershausen Sondershausen
Flag of Germany (3-2 aspect ratio).svg Waldeck-Pyrmont Arolsen
Free Hanseatic cities (Freie Hansestädte)
Flag of Bremen.svg Bremen
Flag of Hamburg.svg Hamburg
Flag of the Free City of Lübeck.svg Lübeck

See also


  1. ^ Hajo Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, 1840–1945 (1969) p 194-99
  2. ^ Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, 1840–1945 pp 201–2

Further reading

  • Craig, Gordon A. Germany, 1866–1945 (1978) online edition
  • Holborn, Hajo. A History of Modern Germany: 1840–1945 (1969) pp. 173–232
  • Nipperdey, Thomas. Germany from Napoleon to Bismarck (1996), very dense coverage of every aspect of German society, economy and government
  • Pflanze, Otto. Bismarck and the Development of Germany, Vol. 1: The Period of Unification, 1815–1871 (1971)
  • Taylor, A.J.P. Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman (1967) online edition

Coordinates: 52°31′N 13°24′E / 52.517°N 13.4°E / 52.517; 13.4

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