Unit 1: What were the main issues in the 2nd Reich 1900-14?

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Main Feautures of the Constitution (1)

  •  A federal state: 25 states. States retained their own governments and had different constitution (some allowed universal suffrage others retained absolutist rulers). States had wide ranging powers, control of education, police, health care. 
  • The Kaiser: Considerable powers, making personality of K important. Always to be Prussian King. Full control of foreign and diplomatic policy (could wage war, make alliances, sign treaties). Appointed and dismissed Chancellor, could dissolve the Reichstag. Guardian of the Constitution. 
  • The Chancellor: directly responsible to K. Also Minister-President of Prussia. Ignore resolutions passed by the Reichstag. Success of Chancellor depended on his political ability and relationship with K. 
  • The Bundesrat: Upper house of federal parliament. 17 of 58 seats were Prussian, 14 for veto. The votes of those who paid more tax counted for more than the votes of those who paid less= conservatives dominated.
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Main Feautures of the Constitution (2)

  • The Reichstag: lower house of federal parliament.                                                    Held joint legislative power with the Bundesrat.                                                        Most significant power was its control over the defence budget.                               Couldn't be dismissed indefinitely, had the right to hold elections soon after dissolution. Main function was to accept or reject legislation.                                            Chancellor wasn't accountable to the Reichstag and did not even have to answer its questions. Military wasn't accountable to Reichstag.                                                      Members of Reichstag wouldn't be paid, so only certain class could be in Reichstag. 
  • The Army: lay outisde the constitution. Accountable to K. Army was a 'state within a state'. Ran itself with little interference beyond that of K.
  • The Bureaucracy: role wasn't identified in constitution. did have a role in development of policy.
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Strengths and Weaknesses of Constitution


  •  gave Kaiser large amount of power.
  • chancellor could ignore resolutions passed by Reichstag.
  • constitution could be changed by Bundesrat.
  •  gave Reichstag limited powers.
  • didn't control the army, Kaiser did.
  • created a political structure that wasn't clear, that was fragmented and dominated by conservative elites.
  • mismatch of what was wanted (more power) and political reality (not much power)


  • let states retain their own goverment and gave fairly wide ranging powers, reducing K power.
  • Reichstag couldn't be totally ignored, C had to negotiate legislation through R.
  • K power provides clarity, 1 person in charge of major decisions.
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Economic Change 1900-14

Main economic power in Europe.

1st industrial revolution: cotton, iron and coal. Produced 279,000 tonnes of coal (1914) and 14,793 tonnes of iron (1910).

2nd industrial revolution: Steel, new method of manufactory, lead to expansion of railways and armants.                                                                                                               Chemicals, held a world wide monopoly of artifical dyes, used for explosive and textile dyes.  Electricity, 1/2 of Europes electrical business was being undertaken by German companies (1914) By 1907, 107,000 Germans worked as electrical workers.

Decline of agriculture: 1900= 1/3 of GNP, 1914: 1/4 of GNP. US imports threatened G farmers, foreign imports still cheaper after transport and tariff. promise of better life as industrial worker= mass migration.

Urbanisation: overcrowding in cities, large unplanned cities, lack of clean water lead to 8,600 people dying from Cholera in 10 weeks. Better hygiene and medicine imporved infant mortality rates. Trams met people could commute from suburbs to work.

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Social Change 1900-14

Large social divisions.

Social class divisions based on inequalities of wealth and power were deepened through industrialisation.

Urban-rural conflict, belief countryside life was perfect as it was less populated, slums in towns were in very bad condition.

Nationality and ethnicity, no national anthem until 1890. Lots of small ethnic minorities.

Religion, protestant majority in Prussia and north, catholic majority in south and industrial Rhineland.

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Political impact of Social and Economic Change

Growth of the Socialist movement: largest socialist poltical party in Europe (SPD had 720,000 members in 1910). Winning 75% of vote in Berlin elections. More revisionist ideas than revolutionary e.g socialists shoulkd look for gradual improvement through parliamentary reform. Elite thought SPD was dangerous, revolutionary + would overthrow society.

Growth of trade unions: 25 million workers were members of trade unions and 400,000 went on strike for better working conditions. .

Pressure Groups (Nationalist, wanted colonial expansion and assertion of G interests)

  • German colonial league: concerned with acquistion of colonies, p[layed a part in ruling various parts of German Empire e.g 1884 took control of G South West Africa.
  • Pan German League:new colonies but also Germany to be dominant in Europe.
  • Navy League: promote naval expanision, very popular had 1 million members. 

Pressure Groups (Economic)

  • Central association of G industrialists: protected industrial interests through tariffs.
  • Agrarian league: led by Junkers, gained wide spread support from peasents, pushed for protectionism and subsiddies for agriculture.
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Poltical Development and tensions 1900-1914

Von Bulow- Foreign Minister 1897 to 1900, Chancellor 1900 to 1909.


Flottenpolitik: Tirpitz.

Weltpolitik: The Herero Uprising and The Hottentot Election 1907.

Social Reforms: Old Age and Invalidty Law 1899, new Tariff Law (agricultural products), Sickness Insurance Law 1903 and restriction of the hours children could work in factories 1908.

The Daily Telegraph Affair 1908

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Poltical Development and tensions 1900-1914

Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg 1909-1917

talented at domestic policy.

The Zabern Affair 1913. G army officer, Forstner, offended zabern locals which was printed in paper. K wasnt bothered.

Impact: highlighted limits to Reichstags influence, Vote of no confidence ignored, week after vote politician finally demanded chancellor to resign, he was ignored. Shows G wasn't democratic as its elected representative was ignored. Showed K and army believed they were above the law.

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