Main Issues in the Second Reich

Second Reich



The Constitution- 1871 - Unification of Germany led by Chancellor Bismark and Wilhelm I the Kaiser.

Main features of the constitution - Federal state (25 states all with individual gov). Kaiser (King of Prussia guardian on constitution). Chancellor  (responsible to Kaiser and could ignore legislation from Reichstag). Bundasrat (upper house of federal parliament, barrier to radical legislation). Reichstag (join power with bundasrat and mainly debated legislation). The Army (responsible to Kaiser). Bureacracy (helped to develop policy).

Political organisations - mass parties flourished due to universal suffrage; Conservatives/Free conservatives, National Liberals/Liberal Progressives/Centre party/Social Democratic Party.

Extent of German Economic Growth - first industrial revolution included heavy industries. Steel, chemicals, electricity, urbanisation all boomed. Agriculture fluctuated due to international competition and migration to cities. Benefited however from Tariff Law and growing population.

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Socialist movement - Anti-Socialist Laws of 1878did not stop working class from wanting political reform. SPD by 1912 was biggest party in Reichstag.

Pressure groups -Nationalist wanted expansion of German colonies; German Colonial League, Pan German League, Navy League. Economic groups wanted to protect their areas of work; Central Association og German Industrialists/ Agarian League.

Political developments - due to desire to protect ruling elites three main challenges arose; 1. aggressive foreign policy, 2. demand for constitutional reform, 3. demand for social reform.

Foreign Minister and von Bulow - von Bulow was Chancellor from 1900-09 and was devoted to protecting the elite. Sammlungspolitik: politics of concentration (alliance of conservative interests). Weltpolitik: world politics of build up of armed forces. Flottenpolitik: building of a navy that could rival Britain.   

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Key actions -

  • Herero Uprising - SPD did not support taking over this land, and proved parliament needed to control their spending on colonial affairs/service and accountability of army.
  • Hottentot election - SPD and centre Party did not vote for African railway but were outnumbered.
  • Daily Telegraph Affair - 1908 Kaiser asked for alliance with Britain but was rejected by Reichstag as it was not consulted over foreign policy; Kaiser had no confidence in it.
  • Zaben Affair; General in Alsace Lorraine offended the locals and the Kaiser ignored the protests. As a result the Reichstag gave a vote of no confidence, and this was ignored by the Chancellor, who later resigned.

Chancellor Hollweg - good a domestic policy; gave land from poles to Germans, insurance for workers, constitution for Alsace Lorraine. SPD in 1912 were the biggest party in Reichstag and voted for an increase in Army Bill; cooperated with other parties as they did not want to seem unpatriotic.

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Extent of constitutional change 1900-14 -

  • Little constitutional change up to 1914 even though the Chancellor operated independently of parties. Due to constituency boundaries, it meant that urban seats in the Reichstag remained low even due to urbanisation. This was bad due to seat numbers being more important than the vote numbers.
  • No political party was ever brave enough to challenge the Kaiser/monarchy.
  • Parties acted as interest groups - they protected who supported them; SPD protected the workers. This stopped them working with other groups.

Conclusion - political tensions were apparent between 1900-14 but the constitution did not change despite this. The development of industry and the collapse of agriculture had both political and economical effects upon Germany. All tensions continued throughout the first world war.

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