North German Confederation

Mary Stone | December 24, 2022


The North German Confederation was the first German federal state. It united all German states north of the Main River under Prussian leadership and was the historical precursor of the Prussian-dominated, small-German solution to the German question, which was realized with the founding of the Reich in 1871, to the exclusion of Austria. Founded as a military alliance in August 1866, the confederation acquired the quality of a state through the constitution of July 1, 1867.

The federal constitution largely corresponded to the constitution of the empire of 1871: legislation was the responsibility of an Imperial Diet, elected by the male people, and a Federal Council, representing the governments of the member states (mostly duchies). To pass laws, both had to agree. The head of the Confederation was the Prussian king as holder of the Federal Presidency. The responsible minister was the Federal Chancellor. The conservative Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck was the first and only chancellor in the few years of the North German Confederation.

With its numerous modernizing laws on the economy, trade, infrastructure and the legal system (including the forerunner of today”s penal code), the Reichstag essentially prepared for later German unity. Some of the laws were already effective in the southern German states before 1871 via the German Customs Union. However, parliamentary control over the military budget was still limited, although military spending accounted for 95 percent of the total budget.

The hope that the southern German states of Baden, Bavaria, Württemberg and Hesse-Darmstadt would soon be able to join the Confederation was not fulfilled. In those states, resistance to Protestant Prussia or to the Confederation with its liberal economic and social policies was strong. This was evident in the election to the Customs Parliament in 1868; however, this cooperation of North German and South German deputies in the Zollverein contributed to the economic unity of Germany.

After a diplomatic defeat in the Spanish succession dispute, France started a war against Germany in July 1870. Its aim was to prevent Prussia from gaining further strength and to prevent German unification under its leadership. However, the southern German states of Baden, Bavaria and Württemberg had formed defensive alliances with Prussia after their defeat in the German War of 1866. Therefore, and due to their better organization, the German armies were able to quickly carry the war into France.

Through the November treaties of 1870, the southern German states subsequently joined the expanding North German Confederation. With the founding of the German Empire and the entry into force of the new constitution on January 1, 1871, the Confederation was absorbed into the German Empire.

Prehistory until 1866

Since the 18th century, there had been another power in Germany besides the Austrian Habsburg monarchy that claimed a leading role: Prussia, which had risen to the status of a kingdom in 1701 and, among other things, had conquered from Austria Silesia, which was rich in mineral resources. The relationship between these two major Central European powers was referred to as German dualism, which was characterized by rivalry, but often also by cooperation to the disadvantage of third parties.

The expansion of the federation desired by many Germans, or even the transition to a federal state, was prevented by Austria and Prussia: The Empire of Austria saw a German federal state as a threat to its existence because of its own nationality conflicts, and Prussia did not want any further development of the German Confederation as long as Austria alone was considered a “presidential power.” As early as 1849, Prussia, with the “Erfurt Union,” sought first a Little Germany without Austria and Bohemia, without the Habsburgs and without the German Confederation, then at least a North German federal state under Prussian leadership. However, Prussia had to abandon this attempt in the autumn crisis of 1850 due to pressure from Austria, the Mittelstaaten and Russia.

Subsequently, cooperation between the great powers resumed, but it was much more overshadowed by rivalry than in the years 1815-1848. After 1859, both great powers made unsuccessful proposals for federal reform. A division of Germany into North and South was also part of this. Although they again acted together against the German states in the war against Denmark around 1864, they were soon at odds over the Schleswig-Holstein question and settled this dispute militarily as well.

Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck made several efforts to reach a settlement with Austria, but in the end he steered Prussia toward confrontation with Austria and, if necessary, the other states. The Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, in turn, was unimpressed, considering Bismarck”s position in Prussia to be weak and estimating his own military power to be insurmountable. Thus, on June 14, 1866, Austria obtained a federal resolution from the Bundestag on the mobilization of the federal army against Prussia.

German war and war consequences

In the German War of 1866, however, Prussia and its allies won against Austria and its allies (the kingdoms of Bavaria, Württemberg, Saxony and Hanover, the grand duchies of Baden and Hesse, the Electorate of Hesse and other small states). In the preliminary peace with Austria (July 26), Prussia enforced the reorganization of relations in northern Germany up to the Main line. This is also where the term North German Confederation first appears. Prussia had already agreed on this arrangement with the French Emperor Napoleon III.

On October 1, 1866, Prussia annexed four of its wartime enemies north of the Main: Hanover, Kurhessen, Nassau and Frankfurt. The remaining states were allowed to retain their territories with almost no changes. The annexations increased Prussia”s population from about 19 million to nearly 24 million.

Three other wartime enemies north of the Main, namely Saxony, Saxe-Meiningen and Reuss of the older line, were obliged in the peace treaties to join the North German Confederation. The Grand Duchy of Hesse had to join the Confederation with its province of Upper Hesse as well as the municipalities of Kastel and Kostheim on the right bank of the Rhine (Rheinhessen), all of which lay north of the Main.

August Treaties and the Constituent Diet

On August 18, 1866, Prussia concluded a dual-purpose alliance treaty with 15 northern and central German states, which eventually became known as the “August Alliance.” Later, other states such as the two Mecklenburgs (Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz) joined the treaty (hence “August Treaties”). On the one hand, they formed a defensive alliance that was limited to one year. On the other hand, the August alliance was a preliminary treaty for the founding of a federal state.

The basis was to be the federal reform plan of June 10, 1866, which Prussia had sent to the other German states at the time. However, this plan was still very general and at that time still included Bavaria and the rest of Little Germany. Thus, the August alliance did not yet have an actual draft constitution, unlike the Epiphany alliance of 1849 for the Erfurt Union.

The August alliance also agreed on the election of a joint parliament. This would represent the North German people in the constitutional agreement. The basis for the election were laws of the individual states. In accordance with the agreement, these laws adopted the Frankfurt Imperial Election Law of 1849 almost verbatim. The North German Constituent Diet was elected on February 12, 1867, and opened in Berlin on February 24 by King William I of Prussia. After long negotiations, the Reichstag, which met in Berlin”s Palais Hardenberg, adopted the amended draft constitution as early as April 16 and had its final formal session the following day.

Federal Constitution

The Prussian Parliament and the constituent Reichstag were dominated by a national liberal-freiconservative majority. The National Liberals in particular originally wanted the most radical solution possible: Germany should become a unitary state under Prussian leadership. For example, the other states of northern Germany should simply have joined Prussia. Prussia, with its military power, could have forced them to do so. Bismarck, on the other hand, sought a federal solution. On the one hand, he did not want to deter the southern German states and their princes from joining later as well. On the other hand, he was concerned with his own mediating role and thus with his position of power between the king, the Diet and the allied states.

As a result of these considerations, Bismarck aimed for a North German federal constitution that concealed its unitary features and also the power of the Prussian king. As far as possible, the new federation was to outwardly resemble a confederation of states. For example, the military power in the constitution was subordinated to a federal field commander. This designation dated from the time of the German Confederation; at that time, the Prussian king had attempted to become the permanent federal field commander of the federal army, or at least of the northern German federal forces. However, the constitution made it clear elsewhere that the federal field commander was none other than the Prussian king.

Privy Councillor Maximilian Duncker had prepared an initial draft constitution on behalf of Bismarck. After several revisions by envoys and ministry officials, Bismarck himself put his own hand to it, and finally, on December 15, 1866, a Prussian draft was presented to the plenipotentiaries of the governments. Some of the plenipotentiaries had considerable reservations; sometimes they wanted more federalism, sometimes a stronger unitary state. Bismarck adopted 18 amendments that did not touch the basic structure, and the plenipotentiaries agreed on February 7, 1867. This draft was then a joint constitutional offer by the allied governments.

The draft was sent to the constituent Reichstag on March 4. In its deliberations, the constituent Reichstag coordinated closely with the plenipotentiaries of the individual states. In this way, compromises were reached on which both sides could agree. On April 16, 1867, not only did a majority of the Reichstag pass the amended draft, but it was also immediately approved by the plenipotentiaries. The individual states then had their state parliaments vote and published the federal constitution. This process lasted until June 27. On July 1, the constitution could enter into force as agreed. Apart from a few designations and details, the constitution of the North German Confederation is already identical to the constitution of the German Reich of April 16, 1871, which was applied until 1918.

In the heated deliberations of the Reichstag, Bismarck”s draft had been considerably amended. The Reichstag strengthened federal competence and its own position. The National Liberal deputy Rudolf von Bennigsen succeeded in pushing through the so-called Lex Bennigsen: The Federal Chancellor had to countersign the orders of the Federal Presidency (the Prussian king) to make them effective, and thus assumed (ministerial) responsibility. He thus became an independent federal organ. Bismarck himself originally wanted to see the Federal Chancellor only as an executive official; now he was the key figure in the complicated decision-making structure (Michael Stürmer).

Federal bodies

The King of Prussia was entitled to the presidency of the Confederation; a title such as “emperor” was dispensed with. He was not the head of the Confederation in name, but in fact. He appointed a Federal Chancellor who countersigned the acts of the Presidium. Thus, the chancellor was the only responsible minister, that is, the federal government (executive) in one person. Accountability is not parliamentary, but political.

To support his work, the Federal Chancellor was given a supreme federal authority, the Federal Chancellery (it was later renamed the Reich Chancellery and should not be confused with the Reich Chancellery of 1878). During the period of the North German Confederation, only one other supreme federal authority was established, the Foreign Office, which had been taken over from Prussia. The head of the Chancellor”s Office and the head of the Foreign Office were not colleagues of the Chancellor, but were subordinate to him as officials authorized to issue directives. Bismarck resisted the Reichstag”s efforts to establish regular federal ministries. In practice, Bismarck often used the assistance of the state ministries, especially the Prussian ministries, simply because he lacked his own staff at the federal level.

The constituent states sent plenipotentiaries to the Federal Council. This representation of the constituent states was a federal body that had executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The federal government did not have a constitutional court, but the Federal Council ruled on certain disputes between and within the constituent states.

Together with the Reichstag, the Bundesrat exercised legislative power, including budgetary approval. The constitution prohibited the payment of parliamentary allowances. The electoral law of the Federation provided for universal and equal male suffrage. Every North German had one vote for a candidate in the constituency in which he lived. Each constituency sent one representative to the North German Reichstag. In May 1869, the Federal Electoral Law came into being, which basically retained the provisions of the individual state laws of 1866.

The Federal Chancellor was the chairman of the Bundesrat. In itself, he had neither a seat nor a vote in it. However, Chancellor Bismarck was also Prussian Prime Minister. In this way, he had the greatest influence on the Prussian votes in the Bundesrat and thus on the entire Bundesrat. This combination of offices was not provided for in the constitution, but it was maintained almost throughout the period of the North German Confederation and the German Empire.

Elections and parties

The Prussian parliamentary elections of July 13, 1866 (the primary election took place before the news of victory from Königgrätz arrived) amounted to a landslide. The Liberals lost about a hundred seats, while the Conservatives gained as many. Prussian liberalism was thus less entrenched in the electorate than had been thought. Bismarck, however, tried to reach a balance with Austria externally and with the liberals internally in order to gain greater room for maneuver. Shortly after the war, he announced the Indemnity Bill: He asked Parliament to retroactively approve his unconstitutional measures of the conflict years.

Bismarck”s attitude led to a split in both the liberal Progressive Party and the Conservatives. The National Liberal Party split from the former in 1867, and the Free Conservative Party from the conservatives. In the long run, both became Bismarck”s pillars in parliament. The more left-wing Liberals, on the other hand, permanently resented Bismarck”s breaches of the constitution during the period of conflict, and the more right-wing Conservatives were opposed to concessions to Liberals.

The Catholic deputies were rather weakly represented in the Reichstag of the North German Confederation. Among other things, they cooperated in the Federal-Constitutional Association. Even before the founding of the German Reich, they united between June and December 1870 to form the Center Party, which wanted to defend the rights of the Catholic minority and the rule of law in general.

The Saxon People”s Party, an anti-Prussian alliance of radical democrats and socialists, was able to send two deputies to the (constituent) Reichstag as early as February 1867, including August Bebel. Alongside his more liberal colleague, Bebel was the first Marxist in a German parliament. In the ordinary Reichstag elected in August, the SVP provided three deputies, the General German Workers” Association two. The separation of bourgeois radical democrats and socialists, one of the deepest caesuras in German party history, led to the founding of the Social Democratic Workers” Party in Eisenach in 1869.

Thus, the Reichstag of the North German Confederation already contained the parties that would later shape the Empire: the two liberal and the two conservative parties, the Catholic Center Party and the Social Democrats.

Together with more liberal Prussian officials, the Reichstag embarked on a comprehensive reform program. Hans-Ulrich Wehler notes a “wealth of initiatives, especially on the part of the National Liberals,” which “looked like a determined attempt to prove without delay how modern and attractive the North German Confederation could be in a very short time for any friend of progress – how assertive the liberals were with their policy of social modernization. However, the military, foreign policy, bureaucracy, and court society remained autonomous, outside parliamentary rule. Otherwise, the North German Reichstag “was able to demonstrate an astonishing track record after barely three years,” to which one must add the liberal epoch in the empire until 1877. 84 National Liberals, 30 Progressive Party members and 36 Free Conservatives (but many important laws were also passed almost unanimously.

More than eighty laws passed by the Reichstag of the North German Confederation abolished numerous privileges and compulsory rights; citizens were given more opportunities to shape their lives more freely. The rule of law was consolidated, and obstacles to industry and trade were removed. “Once again, many a high-flown expectation of reform was disappointed. Nevertheless, a look at the twenty most important laws shows the energy with which the liberals in Parliament and the administration pushed ahead with their great modernization project in an amazingly short time.”

The North German Reichstag often adopted drafts from the period of the German Confederation. The innovations and unifications that mostly continued after 1870 include:

Despite other expectations, it soon became apparent that a unification of Germany was not a foregone conclusion. In 1869, Bismarck therefore said that one should not press ahead by force, since one could at best reap unripe fruit in this way. Time could not be made to run faster by advancing the clock. In southern Germany, taxes had to be increased because of the Prussian-style army reform. In Baden, the grand duke was only able to get the alliance with the north through parliament by emergency decree. In 1870, the patriot party of the Catholic Landvolk overthrew the liberal prime minister. In Hesse-Darmstadt, the prime minister was still hoping for a Prussian defeat in the conflict with France in July 1870.

From May to July 1867, Bismarck initiated a reform of the Zollverein in order to bind the southern German states more closely to the North German Confederation. The “association of independent states” (a union of states under international law) with veto rights became an economic union with majority voting. Only the great Prussia still had a veto as an individual state. The Customs Federal Council was a body comparable to the Federal Council with government representatives of the member states, and there was also a Customs Parliament. It was elected according to the Reichstag electoral law, although in reality the Reichstag was expanded to include southern German deputies.

Elections to the Customs Parliament were held in southern Germany in 1868. It turned out that the opponents of Prussia still represented many voters. The votes were directed against the dominance of Protestant Prussia or against liberal free trade policies; some were also about internal conflicts in the states. In Württemberg, all 17 deputies were anti-Prussian; in Baden, 6 compared with 8 small Germans; in Bavaria, 27 compared with 21. Most belonged to the conservative camp. Bismarck understood that the expansion of the North German Confederation to include the South could be a long time coming; nevertheless, the South had no alternative to economic integration because 95 percent of its trade was with the North.

Economic cooperation did not mean automatic political unity. The southern German states were on the defensive on this point, just like the second French empire, but above all Napoleon III found himself in a difficult position domestically after he had in 1869

Bismarck, however, shied away from instrumentalizing the national movement. In February 1870, the National Liberals demanded with the “Interpellation Lasker” that liberal Baden be admitted to the Confederation. Bismarck refused unusually curtly: This would make the accession of the other southern German states less likely. Bismarck biographer Lothar Gall assumes that he primarily wanted to preserve the previous power structure and feared a revaluation of the liberals. The same applied to a national popular movement.

In early 1870, Bismarck initiated King Wilhelm of Prussia into an imperial plan. According to it, Wilhelm was to be proclaimed “Emperor of Germany” or at least of the North German Confederation. This would be a strengthening for the government and its supporters in view of the coming elections and deliberations of the military budget. Moreover, “Federal Presidency” was an impractical title in diplomatic dealings. One thought was also that a German emperor might be more acceptable to the southern Germans than a Prussian king. However, Bismarck”s request met with resistance from the other princes in northern and southern Germany, as a result of which the plan was abandoned.


The diplomacy of the North German Confederation was primarily determined by Prussia. The designation “Foreign Office” goes back to the corresponding titling of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the North German Confederation by supreme cabinet order of January 1, 1870, before it was renamed the Foreign Office of the North German Confederation on January 4, 1870. With this designation, Bismarck circumvented the question of whether it was a ministry.

From its founding in 1867 until its absorption into the larger German Empire on January 1, 1871, the relationship with the southern German states and with France was particularly decisive. There was a kind of cold war with France, marked by diplomatic crises and rearmament. The political fronts, including those with southern Germany, seemed to have solidified in 1870, writes Richard Dietrich.

The northern German states retained the right to maintain their own embassies abroad and to receive ambassadors from other countries. This was not of great importance, since the constituent states maintained only a few legations except for Prussia.

Military Policy

The Liberals had originally wanted to influence the military budget in the Prussian constitutional conflict. But they had to live with the compromise that this budget was to be decided for several years (and not just one). Expenditures were set by the Reichstag until December 31, 1871. Since the military cost the federal government 95 percent of all its federal expenditures, parliamentary control over the national budget was severely limited.

With the navy of the North German Confederation, the earlier plans to build a German fleet were realized. In the short period of the North German Confederation, however, it was not possible to invest sufficiently in building up its own naval forces. In the naval war against France in 1870

Franco-German War

In September 1868, the royal house had been overthrown in Spain, so the transitional regime was looking for a new king. Bismarck ensured that Leopold von Hohenzollern, a prince from the southern German branch of the Hohenzollern family, agreed to run for office. When this became known in July, French public opinion reacted indignantly. Leopold withdrew his candidacy, and France could have been satisfied with this diplomatic victory. Napoleon III, however, made the mistake of demanding that the head of the Hohenzollern dynasty, Prussian King Wilhelm I, rule out such a candidacy in the future. Bismarck gave this to the press in an abbreviated account. In this Ems dispatch, the French request and Wilhelm”s rejection appeared particularly abrupt. On July 19, 1870, France declared war on Prussia.

It is still disputed what part Bismarck played in the escalation of the diplomatic crisis. Christopher Clark writes that Bismarck did not control events and resigned himself to the withdrawal of the candidacy. The French readiness for war was due to the fact that France did not want to see its privileged position in the system of European powers endangered. Heinrich August Winkler, on the other hand, believes that Bismarck wanted the war and deliberately made it inevitable by his aggravating presentation. Nevertheless, one could not speak of Bismarck”s sole guilt for the war, because Napoleon did not want to grant the Germans the right of national self-determination. “Deflecting internal discontent outward had always been a favorite means of rule by Bonapartism.”

France was isolated because the other powers did not see its war as justified. Contrary to Napoleon”s expectations, the southern German states supported the North German Confederation because of the protective alliance with Prussia. After repelling the French attack, the war shifted to France. Already on September 2, at the Battle of Sedan, Napoleon was captured and his regime capitulated. A new National Defense government continued the war until January 26, 1871. In May, the Peace of Frankfurt took place. France had to pay a large indemnity and cede Alsace-Lorraine.

Transition to the German Reich

In 1867, the southern German states of the Grand Duchy of Baden, the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Kingdom of Württemberg were still completely outside the North German Confederation, while Hesse-Darmstadt and its northern province of Upper Hesse were part of it. Baden, Bavaria and Württemberg concluded treaties of accession to the North German Confederation in November 1870. The conclusion of these November treaties enabled the Grand Duchies of Baden and Hesse (southern Hesse) to join on November 15, 1870, the Kingdom of Bavaria on November 23, and the Kingdom of Württemberg on November 25, 1870; at the same time, the treaties agreed to establish a “German Confederation.” By Reichstag resolution of December 10, 1870, this federation was given the name German Reich. In the process, the Reich essentially adopted the federal constitution of 1867. Thus, the German question was ultimately decided with the exclusion of Austria in the sense of the Kleindeutsche solution.

The accession of the southern German states to the Confederation did not create a new state in the sense of state and constitutional law: the reformed North German Confederation continued to exist under the name “German Reich” after its German Confederation constitution had been redrafted – not least because of two divergent versions. Consequently, the founding of the Reich was nothing more than the entry of the southern German states into the North German Confederation. According to the prevailing view, the German Reich was not the legal successor of the North German Confederation, but is identical with it as a subject of international law; the latter was reorganized and renamed. The Prussian Supreme Administrative Court had also assumed that the international law treaties of the North German Confederation continued to apply to the German Reich, without questioning this with regard to a possible succession.

The constitutional historian Ernst Rudolf Huber admitted that the vast majority of constitutional law scholars assume identity. However, he himself emphasized that the November treaties explicitly speak of a refoundation. This had also been the wish of the southern Germans. In Huber”s view, the North German Confederation was not explicitly dissolved, but it was dissolved ipso iure as a consequence of the establishment of the new Confederation by the North German and South German states. Huber sees the German Reich as the legal successor of the North German Confederation, which also occurred ipso iure. As a consequence, the laws of the North German Confederation continued to apply in the Reich.

Michael Kotulla, on the other hand, points out that the accession of the southern states could only take place through the constitutional route according to the North German Federal Constitution. In any case, it is astonishing how the theoretical question of “refoundation or accession” is sometimes still dealt with in detail. The practical consequences are in fact the same, since the minority assumes at least legal succession.

The establishment of the North German Confederation caused a number of states to fall out of the process of forming a German nation-state. These were Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Dutch Limburg. The latter was only a Dutch province in the first place, which had belonged to the German Confederation for historical-political reasons. Luxembourg”s independence was confirmed by the Great Powers in the course of the Luxembourg Crisis in 1867.

The North German Confederation comprised 22 constituent states, which were called federal states in the constitution. The total area had 415,150 square kilometers with almost 30 million inhabitants. Of these, 80 percent lived in Prussia. Thanks to Article 3 of the Federal Constitution, the “North Germans” enjoyed a common indigenous status, so they could move freely within the federal territory. A North German as a citizen was anyone who was a national of a constituent state.

Lauenburg was connected with Prussia in personal union, the Prussian king was at the same time Lauenburg”s duke (Bismarck served as Lauenburg”s responsible minister). It is not mentioned separately in many enumerations, although it was not incorporated into Prussia until 1876.

The most important exclave of the Confederation were the Prussian Hohenzollern lands in southern Germany. The Grand Duchy of Hesse belonged to the Confederation only with its parts north of the Main, i.e. the province of Upper Hesse as well as the towns of Mainz-Kastel and Mainz-Kostheim (i.e. today”s “AKK area”), which at that time belonged to the district of Mainz.

Richard Dietrich called the federation special simply because it gave at least northern Germany a state bond for the first time in centuries. He was critical of the Prussian annexations and described the North German federation as a “barely veiled hegemony of Prussia.” However, the federation was structured in such a way that it later permitted the accession of southern Germany. The Bund saw some innovations in the party system, such as the founding of the Catholic Center, as well as Bismarck”s cooperation with the National Liberals and Free Conservatives.

Compared to other states in Europe, Martin Kirsch argues, the German constitutional development was not very different. Around 1869

The North German Confederation is regarded less as an independent epoch than as a precursor to the “foundation of the Reich,” as Hans-Ulrich Wehler notes. This is helped by the fact that the Bund existed for only about three years. Moreover, there is a high degree of continuity from the Bund to the Reich, both in terms of the constitution and the most important politicians, such as Bismarck.

For Bismarck, it was typical to take a multi-pronged approach. In his opinion, according to Andreas Kaernbach, as a politician you can choose one of several solutions, but you cannot produce them yourself. He saw the securing of the Prussian position in northern Germany as the basis of Prussian independence. However, this “fallback position,” the North German Confederation, was considered by him to be only a minimal goal. The ultimate one was the Prussian-led Little Germany, which he had wanted to achieve through federal reform and without war with Austria. This goal initially seemed a long way off. Nevertheless, he judged the North German Confederation to be an intermediate stage of its own value, with “its own future”.

Christoph Nonn even considers it a myth that Bismarck had already thought about the unification of the empire in 1866. At that time, Bismarck had rather emphasized the old Main line, as he had done in the past, and had written to one of his sons that they needed northern Germany and wanted to spread out there. The North German Confederation had not simply been a stage, but a long-standing goal that Bismarck had now achieved. The annexations of 1866, Bismarck said, would first have to be digested. North German unification in 1867 and German unification in 1871 had not been the result of a detailed plan but of flexible improvisation.

The conservative French politician Adolphe Thiers expressed that for France the founding of the North German Confederation was “the greatest misfortune in four hundred years”. Birgit Aschmann interprets this as “dramatization from the interplay of material changes and mental-emotional components of experience.” The North German Confederation did not mean an overthrow of the European order of 1815, but a regrouping of its center. Overall, the order remained slightly altered.

Article 55 of the Constitution defined the flag of the Confederation: “The flag of the navy and merchant marine shall be black, white and red”. The color scheme is attributed to Prince Adalbert; it united Prussia”s colors with those of the Hanseatic cities and their claims to maritime trade. On October 1, 1867, three months after the proclamation of the North German Confederation, the cloth with the Prussian eagle was hauled down on all Prussian ships and the black-white-red flag was hoisted. In 1871, the flag was then adopted for the entire Reich.

In accordance with Article 48 of the Constitution, a unified North German postal district was created in 1868, which was replaced by the Reichspost in 1871. There were 26 stamps in three currencies.

To commemorate the founding day of the North German Confederation on July 1, 1867, Deutsche Post AG issued a postal stamp with a face value of 320 euro cents. The issue date was July 13, 2017, and the design was by graphic artists Stefan Klein and Olaf Neumann.


  1. Norddeutscher Bund
  2. North German Confederation
  3. Die am 17. April 1867 angenommene Verfassung war weitgehend identisch mit der Bismarckschen Reichsverfassung.
  4. Vgl. Hans-Christof Kraus, Bismarck. Größe – Grenzen – Leistungen, 1. Aufl., Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2015; Klaus Hildebrand, No Intervention. Die Pax Britannica und Preußen 1865/66–1869/70. Eine Untersuchung zur englischen Weltpolitik im 19. Jahrhundert, Oldenbourg, München 1997, S. 389.
  5. ^ de facto, except Austrian Empire, Duchy of Limburg (1839–1867), Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and Principality of Liechtenstein
  6. a b Encarta-encyclopedie Winkler Prins (1993–2002) s.v. “Praag, Vrede van”. Microsoft Corporation/Het Spectrum.
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