Deutsches Reich (German)
The German Empire's controlled territories and its claims
|Government||Hereditary constitutional monarchy|
|Emperor of the Germans|
|Frederick William IV 1|
|Legislature||Frankfurt National Assembly|
|Historical era||Concert of Europe|
o Frankfurt National Assembly dissolved
|31 May 1849|
o German Confederation restored
1: Frederick William IV was offered the imperial crown, but refused to "pick up a crown from the gutter".
The state was created by the Frankfurt Parliament in spring 1848, following the March Revolution. The empire officially ended when the German Confederation was fully reconstituted in the Summer of 1851, but came to a de facto end in December 1849 when the Central German Government was replaced with a Federal Central Commission.
The Empire struggled to be recognized by both German and foreign states. The German states, represented by the Federal Convention of the German Confederation, on 12 July 1848, acknowledged the Central German Government. In the following months, however, the larger German states did not always accept the decrees and laws of the Central German Government and the Frankfurt Parliament.
Several foreign states recognized the Central Government and sent ambassadors: the United States, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Sardinia, Sicily, and Greece. The French Second Republic and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland installed official envoys to keep contact with the Central Government.
The first constitutional order of the German Empire was the Imperial Law concerning the introduction of a provisional Central Power for Germany, on 28 June 1848. With the order, the Frankfurt Parliament established the offices of Reichsverweser (Imperial Regent, a provisional monarch) and imperial ministers. A second constitutional order, the Frankfurt Constitution, on 28 March 1849, was accepted by 28 German states but not by the larger ones. Prussia, along with other German states, forced the Frankfurt Parliament into dissolution.
Several of this German Empire's accomplishments outlasted it: the Frankfurt Constitution was used as a model in other states in the decades to follow and the electoral law was used nearly verbatim in 1867 for the election of the Reichstag of the North German Confederation. The Reichsflotte (Imperial Fleet) created by the Frankfurt Parliament lasted until 1852. The imperial law issuing a decree concerning bills of exchange (Allgemeine Deutsche Wechselordnungen, General German exchange bills) was considered to apply to nearly all of Germany.
Contemporaries and scholars had different opinions about the statehood of the German Empire of 1848/1849:
In reality the distinction was less clear. The majority of the Frankfurt Parliament, based on the liberal groups, wanted to establish a dualist system with a sovereign monarch whose powers would be constrained by a constitution and parliament.
A German Confederation was created in 1815. This treaty organization for the defense of the German territories lacked, in the view of the national movement, a government and a parliament. But it was generally acknowledged by German and foreign powers - to establish a national state, it was the easiest to present it as the continuation of the Confederation. This was actually the road the National Assembly took, although it originally saw itself as a revolutionary organ.
The continuity between the old Confederation and the new organs was based on two decisions of the Confederation's Federal Convention:
Of course, the German states and the Federal Convention made those decisions under pressure of the revolution. They wanted to avoid a breakup with the Frankfurt Parliament. (Already in August this pressure faltered, and the larger states started to regain power.) According to historian Ernst Rudolf Huber, it was possible to determine a continuity or even legal identity of Confederation and the new Federal State. The old institution was enhanced with a (provisional) constitutional order and the name German Confederation was changed to German Empire. Ulrich Huber notes that none of the German states declared the Imperial Regent John and his government to be usurpatory or illegal.
The Frankfurt Assembly saw itself as the German national legislature, as made explicit in the Imperial Law concerning the declaration of the imperial laws and the decrees of the provisional Central Power, from 27 September 1848. It issued laws earlier, such as the law of 14 June that created the Imperial Fleet. Maybe the most notable law declared the highly acclaimed Basic Rights of the German People, 27 December 1848.
The Central Power or Central Government consisted of the Imperial Regent, Archduke John, and the ministers he appointed. He usually appointed those politicians that had the support of the Frankfurt Parliament, at least until May 1849. One of the ministers, the Prussian general Eduard von Peucker, was charged with the federal troops and federal fortifications of the German Confederation. The Central Government had not much to govern, as the administration remained in the hands of the single states. But in February 1849, 105 people worked for the Central Government (in comparison to the 10 for the Federal Convention).
The Frankfurt Parliament assumed in general that the territory of the German Confederation was also the territory of the new state. Someone was a German if he was a subject of one of the German states within the German Empire (§ 131, Frankfurt Constitution). Additionally it discussed the future of other territories where Germans lived. The members of parliament sometimes referred to the German language spoken in a territory, sometimes to historical rights, sometimes to military considerations (e.g. when a Polish state was rejected because it would be too weak to serve as a buffer state against Russia). One of the most disputed territories was Schleswig.