Germany United

The first German constitution was ratified in April 1871. Designed by Otto von Bismarck to preserve the old regime, it would eventually help bring about its downfall.

the Reichstag 1886, coloured print.
The Reichstag 1886, coloured print © akg-images.

When the freshly elected members of parliament met on 14 April 1871, at their temporary home of the Palais Hardenberg in the centre of Berlin, there was an air of excitement that engulfed all of those present, as well as the assembled masses outside the building. This was it: the culmination of a struggle for national unification that had stretched over six decades. The German Empire would finally become a political reality. It had taken wars, revolutions, philosophy, capitalism and a great deal of clever manoeuvring from the Prussian minister-president, Otto von Bismarck, to make it happen. Finally, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 had provided a concrete reason for the 38 German states to join forces. Their swift victory bound them together in a union of ‘blood and iron’, as Bismarck had predicted in an infamous speech eight years earlier. 

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