German Federal Act

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The German Federal Act was a treaty under international law and the first federal “constitutional law” on the establishment of the German Confederation . It was adopted on June 8, 1815 during the Congress of Vienna and finally signed on June 10, 1815 by the representatives of 39 states . According to the preamble of the Federal Act, "the sovereign princes and free cities of Germany [...] convinced of the advantages that would result from their firm and permanent connection for the security and independence of Germany, and the peace and balance of Europe, [...] to unite in a permanent covenant ”. In Articles 53 to 63 it was an official part of the Vienna Congress Act. With the dissolution of the German Confederation in 1866, the German Federal Act ceased to be in force.

First page of the federal file


History of origin

In the spring of 1814, the great powers of the coalition against Napoleon Bonaparte agreed that Germany should in future be a federation , according to Article 6 of the First Peace Treaty of Paris of May 30, 1814. However, the first negotiations failed because of the rigid particularism of Bavaria and Württemberg . The negotiations on the future structure of Germany at the Congress of Vienna came to a dead end, from which Napoleon's temporary return only led . Prussia and Austria agreed on a state union concept, which Metternich presented to the assembly of the German individual states on May 23, 1815.


A revised draft of June 2, 1815 was approved as a federal act on June 8, 1815 with a majority, whereby Württemberg and Baden did not participate, Bavaria and Saxony did not vote. However, Saxony then joined on June 6th and Bavaria on June 8th, so that on that day the Federal Act could be passed and signed. Baden followed on July 26th and Württemberg on September 1st, 1815. This German Federal Act was part of the Vienna Congress Act, which was signed on June 9th, 1815. The signatory powers of the Congress of Vienna - in addition to the German powers Austria and Prussia, namely Great Britain , France , Sweden , Portugal , Spain and Russia - thus became the guarantee powers of the German Confederation.

Revolution 1848

As a result of the March Revolution , the National Assembly , the first all-German parliament, was opened in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt on May 18, 1848 . By drafting an imperial constitution, the members of parliament were supposed to create the basis for a united, free Germany. With the Reich law on the introduction of a provisional central authority for Germany of June 28, the National Assembly set up a provisional government, the Provisional Central Authority . The Bundestag hastened by order of 12 July to delegate his powers to the central government and cease its activities. The Federal Act thus effectively ceased to be in force, but came into effect again after the suppression of the revolution of 1848 and after a violent Prussian-Austrian dispute ( autumn crisis of 1850 ).


The German Confederation ended with the German War of 1866. By Article II of the preliminary peace of Nikolsburg of July 26, 1866, the Emperor of Austria expressly recognized the dissolution of the Confederation. The peace treaty of Prague of August 23, 1866 confirmed this dissolution de jure in Article IV. The Federal Assembly held its last session on August 24, 1866 in Augsburg with the participation of seven authorized representatives. The German Federal Act thus lost its validity.

Content (excerpts)

The federal act, composed of 20 articles, created the contractual basis for the German Confederation. According to the preamble to the Federal Act, all “ sovereign princes and free cities ” are members of the German Confederation . There are 41 German states , four of which are free cities. Among other things, it was contractually agreed:

Article I.

The King of Great Britain and Ireland belongs to the Confederation as King of Hanover *, the King of Denmark as Duke of Holstein and Lauenburg ** and the King of the Netherlands as Grand Duke of Luxembourg . They are federal princes like everyone else.

The Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia belong to the German Confederation with all their possessions that were previously part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation : Austria without the Polish, Hungarian and Italian territories; Prussia without West Prussia and East Prussia , Posen and Neuchâtel .

The federal decrees do not apply to these territories, and the federal act does not result in any obligation to provide military assistance in the event of an attack by third parties on these areas.
*) until 1837, **) until 1864

Article II

The purpose of this is to maintain the external and internal security of Germany and the independence and inviolability of the individual German states.

Article III

All federal members have the same rights; they all equally undertake to keep the federal acts inviolable.

Articles IV, V & IX

The only federal body is the Federal Assembly - also known as the Bundestag - with the conference venue in Frankfurt am Main . Responsible for federal affairs in general is the “Inner Council”, in which eleven larger states each have one vote and the others have a total of six. It decides with a simple majority ; in the event of a tie, the Austrian representative decides because Austria is the presidential power of the federal government.

  • Distribution of votes in the Senate Council:

1. Austria - 1 vote 2. Prussia - 1 vote 3. Bavaria - 1 vote 4. Saxony - 1 vote 5. Hanover - 1 vote 6. Württemberg - 1 vote 7. Baden - 1 vote 8th Kurhessen - 1 vote 9th Grand Duchy of Hesse - 1 vote 10. Denmark because of Holstein - 1 vote 11. Netherlands because of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg - 1 vote 12. The Grand Ducal and Ducal Saxon Houses - 1 vote 13. Braunschweig and Nassau - 1 vote 14. Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg- Strelitz - 1 vote 15. Holstein-Oldenburg , Anhalt and Schwarzburg - 1 vote 16. Hohenzollern , Liechtenstein , Reuss , Schaumburg-Lippe , Lippe and Waldeck - 1 vote 17. The free cities: Lübeck , Frankfurt , Bremen and Hamburg - 1 vote .

Article VI & VII

The plenary is responsible for certain federal matters. Here every member - with the exception of three principalities - has at least one vote, the larger states up to four.

  • Distribution of votes in the plenary:

1. Austria - 4 votes 2. Prussia - 4 votes 3. Saxony - 4 votes 4. Bavaria - 4 votes 5. Hanover - 4 votes 6. Württemberg - 4 votes 7. Baden - 3 votes 8. Kurhessen - 3 votes 9. Grand Duchy of Hesse - 3 votes 10. Holstein - 3 votes 11. Luxembourg - 3 votes 12. Braunschweig - 2 votes 13. Mecklenburg-Schwerin - 2 votes 14. Nassau - 2 votes 15. Saxe-Weimar - 1 vote 16. Saxe-Gotha - 1 vote 17. Sachsen-Coburg - 1 vote 18. Sachsen-Meiningen - 1 vote 19. Sachsen-Hildburghausen - 1 vote 20. Mecklenburg-Strelitz - 1 vote 21. Holstein- Oldenburg - 1 vote 22. Anhalt-Dessau - 1 Vote 23. Anhalt-Bernburg - 1 vote 24. Anhalt-Köthen - 1 vote 25. Schwarzburg-Sondershausen - 1 vote 26. Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt - 1 vote 27. Hohenzollern-Hechingen - 1 vote 28. Liechtenstein - 1 vote 29. Hohenzollern -Sigmaringen - 1 part 30. Waldeck - 1 part 31st Reuss older line - 1 part 32. Reuss younger line (Reuss-Lobenstein, Reuss-Schleiz, Reuss-Ebersdorf) - 1 vote 33. Schaumburg-Lippe - 1 vote 34. Lippe - 1 vote 35. The free city of Lübeck - 1 vote 36. The free city of Frankfurt - 1 vote 37. The free city of Bremen - 1 vote 38. The free city of Hamburg - 1 vote .

Contrary to what they originally intended, the great powers Austria and Prussia cannot completely outweigh the medium-sized and small states: even the six larger states have only 6 out of 17 votes in the narrow council, and only 24 in the plenary, where a two-thirds majority is required for decisions von 69. In purely formal terms, the construction of the German Confederation thus avoids any hegemonic supremacy.

Article XI

All members of the Federation assure that they will protect the whole of Germany as well as each individual federal state against attacks and mutually guarantee all of their possessions belonging to the German Federation. Once a federal war has been declared , no member may enter into unilateral negotiations with the enemy or conclude an armistice and peace .

The members of the Confederation retain the right to all kinds of alliances; however undertake not to enter into any connections which would be directed against the security of the federal or individual states.

The members of the Confederation also make themselves obligated not to fight each other under any pretext, nor to pursue their disputes by force, but to bring them to the Federal Assembly. It is then up to him to try to mediate through a committee; if this attempt should fail, and accordingly a judicial decision would be necessary to effect such a decision through a well-ordered Austrägal instance, whose verdict the contending parties must submit immediately.

To implement and supplement this article, the Federal Execution Code was passed on August 3, 1820 . ( See also : Federal War Constitution )
The article was broken by Prussia in preparation for the German war by concluding the secret Prussian-Italian alliance treaty . Austria also violated the article when a short time later it concluded a secret treaty with France ( Austro-French secret treaty ).

Article XII

States whose population does not exceed 300,000 people will unite with larger members of the federal government or with their relatives, with which they constitute at least such a population, to form a joint supreme court. The four free cities have the right to unite among themselves through the establishment of a joint supreme court.

This regulates the formation of courts of third instance ( higher appeal courts ) and the sending of files to these courts. ( See also : Higher Appeal Court of the Four Free Cities )

Article XIII

A state constitution will take place in all states .

This article did not define what was meant by such a constitution, nor did it stipulate how soon a sovereign had to provide a constitution. This led to different interpretations in the federal government and to great differences between the state constitutions. As early as 1816, the Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe and the Grand Duchy of Saxony-Weimar-Eisenach passed state constitutions. The Grand Duchy of Baden and the Kingdom of Bavaria followed in 1818 and the Kingdom of Württemberg in 1819, Hesse-Darmstadt in 1820. Until 1848, apart from the two major states, only Oldenburg and Hesse-Homburg had not passed any (state) constitutions.

Article XIII of the Federal Act is thus largely responsible for the constitutional history of German early constitutionalism , especially in the individual southern German states.

Article XVI

The difference between the Christian religions must not justify any difference in the exercise of civil and political rights in the federal states. The Federal Assembly will discuss how the civil improvement of those who confess the Jewish faith in Germany can be brought about in a way that is as consistent as possible .

Article XVIII

The acquisition and possession of land for the entire area of ​​the German Confederation is contractually fixed, as is the free choice of place of residence. At its first meeting, the Federal Assembly will deal with the drafting of uniform rulings on the freedom of the press and the safeguarding of the rights of writers and publishers against reprinting.

In 1819, censorship was reintroduced as part of the Karlovy Vary resolutions . All writings up to a size of 20 sheets were subject to prior censorship.

Article XIX

The federal states reserve the right to consult at the first meeting of the Federal Assembly in Frankfurt about trade and traffic between the individual states as well as shipping, in accordance with the principles and resolutions of the Congress of Vienna.

Only with the adoption of the German Customs Union Treaty of March 22, 1832, which came into force on January 1, 1834, was a uniform trading and traffic area created. The Zollverein replaced the customs treaty between Prussia and Hesse-Darmstadt, the Central German Trade Association and the South German Customs Association.

Article XX

The current treaty is ratified by all participating states. The ratification documents should be sent to the Imperial Austrian Court and State Chancellery in Vienna within six weeks or, if possible, earlier, and placed in the same archive when the Federation is opened.

Vienna Final Act

Since the federal act was only a framework agreement, it had to be supplemented. This amendment, which took four years to draft, was decided by the Vienna Ministerial Conference on November 25, 1819 and unanimously adopted by the Federal Assembly in Frankfurt on June 8, 1820: the Vienna Final Act came into force, the German Confederation under Austrian leadership had received its final legal basis. The individual German territorial states had finally become sovereign with the Vienna Final Act.


Web links

Wikisource: German Federal Act  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Michael Kotulla : German Constitutional History: From the Old Empire to Weimar (1495-1934) , Springer, Berlin 2008, § 26 marginal number 1306 .