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Reich Chancellor was the official title of the head of government of the German Reich from 1871 to 1945 . In this role he headed the cabinet - from 1871 to 1918 the so-called Reichsleitung , from 1919 to 1945 the Reich government . From November 1918 to August 1919 the heads of government held the title of Chairman of the Council of People's Representatives or Prime Minister of the Reich .

The official title comes from the German chancellor tradition of the Middle Ages and the early modern period . The title of Reich Chancellor was also sometimes awarded to important ministers in other European monarchies, for example in Austria-Hungary from 1867 to 1871 by the k. u. k. Foreign Minister Friedrich Ferdinand von Beust and led in Russia by Prince Gorchakov . In the German Empire after 1871 a continuing tradition developed from this, which continues to this day in the title of Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany . In Austria theThe title of Chancellor in the First Republic was revived in 1919 and has been continued in the Second Republic since the end of World War II .

German Empire 1848/1849

During the revolution of 1848/49 the Frankfurt National Assembly established a provisional central authority . The corresponding Central Power Act of June 28, 1848 only mentions ministers appointed by the Reich Administrator. In constitutional reality, the leading minister was called the President of the entire Reich Ministry or Prime Minister . From September to December the Schmerling cabinet ruled without an official president, but Anton von Schmerling presided over the Council of Ministers according to internal agreements.

In the Frankfurt constitution of March 28, 1849, only ministers or ministers can be found. The emperor appointed ministers (there was no explicit reference to dismissal ) over whom imperial power was exercised. You were specifically responsible, a law should subsequently regulate more details about this ministerial responsibility .

North German Confederation and German Empire

Otto von Bismarck , 1890, Chancellor and Prussian Prime Minister

In 1867 the North German Confederation was founded , in which Prussia was the largest and dominant individual state. In 1870, the southern German states were added by the November Treaties. As a result, the federal government was renamed the German Empire. Other names also changed, although the basic features of the political system remained the same.

The state by 1867 had as federal organs

The Federal Presidium appointed a Federal Chancellor who took over responsibility for the presidium's orders . That made him the only federal minister. The Federal Chancellor also presided over the Bundesrat. It was not prescribed in the constitution, but the Chancellor was (mostly) the Prussian Prime Minister at the same time.

Within the state organization , the choice of the term chancellor should signal a subordinate rank of this federal body , because the new "chancellor" of the federal government should - unlike the heads of government of the states  - not be a full-fledged Prime Minister . In addition, the title of chancellor symbolized, as in the Prussian tradition for example von Hardenbergs , a strong monarchical-bureaucratic and thus ultimately anti-parliamentary component. In both of these areas, the executive of the Federation and the Reich, created in 1867/71, differed quite deliberately from the German “ total Reich Ministry ” of the revolutionary years 1848/49 , headed by a “Reich Minister President”.

This construction was retained in 1871 in the empire which was expanded by the southern German states . In fact, most of the members of the Reich leadership were ministers, since the Reich offices were usually administered in personal union with the corresponding Prussian ministries. In the rank of minister (responsible for his monarch) at the Reich level, however, only the Reich Chancellor stood, while the heads of the Reich ministries were not independent ministers, but “ state secretaries ”. The Chancellor was able to issue instructions to these officials.

Between 1871 and 1918, the Reich Chancellor was solely responsible to the German Kaiser - and not to the Reichstag. As head of state of the German Empire, the Kaiser appointed and dismissed the Reich Chancellor. Without a (Prussian) mandate, the Chancellor also had no right to address the Reichstag. The Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck was the first Federal Chancellor, on May 4, 1871 the title was changed to Reich Chancellor. Even in the North German Confederation, the Reich Chancellor was both Prime Minister of Prussia and Foreign Minister at the same time.

As a result of the October reforms in 1918, a provision was added to Article 15 of the Imperial Constitution, which regulated the appointment of the Imperial Chancellor by the Emperor. Accordingly, "the Reich Chancellor [...] required the confidence of the Reichstag to carry out his office". This provision, which was added shortly before the end of the German Empire, was later incorporated into the Weimar constitution .


After losing the German war of 1866, the Austrian emperor was Franz Joseph I forced the nationality question in the multi-ethnic state to solve ( Austro-Hungarian compensation ). The first minister of the Ministry of the Imperial and Royal House and Foreign Affairs , Friedrich Ferdinand von Beust , incumbent from 1867–1871, bore the title of “Chancellor”, which was then no longer awarded from 1871 onwards at the request of Hungary.

Weimar Republic

With the November Revolution of 1918, not only was the German Empire overthrown, but the office of Reich Chancellor was also replaced by a revolutionary “Council of People's Representatives”. In February 1919 a new cabinet was formed at the Reich level on the basis of the Act on Provisional Reich Power . It provided for the formation of a Reich Ministry, which meant the government as a whole. The chairman of this Reich government then received the title of Reich Minister President (also President of the Reich Ministry ).

As early as August 1919, however , the Weimar Constitution reintroduced the naturalized term "Reich Chancellor". Also in the Weimar Republic (1919–1933) the Reich Chancellor was  appointed and dismissed by the German head of state - now the Reich President - but he was responsible to the Reichstag to the extent that the Reich Chancellor (and every Reich Minister) according to Article 54 of the Weimar Constitution had to resign if the Reichstag by express resolution withdrew his confidence. Until such a vote of no confidence , the Chancellor could rule without a parliamentary majority. In addition, the Reich President was able to issue so-called emergency ordinances in accordance with Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution .

time of the nationalsocialism

When Adolf Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor on January 30, 1933, the parliamentary form of government also ended in practice ; Hitler very quickly set up a party dictatorship and became the sole ruler without any responsibility. After the death of Reich President Paul von Hindenburg in early August 1934, Hitler had the offices of Reich President and Reich Chancellor amalgamated in his favor and the people voted on them . As the new head of state, he held the title of “ Führer and Reich Chancellor” until his suicide on April 30, 1945.

Under constitutional law, Hitler did not have the right to determine his successor in a simple testamentary way , but in this way he had appointed his close follower Joseph Goebbels as his successor as Reich Chancellor on April 29, 1945 . This had no political effect, as the Reich was already largely occupied by the Allies and Goebbels also committed suicide one day after Hitler, on May 1, 1945 . The Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz , appointed by Hitler in the same dubious way as the new Reich President , thereupon commissioned Reich Finance Minister Count Schwerin von Krosigk on May 2, 1945 to head the executive Reich government , although he no longer held the title of Reich Chancellor. This last National Socialist Reich executive, which had neither legitimacy nor real power , was arrested by the Allies on May 23, 1945, and Schwerin von Krosigk was also formally dismissed on June 5, 1945.


German Democratic Republic

In the GDR , the official title of the head of government was initially “ Prime Minister ”, although this title was very soon replaced by that of “Chairman of the Council of Ministers ”, who borrowed from the Soviet traditions of a Soviet republic . In November 1989, however, the original title came back into use.

Federal Republic of Germany

The official title of the head of government of the Federal Republic of Germany has been " Federal Chancellor " since 1949 - consciously following tradition as well as the constitutional continuity and international legal identity of the German state to the North German Confederation and the German Reich .


General and term of office

The punch caricature Dropping the Pilot (in German usually translated as: " The pilot goes from board ") by Sir John Tenniel on Bismarck's resignation in 1890 (on the railing: Kaiser Wilhelm II. )

If the "successor" of Hitler , Joseph Goebbels , and the following leading minister ( Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk ) are included, then from Bismarck up to and including Schwerin-Krosigk there are 24 people who were Reich Chancellor, Reich Minister President or "Quasi Chancellor".

Bismarck served the longest. He was Chancellor of the Reich for almost 19 years to the day, and Chancellor of the North German Confederation for almost four years. Wilhelm Marx was in office during the Weimar period, adding up his two terms of office (four cabinets), three years and 74 days.

The term of office of Joseph Goebbels lasted the shortest (one day, April 30 to May 1, 1945), who had been appointed by Hitler in his will. Schwerin-Krosigk was in office for 22 days, Schleicher for 57 days. In the German Empire (before the First World War ) the shortest chancellorship lasted four years (Leo von Caprivi).

Titles and offices

General Kurt von Schleicher , 1932

Georg von Hertling was the first chancellor to receive a doctorate in 1917 .

Served have the imperial chancellors Otto von Bismarck, Leo von Caprivi and Max von Baden . Of the Weimar Chancellors, Joseph Wirth , who was unfit for military service, was a nurse during the World War, Heinrich Brüning , Franz von Papen , Kurt von Schleicher and Adolf Hitler were soldiers and officers.

Gustav Bauer , Joseph Wirth, Gustav Stresemann and Wilhelm Marx took over ministerial offices even after their chancellorship. Conversely, it was common that a chancellor was previously a minister (or state secretary in the German Empire): Bernhard von Bülow (Foreign Office), Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg (Interior), Gustav Bauer (Labor), Hermann Müller (Foreign Office), Joseph Wirth (Finance ), Hans Luther (nutrition, finance), Kurt von Schleicher (Reichswehr). Former Prime Ministers of a German state were Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst and Georg von Hertling (both Bavaria).

Max von Baden, Wilhelm Cuno , Hans Luther and Kurt von Schleicher were never members of the Reichstag . Hitler only became a member of the Reichstag during his chancellorship. When he took office, Georg von Hertling (1875–1890, 1896–1912) was not a parliamentarian, but before that. Former group leaders were Scheidemann, Gustav Stresemann, Hermann Müller and Heinrich Brüning; the former president of the Reichstag, Constantin Fehrenbach, was again after his chancellorship.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Reich Chancellor  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ↑ On this, Katrin Stein, The Responsibility of Political Actors , Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2009, p. 598 : "Accordingly, the official relationships of the Reich Chancellor and the State Secretaries under the Bismarckian constitution did not differ from the civil servants."
  2. Schuster, German Constitution , 1976, p. 109.
  3. Law on the Head of State of the German Reich of August 1, 1934