Septennat (German Empire)

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Septennat (from Latin septem = "seven" and annus = "year": a period of seven years) describes a compromise between Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and the Reichstag on the financing of military spending in the history of the German Empire .

After the end of the Prussian constitutional conflict, the question of the military budget remained a potential point of conflict between government and parliament. In 1867 the Reichstag of the North German Confederation approved a budget for four years (the so-called lump sum). After its expiry and the founding of the empire in 1871, the regulation was extended by three years with great difficulty.

Originally, the military around Albrecht von Roon , with only half-hearted support from Bismarck in 1874 , demanded with the so-called Aeternat (from Latin aeternum = "eternal") that the Reichstag should approve military spending without a time limit. However, in a central budget area this would have meant a severe restriction of the Reichstag's budget rights. After all, the defense budget made up 70 to 75% of the total budget. In the Reichstag the liberal parties had an absolute majority with a total of 204 out of 397 members. The Progress Party and the left wing of the National Liberals were ready to fight for the annual approval of the military budget.

The right wing of the National Liberals, however, stayed on course for government. In order to prevent the party from falling apart, a compromise was proposed with the Septennat. In order to avoid a similarly protracted conflict as during the constitutional conflict between 1861 and 1866, Bismarck went into it. The defense budget was now decided every seven years. In 1880, Bismarck was able to quickly bring about the second september after the conservative turnaround, in which the established parties joined forces against social democracy ( Socialist Law of 1878) as a new " enemy of the Reich ".

In 1887 Bismarck threatened with a "danger of war" and was able to get through the septum again with great difficulty. On January 14, 1887, Franz August Schenk von Stauffenberg from the opposition German Freedom Party applied to the Reichstag to grant the army strength desired by the government for three, but not for seven years. Stauffenberg's motion was accepted by 186 votes to 154. Bismarck then dissolved the Reichstag before the law came into force and had new elections held for December 1887. Before these new elections, an attempt was made to assassinate Kaiser Wilhelm I , who was popular with the people . In the new elections, among other things, the Bismarck and thus the conservative coalition supporting the emperor won decisive seats. It was only under the chancellorship of Leo von Caprivis that the period from 1893 was shortened to five years ( quinquennat ) - analogous to the legislative periods.

Parliament's acceptance of the Septennat preserved the budget right of the Reichstag, but it meant the end of parliamentary efforts to obtain full authorization for the Reichstag in the defense area and strengthened the de facto primacy of the executive over the executive, desired by the Emperor and aimed at by Bismarck Legislature and the special position of the military in the German Empire. The tug-of-war over real parliamentarianism, for example on the English model, was thus over for the remaining period of Bismarck's chancellorship.


  • Hans-Ulrich Wehler : Das Deutsche Kaiserreich 1871-1918 (= German history. Volume 9 = Small Vandenhoeck series. Volume 1380). 7th edition. Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1994, ISBN 3-525-33542-3 , p. 150f.
  • Hans-Peter Ullmann : The German Empire 1871-1918 (= Modern German History. Volume 7). Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1997, p. 57f.
  • Michael Schmid: The "Iron Chancellor" and the generals. German armaments policy in the Bismarck era (1871–1890) (= Otto von Bismarck Foundation: Scientific series. Volume 4). Schöningh, Paderborn et al. 2003, ISBN 3-506-79224-5 (at the same time: Augsburg, University, dissertation, 2001).

Web links

Wikisource: 1st Septennat (1874)  - Sources and full texts
Wikisource: 2nd Septennat (1880)  - Sources and full texts
Wikisource: 3rd Septennat (1887)  - Sources and full texts
Wikisource: 1. Quinquennat (1890)  - Sources and full texts
Wikisource: 2nd Quinquennat (1893)  - Sources and full texts
Wikisource: 3rd Quinquennat (1899)  - Sources and full texts


  1. Hans-Ulrich Wehler , Das Deutsche Kaiserreich 1871–1918 , p. 150, even speaks of a “practical elimination” of budget law.