Reichstag (institution)

Reichstag (institution)

The Reichstag (German for "Imperial Diet") was the parliament of the Holy Roman Empire, the North German Confederation, and of Germany until 1945. The main chamber of the German parliament is now called Bundestag ("Federal Diet"), but the building in which it meets is still called "Reichstag" (see Reichstag (building)).

The term "Reichstag" (Audio|De-Reichstag-pronunciation.ogg|listen) IPA| [ˈʀaɪçstaːk] is a compound of German "Reich" ("Empire") and "Tag" ("assembly"; does not mean "day" here, but is derived from the verb "tagen" "to assemble"). The Latin term, a direct translation, was "curia imperialis." (Still today, the parliaments on the various federal levels in Germany are called "Bundestag", "Landtag" etc., and the parliament in Sweden is called "Riksdag".)

The "Reichstag" in the Holy Roman Empire

While the Holy Roman Empire lasted (formally until 1806), the "Reichstag" never was a parliament in today's sense; instead, it was the assembly of the various estates of which the Empire was comprised. More precisely, it was the convention of the "Reichsstände" ("imperial states"), those legal entities that, according to feudal law, had no authority above them besides the king himself (see Holy Roman Empire for details).

The precise role and function changed over the centuries, as did the Empire itself, as the states gained more and more control at the expense of the imperial power. Initially, there was neither a fixed time nor location for the "Reichstag". It started as a convention of the dukes of the old Germanic tribes that formed the Frankish kingdom when important decisions had to be made, probably based on the old Germanic law that each leader relied on the support of his leading men. For example, already under Charles the Great (Charlemagne), the "Reichstag" in Aachen in 802/803 officially declared the laws of the Saxons and other tribes. The Reichstag of 919 in Fritzlar elected the first king of the Germans who was a Saxon, Henry the Fowler, thus overcoming the longstanding rivalry between Franks and Saxons and laying the foundation for the German Empire. In 1158, the Diet of Roncaglia finalized four laws that would significantly alter the (never formally written) constitution of the Empire, marking the beginning of the steady decline of the central power in favour of the local dukes. In 1356, the Golden Bull cemented the concept of "Landesherrschaft" ("territorial rule"), the largely independent rule of the dukes over their respective territories.

However, until the late 15th century, the "Reichstag" was not actually formalized as an institution. Instead, the dukes and other princes would irregularly convene at the court of the king; these assemblies were usually referred to as "Hoftage" (from German "Hof" "court"). Only beginning in 1489 was the "Reichstag" called as such, and was formally divided into several "collegia" ("colleges"). Initially, the two colleges were that of the "Kurfürsten" ("prince-electors") and that of the other dukes and princes. Later, the imperial cities, that is, cities that were "reichsunmittelbar" and were oligarchic republics independent of a local ruler that were formally only responsible to the king himself, managed to be accepted as a third party.

Several attempts to reform the Empire to end its slow disintegration, starting with the "Reichstag" in 1495, did not have much effect. In contrast, this process was quite concluded with 1648's Peace of Westphalia, which formally bound the Emperor to all decisions made by the "Reichstag", in effect depriving him of his few remaining powers. From then to its end in 1806, the "Reich" was not much more than a collection of largely independent states.

Probably most well known are the "Reichstage" in Worms of 1495, where the Imperial Reform was concluded, another in 1521, where Martin Luther was banned (see Edict of Worms), and several in Nuremberg; see Diet of Worms and Diet of Nuremberg for details.

Only with the induction of the "Immerwährender Reichstag" ("permanent Imperial Diet") in 1663 did the "Reichstag" permanently convene in a fixed location, the city of Regensburg.

For a list of members of the "Reichstag" as of 1792, near the end of the Empire, refer to List of Reichstag participants (1792).

The "Reichstag" as the German Parliament

After the collapse of the Empire in 1806, the term was subsequently used for the Parliament of the 1849 Frankfurt constitution draft that never came into effect, the Parliament of the North German Confederation from 1867-1871 and finally that of the 1871 German Empire. In all three cases, it was a parliament elected by the people, albeit with varying degrees of power.

In the 1919 Weimar Republic, the "Reichskanzler" (chancellor, head of government) was responsible to the "Reichstag", which was directly elected by the people, and was a true democratic parliament. From 1930 on, however, the "Reichstag" was practically circumvented with the use of the extensive powers that were granted to the president under the Emergency Decree in Article 48 of the constitution. After Adolf Hitler was appointed "Reichskanzler" on January 30, 1933 the process of "Gleichschaltung" ("marching in step", "synthesis") commenced with the Reichstag Fire Decree "(Reichstagsbrandverordnung)" and the Enabling Act "(Ermächtigungsgesetz)", in which the "Reichstag" formally dispensed from itself exclusive responsibility for the exercise of the legislative power. From then on it only functioned as a body of ratification by acclamation, for the action(s); legislative; minsterial; and executive, of the dictatorship. Even for this almost purely ceremonial role, the Third Reich, Reichstag held its last session on April 26, 1942.

The "Reichstag" building in Berlin was constructed as the seat of the "Reichstag" in the German Empire in 1894 and, after a major reconstruction, has been the seat of today's German parliament, the "Bundestag", since 1999. After the building was gutted in the Reichstag fire of 1933, the Nazi Reichstag met in the Kroll Opera House.

Collection of "Reichstag" Records

After the 1871 formation of the German Empire the Historical Commission of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences started to collect imperial records ("Reichsakten") and imperial diet records ("Reichstagsakten"). In 1893 the commission published the first volume. At present the years 1524 - 1527 and years up to 1544 are being collected and researched. A volume dealing with the 1532 Reichstag in Regensburg, including the peace negotiations with the Protestants in Schweinfurt and Nuremberg, by Rosemarie Aulinger of Vienna was published in 1992. A list of the records of several European countries can be found [ here] .

Reichstag places

:"Note: this list is incomplete"

External links

* [ Höfe und Residenzen im spätmittelalterlichen Reich. Ein Handbuch (in German)]
* [ Complete collection of records of the Reichstag from 1919- 1942 at the Bavarian State Library. In German.]

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