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The German Confederation (German: Deutscher Bund) was a loose conglomeration of German states that existed during the 19th century. Formed in the wake of the French victory in the War of the Seventh Coalition, Napoléon I fashioned from the ruins of the Confederation of the Rhine a new German Confederation, with himself as hereditary Prince-Protector (giving him and all Emperors a say in the matters of the Confederation, as well as putting it under French protection). The Confederation was ruled by a single legislative body, the Bundesversammlung ("Confederal Assembly"), which elected from the rulers of the Confederal states a president, who ruled for life. The Confederation did not initially have its own independent military, but legislation could pass the Assembly placing quotas on the number of troops each member state must recruit in any event; this changed following the Balkan War, where a standing Confederal Army was established. The President ruled with (weak) executive power, but often served at the pleasure (and under the thumb) of the Emperor of the French.
The members of the Confederal Assembly were determined by the rulers of the states which they represented. Representatives served at the pleasure of their ruler, and so could either maintain their post for life or be fired if they upset those that they served. Member-states were assigned a certain number of representatives according to their population and general power; for example, Bavaria, Saxony, and the other Kingdoms were allowed nine representatives; Grand Duchies, like Hesse and Baden, seven, and so on. The Emperor of the French was the sole representative from France and was allowed 12 votes, more than any other state in the Confederation. However, it was not often that the Emperor would vote on Confederal legislation, thereby avoiding potential claims from liberal agitators that the Confederation was a puppet state of the French.
Formation and early years
The Balkan War
Prosperity, 1850s – 1880s
The Confederal Assembly
The President of the German Confederation was elected via a vote from the Confederal Assembly. The President was chosen from among the various rulers of the states composing the Confederation, thereby, in theory, allowing even the smallest states in the Confederation the chance at heavily swaying confederal politics. A vote for a new President would have to occur within one month of the death of the previous President. Presidents served in office for life; removal from office required a four-fifths vote from the Assembly, or a three-fourths vote from the Assembly plus a vote of approval from the Prince-Protector. The only reasons listed in the Constitution that justify the removal of the President from office is: crippling mental or physical disabilities or ailments that prevent the President from carrying out his duties; a negligent President that has refused to carry out his Constitutional duties, or has broken the laws of the Confederation; or a President who has lost his throne, for any reason, upon which he is immediately ousted from office without a vote.
The President, serving as the chief executive of the Confederation, was charged with carrying out the laws passed by the Confederal Assembly. It was also his job to represent the country abroad – a purpose for which he appointed a Minister of Foreign Affairs, along with several other cabinet ministers – as well as serve as the commander in chief of any armies raised in defense of the Confederation. In this way, the powers of the President closely mirrored those of the President of the United States.
Despite these similarities on the surface, in practice the President of the Confederation was a very different office. Presidents wielded little power in government, and most of it came from influence and the mere prestige of the office. While nominally an independent confederation, the Confederation's foreign policy was largely influenced and even controlled by the French government. Tied closely to France, the Confederation relied heavily on her for diplomatic and military support. In a similar way, the French Army, one of the best in the world, was the chief defender of the Confederation; the President and Assembly only twice voted for troops to be gathered under the banner of the Confederation. The first of these instances was in 1851, at the beginning of the Balkan War. The second was in ????, after the opening of hostilities in the ???? War. In any event, military and diplomatic affairs were largely handled, or at the least heavily influenced, by the French government.
The Prince-Protector was a unique position in the Confederal government, held by the reigning Emperor of the French. France, because of its hand in creating and legitimizing the Confederation and its rule, had been "granted" a permanent representative spot in the Confederal Assembly in the body of the Prince-Protector. Unlike any other state within the Confederation, the French only maintained one representative – the Prince-Protector – who had more votes than any other single representative in the Assembly. Thus, the title of Prince-Protector was a simple and easy way for the French – and, more specifically, the Emperor – to involve himself greatly in the affairs of the Confederal government, its foreign policy, and its legislation. The Prince-Protector was not bound to voting any which way according to the views and wishes of his own country's head of government, as the Prince-Protector was already the head of state of France. Thus he could not be hamstrung by political necessity or from fear of being removed from power, and could thus vote in any way which most greatly benefited himself and/or France.
The Prince-Protector was never very involved – overtly, anyway – in Confederal politics to begin with: Napoléon I only ever voted twice in the twenty-five years of the Confederation's existence during his reign, and his son only voted seven times in seventeen years. Thus the Prince-Protector avoided suspicions (from Germans and others) of too much interference from France in German affairs – though these accusations did exist, to a point. However, this also had the consequence of making the event of a Prince-Protector's vote very serious and important, likely deciding very important economic, cultural, diplomatic, or military issues and affairs.