German Kleinstaaterei

Klein, small. Staaterei, many states. From roughly 1650 until 1850 Germany consisted of some 350 independent states, most very small, with only a few kingdoms such as Prussia, Bavaria, and Saxony. The Kaiser had little direct power over this patchwork of states. His influence was reduced to that of a moderator.

While England and France were well advanced in becoming unified centralized states, Germany remained a country of loosely affiliated independent territories. And although many of these territories developed their own modern governmental bodies, there was little progress made to coordinate or integrate them at the national level.

One of the causes of the German Kleinstaaterei was the German tradition of inheritance which divided up possessions among all male heirs, and not the just the oldest. This led to more and smaller states. Complicating matters was the tradition of dividing up the inheritance equally. This led to the creation of non-contiguous states with en- and exclaves.

Although two large states were formed – Prussia led by the Hohenzollern dynasty and Austria-Hungary led by the Hapsburg dynasty – both had non-contiguous territories which made it difficult for Germany to consolidate as a nation-state similar to England and France.

The German Bund – created after the Napoleonic Wars – reduced the Kleinstaaterei to just under 40 independent states. But it wasn‘t until 1871 when Germany finally became a nation-state in the modern sense after Prussia defeated France and declared itself a Reich. In the years before the Franco-Prussian War, Prussia had consolidated most of the German states via war.