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A Constitution for Alsace-Lorraine (1911)

The province of Alsace-Lorraine had no constitution and was subject to direct Prussian administration. This situation was unsatisfactory for the local population and also helped preserve French animosity towards Germany, which had annexed the province after its victory in the Franco-Prussian War. In the early years of the twentieth century, sentiment grew in favor of granting Alsace-Lorraine a constitution and integrating the province into the German Empire [Reich]. This memorandum from the Prussian Ministry of the Interior outlines the possible modalities of this development.

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Berlin, February 19, 1911

Upon deliberation on the reform of the constitution for Alsace-Lorraine, the commission of the Reichstag has decided, with a majority of 17 votes, that Alsace-Lorraine is to form an autonomous federal state, and, with 28 votes to 4, that Alsace-Lorraine shall be represented in the Bundesrat with 3 votes.

As to the shape this future federal state is to take in terms of state law, the Commission has decided so far that it shall be headed by a governor [Statthalter], who, at the recommendation of the Bundesrat, will be appointed for life by the Kaiser, with the countersignature of the Chancellor, and that he can be relieved only by a decision of the Bundesrat. The thrust of this decision is that while the Kaiser, as the hereditary representative of the totality of the federal states, formally remains the bearer of state power, his right is limited to the appointment of the governor. According to motions put forth by the Center Party, the adoption of which by a majority of 17 votes is a certainty (Center 8, Liberals and Social Democrats 4 each, the Poles 1 vote each), the exercise of state power in its entirety, including the right of legislating, shall belong to the governor, for whose orders and decrees a ministry independently appointed by him shall assume responsibility, while he himself remains free of any responsibility. According to this, the Kaiser would be robbed of any influence in shaping conditions in Alsace-Lorraine. The Bundesrat would play a part only in the appointment and recall of the governor appointed for life. Any possible influence of the Reich Chancellor on politics in Alsace-Lorraine would be removed. With the exception of the appointment and recall of a governor endowed with the most far-reaching sovereign rights, all activities of the Reich organs would thus be eliminated. Such a setup appears equally unacceptable both in terms of state law and politically.

The granting of Bundesrat votes to Alsace-Lorraine was demanded in the general assembly by the members of parliament Vonderscheer, Emmel, Bassermann, Naumann, Preiss, von Hertling, Böhle, Grégoire, Dous, and Höffel, and in the Commission, the representatives of all the parties – including the Liberal Conservatives [Freikonservative] and with the sole exception of the Conservatives and the Economic Association [Wirtschaftliche Vereinigung] – supported this. There is, therefore, no doubt that the Reichstag will not accept the constitutional reform without the granting of Bundesrat votes. On the other hand, it is obvious, given how public opinion in Alsace-Lorraine has developed, and the attention that foreign countries – especially France – are devoting to the matter, that a complete failure of the bill could have unpleasant political repercussions.

In order to obviate these difficulties, Prussia is willing to make sacrifices, in that it has put forth the following proposal, on the condition that the stipulations in the draft concerning the position of the Kaiser and the governor remain unchanged:

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