The Reichstag (German for "Imperial Diet") was the parliament of the Holy Roman Empire, and subsequently of 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" (German pronunciation: [ˈʁaɪçstaːk] ( listen)) is a compound of German Reich ("Empire") and Tag ("assembly"; does not mean "day" here, but is derived from the verb tagen "to assemble" (which in turn does mean to gather on an appointed day). 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.)
During the period of the Holy Roman Empire which lasted formally until 1806, the Reichstag was never a parliament in today's sense; instead, it was an assembly of the various estates of which the Empire was composed. More precisely, it was the convention of the Reichsstände ("imperial estates"), legal entities that, according to feudal law, had no authority above them besides the Emperor himself (see Holy Roman Empire for details).
The precise role and function of the Reichstag changed over the centuries, as did the Empire itself, in that the estates and separate territories gained more and more control of their own affairs at the expense of 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, and was probably based on the old Germanic law whereby each leader relied on the support of his leading men. For example, already under Charlemagne (Charlemagne), the Reichstag of Aachen in 802/803 officially determined 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, and also limited the number of electors to seven: the Duke of Saxony, the Margrave of Brandenburg, the King of Bohemia, the Elector Palatine (Palsgrave) and the Archbishops of Mainz, Trier and Cologne. The Pope was from this point officially excluded from the electoral process.
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 Emperor; 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 subject only to the Emperor himself, managed to be accepted as a third party.
Several attempts to reform the Empire and end its slow disintegration, notably starting with the Reichstag in 1495, did not have much effect. In contrast, this process was only hastened with the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, which formally bound the Emperor to accept 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 the most famous Reichstage were those held in Worms 1495, where the Imperial Reform was enacted, 1521, where Martin Luther was banned (see Edict of Worms), 1529 in Speyer (see Protestation at Speyer), and several in Nuremberg; see Diet of Worms, Second Diet of Speyer and Diet of Nuremberg for details.
Only with the introduction 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 from 1792, near the end of the Empire, refer to List of Reichstag participants (1792).
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 the latter two cases, it was a parliament elected by all males who had attained the age of 25. This made the Reichstag the most democratic parliament in Europe.
In the 1919 Weimar Republic, the Reichskanzler (chancellor, head of government) was responsible to the Reichstag, which was directly elected by the people. 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", "synchronization") 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.
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.
|782||Lippspringe||division of Saxony into counties|
|788||Ingelheim am Rhein||deposition of Tassilo III|
|799||Paderborn||Charlemagne clears with Pope Leo III his installation as Emperor|
|806||Diedenhofen||Division of the Empire|
|826||?||Inviting of the Sorbs;|
|872||Forchheim||Louis II, the German|
|874||Forchheim||Louis II, the German||Discussion and regulation of inheritance|
|889||Forchheim||Arnulf of Carinthia|
|892||Forchheim||Arnulf of Carinthia||Preparing a War against the Slavs|
|896||Forchheim||Arnulf of Carinthia|
|903||Forchheim||Louis the Child||Execution of the Babenberg Rebel Adalhard|
|907||Forchheim||Louis the Child||Council about the Magyar attacks|
|911||Forchheim||Election of Conrad of Franconia King|
|914||Forchheim||Conrad of Franconia||War against Arnulf I of Bavaria|
|926||Worms||Henry the Fowler|
|952||on the Lech meadows near Augsburg||Otto I the Great|
|961||Forchheim||Otto I the Great|
|978||Dortmund||Otto II||War against France in the Autumn|
|983||Verona||Election of Otto III|
|985||End of the usurpation of Henry the Wrangler|
|1152||Dortmund/Merseburg||Frederick I Barbarossa|
|1157||Bisanz||Frederick I Barbarossa|
|1158||Diet of Roncaglia near Piacenza||Frederick I Barbarossa|
|1165||Würzburg||Frederick I Barbarossa|
|1168||Bamberg||Frederick I Barbarossa / Henry VI|
|1180||Gelnhausen||Frederick I Barbarossa / Henry VI||Investiture of the Archbishop of Cologne with the Duchy of Westphalia|
|1181||Erfurt||Henry VI||Exile of Henry the Lion|
|1287||Würzburg||Adolf of Nassau-Weilburg|
|1356||Nuremberg||Charles IV||Issuance of the Golden Bull|
|1389||Eger||Wenzel of Luxemburg||Peace of Eger|
|1488||Esslingen||Frederick III||Formation of the Swabian League|
|1495||Worms||Maximilian I||Imperial Reform; Gemeiner Pfennig in the wake of the Swabian War|
|1505||Cologne||Schiedsspruch im Landshuter Erbfolgekrieg|
|1521||Worms||Charles V||Diet of Worms, ban of Martin Luther, Edict of Worms|
|1526||Speyer I||Suspension of the Edict of Worms|
|1529||Speyer II||Second Diet of Speyer, Reinstatement of the Edict of Worms, Protestation at Speyer. Proclamation of the Wiedertäufermandat condemning Anabaptists|
|1530||Augsburg||Diet of Augsburg presentation of the Augsburg Confession|
|1532||Regensburg||Ferdinand I||Constitutio Criminalis Carolina|
|1555||Augsburg||Peace of Augsburg|
|1653/54||Regensburg||Ferdinand III.||Jüngster Reichsabschied (recessus imperii novissimus)|
|1663-1806||in the Reichssaal of the Regensburg town hall
als Immerwährender Reichstag (permanent diet)