In German history, a Reichsexekution (sometimes "Reich execution" in English) was an imperial or federal intervention against a member state, using military force if necessary. The instrument of the Reichsexekution was constitutionally available to the central governments of the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806), the German Empire of 1848–49, the German Empire of 1871–1918, the Weimar Republic (1918–33) and Nazi Germany (1933–45). Under the German Confederation (1815–66) and the North German Confederation (1867–71), the same right belonged to the confederal government and is called Bundesexekution.
Holy Roman Empire
The basis of the Holy Roman Emperor's right to act against an Imperial Estate, by military means if necessary, lay in the imperial reforms enacted by the Diet of Worms in 1495, most importantly the declaration of Eternal Peace within the bounds of the empire. Against those who broke the peace, the emperor could obtain a ruling from the Imperial Chamber Court or the Imperial Aulic Council and then issue a Reichsexekution against the offending estate. Often, the imperial execution would be delegated to one or several other estates belong to the same Imperial Circle as the offender. When this was insufficient, it fell to the empire as a whole and the Reichsarmee (imperial army) to enforce the verdict of the court, resulting in a full Reichskrieg (imperial war), which may be known as a Reichsexekutionskrieg or Exekutionskrieg. This final escalation required the approval of the Imperial Diet after 1648.
There were numerous Reichsexekutionen in the Holy Roman Empire:
- against the knight Götz von Berlichingen in 1514
- against the Anabaptist government of Münster in 1535
- against the Schmalkaldic League in 1546, for which see Schmalkaldic War
- against John Frederick II, Duke of Saxony, in 1566
- against the imperial city of Donauwörth in 1607
- against Maximilian I, Elector of Bavaria, and John George I, Elector of Saxony, in 1620 during the Thirty Years' War
- against the Duchies of Bremen and Verden, which belonged to the Swedish Crown, in 1675, for which see Bremen-Verden Campaign
- against the imperial city of Hamburg in 1708
- against Karl Leopold, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, in 1719
- against Frederick II, King of Prussia, in 1757, for which see Third Silesian War
- against the Republic of Liège in 1789
German Empire of 1848–49
During the German revolutions of 1848–49, the Frankfurt Parliament created a Provisional Central Government for all Germany. Although the act of parliament did not grant this body the right of Reichsexekution, the Frankfurt Constitution that came into effect on 28 March 1849 did grant it to the imperial government (which never in fact came into being).
In January 1849, the Frankfurt Parliament passed a law banning casinos and other gaming establishments. It was to take effect on 1 May. The Landgraviate of Hesse-Homburg demanded compensation for the loss of its lucrative Spielbank Bad Homburg, but this was refused. On 9 March, Hesse-Homburg formally protested the law and on 1 May it had not complied. On 7 May, the provisional government sent a Reichskommissar, Theodor Friedrich Knyn, to Homburg with 700 troops in order to carry out a Reichsexekution.
Under Article 19 of the Bismarckian Constitution (1871–1918), a Reichsexekution could be undertaken only with the permission of the Bundesrat (Federal Council). After 1918, Reichsexekution was provided for by Paragraph 1 of Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution. Unused by the empire, it was employed four times between 1919 and 1933 against the following states:
- Thuringia (1920)
- Gotha (1920)
- Saxony (1923), for which see German October
- Prussia (1932), for which see Preußenschlag
The right of Bundesexekution was confirmed by Article 26 of the Final Act of the Viennese Ministerial Conferences on 15 May 1820. This was the treaty that gave the German Confederation its final structure. It permitted the military occupation of a state that was in violation of confederal law, the assumption of executive powers by a Bundeskommissar, the deposition of the ruling prince and the abrogation of all unconstitutional laws. In the German Confederation, a Bundesexekution was distinct from a Bundeskrieg (federal war), which was waged by the confederation as a whole against an external enemy, and a Bundesintervention (federal intervention), which was an intervention by the confederation on behalf of a member state to maintain order. The following Bundesexekutionen took place under the Confederation:
- against the Duchy of Brunswick in 1830, because its duke, Charles II, refused to recognise the constitution accepted by his guardian, George IV of the United Kingdom, when he was a minor
- against the Free City of Frankfurt in 1834 during the Frankfurter Wachensturm
- against the duchies of Holstein and Lauenburg in 1863, which led to the Second Schleswig War in 1864
- against Prussia in 1866, because of a dispute over the government of occupied Schleswig-Holstein, which led to the Austro-Prussian War and the collapse of the confederation
- Lars Vinx, The Guardian of the Constitution: Hans Kelsen and Carl Schmitt on the Limits of Constitutional Law (Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 256, defines it as "the enforcement of the constitution of a federal state against the government of a constituent state, if need be with coercive means".
- Sébastien Schick, "Reichsexekution", in Falk Bretschneider and Christophe Duhamelle (eds.), « Les mots du Saint-Empire » – un glossaire (Histoire du Saint-Empire: regards croisés franco-allemands, retrieved 7 May 2017).
- Sven Düwel, Ad bellum Sacri Romano-Germanici Imperii solenne decernendum: Die Reichskriegserklärung gegen Brandenburg-Preußen im Jahr 1757: Das Verfahren der "preußischen Befehdungssache" 1756/57 zwischen Immerwährendem Reichstag und Wiener Reichsbehörden (Berlin: Lit Verlag Dr. Wilhelm Hopf, 2016), vol. 1, p. 11.
- John Gagliardo, Reich and Nation: The Holy Roman Empire as Idea and Reality, 1763–1806 (Indiana University Press, 1980), p. 309, n. 13.
- Matthias Nistahl, "Die Reichsexekution gegen Schweden in Bremen-Verden", in Heinz-Joachim Schulze (ed.), Landschaft und regionale Identität (Stade, 1989), pp. 97–123.
- "Hessen-Homburg", in Heinrich August Pierer and Julius Löbe (eds.), Universal-Lexikon der Gegenwart und Vergangenheit, 4th ed., vol. 8 (Altenburg, 1859), pp. 322–23.
- Wolfram Siemann, Vom Staatenbund zum Nationalstaat: Deutschland 1806–1871 (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1995), p. 46.
- Michael Stolleis, A History of Public Law in Germany, 1914–1945 (Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 99.
- Articles 25–28 of the Final Act of the Viennese Ministerial Conferences (May 15, 1820), in "From Vormärz to Prussian Dominance (1815–1866)", German History in Documents and Images (GHDI).
- Verfassung des Norddeutschen Bundes at documentarchiv.de
- Brennert, Joachim. "Reichsexekution im alten Reiche". Zeitschrift für Politik, 22 (1933): 817–22.
- Shirvani, Foroud. "Die Bundes- und Reichsexekution in der neueren deutschen Verfassungsgeschichte". Der Staat, 50, 1 (2011): 102–21.
- Weber, Raimund J. Reichspolitik und reichsgerichtliche Exekution: Vom Markgrafenkrieg (1552–1554) bis zum Lütticher Fall (1789/90). Wetzlar: Gesellschaft für Reichskammergerichtsforschung, 2000.
- Weiler, Heinrich. Die Reichsexekution gegen den Freistaat Sachsen unter Reichskanzler Dr. Stresemann im Oktober 1923. Historisch-politischer Hintergrund, Verlauf und staatsrechtliche Beurteilung. Frankfurt: Rita G. Fischer Verlag, 1987.