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Prussian three-class franchise

Prussian three-class franchise

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After the 1848 revolutions in the German states, the Prussian three-class franchise system (Dreiklassenwahlrecht) was introduced in 1849 by the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV for the election of the Lower House of the Prussian state parliament
A parliament is a legislature, especially in those countries whose system of government is based on the Westminster system modeled after that of the United Kingdom. The name is derived from the French , the action of parler : a parlement is a discussion. The term came to mean a meeting at which...

. It was completely abolished only in 1918. This franchise
Suffrage, political franchise, or simply the franchise, distinct from mere voting rights, is the civil right to vote gained through the democratic process...

 was used in Prussia, Brunswick
Duchy of Brunswick
Brunswick was a historical state in Germany. Originally the territory of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel in the Holy Roman Empire, it was established as an independent duchy by the Congress of Vienna in 1815...

, Waldeck
Waldeck (state)
Waldeck was a sovereign principality in the German Empire and German Confederation and, until 1929, a constituent state of the Weimar Republic. It comprised territories in present-day Hesse and Lower Saxony, ....

 and Saxony
Kingdom of Saxony
The Kingdom of Saxony , lasting between 1806 and 1918, was an independent member of a number of historical confederacies in Napoleonic through post-Napoleonic Germany. From 1871 it was part of the German Empire. It became a Free state in the era of Weimar Republic in 1918 after the end of World War...

 (the latter until 1909).

Those eligible to vote were men aged over 24, divided by their direct tax revenue into three classes. These three classes were calculated according to how much tax one paid, by dividing the entire range of taxes into thirds. The first class was for those paying the highest taxes; the second for those with a lower income; the third for those paying few or no taxes.

Voting took place in public, orally; there was no secret ballot
Secret ballot
The secret ballot is a voting method in which a voter's choices in an election or a referendum are anonymous. The key aim is to ensure the voter records a sincere choice by forestalling attempts to influence the voter by intimidation or bribery. The system is one means of achieving the goal of...

. It was also indirect
Indirect election
Indirect election is a process in which voters in an election don't actually choose between candidates for an office but rather elect persons who will then make the choice. It is one of the oldest form of elections and is still used today for many upper houses and presidents...

; representatives known as electors (Wahlmänner) were voted for, each class electing a third of all the electors. The classes of course contained widely differing numbers of people, even though the number of electors was the same for each one: in 1849 the first class constituted 4.7% of the population, the second class 12.7% and the third class 82.6%. This distribution meant that a first-class vote had 17.5 times the value of a third-class vote. A three-class franchise system was also used for local elections in parts of Prussia, one result of which was that the industrialist Alfred Krupp
The Krupp family , a prominent 400-year-old German dynasty from Essen, have become famous for their steel production and for their manufacture of ammunition and armaments. The family business, known as Friedrich Krupp AG Hoesch-Krupp, was the largest company in Europe at the beginning of the 20th...

 was the only person able to vote for the electors in the first class in Essen.

Prussia's controlling position in the German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 meant that the system was at the heart of debates about reform. Extending suffrage would, however, have meant the downfall of the ruling conservative politicians, elected by the wealthy voters the three-class system favoured. Thus, despite popular dissatisfaction, the Prussian franchise persisted.

In 1917, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, German Chancellor and Prussian Prime Minister, drafted a reform to the voting system. Trying to placate the public and avoid revolution, Kaiser Wilhelm II proclaimed a watered-down version of this reform in his Easter Speech on April 7, which, by specifying no fixed date, failed to satisfy the public. The three-class system remained until the German Revolution
German Revolution
The German Revolution was the politically-driven civil conflict in Germany at the end of World War I, which resulted in the replacement of Germany's imperial government with a republic...

 of November 1918, when the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

 was formed. Article 17 of its constitution
Weimar constitution
The Constitution of the German Reich , usually known as the Weimar Constitution was the constitution that governed Germany during the Weimar Republic...

 proclaimed proportional representation
Proportional representation
Proportional representation is a concept in voting systems used to elect an assembly or council. PR means that the number of seats won by a party or group of candidates is proportionate to the number of votes received. For example, under a PR voting system if 30% of voters support a particular...

 for women and men over the age of 20, with a secret ballot system.

External links

  • Ludwig Windthorst
    Ludwig Windthorst
    Ludwig Windthorst , was a German politician.-Biography:Windthorst was born at Kaldenhof, a country house near Osnabrück in the Kingdom of Hanover. He was raised by a Roman Catholic family, which for some generations had held important posts in the Hanoverian civil service...

    , Speech in Favor of Reforming the Prussian Suffrage, in the Prussian House of Deputies, 26 November 1873