From a conglomeration of more than 300 independent kingdoms, duchies, principalities, and free cities in the eighteenth century, the country that is today known as Germany took form in Central Europe throughout the course of the nineteenth century under the helmsmanship of one of its largest and strongest monarchies, Prussia. The establishment of the German Empire in 1871 recognized the Prussian King as the German Emperor. The history of U.S.-German relations in the first half of the twentieth century was rocky, reflecting the two world wars in which the United States and Germany fought on opposite sides. Since the end of World War II in 1945, U.S.-German relations have been a focal point of American involvement in Europe. This relationship has changed significantly over the past six decades, reflecting the tensions of the Cold War. The historic reunification of Germany in 1990 and the role the United States played in that process have served to strengthen ties between the two countries. Today, German-American political, economic, and security relationships continue to be based on close consultation and coordination at the most senior levels.
Modern Flag of Germany
The Kingdom of Prussia recognized the United States when it signed the September 18, 1785 Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the United States.
On December 11, 1871, U.S. Minister to the German Empire George Bancroft and German Privy Councillor of the Legation Bernard König signed a Consular Convention in Berlin. The Convention was ratified by the Senate on January 18, 1872, and proclaimed by President Ulysses S. Grant on June 1, 1872.
On June 1, 1797, John Quincy Adams (the former U.S. Minister to the Netherlands and current Minister to Portugal) was nominated by U.S. President John Adams to serve as the Minister to Prussia. According to his instructions from the President, Adams’ task in Berlin was to renew the aforementioned 1785 Treaty of Amity and Commerce, which had expired in 1796. Unfortunately, Adams’ letters of credence had been addressed to King Frederick William II, who had died on November 16, 1797, before Adams could have an audience with him. During a private audience on December 5, however, the new king, Frederick William III, formally recognized Adams as the accredited U.S. Minister to his father.
On July 8, 1849, Secretary of State John M. Middleton stated that the United States was prepared to recognize any unified, de facto German Government that “appeared capable of maintaining its power.” Therefore, following the establishment of the German Empire on January 18, 1871, the United States recognized the new German Empire by changing the accreditation of its Minister to Prussia to become Minister to the German Empire. On April 8, 1871, U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Prussia George Bancroft presented the new German Emperor Wilhelm I (who was concurrently King of Prussia) with letter from U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant dated March 16, 1871. The letter from the President congratulated the Emperor on his assumption of the German throne and recognized him as the head-of-state of a federal Germany.
The United States raised the American Legation in Berlin to Embassy status when Theodore Runyon, U.S. Minister to Germany, presented his credentials to the German regime as Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary on October 26, 1893.
Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917 led to the termination of diplomatic relations between Germany and the United States. On February 3, 1917, U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing informed the German Ambassador in Washington, D.C., Count Johann von Bernstorff that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had severed diplomatic relations with Germany, that the U.S. Ambassador in Berlin (James W. Gerrard) had been withdrawn, and that the U.S. Government would be returning von Bernstorff’s passports.
Following a series of attacks against American merchant ships on the high seas by German U-boats, the receipt, on February, 24, 1917, by the U.S. Ambassador in London, Walter Hines Pages, of the infamous “Zimmerman telegram” from British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, and the decision to abandon the plan to adopt “armed neutrality” by placing U.S. naval personnel on civilian ships to guard them against German attacks, President Wilson went before Congress on April 2 to ask for a declaration of war against Germany in order to make the world “safe for democracy.” Following the passage of a Joint Resolution by Congress on April 6, President Wilson issued on the same day a proclamation to the effect that a state of war existed between Germany and the United States.
Following the failure of the U.S. Senate in 1919-20 to ratify the Versailles Treaty with Germany that had been negotiated by President Wilson during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, the U.S. Congress passed a Joint Resolution on July 2, 1921, stipulating an end to the state of war between the United States and Germany. On August 25, 1921, the United States High Commissioner to Germany, Ellis Loring Dresel, and the German Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Friedrich Rosen, signed the “Treaty Restoring Friendly Relations” (the Treaty of Berlin). Full diplomatic relations were reestablished on December 10, 1921, when Dresel presented his credentials as U.S. Ambassador to Germany.
Following the murder of the Third Secretary of the German Embassy in Paris by a Polish Jew whose parents had been forcibly deported from Germany in October 1938, the Nazi Party orchestrated a nationwide pogrom against the German Jewish community during the night of November 9-10. In retaliation, President Franklin Roosevelt recalled his ambassador in Berlin, Hugh R. Wilson, on November 15 for consultation and did not dispatch another ambassador to take his place. One week after Ambassador Wilson’s recall, the German Ambassador in Washington, Hans Heinrich Dieckhoff, informed U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull that he had been recalled to Germany.
The German Government announced on December 11, 1941, that it had severed diplomatic relations and declared war on the United States. Following the German announcement, President Franklin Roosevelt sent a message to the U.S. Congress requesting that it “recognize a state of war between the United States and Germany….” Later that same day, the U.S. Congress resolved that “the state of war between the United States and [Germany] which has been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared,” and that the President was authorized to all military and government resources to bring to the war to a “successful termination.”
On October 19, 1951, the U.S. Congress passed a Joint Resolution declaring that the state of war that had existed between the United States and Germany since December 11, 1941, was terminated upon the enactment of the aforementioned resolution.
Following the German surrender to the Allied powers on May 8, 1945, Germany was occupied and divided into four zones. Each of the main Allied powers (the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France) was responsible for the administration of its zone. In 1947, the United States and Great Britain merged their zones. After tensions arose between Soviets and the western powers, the German Federal Republic (FRG, commonly as West Germany) was created out of the American, British, and French zones on September 21, 1949. The Soviets then oversaw the creation of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, commonly known as East Germany) out of their zone of occupation on October 7, 1949. The United States responded by stating its position that the GDR was “without any legal validity,” and that the United States would “continue to give full support to the Government of the German Federal Republic at Bonn in its efforts to restore a truly free and democratic Germany.”
As prospects for early reunification of Germany dimmed, the United States established full diplomatic relations with the FRG on May 6, 1955, when the FRG Diplomatic Mission in Washington was raised to Embassy status under Ambassador Heinz L. Krekeler. The American Embassy in Bonn was established on May 14, 1955, when James Conant, U.S. High Commissioner, presented his credentials as the first U.S. Ambassador to the FRG.
In response to the improvement of relations between the two German governments, representatives of the United States and GDR negotiated arrangements for U.S. recognition of the GDR and the establishment of diplomatic relations, which occurred on September 4, 1974, when the United States and East Germany released a joint communiqué to that effect. The American Embassy in Berlin was established on December 9, 1974, with Brandon H. Grove, Jr., as Chargé d'Affaires ad interim. John Sherman Cooper presented his credentials as the first U.S. Ambassador to the GDR on December 20, 1974. Despite this step taken to deal with the reality of the German situation, the United States continued until German reunification in 1990 to view the FRG as the sole legitimate successor government of the historical German state and a future reunified Germany.
Following the collapse of one-party rule in East Germany in late-1989, the signing of a Unification Treaty by East and West German Governments on August 31, 1990, and a series of meetings between the foreign ministers of East and West Germany, the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union in Bonn, Berlin, Paris, and Moscow, a Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany (the so-called “Two Plus Four Agreement”) was signed in Moscow on September 12, 1990.
On September 25, 1990, President George H.W. Bush submitted the treaty for ratification, and the U.S. Senate obliged unanimously on October 10. The treaty finally went into effect on March 15, 1991. Since the five constituent federal states of the German Democratic Republic were technically absorbed by the Federal Republic of Germany under the terms of Article 23 of the “Basic Law” (which was subsequently abolished under the terms of the Unification Treaty so as to limit any further changes to the borders of Germany), there was no reason for the United States to recognize the reunified Germany as a “new state.” The United States maintained its embassy in Bonn; however, it closed its embassy in Berlin on October 2, 1990.
The United States moved its embassy in Germany from Bonn to Berlin on July 7, 1999. Upon this move, the former-Embassy Bonn became the U.S. Office Bonn, and finally closed on April 3, 2000.