Primary Sources: Weimar Politics

The Weimar Republic was Germany’s first democracy, a state in which elected representatives had real power. The new constitution attempted to blend the European parliamentary system with the American presidential system. In the pre- World War I period, only men twenty-five years of age and older had the right to vote, and their elected representatives had very little power. The Weimar constitution gave all men and women twenty years of age the right to vote. Women made up more than 52% of the potential electorate, and their support was vital to the new Republic. From a ballot, which often had thirty or more parties on it, Germans chose legislators who would make the policies that shaped their lives. Parties spanning a broad political spectrum from Communists on the far left to National Socialists (Nazis) on the far right competed in the Weimar elections. The Chancellor and the Cabinet needed to be approved by the Reichstag (legislature) and needed the Reichstag’s continued support to stay in power.

Although the constitution makers expected the Chancellor to be the head of government, they included emergency provisions that would ultimately undermine the Republic. The constitution gave emergency powers to the directly elected President and made him the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. In times of crisis, these presidential powers would prove decisive.

During the stable periods, Weimar Chancellors formed legislative majorities based on coalitions primarily of the Social Democrats, the Democratic Party, and the Catholic Center Party, all moderate parties that supported the Republic. However, as the economic situation deteriorated in 1930, and many disillusioned voters turned to extremist parties, the Republic’s supporters could no longer command a majority. German democracy could no longer function as its creators had hoped. Ironically by 1932, Adolf Hitler, a dedicated foe of the Weimar Republic, was the only political leader capable of commanding a legislative majority. On January 30, 1933, an aged President von Hindenburg reluctantly named Hitler Chancellor of the Republic. Using his legislative majority and the support of Hindenburg’s emergency presidential powers, Hitler proceeded to destroy the Weimar Republic.

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Workers Demonstration in Weimar Germany

First Sign: Workers demonstration against bread tax and high rents! Second Sign: The upperclass form a dictatorship of wealth against the working class! Trans. Inge Spiegel.

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Soldiers During the German Revolution of 1918

Soldiers During the German Revolution of 1918.

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

German Communist Artists

TRANSLATION: We are the architects of the red future! (trans. by Anja Bubat)

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Documents

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Excerpts from the Weimar Constitution

Examine articles of the Weimar Constitution and reflect on what rights and protections the document afforded German citizens.

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Ruth Fischer on the Demise of German Communism

Ruth Fischer writes about the breakdown of German communism in the 1920s.

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Social Democratic Party Proclamation of the Republic, November 9, 1918

Read the Social Democratic Party Proclamation of the Republic that Philipp Scheidemann delivered to German citizens declaring the new German Republic.

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Spartacists Proclamation of the Republic, November 9, 1918

Examine the Proclamation of the Free Socialist Republic, delivered in a speech by Karl Liebknecht from the balcony of the Berlin City Palace.

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Clauses from the Treaty of Versailles

Read and reflect on clauses from the Treaty of Versailles that punish Germany for its role in World War I.

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Treaty of Versailles: The War Guilt Clause

Read and consider the War Guilt Clause of the Treaty of Versailles, a part of the agreement that stated that Germany was responsible for beginning World War I.

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Winston Churchill on the Casualties of World War I

Read Winston Churchill's reflections on the casualties and horrors of World War I.

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Holocaust

Casualties of World War I

View data on the casualties of World War I and consider the impact the losses had on each country.

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Communist Party Platform

Examine the platform of the Communist Party in the Weimar Republic.

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Nazi Party Platform

Examine the platform of the National Socialist German Workers’, or Nazi, Party.

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Social Democratic Party Platform

Examine the platform of the German Social Democratic Party.

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