Article 48 (Weimar Constitution)


Article 48 (Weimar Constitution)

Article 48 was an article in the constitution of the Weimar Republic of Germany (1919–1933) that allowed the Chancellor to rule by decree without the consent of the Reichstag (parliament) although the president still held veto power. Legislation passed under this article of the constitution was referred to as "Notverordnung" (emergency decree). Article 48 was used by Adolf Hitler in 1933 to establish a dictatorship, ending the Weimar Republic and ushering in the Third Reich.

Origins of Article 48

The drafters of the Constitution likely intended Article 48 to be used for "emergencies" along the lines of the civil unrest that plagued Germany in 1918 and 1919. However, as the German economic situation began to deteriorate after the outbreak of the Great Depression in early 1930, successive governments found it impossible to achieve a parliamentary majority for any policy, whether proposed by the left, center, or right.

During late spring 1930, Chancellor Heinrich Brüning found his government unable to obtain a parliamentary majority for its financial reform bill. Brüning asked President Paul von Hindenburg to invoke Article 48 in order to pass the bill and thereby give Brüning's government the authority to act without the consent of the Reichstag. While von Hindenburg gave his authority, the Reichstag repudiated the bill by a slight majority on July 18, 1930. Under Article 48, this vote by a majority of the Reichstag invalidated the presidential decree. Faced with a breakdown of parliamentary rule at a time when the economic situation demanded action, Brüning asked von Hindenburg to dissolve parliament and call for new elections.

The election produced increased representation in the Reichstag for both the Communists and Nazis at the expense of the moderate middle-class parties. Forming a parliamentary majority became even more difficult for Brüning, and his government ruled repeatedly by invoking Article 48 between 1930 and 1932. Subsequent governments under chancellors Franz von Papen and Kurt von Schleicher during the tumultuous year 1932 obtained President von Hindenburg's decree of legislation under Article 48 when they too found it impossible to obtain a parliamentary majority as the extremist parties on the Left and Right gained power.

The invocation of Article 48 by successive governments helped seal the fate of the Weimar Republic. While Brüning's first invocation of "Notverordnung" may have been well-intentioned, the power to rule by decree became increasingly used not in response to a specific emergency but as a substitute for parliamentary leadership. The excessive use of the decree power and the fact that successive chancellors were no longer responsible to the Reichstag likely played a significant part in the loss of public confidence in constitutional democracy, in turn leading to the rise of the extremist parties.

Nazi use of Article 48

On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany. Lacking a majority in the Reichstag, Hitler formed a coalition government and, not long afterwards called elections for March 5. Six days before the election, on February 27, the Reichstag Fire damaged the house of Parliament in Berlin. Claiming that the fire was the first step in a Communist revolution, the Nazis used the fire as a pretext to get President von Hindenburg to sign the Reichstag Fire Decree, officially the "Verordnung des Reichspräsidenten zum Schutz von Volk und Staat" (Presidential Decree for the Protection of People and State).

Under the decree, issued by von Hindenburg on the basis of Article 48, the government was given authority to curtail constitutional rights including free expression of opinion, freedom of the press, rights of assembly, and the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications. Constitutional restrictions on searches and confiscation of property were likewise suspended.

The Reichstag Fire Decree was one of the first steps the Nazis took toward the establishment of a one-party dictatorship in Germany. With several key government posts in the hands of Nazis and with the constitutional protections on civil liberties suspended by the decree, the Nazis were able to use police power to suppress, intimidate, and arrest their opposition, in particular the Communists. Hitler's subversion of the Constitution under Article 48 thus had the mark of legality.

Though the March 5 elections did not bring the Nazis their much-desired majority in the Reichstag, the Nazis were able to maneuver on March 23, 1933 the passage of the Enabling Act by the required two-thirds parliamentary majority, effectively abrogating the authority of the Reichstag and placing its authority in the hands of the Cabinet. The Reichstag Fire Decree was the basis of later decrees that abolished the political parties other than the NSDAP and strengthened Hitler's dictatorial power.

Text of Article 48

Notes

# The German term "Land" translates to the English most appropriately as "state", as Weimar Germany, was, like Germany under the monarchy until 1918 and the modern Federal Republic, was a federal state, consisting of several "Länder" with some degree of autonomy.
# "Reich" translates literally as "empire" or "realm". The term persisted even after the end of the monarchy in 1918. The German state's official name was therefore "Deutsches Reich" through the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich to the end of World War II.

See also

* Machtergreifung
* Reichstag Fire Decree
* Enabling Act of 1933

External links

* [http://web.jjay.cuny.edu/~jobrien/reference/ob13.html Selected articles of Weimar constitution]


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