The Weimar Republic
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The Weimar Republic was established on November 9th, 1918. The first task of the new government was to establish a constitution. This was a vastly challenging undertaking for a government with a history so contrary to democracy. However, the Constitution was a necessary step in the formation of the republic but it did not go far enough to insure advancement of social legislation, instead inflicted conservative, restrictive measures on the democracy. The military and the bureaucracy were under the power of the cabinet, which were appointed positions, in direct conflict with democratic ideology. The weak constitution was only the beginning of Germany’s troubles under the Weimar Republic.
In June of 1920, three major developments shaped the public opinion of the Weimar Republic.
- Firstly, the Treaty at Versailles was a major blow to German nationalist feelings. It provided for the Allied occupation of the Rhineland and was seen as exceedingly harsh.
- Second, the German workers had high hopes of social reform under the constitution. After experiencing one of the most oppressive times in German economy and social devastation, the people looked to the new government to restore their faith in the defeated government.
- Thirdly, the Kapp Putsch formed an attempted coup that consisted of right-wing army officers in March of 1920. It was an adequate enough insurrection that extreme left and right faction of the government were established due their sharp divisions in ideology. These divisions opened the door for the Nazi party to establish itself.
In the waning days of World War I, Germans revolted against the Kaiser, forcing him to abdicate and retire to the Netherlands. In February 1919, a provisional coalition met in the German city of Weimar and wrote a constitution that established Germany as a democratic federal republic and provided for two houses of parliament, the Reichstag and the Reichsrat. Freidrich Ebert was elected president of the new republic.
The Weimar Republic was beset by the global depression of the 1920s, further hampered by the crushing reparation payments demanded by the Treaty of Versailles. The economic and social conditions of the Republic led to widespread distress, making the situation ripe for the rise of Adolf Hitler, who came to power in 1933. Although most scholars today recognize that the Weimar Republic was profoundly flawed in a number of its foundational ideologies and political mechanisms, there remains a vigorous debate over what role the demise of the Republic had upon the meteoric ascension of the Nazi Party, and what, if any, effect the burgeoning public support of the NSDAP had on the ultimate downfall of the Weimar Republic. While some scholars have asserted that these two events are only loosely related, others argue that they are inextricably linked and that the ascension of a fascist regime was unavoidable in the downfall of the Weimar Republic.
The most important overarching political problem that faced the Weimar Republic was the public’s perception of it as a piecemeal remnant of the Treaty of Versailles formed out of a desperate attempt to preserve Germany’s existence in the aftermath of World War I, rather than from the strong, German unification.