The Weimar Constitution

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What was the Weimar Constitution

The Introduction of the Weimar Consitution:

  • It was drawn up mainly by Hugo Preuss, who was a legal expert, scholar and liberal. 
  • It attempted to balance political forces and building the traditions of German politics. 

The main features of the Weimar Constitution include:

  • Germany was to be a republic, with its sovereignty based on the people. 
  • It would remain a federal state, rather than a unitary state, which would consist of 18 states (Lander).
  • The States would retain their power over:
    • Education
    • Police
    • The Churches.
  • Whilst, the central govt would control:
    • Direct taxation
    • Foreign Affairs
    • Armed forces.
    • Communications. 
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Main features of the Weimar Constitution Part 2

Other features of the Weimarc Constitution includes:

  • Germany was to be governed by a president, a Reichstag and Reichsrat.
  • All men and women over 20, have the right to vote for Reichstag deputies every 4 years, using the system of Proportional representation. 
    • This ensured that all German views would be represented in the Reichstag. 
  • The Chancellor and his Ministers must have the confidence of the Reichstag, and are obliged to resign when they forfeited it.
  • The Reichstag was to initiate and approve legislation. 
  • The Reichsrat was to be composed of delegates from the German state, who would be represented according to its population. 
    • However, no state was allowed to have more than 2/5 of the seats, to prevent Prussian preponderance. 
  • The Reichsrat could also veto Reichstag legislation, which could be overriden by a 2/3 vote of the Reichstag.
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Main features of the Weimar Constitution Part 3

The President would be:

  • Voted for by the people every 7 years. 
  • The Supreme commander of the armed forces. 
  • He could convene and dissolve the Reichstag. 
  • He had the power to block new laws:
    • by calling a referendum.
  • He also had the power to appoint the Chancellor and the Reich Govt. 

The Weimar Constitution passed a bill of rights:

  • This guaranteed the people:
    • personal integrity.
    • Equality before the law
    • Freedom of movement, expression and conscience.
    • Freedom to belong to a trade union, to the people. 
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When was the Weimar Constitution passed

The Weimar Constitution was passed:

  • On the 31st of July 1919.
  • By 262 votes to 75. 
  • The only opposition was the USPD and the right, who were enraged by the new adopted black, red and gold revolutionary flag of 1848. 
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The Strengths of the Weimar Consitution

The Weimar Constitution was successful because:

  • It could be argued that there was nothing wrong with this constitution structurally. 
  • This is due to the fact that it reflected a broard spectrum of political opinion and successful constitutional practice at the time. 
  • The constitution was thoroughly democratic, guaranteeing a wide range of civil liberties. 
  • It tried to build on Germany's traditional practices, such as religional authority (e.g. over the police), and regional influence, such as representation of the Lander in the Reichsrat, the pre1914 consitution represented. 
  • Proportional representation ensured that a wide variety of interests were represented in the Reichstag. 
    • Therefore, representation of sectional (class) interests had almost ended. 
  • The abundance of small parties did not necessarily mean there would be weak govts. 
    • The fundamental problem was the difficulty for the main parties' to create coalitions and agreeing policies. 
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The Strengths of the Weimar Constitution Part 2

  • Presidential powers were strictly limited by:
    • Article 48, which, to overcome the serious problems facing the Republic between 1919-1923, allowed the govt to have sufficient flexibility. 
  • It could be argued that the 1919 Constitution represented a major improvement, far from the 1871 Constitution, due to providing the liberal democratic framework. 
    • However, the Weimar Constitution could not control the conditions and circumstances in which it had to operate. 
    • But no constitution would have been able to provide for all the possible consequences arising from the immense problems Germany faced, following its defeat in 1918. 
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The Weaknesses of the Constitution

On the other hand, the Weimar Constitution was weak because:

  • The introduction of the proportional representation, is often presented as a major problem for the fledgling Republic. 
  • This is because:
    • Proportional representation encouraged the formation of new parties, often representing particualr interests. 
    • So many parties ensured that no political party was ever likely to win an overall majority, which led to coalition govts coming and going with spectacular frequency. 
    • This instability ensured weak govts were formed
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The Weaknesses of the Constitution Part 2

  • The creation of a presidency created an ambiguous system. 
  • The situation of presidency was made worse further, by the powers conferred on the president by Article 48.
    • This provided authority for the president to suspend civil rights, and to take any action required to restore law and order, by the issue of presidential decrees. 
  • Article 48 gave the president considerable potential power, despite the fact that it was intending to create the means of the govt continuing to fuction in a temporary crisis. 
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