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Centre Party (Germany)

Centre Party (Germany)

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The German Centre Party (Deutsche Zentrumspartei or just Zentrum) was a Catholic political party in Germany
History of Germany
The concept of Germany as a distinct region in central Europe can be traced to Roman commander Julius Caesar, who referred to the unconquered area east of the Rhine as Germania, thus distinguishing it from Gaul , which he had conquered. The victory of the Germanic tribes in the Battle of the...

 during the Kaiserreich
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

and the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

. Formed in 1870, it battled the Kulturkampf
Kulturkampf
The German term refers to German policies in relation to secularity and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, enacted from 1871 to 1878 by the Prime Minister of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck. The Kulturkampf did not extend to the other German states such as Bavaria...

 which the Prussian government launched to reduce the power of the Catholic Church. It soon won a quarter of the seats in the Reichstag
Reichstag (German Empire)
The Reichstag was the parliament of the North German Confederation , and of the German Reich ....

 (Imperial Parliament), and its middle position on most issues allowed it to play a decisive role in the formation of majorities.

When the Nazis came to power the party dissolved itself on 5 July 1933 as a condition of the conclusion of a Concordat
Reichskonkordat
The Reichskonkordat is a treaty that was agreed between the Holy See and Nazi government, that guarantees the rights of the Catholic Church in Germany. It was signed on July 20, 1933 by Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli and Vice Chancellor Franz von Papen on behalf of Pope Pius XI and President...

 between the Holy See
Holy See
The Holy See is the episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, in which its Bishop is commonly known as the Pope. It is the preeminent episcopal see of the Catholic Church, forming the central government of the Church. As such, diplomatically, and in other spheres the Holy See acts and...

 and Germany.

After World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the party was refounded, but could not rise again to its former importance, as most of its members joined the new Christian Democratic Union
Christian Democratic Union (Germany)
The Christian Democratic Union of Germany is a Christian democratic and conservative political party in Germany. It is regarded as on the centre-right of the German political spectrum...

 (CDU). The Centre Party was represented in the German parliament until 1957. It exists as a marginal party, mainly based in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia
North Rhine-Westphalia
North Rhine-Westphalia is the most populous state of Germany, with four of the country's ten largest cities. The state was formed in 1946 as a merger of the northern Rhineland and Westphalia, both formerly part of Prussia. Its capital is Düsseldorf. The state is currently run by a coalition of the...

.

Origins of Political Catholicism


The Centre Party belongs to the political spectrum of "Political Catholicism
Political Catholicism
Political catholicism is a political and cultural conception which promotes the ideas and social teaching of the Catholic Church in public life...

" that, emerging in the early 19th century after the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars, had changed the political face of Germany. Many Catholics found themselves in Protestant dominated states.

The first major conflict between the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 and a Protestant state was the "Colonian Church conflict", when the Prussian
Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

 government interfered in the question of mixed marriages and the religious affiliation of children resulting from these. This led to serious aggressions against the Catholic population of the Rhineland
Rhineland
Historically, the Rhinelands refers to a loosely-defined region embracing the land on either bank of the River Rhine in central Europe....

 and Westphalia
Westphalia
Westphalia is a region in Germany, centred on the cities of Arnsberg, Bielefeld, Dortmund, Minden and Münster.Westphalia is roughly the region between the rivers Rhine and Weser, located north and south of the Ruhr River. No exact definition of borders can be given, because the name "Westphalia"...

 and culminated in the arrest of the Archbishop of Cologne .

At that time, one of the founding fathers of Political Catholicism was journalist Joseph Görres, who called upon Catholics to "stand united" for their common goals, "religious liberty and political and civil equality of the denominations" . The conflict relaxed after 1840, with Frederick William IV's accession to the throne.

The Revolution of 1848
Revolutions of 1848
The European Revolutions of 1848, known in some countries as the Spring of Nations, Springtime of the Peoples or the Year of Revolution, were a series of political upheavals throughout Europe in 1848. It was the first Europe-wide collapse of traditional authority, but within a year reactionary...

 brought new opportunities for German Catholics. In October, the bishops had their first meeting in 40 years in Würzburg
Würzburg
Würzburg is a city in the region of Franconia which lies in the northern tip of Bavaria, Germany. Located at the Main River, it is the capital of the Regierungsbezirk Lower Franconia. The regional dialect is Franconian....

 and the local "Catholic Federations" assembled in Mainz
Mainz
Mainz under the Holy Roman Empire, and previously was a Roman fort city which commanded the west bank of the Rhine and formed part of the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire...

 to found the "Catholic Federation of Germany". In the National Assembly
Frankfurt Parliament
The Frankfurt Assembly was the first freely elected parliament for all of Germany. Session was held from May 18, 1848 to May 31, 1849 in the Paulskirche at Frankfurt am Main...

, which was convened to draw up a German constitution, a "Catholic club" was formed. This was not yet a comprehensive party, but a loose union aimed at protecting the Church's liberties in a future Germany, supported by many petitions from the "Pius federations for religious liberty". The later demise of the National Assembly proved to be a major setback for Political Catholicism.

Catholic groups in the Prussian Diet


In Prussia, the revised constitution of 1850 granted liberties, which in parts even exceeded those of the Frankfurt draft constitution, yet two years later the minister for culture, von Raumer, issued decrees directed mainly against the Jesuits
Society of Jesus
The Society of Jesus is a Catholic male religious order that follows the teachings of the Catholic Church. The members are called Jesuits, and are also known colloquially as "God's Army" and as "The Company," these being references to founder Ignatius of Loyola's military background and a...

. In reaction this led to a doubling of Catholic representatives in the subsequent elections and the formation of a Catholic club in the Prussian Diet. In 1858, when the "New Era" governments of Wilhelm I adopted more lenient policies, the club renamed itself "Fraction of the Centre" in order to open itself up to include non-Catholics. This name stemmed from the fact that in the Prussian Diet the Catholic representatives were seated in the centre, between the Conservatives on the right and the Liberals on the left. Faced with military and constitutional issues, where there was no definite Church position, the group soon disintegrated and disappeared from parliament after 1867.

The Soest programme and the founding of the "Centre Party"



Growing anti-Catholic sentiment and policies, including plans for dissolving all monasteries in Prussia, made it clear that a reorganization of the group was urgently needed in order to protect Catholic minority rights, enshrined in the 1850 constitution, and to bring them over to the emerging nation state.

In June 1870 Peter Reichersberger called on Catholics to unite and, in October, priests, representatives of Catholic federations and the Catholic gentry met at Soest
Soest, Germany
Soest is a town in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is the capital of the Soest district. After Lippstadt, a neighbouring town, Soest is the second biggest town in its district.-Geography:...

 and drew up an election programme. The main points were:
  • Preservation of the Church's autonomy and rights, as accepted by the constitution. Defense against any attack on the independence of Church bodies, on the development of religious life and on the practice of Christian charity.
  • Effectual implementation of parity for recognized denominations.
  • Rejection of any attempt to de-Christianize marriage.
  • Preservation or founding of denominational schools.


There were also more general demands such as for a more federal, decentralized state, a limitation of state expenditure, a just distribution of taxes, the financial strengthening of the middle classes and the legal "removal of such evil states, that threaten the worker with moral or bodily ruin".

With such a manifesto, the number of Catholic representatives in the Prussian Diet rose considerably and in December 1870. They formed a new "Centre" faction, also called the "Constitution Party" to emphasize its adherence to constitutional liberties.

Three months later, early in 1871, the Catholic representatives to the new national parliament, the Reichstag, also formed a "Centre" faction. The party not only defended the Church's liberties, but also supported representative government and minority rights in general, in particular those of German Poles, Alsatians and Hannoverians. The Centre's main leader was the Hannoverian advocate Ludwig Windthorst
Ludwig Windthorst
Ludwig Windthorst , was a German politician.-Biography:Windthorst was born at Kaldenhof, a country house near Osnabrück in the Kingdom of Hanover. He was raised by a Roman Catholic family, which for some generations had held important posts in the Hanoverian civil service...

 and other major figures included Karl Friedrich von Savigny
Karl Friedrich von Savigny
Karl Friedrich von Savigny was a Prussian diplomat, politician, and a leading member of the Centre Party. His father was the jurist Friedrich Karl von Savigny. He believed that "laws are not made but found"....

, Hermann von Mallinckrodt, Burghard Freiherr von Schorlemer-Alst
Burghard Freiherr von Schorlemer-Alst
Burghard Freiherr von Schorlemer-Alst was a Prussian parliamentarian for the Centre Party.-References:...

, the brothers August Reichensperger
August Reichensperger
August Reichensperger was a German politician from the city of Koblenz.Reichensperger studied law and entered government service, becoming counsellor to the court of appeal at Cologne in 1849...

 and Peter Reichensperger
Peter Reichensperger
Peter Reichensperger was a German jurist and parliamentarian.-Life:He studied at Bonn and Heidelberg, and was successively counsellor at Coblenz , of the court of appeal at Cologne , and of the supreme court of Berlin until its dissolution...

, and Georg Count Hertling.

Also in other German states Catholic parties were formed, cooperating with the Prussian Centre Party in the Reichstag:
  • in Bavaria, the "Bavarian Patriotic Party", with a particularistic-conservative bent, since 1887 called the "Bavarian Centre".
  • in Baden, the "Catholic People's Party", since 1881 formally linked to the national "Centre Party" and since 1888 adopting the name "Centre Party".

Kulturkampf



In the age of nationalism, Protestant Germans, whether Conservative (like Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck
Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg , simply known as Otto von Bismarck, was a Prussian-German statesman whose actions unified Germany, made it a major player in world affairs, and created a balance of power that kept Europe at peace after 1871.As Minister President of...

) or Liberal, accused the Centre of Ultramontanism
Ultramontanism
Ultramontanism is a religious philosophy within the Roman Catholic community that places strong emphasis on the prerogatives and powers of the Pope...

 or having a greater loyalty towards the Pope than to their own nation. After the First Vatican Council
First Vatican Council
The First Vatican Council was convoked by Pope Pius IX on 29 June 1868, after a period of planning and preparation that began on 6 December 1864. This twentieth ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church, held three centuries after the Council of Trent, opened on 8 December 1869 and adjourned...

, Bismarck launched the Kulturkampf
Kulturkampf
The German term refers to German policies in relation to secularity and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, enacted from 1871 to 1878 by the Prime Minister of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck. The Kulturkampf did not extend to the other German states such as Bavaria...

or "cultural struggle" against the Catholic Church. But the Catholics fought back vigorously and with near-unanimity. The Centre party gained greater support from the Catholic population. Following Bismarck's 1878 turn from free trade
Free trade
Under a free trade policy, prices emerge from supply and demand, and are the sole determinant of resource allocation. 'Free' trade differs from other forms of trade policy where the allocation of goods and services among trading countries are determined by price strategies that may differ from...

 to protectionism
Protectionism
Protectionism is the economic policy of restraining trade between states through methods such as tariffs on imported goods, restrictive quotas, and a variety of other government regulations designed to allow "fair competition" between imports and goods and services produced domestically.This...

 and from the National Liberal
National Liberal Party (Germany)
The National Liberal Party was a German political party which flourished between 1867 and 1918. It was formed by Prussian liberals who put aside their differences with Bismarck over domestic policy due to their support for his highly successful foreign policy, which resulted in the unification of...

 party to the Conservative
Conservatism
Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports, at the most, minimal and gradual change in society. Some conservatives seek to preserve things as they are, emphasizing stability and continuity, while others oppose modernism...

 parties, he also abandoned the unsuccessful Kulturkampf
Kulturkampf
The German term refers to German policies in relation to secularity and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, enacted from 1871 to 1878 by the Prime Minister of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck. The Kulturkampf did not extend to the other German states such as Bavaria...

.

The Centre party remained a party of opposition to Bismarck, but after his resignation in 1890, it frequently supported the following administrations' policies in the Reichstag
Reichstag (German Empire)
The Reichstag was the parliament of the North German Confederation , and of the German Reich ....

, particularly in the field of social security.

"Out of the tower!"


The Kulturkampf had reinforced the Catholic character of the Centre Party, but even during it Ludwig Windthorst
Ludwig Windthorst
Ludwig Windthorst , was a German politician.-Biography:Windthorst was born at Kaldenhof, a country house near Osnabrück in the Kingdom of Hanover. He was raised by a Roman Catholic family, which for some generations had held important posts in the Hanoverian civil service...

 had defended the party against Bismarck's accusation of being a "denominational party" in describing the Centre as "a political party with a comprehensive political programme and open to anyone, who accepts it". However, few Protestants took up this offer and the Centre remained - by the composition of its members, politicians and voters, an essentially Catholic party.

Loyal to the Pope
Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

 in church matters, the Centre party steered a course independent of the Holy See on secular matters. This became apparent in the "septennat dispute" of 1886. Since the Centre Party rejected Bismarck's military budget, the Chancellor negotiated with the Holy See and promised to abolish some Kulturkampf
Kulturkampf
The German term refers to German policies in relation to secularity and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, enacted from 1871 to 1878 by the Prime Minister of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck. The Kulturkampf did not extend to the other German states such as Bavaria...

-related laws and to support the Pope in the Roman question
Roman Question
thumb|300px|The breach of [[Porta Pia]], on the right, in a contemporaneous photograph.The Roman Question was a political dispute between the Italian Government and the Papacy from 1861 to 1929....

, if the Vatican persuaded the Centre Party to accept his bill. Despite this agreement, the Centre Party rejected the budget and Bismarck called new elections. He also published the letters with the Vatican, intending to drive a wedge between Catholic voters loyal to the Pope and the Centre Party with the slogan: "The Pope against the Centre!" Windhorst managed to avert this by reaffirming the Party's autonomy, which the Pope had accepted, and by interpreting the published letters as expressions of papal confidence in the party.

As the Kulturkampf declined, debates about the character of the party emerged culminating in the Centre dispute, in 1906, after Julius Bachem had published the article "We must get out of the tower!" He called upon Catholic politicians to fulfill Windthorst's word and get out of their perpetual minority position by an effort to increase Protestant numbers among their representatives in parliament. His proposal was met with passionate opposition by the greater part of Catholic public, especially since it also included the Christian trade unions and other Catholic organisations. No side could win the upper hand, when the outbreak of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 ended the dispute.

After the war, Adam Stegerwald
Adam Stegerwald
Adam Stegerwald was a German Catholic politician and a leader of the left wing of the Centre Party. He served as Prime Minister of Prussia in 1921, and later as a minister in the national governments of Hermann Müller and Heinrich Brüning...

, leader of the Christian trade unions, made another attempt at transcending the party's exclusively Catholic character and uniting Germany's fragmented party spectrum. In 1920 he advocated the formation of a broad Christian middle-party, that would transcend denominations and social classes and which could push back the Social Democrats'
Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany...

 influence.

In war and revolution


The party boldly supported the imperial government in the years prior to World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 openly declaring Germany's "great political and moral mission" in the world. With the outbreak of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, the party also used the debates about war bonds to push for a repeal of the last remnants of anti-Jesuit laws. As the war continued, many of the leaders of the Centre's left wing, particularly Matthias Erzberger
Matthias Erzberger
Matthias Erzberger was a German politician. Prominent in the Centre Party, he spoke out against the First World War from 1917 and eventually signed the Armistice with Germany for the German Empire...

, came to support a negotiated settlement, and Erzberger was key in the passage of the Reichstag Peace Resolution
Reichstag Peace Resolution
The Reichstag Peace Resolution passed by the German Reichstag on July 19, 1917 with the support of the Social Democrats, the Catholic Center Party, and the Progressive People's Party was an attempt to seek a negotiated peace in World War I. The resolution called for no annexations, no indemnities,...

 of 1917.

The same year, the Centre's Georg Count Hertling, formerly Ministers-President of Bavaria
Bavaria
Bavaria, formally the Free State of Bavaria is a state of Germany, located in the southeast of Germany. With an area of , it is the largest state by area, forming almost 20% of the total land area of Germany...

, was appointed Chancellor, but he could not overcome the dominance of the military leadership of Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg , known universally as Paul von Hindenburg was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934....

 and Ludendorff
Erich Ludendorff
Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff was a German general, victor of Liège and of the Battle of Tannenberg...

. When a parliamentary system of government was introduced in October 1918, the new chancellor Max von Baden
Prince Maximilian of Baden
Maximilian of Baden was a German prince and politician...

 appointed representatives from the Centre party, the Social Democrats and the left-liberals as ministers.

After the fall of the monarchy, conflict arose between the party and the new Social Democratic government. Adolf Hofmann, the Prussian minister for culture, attempted to decree a total separation of church and state, forcing religion out of schools. This stirred up a wave of protest among the catholic population, and bishops, Catholic organisations and the Centre Party itself united to combat the "red danger". This conflict bridged internal tensions within the party and secured its continual existence despite the turmoil of the revolution.

The party however was weakened by its Bavarian wing splitting off and forming the Bavarian People's Party
Bavarian People's Party
The Bavarian People's Party was the Bavarian branch of the Centre Party, which broke off from the rest of the party in 1919 to pursue a more conservative, more Catholic, more Bavarian particularist course...

 (BVP), which emphasized autonomy of the states
States' rights
States' rights in U.S. politics refers to political powers reserved for the U.S. state governments rather than the federal government. It is often considered a loaded term because of its use in opposition to federally mandated racial desegregation...

 and also took a more conservative course.

In the 1919 elections for the National Assembly
Weimar National Assembly
The Weimar National Assembly governed Germany from February 6, 1919 to June 6, 1920 and drew up the new constitution which governed Germany from 1919 to 1933, technically remaining in effect even until the end of Nazi rule in 1945...

 the Centre Party gained 91 representatives, being the second largest party after the Social Democratic Party
Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany...

 (SPD). The Centre's Konstantin Fehrenbach
Konstantin Fehrenbach
Constantin Fehrenbach was a German Catholic politician who was one of the major leaders of the Centre Party. He served as President of the Reichstag in 1918, and then as President of the Weimar National Assembly from 1919 to 1920...

 was elected president of the National Assembly. The party actively cooperated with Social Democrats and left-liberal German Democratic Party (DDP) in drawing up the Weimar Constitution
Weimar constitution
The Constitution of the German Reich , usually known as the Weimar Constitution was the constitution that governed Germany during the Weimar Republic...

, which guaranteed what the Centre had been fighting for since its founding: equality for Catholics and autonomy for Roman Catholic Church throughout Germany. The party was less successful in the school question. Although religious education remained an ordinary subject in most schools, the comprehensive, inter-denominational schools became default.

In the Weimar Republic


The Centre Party, whose pragmatic principles generally left it open to supporting either a monarchical or republican form of government, proved one of the mainstays of the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

, continuing the cooperation with SPD and DDP in the Weimar Coalition
Weimar Coalition
The Weimar Coalition is the name given to the coalition of the Social Democratic Party of Germany , the German Democratic Party , and the Catholic Centre Party, who together had a large majority of the delegates to the Constituent Assembly that met at Weimar in 1919, and were the principal groups...

. This combination, however, lost its majority in the 1920 elections. As a result of the party's flexibility, it was a member of nearly every government coalition in the Weimar Republic, both with the left and right. However, this also damaged the party's prospects because it was increasingly associated with all of the conflicts, problems, and failures of the Republic.

The Centre had a share of the odium attached to the so-called "Weimar Establishment" which was blamed, especially on the right, for the "stab in the back" of the German army at the end of the war , as well as for the humiliations of the Versailles Treaty and reparations. Erzberger himself, who had signed the armistice, was assassinated by right-wing extremists in 1920.

Although the parties of the Weimar Coalition remained the base of the Weimar Republic, they could not agree to resume a formal coalition government, especially because of disagreements between the Centre Party and the Social Democrats on issues like religious schools or a nationwide Concordat
Concordat
A concordat is an agreement between the Holy See of the Catholic Church and a sovereign state on religious matters. Legally, they are international treaties. They often includes both recognition and privileges for the Catholic Church in a particular country...

 with the Holy See. Between 1919 and 1932 the Centre participated in all administrations, providing mainly the ministers for finance and labour and, on four occasions, the Chancellor.

After the break-up of the Weimar Coalition, in June 1920 the Centre's Konstantin Fehrenbach
Konstantin Fehrenbach
Constantin Fehrenbach was a German Catholic politician who was one of the major leaders of the Centre Party. He served as President of the Reichstag in 1918, and then as President of the Weimar National Assembly from 1919 to 1920...

 formed a new cabinet that also included the left-liberal DDP and the national-liberal German People's Party
German People's Party
The German People's Party was a national liberal party in Weimar Germany and a successor to the National Liberal Party of the German Empire.-Ideology:...

 (DVP).

In May 1921 the Weimar Coalition once again resumed government under the Centre's Joseph Wirth
Joseph Wirth
Karl Joseph Wirth, known as Joseph Wirth, was a German politician of the Catholic Centre Party who served as Chancellor of Germany from 1921 to 1922.-Biography:...

 as Chancellor, but this Coalition collapsed again in November 1922. After this, the Centre participated in the non-affiliated Wilhelm Cuno
Wilhelm Cuno
Wilhelm Carl Josef Cuno was a German politician who was the Chancellor of Germany from 1922 to 1923. He was born in Suhl, Prussian Saxony. Cuno's government is best known for its passive resistance of the French occupation of the Ruhr Area . Cuno's government was also responsible for its poor...

's "government of the economy", together with both liberal parties and the Bavarian People's Party
Bavarian People's Party
The Bavarian People's Party was the Bavarian branch of the Centre Party, which broke off from the rest of the party in 1919 to pursue a more conservative, more Catholic, more Bavarian particularist course...

 (BVP).

In August 1923 the National Liberal Gustav Stresemann
Gustav Stresemann
was a German politician and statesman who served as Chancellor and Foreign Minister during the Weimar Republic. He was co-laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926.Stresemann's politics defy easy categorization...

 formed a Grand Coalition administration, comprising the Centre, both Liberal parties and the Social Democrats, which lasted until November, when the Social Democrats left the coalition and the Centre's Wilhelm Marx
Wilhelm Marx
Wilhelm Marx was a German lawyer, Catholic politician and a member of the Centre Party. He was Chancellor of the German Reich twice, from 1923 to 1925 and again from 1926 to 1928, and also served briefly as minister president of Prussia in 1925, during the Weimar Republic.-Life:Born in Cologne to...

 became chancellor of a cabinet of the remaining parties.

In January 1925 the non-affiliated Hans Luther
Hans Luther
Hans Luther was a German politician and Chancellor of Germany.-Biography:Born in Berlin, Luther started in politics in 1907 by becoming the town councillor in Magdeburg. He continued on becoming secretary of the German Städtetag in 1913 and then mayor of Essen in 1918...

 was appointed chancellor and formed a coalition between the Centre, both Liberal parties, the BVP and, for the first time, the right-wing German National People's Party
German National People's Party
The German National People's Party was a national conservative party in Germany during the time of the Weimar Republic. Before the rise of the NSDAP it was the main nationalist party in Weimar Germany composed of nationalists, reactionary monarchists, völkisch, and antisemitic elements, and...

 (DNVP). The Centre, the BVP and the DNVP jointly supported legislation to expand religious schools.

In the same year Wilhelm Marx
Wilhelm Marx
Wilhelm Marx was a German lawyer, Catholic politician and a member of the Centre Party. He was Chancellor of the German Reich twice, from 1923 to 1925 and again from 1926 to 1928, and also served briefly as minister president of Prussia in 1925, during the Weimar Republic.-Life:Born in Cologne to...

 was the Centre's candidate in the presidential elections. In the second round, combining the support of the Weimar coalition parties, he gained 45.3% of the vote and finished a close second to the victorious right-wing candidate Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg , known universally as Paul von Hindenburg was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934....

 with 48.3%.

In May 1926 Chancellor Luther resigned and Marx again assumed his former office.

In June 1928, the general elections had resulted in losses for the government parties and in gains for the Social Democrats and the Communists
Communist Party of Germany
The Communist Party of Germany was a major political party in Germany between 1918 and 1933, and a minor party in West Germany in the postwar period until it was banned in 1956...

. The Grand Coalition of 1923 was resumed, this time including the BVP and the Social Democrat Hermann Müller
Hermann Müller (politician)
' , born in Mannheim, was a German Social Democratic politician who served as Foreign Minister , and twice as Chancellor of Germany under the Weimar Republic...

 became chancellor.

During the years of the Weimar Republic debates about the Catholic character of the party, as described above, persisted. The left wing of the party, whose leaders were Matthias Erzberger
Matthias Erzberger
Matthias Erzberger was a German politician. Prominent in the Centre Party, he spoke out against the First World War from 1917 and eventually signed the Armistice with Germany for the German Empire...

 and Joseph Wirth
Joseph Wirth
Karl Joseph Wirth, known as Joseph Wirth, was a German politician of the Catholic Centre Party who served as Chancellor of Germany from 1921 to 1922.-Biography:...

, had close ties to the Christian trade unions led by Adam Stegerwald
Adam Stegerwald
Adam Stegerwald was a German Catholic politician and a leader of the left wing of the Centre Party. He served as Prime Minister of Prussia in 1921, and later as a minister in the national governments of Hermann Müller and Heinrich Brüning...

. A small but vocal right wing, among them Franz von Papen
Franz von Papen
Lieutenant-Colonel Franz Joseph Hermann Michael Maria von Papen zu Köningen was a German nobleman, Roman Catholic monarchist politician, General Staff officer, and diplomat, who served as Chancellor of Germany in 1932 and as Vice-Chancellor under Adolf Hitler in 1933–1934...

, advocated a move towards the right and a closer cooperation with the national movements. The middle-ground emphasized their loyalty to the Church and rejected both extremes. To mediate the tension between the wings and to strengthen their ties with the Bishops, the party in September 1928 did not elect the two favourites Joseph Joos and Adam Stegerwald
Adam Stegerwald
Adam Stegerwald was a German Catholic politician and a leader of the left wing of the Centre Party. He served as Prime Minister of Prussia in 1921, and later as a minister in the national governments of Hermann Müller and Heinrich Brüning...

, but rather the cleric Ludwig Kaas
Ludwig Kaas
Ludwig Kaas was a German Roman Catholic priest and politician during the Weimar Republic.-Early career:Born in Trier, Kaas was ordained a priest in 1906 and studied history and Canon law in Trier and Rome. 1906 he completed a doctorate in theology and in 1909 he obtained a second doctorate in...

 as chairman.

The Brüning administration


In 1930 the Grand Coalition fell apart and Heinrich Brüning
Heinrich Brüning
Heinrich Brüning was Chancellor of Germany from 1930 to 1932, during the Weimar Republic. He was the longest serving Chancellor of the Weimar Republic, and remains a controversial figure in German politics....

, from the moderate-conservative wing of the party, was appointed as Chancellor. Brüning was confronted with economic crises exacerbated by the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

 and had to tackle the difficult tasks of consolidating both budget and currency when faced with rising unemployment, and of also negotiating changes to the war reparations
War reparations
War reparations are payments intended to cover damage or injury during a war. Generally, the term war reparations refers to money or goods changing hands, rather than such property transfers as the annexation of land.- History :...

 payments. His course of strict budget discipline, with severe cuts in public expenditure, and tax increases made him extremely unpopular among the lower and middle classes as well as among the Prussian Junker
Junker
A Junker was a member of the landed nobility of Prussia and eastern Germany. These families were mostly part of the German Uradel and carried on the colonization and Christianization of the northeastern European territories during the medieval Ostsiedlung. The abbreviation of Junker is Jkr...

s.

In the 1930 elections, the parties of the Grand coalition lost their majority, forcing Brüning to base his administration not on the support of a party coalition but on that of the presidential decree
Decree
A decree is a rule of law issued by a head of state , according to certain procedures . It has the force of law...

 ("Notverordnung") of article 48 of the Constitution. This provided for the circumventing of parliament, and the informal toleration of this practice by the parties. For this way of government based on both the President and cooperation of parliament, Brüning coined the term "authoritative (or authoritarian) democracy".

The Centre consistently supported Brüning's government and in 1932 vigorously campaigned for the re-election of Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg , known universally as Paul von Hindenburg was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934....

, calling him a "venerate historical personality" and "the keeper of the constitution". Hindenburg was re-elected against Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

, but his moving further to the right shortly afterwards resulted in Brüning's resignation on 30 May 1932.

President Hindenburg, advised by General Kurt von Schleicher
Kurt von Schleicher
Kurt von Schleicher was a German general and the last Chancellor of Germany during the era of the Weimar Republic. Seventeen months after his resignation, he was assassinated by order of his successor, Adolf Hitler, in the Night of the Long Knives....

, appointed the Catholic nobleman Franz von Papen as Chancellor, a member of the Centre's right wing and former cavalry captain. The intention was to break the connection of the Centre with the other republican parties or to split the party and integrate it into a comprehensive conservative movement. However, the Centre refused to support Papen's government in any way and criticized him for "distorting and abusing good old ideals of the Centre, acting as the representative of reactionary circles". Papen forestalled being expelled by leaving the party.

Between coup d'état and "authoritarian democracy"


Following Brüning's resignation, the Centre Party entered the opposition. Though they also opposed the National Socialists
National Socialist German Workers Party
The National Socialist German Workers' Party , commonly known in English as the Nazi Party, was a political party in Germany between 1920 and 1945. Its predecessor, the German Workers' Party , existed from 1919 to 1920...

, their energies were directed mainly against the renegade Papen. Some Centre politicians were soothed by Hitler's strategy of legality into downplaying the Nazi threat. This hampered their ability of being a bulwark of the republic against the rising National Socialists.

In regard to the government, the Centre Party rejected a "temporal solution", such as Papen's presidial cabinets, and rather advocated a "total solution", i.e., a government according to the rules of the constitution. Since the Centre considered Papen's administration of being "in a dangerous way dependent on radical right-wing parties", chairman Ludwig Kaas
Ludwig Kaas
Ludwig Kaas was a German Roman Catholic priest and politician during the Weimar Republic.-Early career:Born in Trier, Kaas was ordained a priest in 1906 and studied history and Canon law in Trier and Rome. 1906 he completed a doctorate in theology and in 1909 he obtained a second doctorate in...

 advised the President to recognize this connection by basing the government on a coalition with the rising right-wing parties, the "logical result of current development". This would force the radicals to "take their share in responsibility" and "acquainting them with international politics". The Centre would then act as the party of opposition to this administration.

As Papen was faced with almost uniform opposition by the parties, he had the Reichstag
Reichstag (Weimar Republic)
The Reichstag was the parliament of Weimar Republic .German constitution commentators consider only the Reichstag and now the Bundestag the German parliament. Another organ deals with legislation too: in 1867-1918 the Bundesrat, in 1919–1933 the Reichsrat and from 1949 on the Bundesrat...

 dissolved. In the subsequent elections, the Centre Party campaigned on two fronts, against both the Papen government and National Socialists and reaffirmed their stance as the "constitution party" opposed to "any measure contrary to constitution, justice and law" and "unwilling to yield to terror". The July elections brought further losses to the mainstream parties and gains to the extremist parties. The National Socialists supplanted the Social Democrats as the largest party in parliament.

As Communists
Communist Party of Germany
The Communist Party of Germany was a major political party in Germany between 1918 and 1933, and a minor party in West Germany in the postwar period until it was banned in 1956...

 and National Socialists together had won the majority of seats, no government coalition could be formed without one of them. Papen tried to justify his authoritarian style of government by pointing out that parliament could no longer function properly. Countering this reasoning, the Centre and the BVP tried to re-establish a working parliament by cooperation with the National Socialists, since the three parties together had attained 53% of the seats. When Papen called upon the people to "reject the dictatorship of a single party", the Centre Party agreed "without reservation", but it also stated that "with the same resolution we reject the dictatorship of the nameless party, now in power … even if cloaked with the illusion of non-partisanship".

After Papen's attempts to attain Hitler's support for his administration had failed, the Centre began their own negotiations with the National Socialists. They started in the state of Prussia
Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

, where the Weimar Coalition
Weimar Coalition
The Weimar Coalition is the name given to the coalition of the Social Democratic Party of Germany , the German Democratic Party , and the Catholic Centre Party, who together had a large majority of the delegates to the Constituent Assembly that met at Weimar in 1919, and were the principal groups...

 had lost its majority. An alternative majority could be not found and the Papen administration had seized this opportunity to assume control of Germany's largest state in the "Prussian coup" via presidential decree. Now, the National Socialists proposed to end this direct rule by forming a coalition with the Centre Party, promising an equal share in government. Since this went too far for the Centre's national leadership, the negotiations were transferred to the national level, where Heinrich Brüning
Heinrich Brüning
Heinrich Brüning was Chancellor of Germany from 1930 to 1932, during the Weimar Republic. He was the longest serving Chancellor of the Weimar Republic, and remains a controversial figure in German politics....

 conferred with Gregor Strasser
Gregor Strasser
Gregor Strasser was a politician of the National Socialist German Workers Party...

. During that period the anti-Nazi polemics ceased in order not to disturb the negotiations. Since the NSDAP was the larger party, the Centre was willing to accept a Nazi as Chancellor, provided he could gain the trust of the President, which at that time seemed quite a difficult task.

The negotiations were bound for failure, since the aims of the two groups were largely incompatible. The Centre argued that the vote of July had "called Hitler not to dictatorship but to responsibility, to getting in line with law and constitution". They hoped to "build a strong government without touching the substance of the constitution", to create "clear responsibilities" and to "preclude anti-constitutional experiments". The Centre advocated a return to Brüning's "authoritarian democracy", which they considered up to the times and tested by experience, against Papen's "omnipotent state and independent leadership", while the Nazis would only accept a coalition that would serve their purpose of achieving total dominance. Not expecting a successful conclusion, Hitler used the Centre negotiations in order to put pressure on the Papen administration.

The negotiations were also met with criticism from within the Centre Party. Some rejected them as "currying favour with the National Socialists" and giving credence to Hitler's strategy of legality. The journalists Fritz Gerlich
Fritz Gerlich
Carl Albert Fritz Gerlich was a German journalist and historian, and one of the main journalistic resisters to Adolf Hitler.-Early life:...

 and Ingbert Naab dismissed as "illusionary" the attempt to "uphold the constitution and the legal order" with a man such as Hitler with his "unconditional propensity to evil". Instead of "driving out the devil by Belzebub", the Centre should act as the parliament's conscience. The party leadership answered their critics by calling it a "duty of conscience" to try to achieve a constitutional government.

Though Papen did not expect the negotiations to succeed, he was nonetheless concerned as a success would have led to a presidential crisis, as Hindenburg was unwilling to have a coalition parties dictate the administration. In September he ended all speculations by dissolving the Reichstag again, almost immediately after its first meeting.

Papen's act did not end the negotiations between Centre and NSDAP. In fact, it made further meetings possible, since the Centre Party's leadership blamed the failure not on the parties' incompatibility but on Papen calling for new elections. Since the NSDAP vote dropped again in the elections of November 1932, the Centre Party considered their strategy successful and resumed negotiations, this time under the slogan of forming a "Notgemeinschaft" ("community of need"), even though the Centre, BVP, and NSDAP together no longer formed a majority in parliament.

Chairman Ludwig Kaas
Ludwig Kaas
Ludwig Kaas was a German Roman Catholic priest and politician during the Weimar Republic.-Early career:Born in Trier, Kaas was ordained a priest in 1906 and studied history and Canon law in Trier and Rome. 1906 he completed a doctorate in theology and in 1909 he obtained a second doctorate in...

 advised President von Hindenburg not to continue Papen's "administration of conflict"; he advocated "national concentration including the National Socialists", but did not comment on an alternative Chancellor, since he considered that the "personal prerogative of President". Hindenburg's negotiations with Hitler failed, however, as did Kaas' attempt to form a coalition in parliament. By avoiding a clear statement, Hitler managed to pin the blame for this failure on the DNVP's Alfred Hugenberg
Alfred Hugenberg
Alfred Ernst Christian Alexander Hugenberg was an influential German businessman and politician. Hugenberg, a leading figure within nationalist politics in Germany for the first few decades of the twentieth century, became the country's leading media proprietor within the inter-war period...

, who had rejected Kaas' proposals.

In December, the President appointed General Kurt von Schleicher
Kurt von Schleicher
Kurt von Schleicher was a German general and the last Chancellor of Germany during the era of the Weimar Republic. Seventeen months after his resignation, he was assassinated by order of his successor, Adolf Hitler, in the Night of the Long Knives....

 Chancellor, since the cabinet had refused to support Papen's planned coup d'état, a permanent dissolution of the Reichstag. The Centre Party contributed to the failure of Schleichers "Querfront" policy, since it could not bring itself to supporting the new administration actively. This pushed the General-Chancellor further in the direction of Papen's proposed coup d'état, a move the Centre Party, as well as the other parties, refused to condone. Under these circumstances, President Hindenburg refused to back the coup and Schleicher accordingly resigned on 28 January 1933.

The Hitler government and new elections


Meanwhile von Papen had formed an intrigue to oust his successor. He conferred with Hugenberg and industrial magnates and bankers and after a feverish night, in which the outcome was unclear to all participants. On 30 January, 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor with Franz von Papen as Vice-Chancellor and Hugenberg as minister for economics. President of the Reichsbank under the Weimar Republic was Hjalmar Schacht
Hjalmar Schacht
Dr. Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht was a German economist, banker, liberal politician, and co-founder of the German Democratic Party. He served as the Currency Commissioner and President of the Reichsbank under the Weimar Republic...

.

Though seeing their adversaries Papen and Hugenberg join forces with Hitler, the Centre Party still did not give up building a broad coalition government. Since the new administration was still lacking a majority in parliament, the Centre was ready to support it, either by toleration or by coalition. Hitler intended to minimize non-Nazi participation, but feigned a willingness to cooperate with the Centre and blamed Papen and Hugenberg for denying cabinet posts to the Centre. When Kaas requested a broad outline of his government's objectives, Hitler used his questionnaire to declare the talks a failure and obtain the President's approval for calling for new elections for the third time in about half a year.

These elections in March 1933 were already marred by the SA
Sturmabteilung
The Sturmabteilung functioned as a paramilitary organization of the National Socialist German Workers' Party . It played a key role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s...

's terror, after the Reichstag fire
Reichstag fire
The Reichstag fire was an arson attack on the Reichstag building in Berlin on 27 February 1933. The event is seen as pivotal in the establishment of Nazi Germany....

 and civil rights had been suspended by President Hindenburg through the Reichstag Fire Decree
Reichstag Fire Decree
The Reichstag Fire Decree is the common name of the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State issued by German President Paul von Hindenburg in direct response to the Reichstag fire of 27 February 1933. The decree nullified many of the key civil liberties of German...

. Still the Centre Party campaigned hard against the Hitler administration and managed to preserve their former vote of roughly 11%. The government parties NSDAP and DNVP however jointly won 52% of the vote.

This result shattered the Centre Party's hopes of being indispensable for obtaining a majority in parliament. The party was now faced with two alternatives – either to persist in protesting and suffer reprisals like Communists and Social Democrats, or to declare their loyal cooperation, in order to protect their members. As shown by subsequent events, the party, though deeply uncomfortable with the new government, opted for the latter alternative.

The Enabling Act


The government confronted the newly elected Reichstag with the Enabling Act that would have vested the government with legislative powers for a period of four years. Though such a bill was not unprecedented, this act was different since it allowed for deviations from the constitution. As the bill required a two-thirds majority in order to pass and the coalition parties only controlled 340 of the 647 seats (52,5%), the government needed the support of other parties.

The Centre Party, whose vote was going to be decisive, was split on the issue of the Enabling Act. Chairman Kaas advocated supporting the bill in parliament in return for government guarantees. These mainly included respecting the Church's liberty, its involvement in the fields of culture, schools and education, the concordat
Concordat
A concordat is an agreement between the Holy See of the Catholic Church and a sovereign state on religious matters. Legally, they are international treaties. They often includes both recognition and privileges for the Catholic Church in a particular country...

s signed by German states, and the continued existence of the Centre Party itself. Via Papen, Hitler responded positively and personally addressed the issues in his Reichstag speech, but he repeatedly put off signing a written letter of agreement.

Kaas was aware of the doubtful nature of such guarantees, but when the Centre Party assembled on 23 March to decide on their vote, Kaas advised his fellow party members to support the bill, given the "precarious state of the party". He described his reasons as follows: "On the one hand we must preserve our soul, but on the other hand a rejection of the Enabling Act would result in unpleasant consequences for faction and party. What is left is only to guard us against the worst. Were a two-thirds majority not obtained, the government's plans would be carried through by other means. The President has acquiesced in the Enabling Act. From the DNVP no attempt of relieving the situation is to be expected."

A considerable number of parliamentarians however opposed the chairman's course, among these former Chancellors Heinrich Brüning
Heinrich Brüning
Heinrich Brüning was Chancellor of Germany from 1930 to 1932, during the Weimar Republic. He was the longest serving Chancellor of the Weimar Republic, and remains a controversial figure in German politics....

, Joseph Wirth
Joseph Wirth
Karl Joseph Wirth, known as Joseph Wirth, was a German politician of the Catholic Centre Party who served as Chancellor of Germany from 1921 to 1922.-Biography:...

 and former minister Adam Stegerwald
Adam Stegerwald
Adam Stegerwald was a German Catholic politician and a leader of the left wing of the Centre Party. He served as Prime Minister of Prussia in 1921, and later as a minister in the national governments of Hermann Müller and Heinrich Brüning...

. Brüning called the Act the "most monstrous resolution ever demanded of a parliament", and was sceptical about Kaas' efforts: "The party has difficult years ahead, no matter how it would decide. Sureties for the government fulfilling its promises have not been given. Without a doubt, the future of the Centre Party is in danger and once it is destroyed it cannot be revived again."

The opponents also argued that Catholic social teaching
Catholic social teaching
Catholic social teaching is a body of doctrine developed by the Catholic Church on matters of poverty and wealth, economics, social organization and the role of the state...

 ruled out participating in acts of revolution. The proponents however argued that a "national revolution" had already occurred with Hitler's appointment and the presidential decree suspending civil rights and that the Enabling Act would contain the revolutionary forces and move the government back to a legal order. Both groupings were not unaffected by Hitler's self-portrayal as a moderate seeking cooperation as opposed to the more revolutionary SA led by Ernst Röhm
Ernst Röhm
Ernst Julius Röhm, was a German officer in the Bavarian Army and later an early Nazi leader. He was a co-founder of the Sturmabteilung , the Nazi Party militia, and later was its commander...

. Even Brüning thought it would be "decisive which groups of the NSDAP will be in power in the future. Will Hitler's power increase or will he fail, that is the question."

In the end the majority of Centre parliamentarians supported Kaas' proposal. Brüning and his followers agreed to respect party discipline by also voting in favour of the bill.

The Reichstag assembled under turbulent circumstances. SA men served as guards and crowded outside the building to intimidate any opposition while the Communist and some Social Democratic members of the Reichstag had all been imprisoned and were thus prevented from voting. In the end, the Centre voted as planned in favour of the Enabling Act, as did all the other parties apart from the SPD, which was also the only party to speak against the act. The support of the Centre party proved to be decisive, and the act was passed on 23 March 1933.

The end of the Centre Party


With the passing of the Enabling Act the Centre Party had in fact acquiesced in its own demise, as it had played the part Hitler had assigned to it and was no longer needed. As promised during the negotiations, a working committee chaired by Hitler and Kaas and supposed to inform about further legislative measures, met three times (31 March, 2 April and 7 April) without any major impact.

At that time, the Centre Party was weakened by massive defections by party members, often to the NSDAP. Loyal party members, in particular civil servants, and other Catholic organisations were subject to increasing reprisals, despite Hitler's previous guarantees. The party was also hurt by a declaration of the German bishops that, while maintaining their opposition to Nazi ideology
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

, lifted the ban on cooperation with the new authorities.

On 8 April, Hitler sent Vice-Chancellor Papen to Rome to offer to the Pope negotiations for a nationwide concordat. Throughout the years of the Weimar Republic, the National Socialists had always been a staunch opponent of such an agreement, but now Hitler intended to deal a decisive blow against Political Catholicism. Shortly before Papen, the Centre Party's chairman Kaas had arrived in Rome and because of his expertise in Church-state relations, he was authorized by Cardinal Pacelli
Pope Pius XII
The Venerable Pope Pius XII , born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli , reigned as Pope, head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of Vatican City State, from 2 March 1939 until his death in 1958....

 to negotiate terms with Papen, but pressure by the German government forced him withdraw from visibly participating in the negotiations. Though the Vatican tried to hold back the exclusion of Catholic clergy and organisations from politics, in the end it had to accept the restriction to the religious and charitable field, which effectively meant acquiescing to end the Centre Party. On 14 July 1933 Hitler accepted the Concordat, which was signed a week later.

The issue of the concordat pro-longed Kaas' stay in Rome, leaving the party without a chairman, and on 5 May Kaas finally resigned from his post. The party now elected Heinrich Brüning
Heinrich Brüning
Heinrich Brüning was Chancellor of Germany from 1930 to 1932, during the Weimar Republic. He was the longest serving Chancellor of the Weimar Republic, and remains a controversial figure in German politics....

 as chairman. At that time, the Centre party was subject to increasing pressure in the wake of the process of Gleichschaltung
Gleichschaltung
Gleichschaltung , meaning "coordination", "making the same", "bringing into line", is a Nazi term for the process by which the Nazi regime successively established a system of totalitarian control and tight coordination over all aspects of society. The historian Richard J...

 and after all the other parties had dissolved (or were banned like the SPD), the Centre Party dissolved itself on 6 July. During the concordat negotiations, Cardinal Pacelli
Pope Pius XII
The Venerable Pope Pius XII , born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli , reigned as Pope, head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of Vatican City State, from 2 March 1939 until his death in 1958....

 had acquiesced into the party's dissolution but he was nonetheless dismayed that it occurred before the negotiations had been concluded. The day after government issued a law banning the founding of new political parties, thus turning the NSDAP into the party of the German state.

Refounding and post-war history


After the war, the Centre party was refounded, but it was confronted with the emergence of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), a new party formed as a Christian party comprising both Catholics and Protestants. As many former Centre party politicians, e.g., Konrad Adenauer
Konrad Adenauer
Konrad Hermann Joseph Adenauer was a German statesman. He was the chancellor of the West Germany from 1949 to 1963. He is widely recognised as a person who led his country from the ruins of World War II to a powerful and prosperous nation that had forged close relations with old enemies France,...

, were founding members or joined the CDU and also Cardinal Frings of Cologne endorsed the new party, the Centre lost their position as the party of the Catholic population.

For some time however, the party managed to hold on to regional strongholds in North Rhine-Westphalia
North Rhine-Westphalia
North Rhine-Westphalia is the most populous state of Germany, with four of the country's ten largest cities. The state was formed in 1946 as a merger of the northern Rhineland and Westphalia, both formerly part of Prussia. Its capital is Düsseldorf. The state is currently run by a coalition of the...

. In 1945 the Centre's Rudolf Amelunxen
Rudolf Amelunxen
Rudolf Amelunxen was a German politician of the Zentrum and the first Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia . He was born in Cologne and died in Düsseldorf.-External links:*...

 had been the new state's first Ministers-President and the Centre Party participated in the state government until 1958, when it dropped out of the state parliament. Until 1959 the Centre was also represented in the state parliament of Lower Saxony
Lower Saxony
Lower Saxony is a German state situated in north-western Germany and is second in area and fourth in population among the sixteen states of Germany...

.

On the national level, the Centre Party in the elections of 1949 won ten seats in the first Bundestag
Bundestag
The Bundestag is a federal legislative body in Germany. In practice Germany is governed by a bicameral legislature, of which the Bundestag serves as the lower house and the Bundesrat the upper house. The Bundestag is established by the German Basic Law of 1949, as the successor to the earlier...

. However, in 1953,the party (with the aid from the regional CDU) only retained two seats. In 1957, largely due to the massive CDU landslide that year, the party dropped out of the Bundestag completely and has never returned.

This demise is at least partly due to Helene Wessel. In 1949 she was one of the Centre's representatives in the Bundestag and also was elected chairwoman of the party, the first woman ever to lead a German party. In 1951 she vocally opposed Adenauer's policy of German rearmament and joined forces with the CDU's Gustav Heinemann
Gustav Heinemann
Gustav Walter Heinemann, GCB was a German politician. He was Mayor of the city of Essen from 1946 to 1949, West German Minister of the Interior from 1949 to 1950, Minister of Justice from 1966 to 1969 and President of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1969 to 1974.-Early years and professional...

, the former Minister of the Interior. The two formed the "Notgemeinschaft zur Rettung des Friedens in Europa" ("Emergency community for saving peace in Europe"), an initiative intended to prevent rearmament.

Wessel resigned from her post and in November 1952 left the party. Immediately afterwards, Wessel and Heinemann turned the "Notgemeinschaft" into a political party, the "Gesamtdeutsche Volkspartei" ("Whole-German People's Party" aka GVP), that failed badly in the elections of 1953. In 1957 the GVP dissolved and most members joined the SPD.

Meanwhile the Centre Party tried to forge an alliance of small parties of Christian persuasion, to offer an alternative to disappointed CDU/CSU voters, but it only gained the support of the "Bavarian Party". The two parties joined forces under the name "Federalist Union", first in parliament since 1951, and in 1957 the general elections, but the results were disappointing.

In 1988 the right wing of the party split off and formed the "Christian Centre Party". In 2003 the evangelical "Christian Party of Germany" (CPD) joined the Centre Party.

Since its demise on the national level, the Centre Party focuses on local politics, while maintaining the same positions as in the post-war period. The party is represented in some city councils in North Rhine-Westphalia
North Rhine-Westphalia
North Rhine-Westphalia is the most populous state of Germany, with four of the country's ten largest cities. The state was formed in 1946 as a merger of the northern Rhineland and Westphalia, both formerly part of Prussia. Its capital is Düsseldorf. The state is currently run by a coalition of the...

 and Saxony-Anhalt
Saxony-Anhalt
Saxony-Anhalt is a landlocked state of Germany. Its capital is Magdeburg and it is surrounded by the German states of Lower Saxony, Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thuringia.Saxony-Anhalt covers an area of...

.

The chairman of the party is Gerhard Woitzik, vice-mayor of the city of Dormagen
Dormagen
Dormagen is a town in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany in the Rhein-Kreis Neuss.-Geography:Dormagen is situated between Düsseldorf – Cologne – Mönchengladbach on the western bank of the river Rhine.-Division of the town:...

 in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The party is affiliated with the European Christian Political Movement
European Christian Political Movement
The European Christian Political Movement, abbreviated to ECPM, is a political party at European level that unites national parties from across Europe that share Christian democratic politics. The member parties are generally more socially conservative and Eurosceptic than the European People's...

.

Despite its marginal numbers, the Centre party emphasizes continuity to its history by sometimes referring to itself as the "oldest political party of Germany". According to its statutes the official name of the party is "Deutsche Zentrumspartei - Älteste Partei Deutschlands gegründet 1870", which translates as "German Centre Party - Oldest Party in Germany founded in 1870".

Further reading

  • David Blackbourn, "The Political Alignment of the Centre Party in Wilhelmine Germany: A Study of the Party's Emergence in Nineteenth-Century Württemberg," Historical Journal Vol. 18, No. 4 (Dec., 1975), pp. 821-850 in JSTOR

External links