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Heinrich Brüning

Order: 21st Chancellor of Germany
Term of Office: March 30, 1930 - May 30, 1932
Predecessor: Hermann Müller
Successor: Franz von Papen
Date of Birth: November 26, 1885
Date of Death: March 30, 1970
Political Party: Centre Party
Profession: economist

Dr. Heinrich Brüning (November 26, 1885March 30, 1970) was a German politician and was Chancellor of Germany.


Early career

Born in Münster in Westphalia, he lost his father when he was one year old and thus his elder brother Hermann Joseph played a major part in his upbringing.

After finishing school, he first tended towards the legal profession, but then studied Philosophy, History, German and Political Science at Strasbourg, the London and Bonn, where he achieved his doctorate in national economy.

A volunteer in World War I, he served as a machine gunner, receiving rank as an officer and earning an Iron Cross.

After the revolution, of which he did not approve, he did not pursue his academic career further, but preferred helping those that had fallen into trouble. He collaborated with the social reformer Carl Sonnenschein and worked in the "Secretariat for social student work", helping demobilised soldiers to study and work. After six months he entered the Prussian welfare department and became a close associate of the minister Adam Stegerwald. Stegerwald, also leader of the Christian trade unions, made him chief executive of the unions in 1920, a post Brüning retained until 1930. In 1923 he was actively involved in origanizing the passive resistance in the "Ruhrkampf". As the editor of the union newspaper "the German", he advocated a "social popular state" and "christian democracy".

He had also joined the Centre Party and in 1924 he was elected to the Reichstag, representing Breslau. In parliament, Brüning quickly made a name for himself as financial expert and managed to push rtough the "lex Brüning", which restricted the wage tax. He always insisted on an economical approach towards money, criticizing both an increase of civil service salaries and the luxury of profiteurs. Recognized for his expertise, this personal reserve and calmness hampered dealing with him on personal level. From 1928 to 1930 he was also a member of the Prussian parliament and in 1929 he was elected chairman of the Centre Party's fraction in the Reichstag.

Brüning's appointment as Chancellor

In 1930, when the Grand coalition under the Social Democrat Hermann Müller collapsed, Brüning was appointed chancellor on March 29, 1930. The government was confronted with the economic crisis caused by the Great Depression and had to tackle the difficult task of consolidating both budget and currency while faced with rising unemployment, and also of negotiating changes of the reparation payments. Brüning's financial and economic acumen combined with his openness to social questions made him a candidate for Chancellor and his service as a front officer made him acceptable to President Paul von Hindenburg.

As Chancellor, Brüning took a course of strict budget discipline, with severe cuts in public expenditure, and tax increases. By these policies he intended both to sanitize the German economy and to underscore his initiatives for alleviating the burden of reparation payments.

The Brüning administration and the Reichtag parties

The Reichstag however rejected his measures within a month. President Hindenburg, already bent on reducing the influence of the Reichstag, saw this event as the "failure of parliament" and, with Brüning's consent called for new elections. These elections cost the parties of the Grand coalition their majority and brought gains to both Communists and National Socialists. This left Brüning without any hope for reforging a party coalition and forced him to base his administration on the presidential decree ("Notverordnung") of article 48 of the Constitution, circumventing Parliament, and the informal toleration of this pratice 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".

Hindenburg desired to base the government on the parties of the right, but since the right-wing German National People's Party (DNVP) refused to support Brüning's government. To the President's dismay, Brüning therefore had to rely on his own Centre Party, the only party that fully supported him, and the toleration of the Social Democrats.

Brüning's measures were implemented in the summer by presidential decree and made him extremely unpopular among the lower and middle classes. As unemployment continued to rise, his cuts in welfare and reductions of wages combined with rising prices and taxes, increased misery among jobless and workers. This gave rise to the quote: "Brüning verordnet Not!" (Brüning decrees need), alluding to his measures being implemented by "Notverordnung".

These effects undermined the support of the Social Democrats for the government and the liberal and conservative cabinet members favoured opening the government to the right. President Hindenburg, pushed by his camarilla and military chief Kurt von Schleicher, also advocated such a move and insisted on a cabinet reshuffle and expecially the resignation of ministers Wirth and Guérard, both from the Centre.

The President's wishes also hampered the government's resolution in combating the extremist parties and their respective paramilitary organisations. Chancellor and President agreed, that the National Socialists's brutality, intolerance and demagogy rendered them unift for government. Brüning believed the government was strong enough to stear Germany through the crisis without the support of the Nazis, but on behalf of the President, he nonetheless negotiated with Hitler about toleration or a formal coalition, without however yielding to the Nazis any position of power or the full support by presidential decree. Because of these reservations, the negotiations came to nothing and as street violence rose to new heights in April 1932, Brüning had both the communist "Rotfrontkämpferbund" and the Nazi Sturmabteilung banned. The unfavourable reactions of the right-wing circles to that move further undermined Hindenburg's support for Brüning.

Brüning's foreign policy

On the international theatre Brüning tried to alleviate the burden of reparation payments and to achieve German equality in the rearmament question. In 1930 replied to Aristide Briand's iniative to form a "United States of Europe" by demanding full equality for Germany. In 1931 plans for a customs union between Germany and Austria were shattered by French opposition. In the same year the Hoover memorandum postponed reparation payments and in summer 1932, after Brüning's resignation, his successors could reap the fruits of his policy at the Lausanne conference, which reduced German reparations to a final installment of 3 billion marks. Negotiations over rearmament failed in 1932 at the Geneva conference failed shortly before his resignation, but in December the " Five powers agreement" accepted Germany's military equality.

Hindenburg's reelection and Brüning's fall

In 1932 the Centre Party vigorously campaigned for the re-election of Hindenburg, calling him a "venerate historical personality" and "the keeper of the constitution". Hindenburg was re-elected against Hitler, but he considered it shameful to be elected by the votes of "Reds" and "Catholes", as he called Social Democrats and the Centre Party and compensated this "shame" by moving further to the right. At the same time, his failing health only increased the influence of the Camarilla.

At that time, Brüning was viciously attacked by the Prussian Junkers , led by Oldenburg-Januscha. They opposed his policies of distributing land to unemployed workers and denounced him as an "Agro-bolshevik" to Hindenburg.

The President asked Brüning to make way by stepping down as Chancellor while remaining foreign minister. Brüning refused to serve as a figure-head for such a right-wing government and announced his cabinet's resignation on May 30, 1932, "hundred metres before the finish", as he called it. He however sternly rejected any attempt to make the President's disloyal behaviour public, both because he considered such a move indecent and because he still considered Hindenburg the "last bulwark" of the German people.

After his resignation

After his resignation, Brüning supported his party's determined opposition to his successor, the renegate Franz von Papen, and also of re-establishing a working parliament by cooperation with the National Socialists, negotiating with Gregor Strasser.

After Adolf Hitler had become Chancellor on January 30, 1933, Brüning vigorously campaigned against the new government in the March elections. Later that month, he was the main advocate for rejecting the Hitler administrations's Enabling Act, calling it the "most monstrous resolution ever demanded of a parliament." He nonetheless yielded to party discipline and voted in favour of the bill. After Centre Party's chairman Ludwig Kaas was held up in Rome and resigned from the post, Brüning was elected chairman on May 6. Brüning however could only preside over the party yielding to increasing government pressure and dissolving itself on July 6.

Exile and later years

Brüning fled Germany in 1934 to escape Hitler's political purges via the Netherlands and settled in the United Kingdom. In 1939 he became professor for political science at Harvard University. He warned the American public about Hitler's plans for war and later about Soviet expansionism, but in both cases his advice went unheeded.

In 1952 he returned to Germany and taught at the university of Cologne. He was a critic of Adenauer's policy of Western integration and as he saw no prospect of continuing his political career, he returned to the United States. In 1968 he published the tome "Speeches and essays".

Bürning died in 1970 in Norwich, Vermont, and was buried in his home town Münster.

Posthumously, his "Memoirs 1918 - 1934" were published, a source not undisputed among historians.

Brüning remains a figure of controversy, since it is debated whether he was the "last bulwark of the Republic" or the "Republic's undertaker". His intentions certainly were to protect the Republican government, but his policies also contributed to the gradual demise of the Weimar Republic from 1930 to 1933.

Brünings First Government, March 1930 - October 1931


  • May 3, 1930 - Bredt resigns as Justice Minister. He is succeeded by acting Minister. Curt Joël
  • June 26, 1930 - Dietrich succeeds Moldenhauer as Finance Minister. Dietrich is succeeded as Economics Minister by acting Minister Ernst Trendelenburg.
  • October 1, 1930 - With the evacuation of the Rhineland by the Allies, Treviranus becomes Minister without Portfolio.

Brüning's Second Cabinet, October 1931 - May 1932


Preceded by:
Hermann Müller
Chancellor of Germany
Succeeded by:
Franz von Papen
de:Heinrich Brüning

es:Heinrich Brüning id:Heinrich Brüning


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