Enabling Act


The Nazis hoped in the March 5, 1933, elections to obtain an absolute majority that would allow them to rule without hindrances. However, because they came away with only 44 percent of the votes, they sought another way to establish a dictatorship: They sponsored the Enabling Act, a bill that would give Hitler's government dictatorial powers for four years. To make sure the law passed, the Nazis imprisoned Communists and took actions to soften up public opinion, especially among conservative parties. Several days before the elections, the Nazis held a meticulously staged ceremony in Potsdam. Hitler was depicted that day as a conservative national leader and not as the head of a radical party. He promised that the law would, in no way, be detrimental to the Reichstag, the presidency, and the municipal government. The moment it passed, however, the democratic constitution was abrogated and Nazi Party rule faced no further obstacles. On March 23, 1933, Hitler pushed the Enabling Act through the Reichstag and thus equipped his government with dictatorial powers, first for four years and afterwards indefinitely. The regime invoked the new law to rescind the democratic freedoms of the Weimar Republic and to dissolve political parties and organizations. Thus, in a pseudo-legal process, Hitler consolidated his dictatorship-which, contrary to his promises, was in no way provisional. The disempowerment of the Reichstag is an example of the way the Nazis usurped and emasculated Germany's governing institutions, but refrained from destroying them in order to portray the dictatorship as a soundly functioning state. When the Enabling Act passed, the Nazi newspaper Voelkische Beobachter proclaimed it a "historic day." The parliamentary regime succumbed to the new Germany. For four years, Hitler could do anything he pleased-by negation, to destroy the corrosive forces of Marxism; and by affirmation, to establish a new German-racial society. The great enterprise was underway. "The day of the Third Reich has come!"