No. 630 NAI DFA 19/10A

Confidential Report from Daniel A. Binchy to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Berlin, 29 January 1932

President von Hindenburg's period of office expires this year and already the question of re-election has given rise to considerable political activity. According to Article 43 of the Constitution the President of the Republic is re-eligible. Owing to the tremendous prestige Fieldmarshal von Hindenburg enjoys among Germans of all political persuasions and to the universal respect with which he is regarded in foreign countries, it is only natural that there should be a very strong sentiment in favour of keeping him in office. But the first attempts to achieve this have resulted in a tragic-comic situation which is only too typical of political disunion in Germany.

Hindenburg was elected as the Candidate of the Right in 1925. His opponent, the candidate supported by all the 'republican' parties (with the exception of the Communists), was a leading member of the Centrum, Dr. Marx. The fight was close enough: Hindenburg did not secure an absolute majority of the electorate, the votes cast for the Communist candidate having been more than his majority over Marx. Owing to the essential honesty and fearlessness with which Hindenburg has carried out what he believes to be his duty, he has naturally disappointed bitterly his most enthusiastic supporters in 1925, that is to say, the extreme Right. The National-Socialists, indeed, have not scrupled to attack him bitterly in their press and platform oratory for some years past. The German Nationalists, under Herr Hugenberg, who are at the moment in a very uneasy alliance with the 'Nazis', do not go anything like as far: while professing an intense respect for their former candidate, they state that he is being 'wrongly advised' and never cease appealing to him to get rid of 'his present advisers' - as if he was an absolute monarch!

Hindenburg's future biographer will undoubtedly claim that at no period of his long life did he ever show such real greatness as during his tenure of the presidency. Since he swore allegiance to the Constitution of the Republic, he has had to do many things which must have gone sorely against the grain for him, a typical representative of the best kind of 'old Prussian', a strong royalist, a devout Protestant and a believer in caste rule. Yet he has done them all without flinching. He has worked with parties who opposed him bitterly at the time of his election and he has had to break with many of his former admirers and even to hear himself denounced as a traitor by the latter. The more unscrupulous members of the Right coalition, which persuaded him, sorely against his will, to stand for the presidency, doubtless regarded him as possessed of no political intelligence whatever and accordingly as a suitable figure-head to push their own policy or lack of policy; the more unscrupulous members of the Left parties who were opposing him poured ridicule and vituperation on him on a similar assumption. Both of them have proved utterly wrong, for Hindenburg has surprised friend and foe alike by the remarkable intelligence which he has displayed in political matters. With very few exceptions, in all his political pronouncements and actions, his instinct has been amazingly sound. His relations with Brüning, a man coming from the opposite camp in tradition, religion and political outlook, are touching and the loyalty with which he has supported the Chancellor through thick and thin is beyond all praise.

The initiative in regard to a prolongation of Hindenburg's term of office naturally came from the Government of the Reich. Two considerations were doubtless present to their minds. First, the necessity of Germany's showing a united front in the exceedingly difficult and dangerous foreign negotiations (such as reparations and disarmament) which will be so prominent in the present year: the unanimous re-election of Hindenburg would express this united front very clearly. But I should not be surprised if considerations of internal politics played even a greater part in the taking of this initiative. Brüning doubtless hoped to place the so-called 'national opposition' before a clear alternative and compel them to make a decision which would either represent a climb down from their present intransigent policy or on the other hand would place them in the position of repudiating their former candidate.

According to Article 41 of the Constitution the election of the President is made by popular vote. In the present case Brüning suggested that in order to avoid the uncertainty and possible bitterness of an election campaign, Hindenburg should be re-elected by a special Act of the Reichstag, which, as it amounted to an amendment of the Constitution, would require a two-thirds majority of the house. He further was able to announce that the President had signified to him that he was willing to have his term of office prolonged in this way, but only on the condition that his re-election should secure the votes of all parties in the house with the exception of the Communists. Tactically this was an exceedingly clever move on the part of the Government. All the middle parties at once announced their agreement. The Socialist party also declared its support, provided that no condition should be attached by any supporting party to its adhesion to this plan. This was designed to prevent either of the Right parties from a 'conditional' support of Hindenburg's re-election which might have saved their faces. And so the whole onus of deciding whether Hindenburg should be re-elected by the Reichstag or not was thrown on the 'national opposition', without whose votes it would be impossible to secure (in face of the inevitable opposition of the Communist party which everyone takes for granted) the two-thirds majority necessary for such a Bill.

The Chancellor had interviews, first with Hitler and then with Hugenberg in order to learn their decisions. After some preliminary sparring between the two 'allies' (the Nationalists were indignant that Hitler should have been first consulted without reference to them), both parties decided to refuse their adhesion to the Chancellor's proposal, but - doubtless in order to emphasize their 'independence' of each other - each of them gave different reasons. The impartial outsider must admit that the Nationalists have given the more honest answer. Hugenberg stated that his group would not be a party to this plan as long as the present Government was supported by the President. Hitler on the other hand has developed an entirely new susceptibility for the provisions of a Constitution which he previously declared to be fit only for the waste-paper basket. In a long and rambling letter to the Chancellor, he tried to argue that the proposed procedure would be a breach of Article 41 of the Constitution and would amount to the deprivation of the people of their right to elect a President. This is a remarkable language in the mouth of a man who has constantly proclaimed his intention of instituting Fascist Government in Germany!

There the situation stands for the moment. But the first round has been won by the Government, I think. They are now in a position to announce that Hindenburg will be a Candidate for popular election and as far as one can see nobody else has the faintest chance of beating him. It only remains to be seen whether the 'Nazis' will maintain their Candidate (who, I understand, is to be General von Epp, one of the very few influential Bavarians who support the Nazi movement) against Hindenburg in the final round. If so, they are likely to come into conflict with the Nationalists and the 'Stahlhelm', neither of whom are willing to take the extreme step of opposing Hindenburg at a popular election. All the middle parties, of course, will support the President without exception. Already non-party and inter-party committees are being set up throughout Germany for the purpose of securing his re-election.

[signed] D.A. Binchy

Purchase Volumes Online

Purchase Volumes Online



The Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series has published an eBook of confidential correspondence on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.

Free Download

International Counterparts

The international network of Editors of Diplomatic Documents was founded in 1988. Delegations from different parts of the world met for the first time in London in 1989.
Read more ....

Website design and developed by FUSIO