National Liberal Party (Germany)

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National Liberal Party
Founded 1867
Dissolved 1918
Split from German Progress Party, German National Association
Succeeded by German People's Party
Ideology German nationalism
National liberalism
Classical liberalism
Royalism
Political position Centre-right
International affiliation none
Politics of Germany
Political parties
Elections

The National Liberal Party (German: Nationalliberale Partei) was a liberal political party of the German Empire, which flourished between 1867 and 1918.

A first national liberal parliamentary group was formed on 17 November 1866 by several right-wing deputies of the German Progress Party in the Prussian Landtag around Eduard Lasker and Hans Victor von Unruh. They put aside their differences with Minister President Otto von Bismarck over domestic policy due to their support for his highly successful foreign policy, which resulted in the unification of Germany as a constitutional monarchy. The National Liberal Party was founded in 1867, it advocated the interests of the Grand Burghers (German Großbürger) and business magnates. Its first chairman was Rudolf von Bennigsen. In the 1871 election the party reached 30.1% of the votes, becoming the strongest group in the Reichstag parliament with 119 seats.

The National Liberals' period of great dominance was between 1871 and 1879, when they were Bismarck's chief allies in the Reichstag, and were avid supporters of the Kulturkampf measures. The stabilization of the new state was in a large degree only feasible because of National Liberal party support and guidance of Bismarck´s domestic policies, especially in regards to national economics and the legal foundations of the second German empire. Weights and measurements were standardized, a common German market and a national bank, the Reichsbank, created and the numerous regional currencies replaced with the Reichsmark. The liberal economic policies, although temporarily unpopular in the recession of the 1870s, laid the groundworks for the economic boom the German nation experienced at the end of the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

When Bismarck broke with the National Liberals in 1879 and turned to protectionist policies, the shift was so important, that it has been characterized as Bismarck´s "conservative turn". This meant an enduring shift of the Chancellor to the right, which changed the political climate of the fledging nation and soured relations between Bismarck and a number of leading German liberals. Bismarck after 1879 began to favour a more protectionist approach, which violated the free trade principles of both liberal parties, the National-Liberals and the more left-leaning liberal German Progressive Party. One year later the NLP´s left wing, the Liberal Union split off, which merged with the Progressive Party into the German Free-minded Party in 1884. The remaining partisans approached to the Conservatives, being the strongest supporters of von Tirpitz's various Fleet Acts starting in 1898, which pushed Great Britain into an arms race with Germany until World War I.

The National Liberals came to be closely associated with the interests of big business. Increasingly threatened by the growing strength of the Socialists, the party gradually became more conservative, although it was generally split between a more liberal wing that sought to strengthen ties with the dissident liberals to their left, and a right wing that came to support more protectionist policies and close relations with the Conservatives and the imperial government.

During World War I, most of the National Liberals, including such leaders of their left wing as Gustav Stresemann, avidly supported the expansionist goals of the imperial government, although they also called for reform at home. Following the war, the party broke up. Stresemann led the main body of the party, including most of its moderate and conservative elements, into the conservative liberal German People's Party (Deutsche Volkspartei). Its left wing merged with the left-liberal Progressives to form the German Democratic Party (Deutsche Demokratische Partei). The extreme right wing of the National Liberals joined the German National People's Party.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mork, Gordon R. "Bismarck and the 'Capitulation' of German Liberalism," Journal of Modern History Vol. 43, No. 1 (March 1971), pp. 59–75 in JSTOR

See also[edit]

Preceded by
German Progress Party
German liberal parties
1867–1918
Succeeded by
German People's Party
Preceded by
German National Association