German Democratic Party

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German Democratic Party
Deutsche Demokratische Partei
Founded20 November 1918; 103 years ago (20 November 1918)
DissolvedJuly 1930; 92 years ago (July 1930)
Preceded byProgressive People's Party
Merged intoGerman State Party
Youth wingYoung Democrats
Paramilitary wingReichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold (1924–1930)
IdeologyClassical liberalism[1]
Social liberalism[2][3]
Economic liberalism[4]
Political positionCentre[7] to centre-left[6][8]
Colours  Black   Red   Gold (republican colors)[9]

The German Democratic Party (Deutsche Demokratische Partei, or DDP) was a centre-left liberal party in the Weimar Republic.[10] Along with the German People's Party (Deutsche Volkspartei, or DVP), it represented political liberalism in Germany between 1918 and 1933. It was formed in 1918 from the Progressive People's Party and the liberal wing of the National Liberal Party.

After the formation of the first German state to be constituted along pluralist-democratic lines, the DDP took part as a member of varying coalitions in almost all Weimar Republic cabinets from 1919 to 1932. Before the Reichstag elections of 1930, it united with the People’s National Reich Association (Volksnationale Reichsvereinigung), which was part of the nationalist and anti-Semitic Young German Order (Jungdeutscher Orden). From that point the party called itself the German State Party (Deutsche Staatspartei, or DStP) and retained the name even after the Reich Association left the party. Because of the connection to the Reich Association, members of the left wing of the DDP broke away from the party and toward the end of the Republic founded the Radical Democratic Party, which was unsuccessful in parliament. Others joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).

After the National Socialists took power, the German State Party was dissolved on June 28, 1933 as part of the process of 'Gleichschaltung' ('co-ordination') by means of which the Nazis established totalitarian control over German society.


Weimar Republic[edit]

Emergence of the DDP[edit]

Hugo Preuß in 1919

On November 16, 1918, one week after the November Revolution that brought down the monarchy after Germany’s defeat in World War I, an appeal for the founding of a new democratic party, written by the editor-in-chief of the Berliner Tageblatt Theodor Wolff and signed by 60 well-known people, appeared in the morning edition of the paper under the headline ‘The Great Democratic Party’. An almost identical statement was published at the same time by the Vossische Zeitung (Voss’s Newspaper).[11] Four days later members of the Progressive People's Party which, with Friedrich von Payer as vice-chancellor, had participated in the last two governments of the German Empire in 1917/18, and the liberal wing of the National Liberal Party joined with Wolff, sociologist Max Weber, economist Alfred Weber, lawyer Hugo Preuß and others to found the German Democratic Party (DDP).

In 1910 the left-liberal Progressive People's Party had emerged from the Free-minded People’s Party (Freisinnige Volkspartei), the Free-minded Union (Freisinnige Vereinigung) and the German People’s Party (Deutsche Volkspartei, or DtVP) of the German Empire (not to be confused with the German People’s Party (DVP) of the Weimar Republic). It was this new party and the comparatively small left wing of the former National Liberal Party of the Empire that under Wolff and his associates merged to form the new German Democratic Party in 1918. The DDP united those holding democratic and liberal ideals and common positions on national and social issues, but distanced itself from the wartime annexation policy of the former National Liberals of the Empire. The main representative of that point of view, Gustav Stresemann, who at the time still saw himself as a monarchist, went on to found a party that was somewhat more hostile to the republic, the German People's Party (DVP).

No other party identified itself as unreservedly with the parliamentary democracy of the Weimar Republic as the DDP; no other party professed individual freedom and social responsibility so unequivocally. The crucial framers of the Weimar constitution came from the ranks of the DDP. Hugo Preuß authored the draft version of the constitution that was passed by the Weimar National Assembly; Max Weber served as advisor to the drafting committee; Conrad Haußmann was vice president and chairman of the Constitutional Committee of the National Assembly; and Friedrich Naumann, a member of the Weimar National Assembly and considered one of the ‘Fathers of the Constitution’, was elected DDP chairman at the First Party Congress in July 1919.

The party strove for a unified federal state and demanded - like almost all other parties - a revision of the Treaty of Versailles that had imposed harsh terms on Germany after its defeat in World War I. The DDP supported the League of Nations as an institution for the peaceful reconciliation of interests between states. In social policy, the party was close to the reform efforts of the Hirsch-Duncker Trade Associations whose aim was to implement social reform through cooperation between employees and employers, following the example of the English trade unions. The DDP also sought a balance between the social and economic policy ideas of labor and the middle classes through cooperation with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The DDP supported the principle of private enterprise but also called for the possibility of state intervention. Because of its clear commitment to liberalism and the parliamentary system, the DDP was the target of constant attacks from the ranks of the nationalist and conservative German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, or DNVP) and the German Ethnic Freedom Party (Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei, or DVFP).[12]

The program of the DDP was a synthesis of liberal and social ideas. In the pre-war period, such a fusion had been attempted by Friedrich Naumann, who became the party's first chairman.  He was a Protestant theologian and came from the Christian social movement. Supporters and members of the party were recruited primarily from the liberal professions, teachers, and university lecturers, i.e., from the educated middle classes. It was also supported by executives and civil servants, industrialists mainly from the chemical and electrical industries and liberal Jews. More Jews voted for the DDP than for any other party.[13] It was therefore dubbed the "party of Jews and professors".[14]

In addition to Naumann, prominent members of the DDP included Hugo Preuß (the ‘father’ of the Weimar Constitution), the foreign minister Walther Rathenau, the journalists Georg Bernhard of the Vossische Zeitung and Theodor Wolff, the later first President of West Germany Theodor Heuss, interior minister Wilhelm Külz, philosopher Ernst Cassirer, Ludwig Quidde who was awarded the 1927 Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to Franco-German reconciliation, pacifist Hellmut von Gerlach, Reich Minister of the Interior and later of Justice Erich Koch-Weser, longtime Hamburg mayor Carl Wilhelm Petersen, the future first minister-president of Baden-Württemberg Reinhold Maier, the future first minister-president of Saxony-Anhalt Erhard Hübener (the only non-communist minister-president in Germany's Soviet occupation zone), the future Reichsbank president Hjalmar Schacht (who left the party in 1926 and eventually helped Adolf Hitler to power), the writer and pacifist Harry Graf Kessler, and for a short time the sociologist Max Weber. Physicist Albert Einstein co-signed the DDP’s founding document but was not an active party member.[15] The DDP provided a home for politically active women in the Weimar Republic. Examples, all backers of women’s rights, include Gertrud Bäumer, Helene Lange, Adelheid Steinmann, Marianne Weber and Marie-Elisabeth Lüders who in the 1950s was named ‘Alterspräsidentin’ of the West German Bundestag, an honorific given to the oldest or longest-serving member.

Along with the SPD, the DDP was one of the staunchest supporters of the Weimar Republic. Party strongholds were found in Berlin, Potsdam, Schleswig-Holstein, Württemberg, the Weser-Ems area, and especially in Hamburg, where the 1919 to 1924 party leader Carl Wilhelm Petersen was First Mayor and head of government.

In the first nationwide elections to the National Assembly of the still young republic, the DDP received 18 percent of the vote and in 1919/1920 formed the Weimar Coalition with the SPD and the Center Party as the first government of the Weimar Republic. While the party counted around 800,000 members one year after its founding, by 1927 its membership had dropped to 117,000.[16] In spite its steadily dwindling size, the DDP played an important political role in the early years of the Republic. For one, its position between the SPD and the Center Party helped stabilize the Weimar Coalition nationwide and especially in Prussia. Wilhelm Abegg, for example, the state secretary in the Prussian Ministry of the Interior, reorganized and modernized the Prussian police. In addition, members of the DDP formed an important reservoir of personnel for high positions in public administration. No other party was able to provide to a similar extent civil servants who both possessed the professional training and were loyal to the democratic system of the Weimar Republic, something that was not the  case with the mostly monarchist and anti-democratic civil servants inherited from the monarchy.

Decline during the 1920s[edit]

Already by 1920 the DDP had lost votes, in large measure to the German People's Party, German National People’s Party, and to parties focused on single issues.  This was due to disagreements within the DDP over how to deal with the Versailles Peace Treaty, of which some deputies approved. The loss of votes was accompanied by a simultaneous loss of members, finances and journalistic support. Important newspapers such as the Vossische Zeitung and the Frankfurter Zeitung held views that were close to those of the DDP, but the party was never able to establish an important party paper of its own such as the SPD’s Vorwärts or later the Nazi Party’s Völkischer Beobachter. The prejudice that the DDP was the ‘party of big capital’ held credence among part of the public, a prejudice that was factually false and charged with anti-Semitism. In later years, the Nazi Party exploited this by defaming the DDP as ‘the Jewish party’.

Another reason for the decline was their program of ‘social capitalism’ in which workers and owners mutually recognized "duty, right, performance and profit"[17] and solidarity was to prevail between employees, workers and owners. This visionary idea was out of touch with the reality of rising unemployment and economic difficulties under the pressure of the Treaty of Versailles.

Renaming to the German State Party[edit]

In July 1930 the DDP united with the People’s National Reich Association (Volksnationale Reichsvereinigung, or VNR) to form the German State Party, initially for the upcoming Reichstag elections. This brought fierce conflicts within the party, as the VNR was the political arm of Artur Mahraun's conservative and anti-Semitic Young German Order (Jungdeutscher Orden).[18] After the merger many members of the left wing, including Ludwig Quidde and Hellmut von Gerlach, left the party and in 1930 founded the Radical Democratic Party, which was largely unsuccessful politically. The Young German Orden broke away from the DDP immediately after the Reichstag elections, but the DDP nevertheless formally renamed itself the German State Party (DStP) in November 1930.[19]

Until 1932 the DStP participated in the majority of Reich governments, but in the elections of that year it received only about one percent of the vote and sank to insignificance. In the March 5, 1933 elections, after Adolf Hitler had been named Chancellor, the DStP obtained its five seats in the Reichstag with the help of a combined list with the SPD.[20] The five DStP deputies, as opposed to the SPD, voted for the Nazi-sponsored Enabling Act, which effectively disempowered the Reichstag.[21] Their "yes" to the Enabling Act was justified by the deputy Reinhold Maier. The final sentence of his speech read: "In the interest of the people and the Fatherland and in the expectation of lawful developments, we will put aside our serious misgivings and agree to the Enabling Act."[22]

Development after the Nazi seizure of power[edit]

Self-dissolution in 1933[edit]

Since the mandates of the DtSP’s Reichstag deputies had been won by means of nominations from the Social Democratic Party, they expired in July 1933, based on a provision of the Gleichschaltung Law of March 31, 1933.[23] The self-dissolution of the DStP, forced by the National Socialists, took place on June 28, 1933. The law against the formation of new parties enacted on July 14 codified the existence of a single party in the Nazi state, the NSDAP, and any activity on behalf of other parties was made a punishable offense.[24]

Resistance to National Socialism[edit]

Individual members of the DStP participated in the resistance to National Socialism. The only left-liberal resistance group, the Robinsohn-Strassmann group, consisted mainly of former DDP/DStP members. A middle-class resistance circle with about sixty members was the Sperr Circle in Bavaria. It consisted of the diplomat Franz Sperr as well as the former Weimar Reich ministers and DDP members Otto Geßler and Eduard Hamm.[25] Many former members of the DDP and Radical Democratic Party also found themselves forced into exile either because of their stance against the regime or their pacifist attitudes, among them Ludwig Quidde and Wilhelm Abegg. Others were murdered by the National Socialists, including Fritz Elsas.[26]

DDP politicians after World War II[edit]

After World War II former members of the DDP were instrumental in founding both the West German Free Democratic Party (FDP) – for example Theodor Heuss, Thomas Dehler and Reinhold Maier – and the East German Liberal Democratic Party (LDPD) – including Wilhelm Külz, Eugen Schiffer and Waldemar Koch – while others such as Ernst Lemmer, Ferdinand Friedensburg and August Bach went to the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), or the Social Democratic Party (SPD), including Erich Lüth. Otto Nuschke became leader of the East German CDU.

The youth organization Young Democrats (Jungdemokraten), which had been close to the DDP, continued to exist until 2018.

Election results[edit]

Election year Votes % Seats +/–
1919 5,641,825 18.6 (3rd)
75 / 423
New Party
1920 2,333,741 8.3 (6th)
39 / 459
Decrease 36
May 1924 1,655,129 5.7 (7th)
28 / 472
Decrease 11
December 1924 1,919,829 6.3 (6th)
32 / 493
Increase 4
1928 1,479,374 4.8 (6th)
25 / 491
Decrease 7
1930 1,322,034 3.8 (8th)
20 / 577
Decrease 5
July 1932 371,800 1.0 (8th)
4 / 608
Decrease 16
November 1932 336,447 1.0 (9th)
2 / 584
Decrease 2
1933 334,242 0.9 (9th)
5 / 647
Increase 3
Elections in the Prussian Landtag 1918–1933
1919 1% 65 Seats
1921 05,9 % 26 Seats
1924 05,9 % 27 Seats
1928 04,4 % 21 Seats
1932 01,5 % 02 Seats
1933 00,7 % 03 Seats

Party chairmen of the DDP and DStP

Year Party Chairman
1919 DDP Friedrich Naumann
1919–1924 DDP Carl Wilhelm Petersen
1924–1930 DDP Erich Koch-Weser
1930–1933 DStP Hermann Dietrich

Noted members of the DDP and DStP[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mommsen, Hans (1996). The Rise and Fall of Weimar Democracy. University of North Carolina Press. p. 58. ISBN 0-8078-2249-3.
  2. ^ Van De Grift, Liesbeth (2012). Securing the Communist State: The Reconstruction of Coercive Institutions in the Soviet Zone of Germany and Romania, 1944–48. Lexington Books. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-7391-7178-3.
  3. ^ Lash, Scott; Urry, John (1987). The End of Organized Capitalism. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 27. ISBN 0-7456-0068-9.
  4. ^ a b Kurlander, Eric (2006). The Price of Exclusion: Ethnicity, National Identity, and the Decline of German Liberalism, 1898–1933. Berghahn Books. p. 197. ISBN 1-8454-5069-8.
  5. ^ Maier, Charles S. (1975). Recasting Bourgeois Europe: Stabilization in France, Germany and Italy in the Decade after World War I. Princeton University Press. p. 56. ISBN 0-691-05220-4.
  6. ^ a b Sartori, Giovanni (1976). Parties and Party Systems. Vol. 1. Cambridge University Press. p. 156.
  7. ^ Lee, Stephen J. (1998). The Weimar Republic. Routledge. p. 23. ISBN 0-415-17178-4.
  8. ^ Allinson, Mark (2015). Germany and Austria since 1814 (second ed.). Routledge. p. 58.
  9. ^ Preuss, Hugo (2008). Schwarz-Rot-Gold: Zum Nürnberger Parteitag (1920) [Black-Red-Gold: For the Nuremberg Party Congress (1920)]. Gesammelte Schriften – Vierter Band: Politik und Verfassung in der Weimarer Republik (in German). Mohr Siebeck. p. 155.
  10. ^ Dietrich Orlow (15 December 1986). Weimar Prussia, 1918–1925: The Unlikely Rock of Democracy. University of Pittsburgh Pre. p. 329. ISBN 978-0-8229-7640-0.
  11. ^ Horst Wagner: Die Gründung der DDP 1918 [The Founding of the DDP 1918]. In: Berlinische Monatsschrift (Luisenstädtischer Bildungsverein). Vol. 11, 1998, ISSN 0944-5560 (
  12. ^ “Die Deutsche Demokratische Partei (DDP)“ on the Website of the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin.
  13. ^ Niewyk, Donald, L. (1930). The Jews in Weimar Germany. Louisiana State University Press. p. 31.
  14. ^ Baumgarten, Alfred I. (2010). Elias Bickerman as a historian of the Jews: a twentieth-century tale. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. ISBN 9783161501715.
  15. ^ Möller, Horst (2018). Die Weimarer Republik: Demokratie in der Krise [The Weimar Republic: Democracy in Crisis] (in German). Piper.
  16. ^ DHM-LEMO: DDP als Hüterin der Demokratie, 3. Abschnitt. [DDP as Protector of Democracy, Paragraph 3]
  17. ^ DDP election appeal. In: Der Demokrat 5, 1924, p. 86, cited in Schneider, p. 58.
  18. ^ Winkler, Heinrich August (2002). Der lange Weg nach Westen. Deutsche Geschichte 1806–1933 [The Long Road to the West. German History 186 – 1933] (in German). Bonn. p. 487.
  19. ^ Brauers, Christof (2007). Die FDP in Hamburg 1945 bis 1953 [The FDP in Hamburg 1945 to 1953] (in German). München. pp. 75 ff.
  20. ^ Deutsche Demokratische Partei (DDP) / Deutsche Staatspartei 1918–1933 (Deutsches Historisches Museum).
  21. ^ Amtliches Protokoll der Reichstagssitzung vom 23. März 1933, s. DStP. [Official Minutes of the Reichstag Sessions of March 23, 1933]
  22. ^ Verhandlungen des Reichstags, stenographischer Bericht, 23. März 1933, S. 25 C, p. 38. [Proceedings of the Reichstag, stenographic report March 23, 1933]
  23. ^ Text der Verordnung zur Sicherung der Staatsführung vom 7. Juli 1933 im Reichsgesetzblatt in retrodigitalisierter Form bei ALEX – Historische Rechts- und Gesetzestexte Online. [Text of the Ordinance on Securing the Governance of the State of July 7, 1933 in the Reich Law Gazette in retro-digitized form at ALEX - Historic Legislative and Legal Texts Online]
  24. ^ Text des Gesetzes gegen die Neubildung von Parteien vom 14. Juli 1933 [Text of the law against the formation of new parties of July 14, 1933]
  25. ^ In addition: Manuel Limbach: Bürger gegen Hitler. Vorgeschichte, Aufbau und Wirken des bayerischen »Sperr-Kreises« [Citizens against Hitler. Prologue, Structure and Operation of the Bavarian "Sperr-Circle”]. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2019 (= Schriftenreihe der Historischen Kommission bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vol 102).
  26. ^ In addition: Rainer Erkens / Horst R. Sassin: Dokumente zur Geschichte des Liberalismus in Deutschland 1930–1945 [Documents on the History of Liberalsm in Germany], St. Augustin 1989; Eric Kurlander: Living with Hitler. Liberal Democrats in the Third Reich, New Haven/London 2009; Horst Sassin: Liberale im Widerstand. Die Robinsohn-Strassmann-Gruppe 1934–1942 [Liberals in Resistance. The Robinson-Strassman Group 1934-1942], Hamburg 1993; Horst R. Sassin: Widerstand, Verfolgung und Emigration Liberaler 1933–1945 [Resistance, Persecution and Emigration of Liberals 1933-1945], Bonn 1983.

Further reading[edit]