Today In History: The Enabling Act Gives Adolf Hitler Absolute Power (1933)

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On this day in 1933, The Enabling Act was passed, giving Adolf Hitler unquestioned power over Germany. The Enabling Act circumvented any checks and balances and enabled Hitler, and Hitler alone, to pass laws. Additionally, it granted him plenary powers: complete and absolute power to act in any situation, without limitations.

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The official name of the Enabling Act was: Law to Remedy the Distress of People of the Reich. Prior to its passage, there had been a great deal of debate within the Central Party. The former Chancellor stood in opposition to its passage. One of the Enabling Act’s biggest proponents was the Centre Party’s chairman who was also a Catholic priest. Ludwig Kaas had met with Hitler and agreed to advocate voting for the Act’s passage in exchange for protection over the church’s civil liberties.

For the Enabling Act to be passed into law, at least two-thirds of Reichstag members were required to vote. The minimum number of members needed to make up the quorum was lowered from 432 to 378. This was done in order to not count 81 votes cast by the KDP (Communist Party). The Nazi party had used anti-communist rhetoric to justify large swaths of their agenda.

Communist ideologies took direct aim at religion, denouncing it as “the opiate of the masses.” Hitler made use of church fears by offering protection from communism, but his overarching motive was not rooted in anything more than obtaining unlimited power. After the Enabling Act’s passage, he used his new powers to eliminate his opposition parties, thus transforming Germany into a single-party state.

With the Enabling Act, the Nazi government could pass laws totally free of opposition. Radical by design, the Act allowed unlimited deviation from the Constitution, rendering it obsolete along with the Reichstag, whose members were left politically impotent. On July 14, 1933 a law was passed making the Nazi Party the only legally recognized political entity in Germany.

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