Reichstag

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Reichstag

(rīkhs`täk) [Ger.,=imperial parliament], name for the dietdiet,
parliamentary bodies in Japan, Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, the Scandinavian nations, and Germany have been called diets. In German history, the diet originated as a meeting of landholders and burghers, convoked by the ruler to discuss financial problems.
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 of the Holy Roman Empire, for the lower chamber of the federal parliament of the North German ConfederationNorth German Confederation,
1867–71, alliance of 22 German states N of the Main River. Dominated by Prussia, it replaced the German Confederation and included the states that had supported Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War (1866).
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, and for the lower chamber of the federal parliament of Germany from 1871 to 1945. Under the German Empire (1871–1918) the Reichstag, which represented the country at large, had little real power; it was mainly a deliberative body. Election was on the basis of universal manhood suffrage.

The Reichstag under the Weimar Constitution

The republican Weimar Constitution of 1919 did not alter the structure of the Reichstag, but it introduced proportional representation and extended voting rights to women. The new Reichstag, however, was not powerless; it was the supreme legislative body of the republic. The states were represented by an upper chamber, the Reichsrat. The jurisdictions of the Reichstag and Reichsrat were limited to matters affecting Germany as a whole; in other matters the member states were sovereign. The Reichsrat had only a power of suspensive veto over legislation approved by the Reichstag.

The federal cabinet, appointed by the president and headed by the chancellor, was responsible to the Reichstag and normally had to resign if it received a vote of no confidence. However, the president of the republic could, on the advice of his cabinet, dissolve the Reichstag and order new elections before the normal term (four years) had ended. After 1930, under President Paul von HindenburgHindenburg, Paul von
, 1847–1934, German field marshal and president (1925–34), b. Poznan (then in Prussia). His full name was Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Hindenburg und Beneckendorff.
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, the Reichstag was suspended several times at the instigation of successive chancellors, and rule by presidential emergency decree began to replace parliamentary rule.

Hitler and the Reichstag Fire

In Jan., 1933, when Adolf HitlerHitler, Adolf
, 1889–1945, founder and leader of National Socialism (Nazism), and German dictator, b. Braunau in Upper Austria. Early Life

The son of Alois Hitler (1837–1903), an Austrian customs official, Adolf Hitler dropped out of high school, and
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 became chancellor without an absolute majority, the Reichstag was dissolved and new elections were set for Mar. 5; a violent election campaign ensued. On Feb. 27, 1933, a fire destroyed part of the Reichstag building. Hitler immediately accused the Communists of having set the fire. President von Hindenburg proclaimed a state of emergency and issued decrees suspending freedom of speech and assembly. The elections gave a bare majority of seats to Hitler's National Socialists (Nazis; see National SocialismNational Socialism
or Nazism,
doctrines and policies of the National Socialist German Workers' party, which ruled Germany under Adolf Hitler from 1933 to 1945.
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) and their allies, the German Nationalists. Severe measures were taken against the Communist party, and its deputies were barred from the Reichstag.

On Mar. 23 the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which gave the government, i.e., Hitler, dictatorial powers. Only the Social Democrats dissented. In the sensational Reichstag fire trial of 1933, a Dutchman named Marinus van der Lubbe was charged with having set the fire as part of a Communist plot. Several Communist leaders, including Georgi DimitrovDimitrov, Georgi
, 1882–1949, Bulgarian Communist leader. A revolutionary from boyhood, he was a leader in the 1923 Communist uprising against Alexander Tsankov. When it failed, he fled Bulgaria and continued to work for the Communist cause.
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, were charged with complicity. Van der Lubbe was sentenced to death; the others were found not guilty. For many years it was assumed outside Germany that the Reichstag fire was carried out by the Nazis themselves as a propaganda maneuver to ensure the defeat of the Communists and other leftist parties in the elections. However, later evidence indicated that Van der Lubbe alone set the fire, and that Hitler merely used it as a pretext to launch a campaign against the Communists. During Hitler's rule, the Reichstag was merely summoned from time to time to approve important government measures. The Reichsrat was abolished in 1934, along with sovereignty of the German states.

The Reichstag since World War II

After World War II the new constitutions (1949) of West Germany and East Germany replaced the Reichstag and Reichsrat with other legislative bodies. The Reichstag building in Berlin was redone in the 1960s, deemphasizing most of its former grandeur. After German reunification, a restored, redesigned, and largely rebuilt glass-domed renovation of the building, designed by British architect Lord Norman FosterFoster, Norman Robert, Baron Foster of Thames Bank,
1935–, British architect, b. Manchester, grad. Manchester Univ. school of architecture (1961), Yale school of architecture (M.A., 1962).
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, was reopened in 1999 to house the German parliament.

Reichstag

 

(1) In the Holy Roman Empire from the 12th century, a body of representatives of the various estates that was under the authority of the German emperor. It was called the Imperial Diet.

(2) In the German Empire, the constituent assembly, and subsequently the lower chamber of the North German Confederation (1867–71); from 1871 to 1918, an elected organ that participated in legislation, the adoption of the budget, and the exercise of control over the executive power. The Bundesrat, in which the various German states were represented, was considered the highest representative organ.

(3) In the Weimar Republic (1919–33), the lower chamber of parliament, which was elected by the people on the basis of a system of proportional representation. The rights of the Reichstag were substantially curtailed as a result of the granting of broad powers to the government and the president, who had the right to dissolve the Reichstag.

During the fascist regime (from 1933), it existed in form alone. In 1945 it was finally abolished.