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This article is about the German law passed in 1933 at the beginning of the Third Reich. For other laws of that name see Enabling act.
The Enabling Act (in German: Ermächtigungsgesetz) was passed by the Reichstag on March 23, 1933. It was the second major step after the Reichstag Fire Decree through which the Nazis legally established Nazi Germany by providing the government with legislative powers, effectively handing dictatorial powers to then Chancellor Adolf Hitler.
The full name of the Enabling Act was Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich (Law to remedy the need of the people and the country).
Enabling Act text
As with most of the laws passed in the process of Gleichschaltung, the Enabling Act is quite short, considering its consequences. It is therefore reproduced in full in German and English:
|Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich||Law to remedy the need of the people and the Reich|
|Der Reichstag hat das folgende Gesetz beschlossen, das mit Zustimmung des Reichsrats hiermit verkündet wird, nachdem festgestellt ist, daß die Erfordernisse verfassungsändernder Gesetzgebung erfüllt sind:||The Reichstag has enacted the following law, which has the agreement of the Reichsrat and meets the requirements for a constitutional amendment, which is hereby announced:|
|Artikel 1||Article 1|
|Reichsgesetze können außer in dem in der Reichsverfassung vorgesehenen Verfahren auch durch die Reichsregierung beschlossen werden. Dies gilt auch für die in den Artikeln 85 Abs. 2 und 87 der Reichsverfassung bezeichneten Gesetze.||In addition to the procedure prescribed by the constitution [i.e. decision by the Reichstag], laws of the Reich may also be enacted by the government of the Reich. This includes laws as referred to by Articles 85 sentence 2 and Article 87 of the constitution. 1|
|Artikel 2||Article 2|
|Die von der Reichsregierung beschlossenen Reichsgesetze können von der Reichsverfassung abweichen, soweit sie nicht die Einrichtung des Reichstags und des Reichsrats als solche zum Gegenstand haben. Die Rechte des Reichspräsidenten bleiben unberührt.||Laws enacted by the government of the Reich may deviate from the constitution as long as they do not affect the institutions of the Reichstag and the Reichsrat. The rights of the President remain undisturbed.|
|Artikel 3||Article 3|
|Die von der Reichsregierung beschlossenen Reichsgesetze werden vom Reichskanzler ausgefertigt und im Reichsgesetzblatt verkündet. Sie treten, soweit sie nichts anderes bestimmen, mit dem auf die Verkündung folgenden Tage in Kraft. Die Artikel 68 bis 77 der Reichsverfassung finden auf die von der Reichsregierung beschlossenen Gesetze keine Anwendung.||Laws enacted by the government of the 'Reich' shall be issued by the Chancellor and announced in the Reich Law Gazette. They shall take effect on the day following the announcement, unless they prescribe a different date. Articles 68 to 77 of the constitution do not apply to laws enacted by the Reich government. 2|
|Artikel 4||Article 4|
|Verträge des Reiches mit fremden Staaten, die sich auf Gegenstände der Reichsgesetzgebung beziehen, bedürfen für die Dauer der Geltung dieser Gesetze nicht der Zustimmung der an der Gesetzgebung beteiligten Körperschaften. Die Reichsregierung erläßt die zur Durchführung dieser Verträge erforderlichen Vorschriften.||Reich treaties with foreign states which affect matters of Reich legislation shall not require the approval of the bodies concerned with legislation. The government of the Reich shall issue the regulations required for the execution of such treaties.|
|Artikel 5||Article 5|
|Dieses Gesetz tritt mit dem Tage seiner Verkündung in Kraft. Es tritt mit dem 1. April 1937 außer Kraft, es tritt ferner außer Kraft, wenn die gegenwärtige Reichsregierung durch eine andere abgelöst wird.||This law takes effect with the day of its proclamation. It loses force on April 1, 1937 or if the present Reich government is replaced by another.|
- 1 Article 85 outlined the process by which the Reichstag and Reichsrat approved the Reich budget. Article 87 restricted government borrowing.
- 2 Articles 68 to 77 stipulated the procedures for enacting legislation in the Reichstag.
The Enabling Act was passed by the Reichstag on March 23 and proclaimed by the government the following day. Following constitutional procedure for legislation, the law was countersigned by President von Hindenburg, Chancellor Hitler, Minister of Interior Frick, Foreign Minister von Neurath, and Minister of Finance von Krosigk. 
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In order to to obtain the absolute power they sought without possessing a majority in the Reichstag and without the need to bargain with their coalition partners, the Nazis devised the Enabling Act. The Act was envisioned as the mechanism to circumvent the Reichstag by granting the chancellor and his cabinet authority to enact legislation without the Reichstag. As a law altering the legislative provisions of the constitution — though not specifically drafted as a constitutional amendment — the Act would require a two-thirds majority to pass. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Communist Party (KPD) were both sure to vote against such an Act, but the Nazis knew that the parties representing the middle class, the Junkers landowners and business interests had tired of the perpetual instability of the Weimar Republic. Hitler reckoned that these parties would be eager to adopt such an extraordinary measure to end the ongoing parliamentary logjam, or at a minimum, would muster only tepid opposition.
Hitler, shortly after being named chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, pulled out of the coalition that had been built with centrist parties, instead asking President von Hindenburg to call a general election for March 5, 1933. Of the campaign, in what was one of the world's first use of mass media as a major force in a political campaign, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels wrote:
- Now it will be easy to carry on the fight, for we can call on all the resources of the State. Radio and press are at our disposal. We shall stage a masterpiece of propaganda. 
In the days leading up to the elections, the Nazis organised street violence to intimidate the opposition and build fear of communism. The burning of the Reichstag six days before the election was the pivotal event of the campaign. A mentally-disturbed one-time Dutch Communist was arrested in the building and, while the circumstances of the fire are disputed and will never be conclusively known, the fire was portrayed by the Nazis as the beginning of a communist revolution. With the threat of Communism looming, Hitler's government persuaded President Paul von Hindenburg to authorize several emergency powers in the Reichstag Fire Decree, which (among other things) suspended civil liberties and habeas corpus rights. Decree in hand, Hitler had the Communist Party's offices raided and its representatives arrested, neutralizing their power in the Reichstag.
Despite receiving five million additional votes and adding the nationalist DNVP party's 52 seats to their coalition in the March 5 election, Hitler's coalition had only a slim majority, but not enough for Hitler to gain absolute power.
At Hitler's first post-election Cabinet meeting on March 15, the first order of business was to plan how to obtain absolute power in a constitutional way. Hitler decided upon proposal of an "enabling act" that would give the cabinet legislative power for four years. The Reichstag Fire Decree had already given the government the power to arrest opposition delegates, and Hitler felt certain that he could convince the Catholic Center to give their support to the act and provide the needed two-thirds majority. 
Hitler negotiated with the Centre Party's chairman, Catholic priest Ludwig Kaas, finalizing an agreement by March 22. Kaas agreed to support the Act in exchange for the Nazi's promise to help them achieve civil recognition of Catholics and Catholicism, as well as instituting quotas and protections for Catholic civil servants and schools. The Centre Party also asked Hitler to maintain constitutional protections of civil liberties. Debate within the Centre itself continued until March 23, when ex-chancellor Heinrich Brüning denounced the Enabling Act as treachery of the worst order, calling for the Reichstag's assembly to be postponed until cooler heads could prevail. Kaas nevertheless claimed a written guarantee would come from Hitler. Brüning's experiences with Hitler led him to warn Kaas to ensure he received the written promise before the vote, but agreed to maintain party discipline by voting for the Act.
Later that day, the Reichstag assembled under intimidating circumstances, with SA men swarming inside and outside the chamber. Hitler's speech, which emphasised the importance of Christianity in German culture, was aimed particularly at assuaging the Centre Party's sensibilities and almost verbatim incorprated Kaas' requested guarantees. Kaas gave a speech, voicing the Centre's support for the bill amid "concerns put aside", while Brüning notably remained silent. Only Otto Wels of the SPD spoke against the Act. Kaas had still not received the written constitutional guarantees he had negotiated, but with the assurance it was being "typed up", voting began. Kaas never received the letter.
All parties except the SPD voted in favour of the Enabling Act. With the Communist delegates's enforced absence and 26 SPD deputies likewise arrested or in hiding, the final vote was 444 supporting the Enabling Act to 94 (all Social Democrats) opposed. With 83% of the delegates voting in favor of the Enabling Act, the constitutionally-required majority had been obtained. With the passage of the Act, the Reichstag was effectively eliminated from active participation in German politics; Hitler's cabinet thenceforth had free rein to rule by decree. 
While there had been previous enabling acts in the earliest years of the Weimar Republic, this one was more far reaching since Article 2 allowed for deviations from the constitution. The law therefore formally required a two-thirds majority in the Reichstag. Hitler had taken care of that: under the provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree, the Communist Party deputies — and a few Social Democratic deputies as well — were already jailed, and the Communist mandates were declared "dormant" by the government shortly after the elections. The Social Democrats at first had planned to hinder the passing of the law by boycotting the Reichstag session, rendering the body short of the two-thirds quorum needed for the vote, but led by Reichstag president Hermann Goering, the body changed its rules of procedure to allow the Reichstag president to declare any deputy "absent without excuse" to be considered as present in order to forestall obstruction. Because of this procedural change, the Social Democrats were forced to participate in the session and their chairman Otto Wels delivered a fulminant speech against the Enabling Act. The remaining free members of parliament were intimidated by the SA surrounding the parliament hall. In the end, only the Social Democrats voted against the bill.
During the negotiations between the government and the Centre Party, it was agreed that the government should inform the Reichstag parties of of legislative measures passed under the Enabling Act. For this purpose, a second working committee was set up, chaired by Hitler and the Centre's chairman Kaas. However, this committee met only three times without any major impact.
President von Hindenburg seemed to be pleased with Hitler's firm hand. During the cabinet conference on the Enabling Act, von Hindenburg's representative stated that the aged president was withdrawing from day-to-day affairs of government and that presidential collaboration on the laws decreed as a result of the Enabling Act would not be required.
Though the Act had formally given legislative powers to the government as a whole, these powers were for all intents and purposes exercised by Hitler himself; as Joseph Goebbels wrote shortly after the passage of the Enabling Act:
- The authority of the Führer has now been wholly established. Votes are no longer taken. The Führer decides. All this is going much faster than we had dared to hope.
Formal cabinet meetings were rare during the whole Third Reich and non-existent during World War II.
It is indicative of the care that Hitler took to give his dictatorship an appearance of legality that the Enabling Act was formally extended twice by the Reichstag (by then a puppet of Hitler) beyond its original 1937 expiration date.
The passage of the Enabling Act reduced the Reichstag to a mere stage for Hitler's speeches. The opposition parties were suppressed or banned, and eventually even the parties making up Hitler's coalition yielded to government pressure and dissolved themselves. On July 14, 1933 the government decreed a law eliminating political parties other than the Nazi Party. By this, Hitler had fulfilled what he had promised in earlier campaign speeches: "I set for myself one aim ... to sweep these thirty parties out of Germany!" 
^ Shirer, William L. (1959). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-62420-2.
^ Ibid. Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enabling_Act"