Gustav Stresemann (1878-1929)

When we take a trip down the memory lane up to 1878, we get to know Gustav Stresemann who was born on 10th may 1878 and later died on 3rd October 1929. His father was a prosperous owner of a restaurant and tavern. When he was young, he used to help in the family business and because he was very lonely, he pursed his studies assiduously. He came from a middle class family and therefore he was able to acquire his higher education at the University Berlin andLeipzig where he studied philosophy and literature. He also received a degree in political economy. It is during this period when he was a spokesman for the university students association that he discovered he had leadership qualities as well as the potential for literary attainment.

He used his literary skills to write some critical essays on the utopian writings of Thomas Moore and the lyrics of Strauss F. He also criticized the deeds ofBismarckand later on Napoleon’s. He wrote his dissertation on economic investigation on theBerlin’s beer trade. Basically it highlighted on the pressures of capitalism of a big market on the middle class ofBerlinwho were economically independent.

Stresemann started making his economic contribution in a great way in 1901. During the period when he was twenty two years, he served as a clerk to the German’s Chocolate Association of the manufactures in Dresden. The following year he assumed control over the manufacture’s business management alliance at local level branch. With his competence in organizing, he increased the members in the manufactures business management’s alliance from hundred and eighty in 1902 to a thousand in 1904 and later in 1912, he increased the number of the members to about five thousands.[1]

As time went by, he became strongly convinced that there was a relationship between economic politics and economy management, thus he started seeking for an elective office. Due to his efforts he secured himself a seat in theDresden’s town council where he stayed in this position for about six years. In 1917 he became the leader of National Liberal Party.

It was while he was in Dresdenthat he married his wife Kathe Keefeld. His whole life revolved around his wife whom he loved so much and they had two sons. Gustav was an ardent supporter of Germanic policies. He emphasized and believed in force, authority and discipline in all aspects of life. He wanted Germanyto build a very strong navy which would then help Germanyto increase and protect its overseas trade and commerce. He was of the idea that submarines should be allowed to conduct unrestricted warfare. He greatly contributed to the defeat of Bethmann’s government and strongly opposed the Versaillestreaty of 1919 in totality.[2]

It was inBerlinthat he developed his liberal ideas. In 1900 he was awarded his doctorate after presenting his dissertation on “The growth of theBerlinbottled beer industry.” He based it on the knowledge he had acquired from running his father’s businesses. His topic also touched on the decline of small sector business as a result of stiff competition from the big businesses. The ideas which inspired him to write his dissertation were later used against him by his right wing opposition figures. In his family he was the only one among five children who was able to attend high school and later his higher education at theuniversityofLeipzigandBerlin. He was a relentless Prussian liberal protestant. Gustav was a typical person who chauvinistically represented the imperialGermany. As mentioned earlier, he believed in military supremacy and economic advancement in the German empire. His political contributions were manifested by actively participating in heroic liberation of 1848 and also in his romantic speech in style.

Initially Stresemann sympathized with the ideas of Neumann Friend rich who was a social reformer protestant, Gustav started developing an interest in the rightist’s liberal party and later joined it in 1903. For the simple reason that the party was well represented inSaxony, National Liberal Party became Stresemann’s political home. He was involved in many conflicts over his support on the right wing of his party which mostly comprised of representatives of heavy industries. He was recognized in 1906 and became widely known when he first appeared at a party congress.

From 1906-1912 when he was a councilor in Dresdencity, he become also became a renowned writer in economics after he edited the ‘Dresdenmagazine Sachsische industrie.’ He also became widely known as an expert in municipal affairs. As time went by, he realized how media can influence the public opinion. He used it to influence people to support his ideas. In 1907, he became the Member of Parliament (Reichstag) of Annenberg district thereby staging himself squarely in politics. At the age of 28 years he became the youngest deputy in the parliament. He was helped by his party chairman, Ernst Bassermann to advance his politics and sooner than later he became Bassermann’s “crown prince.” Stresemann’s interests were in economic policies both as journalist and the deputy of the house. He represented the ideas of the commercial middle class. [3]

When the time he came to go toBerlin, he was among the best known economic leaders inGermany. While inBerlin, he helped to establish the American Economic Association (AEA) which originated from his idea. He came to occupy many official positions including the leading position in AEA. There he became known for his organizational skills and his interpersonal skills. By mid 1923, theGermany’s economy was in tatters andWeimar’s nation was on its way to collapse yet it regained its prosperity and its stability. People should ask themselves how this happened. All this was the fruits of Stresemann’s economic management skills and his undying efforts towards reforming his beloved nation. He was committed to nationalist as we have seen but he was of the view thatGermany’s problems could only be solved by moderation and working closely with other nations. This is why he initiated the signing of Locato treaty as well as many others. All this was achieved when he became the minister of foreign affairs of his nation.

One of his first strategies in revising the economy of the republican ofWeimarwas by introducing a new currency called the Rentenmark; he cut the government spending by cutting the number of employees who reined on the government tax. About 7,000,000 lost their jobs. These measures helped to reverse the hyperinflation and to bring back the confidence.

Stresemann stayed as a chancellor for only 4 months though he was given a job for the foreign minister; it is during this period when he was a foreign minister that he is remembered for. For example in 1942 he signed on treaty with the allies under the Dawes plan wherebyUSAproposed to giveGermany800 million gold marks so that it could revive its already dying economic base. ThenGermanywas given more time to pay its reparations and the reparations were reduced. Also under another treaty in 1929, the young plan pact was signed to extend the period for paying reparations though payment of reparations stopped in 1930 after he died and Hitler took over.

The economic recovery witnessed, in Weimar, after 1924 was reflected in cultural revivals that were seen in various fields ranging from architecture to opera. During Kaiser’s period, there was censorship but after the transition in government, freedom replaced this. Lottransformations were seen in the past, no body was allowed to criticize the government and any song or book that mentioned anything to do with sex was banned. During this period Berlinthrived with art collections for many German playwrights like Bertolt Brecht became famous and painters like George Grosz and Hannah Hoach came to be known.[4]

Stresemann was a member of the pan-German Deutcher Kolonialverein and it is during this time that he became a strong supporter of strong naval construction program. He advocated for the German’s imperialistic policies which were pursued under the leadership of Alfred von Tirpitz and Bernhard and Furst von Bulow.

As I said earlier in this paper, Stresemann was totally opposed to the terms of the Versaillestreaty and for that reason, he joined the majority German’s who held the same view. He strongly believed that Germany’s role in the First World War was purely defensive. He maintained that Germanywas only defending itself from external aggressions. He fought in the World War I with a lot of vigor but was later exempted from the military service on military grounds. However, in 1914, his political mileage returned when he went back to Reichstag for a special election. When Streseman was in the war, he advocated for pan- Germanism and a champion of Germany’s claims on foreign territories especially on the Polish and on Prussian territories in the East. Also, he helped Germanyto further its claims on French (Alsaceand Lorraine) as well as in Belgiumterritories in the West. He took over the leadership of his national liberal party from Basserman who was away from military service because of health problems. During this time, Gustav increasingly moved to the right and from 1916 he became the parliamentary mouthpiece of German army supreme command under field marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Ludendorff after working loosely with them. Here he was opposed to the ideas of Theo bald von Bachmann Hollweg the then chancellor who somehow did not commit himself fully to the territory expansion missions.[5]

Stresemann differed also with Bethmann in his support of u-boat warfare. Because of these differences and others, he arranged how Bathmann would be overthrown on July 1917 but was unable to reinstate the powerful chancellor Bulow whom he admired very much. It was after Bethmann’s death in July 1917 that he became a key figure in the Reich tag’s party faction and later he became the full chairman of the party. His party was much threatened to be divided by many differences that different party factions held but he managed to harmonize them to keep the party united. The main difference was over the three class suffrage system inPrussiawhich used citizen’s wealth to measure his political vote. Stresemann hoped to make his party a monarch and therefore, he wanted to bring to an end the idea of voting but on the other hand he allowed to be fooled on how the military situation was in Reich and its allies until the supreme command accepted that they were defeated in September 1918.

On November 9th 1918 the defeat of his military in the war the collapse of his monarchy and the flight of emperor William ii to Holland were like death blows to Gustav but he quickly started to see the realities of the Germany republican more positively later Stresemann founded his own party-the German’s people’s party after he was not offered a chance in the newly formed left liberal German democratic party. This newly formed party was headed by a renowned sociologist of the time Max Weber with collaboration of fried rich Naumann.

Stresemann sought to rally behind all the educated and other propertied elements. He was fundamentally opposed to the Weimarrepublic’s views Gustav developed a “wait and see” attitude during the attempted putsch of March 1920 by the rightist Kapp. But when this failed to materialize, he started singing a different tune. He started to prepare himself how he could join and politically cooperate with the republicans. He tried as much as he could to convince the German democratic parties that his party was qualified to work hand in hand with the government in a coalition. He ardently demanded to be offered a position in the government up to this time, he was considered to be in national opposition to the coalition.[6]

As a member of the national constituent assembly, Gustav was opposed to the German’s constitution of 1919-1920 and was determined to dedicate his life to press for the revision of the treaty ofVersaillesof 1919 which was considered harsh by the German’s.

The treaty placed the main blame for the First World War outbreak on deputy of Reichstag and the chairman to the (GPP) or the German People’s Party.

In 1923, Gustav became the chancellor of Reich after he was chosen as the leader of the great the great coalition “that was formed by the social democrats, the center the German democrats and his party supporters. It was during the period he was the chancellor that he became a European stature statesman. This was because of how he was able to use decisive influence over the fate of theWeimarrepublic. Stresemann’s first goal was to stop supporting the idea of furthering passive resistance in theRuhr. The passive resistance was staged to weaken the French and Belgian troops who had been placed to makeGermanypay the war reparations. This was against his wish and he only did it because it was increasing inflation in the country and the economy was on its way to collapsing.

At home he was facing some opposition but he was determined to steer his way irrespective of their presence. He used a punitive approach towards the communist influenced state governments in Saxony and also in Thuringiabut he was a bit sympathetic to the radical right’s revolutionary moves. For example, that which was spearheaded by Hitler in Munichon 9th November 1923. At this period, Stresemann’s government was trying very hard to stabilize the currency which was already unstable but finally, his government managed to restore the domestic order which was somehow disturbed by the threats of the territories in west of the Rhine that wanted to disassociate themselves from the Reich. He streamlined all the differences that had risen at this period. This is what became to be the foundation of the economy recovery. Stresemann was able to stabilize the already threatened economy by his economic knowledge that he acquired from his university education atLeipzig andBerlin.

Stresemann Gustav who became a chancellor in 1923 and a foreign minister. From 1924-1929 of theWeimarrepublic, much of the credit for restoring theGermany’s international after the World War One. Gustav became a foreign minister after he was removed from the office through a vote of no confidence. After he was voted out, he sought a position from the newly formed government. Unchallenged by the coalition government he was able to stay in power until the day he died in 1929. This coalition had three different chancellors one from the right, left and the centre.

His foreign mission was to renew and reconcile with the Western nations likeFrance. His country also renewed its ties withRussiaunder the 1922Rapallotreaty. He thought that ifWeimarrepublic would pay the reparations and somehow convince the western nations to reduce the reparations just as he did in a bid to remove the allied troops from the west ofRhine, then he would find the first in a good position where he can negotiate well with the First World War victorious powers. His top most ambition was to returnGermanyto its former position that it enjoyed before the war broke out.

What this meant is that most of the terms of the treaty were to be revised. For example the clause that concerned theGermany’s eastern border. He wanted this clause to be revised so thatPolandcould be asked to return the Danzig city, the Polish Corridor which was initially thelandofGermany, Upper Silesia andGermanyto be allowed to unite with its citizens inAustria. Stresemann was a sharp and keen man who could well see the tension that was there at that period between the east and the west. The tension was between communism wave that was being spread to the west. They wantedGermanyto be a stumbling block against communism that was threatening to take root in the Western nations. Gustav exploited this tension to further the interests of his country. The allied powers were willing to listen to him so he tried everything in his capacity to save his country though his relation with the East and the West drew a lot of criticism by many critics. He was driven by a very strong passion that sometimes made him to go beyond the mark. He could not see the opposition that came from home as well as from abroad.

Though there was a lot of opposition to his ideas, he still made some noticeable moves. For example he managed to convinceUSAin 1924 to sign the Dawes plan which was basically concerned with the treaty ofVersailles. It addressed the reduction of reparations and ways to stabilizeGermany’s financial base. During the following year another treaty was signed. This pact was called theLocarnotreaty. It was all about the new Franco- German border where the parties involved agreed to the terms. It also talked about the guidelines for arbitrating disputes and to protectGermanyfrom new sanctions by the victors. It was signed at a conference that was held inLocarnoSwitzerlandbyGreat Britain, France Germany,Italy,Belgium,CzechoslovakiaandPoland. Germanywas represented by Stresemann who also signed a pact betweenFrance,Poland, andCzechoslovakiaon mutual defense against any future possible aggression onGermany. HereGermanywas even promised that it would be allowed to join theLeague of Nations. TheLocarnotreaty was a signal of a new era of goodwill and peace in the whole world though this pact was rejected later by Adolf Hitler who in 1936 put his military on the demilitarizedRhineland.

According to the pact, the first Rhinelandwas to be evacuated by the allied powers. In 1926, Germanywas allowed to join the League of Nations. Still in same year, a mutual neutrality treaty was signed between Germanyand the western nations. Later in 1926, the Kellogg-Briand pact signed by Germany. This pact is also known as the signed on 27th august 1928. The treaty required all nations to stop using war as an instrument of national policy.[7]

Though the treaty failed to achieve its goals, it was later useful in international law development. This pact was named after frank B. Kellogg who was the secretary of state inAmericaand the Arostide Briad, French’s foreign minister who helped in drafting the pact. In this conference,Germanywas represented by Stresemann Gustav. The parties involved thought that if they led by example, other nations would adhere the treaty as soon as it came in to power, therefore bringing all the world’s civilized nations towards denouncing war.

Stresemann never even witnessed the evacuation of the allied troops especially those of the French from the Rhineland neither the completion of the reduction ofGermanyreparation strategy through theUSproposal that was dubbed the young plan in 1929.

Despite his achievements abroad, Gustav had to fight the opposition that was coming from his home country especially his own party. He tried to use the press to influence the public opinion of his people but he raised people’s hope by making pre-mature promises that were not practical or that could not materialize. During the last two years of his life he was fighting his illness and failure to make his foreign policies bear fruits. He was especially disappointed by how he failed to fully influence his party which had split and majority of its supporters joined the rightists. He felt so bad such that, at one time, he had even contemplated of forming a new liberal centre party but the stiff struggle that he encountered at home and his illness made him to succumb to death.

Stresemann is mostly remembered for promoting democracy Weimer’s Republic and in bringing economic integration but his most notable achievement was the role he played in unitingGermanyandFrance. This made him and Aristide Briand to receive a Nobel Prize in 1926. Stresemann was initially associated with the left wing of the liberal nationals then in First World War he joined the right wing backing monarchy and imperialistic goals. Also, he supported uncontrolled submarine warfare. This association with the right wing made him to be thrown out of the Germany Democratic Party after world war one was over.

The role is played in fighting forWeimar’s stability and its survivor. He applied extra ordinary effects to overcome the resistance that was coming from abroad as well as from his home. This was echoed during his state burial which highlighted the fact that it lost one of its few great statesmen. His period witnessed the uncertainty of supporting the monarchy and changing to republican. Despite these uncertainties, he tried zealously to hold on his party leadership until his death.

Lately, Stresemann is depicted by some as a hero especially after the Second World War period, 1945. He was viewed as the united champion hero. However, this view was downplayed by the UShistorian who had an access to his literary work. This view which contradicted the original was being propagated by US historians because they knew that others had no access to his writings which by then had been banned from being circulated. For this reason, people would believe whatever they were told. He was portrayed as a flexible opportunistic politician who sought the sympathy of the people. He is also depicted as a cunning person who flexibly changed his views to suit the time. It is said that he never became a democrat out of his own will but to suit to the eyes of his supporters. The communists portray him as an advocate of monopolized capitalism and as the one who prepared the stage for Hitler. He is also characterized as pragmatic conservatist in one of the contemporary biographies who remained open to the choice of politics especially when working for the Germany’s restoration in terms of wealth, economic order and power.[8]











Crozier, Andrew J. The Colonial Question in Stresemann’s Locarno Policy. The     International history Review, Vol. 4, Issue 1, Feb. 1982.


Enssle Manfred J. Stresemann’s Diplomacy Fifty Years after Locarno. The Historical        Journal, Vol. 20, No. 4, Dec. 1977.


Fink, Carole, German Revisions politik, Historical Papers [Canada] 1986, 134-145.


Gatzke, Hans W. Gustav Stresemann: A Bibliographical Article. The Journal of Modern    History, Vol. 36, No. 1, March 1964.


Grathwol, Robert. Gustav Stresemann: Reflections on his Foreign Policy. The Journal of   Modern History; Vol. 45, No. 1, March 1973.


Jones, Catherine. The 1929 League of Nations Initiative: Aristide Briand’s Plan for           European Federation. The Journal of theGeorgia Association of Historians; Vol. 19,    1998.


New York Times. Stresemann a Strong Man and Big Hope of Germany:  August 19,         1923.


Wright Jonathan. Gustav Stresemann: Weimar’s Greatest Statesman. History Today          Great Britain: Nov. 2002; Vol. 52.



[1] New York Times. Stresemann a Strong Man and Big Hope of Germany:  August 19, 1923; 24-58.


[2] Gatzke, Hans W. Gustav Stresemann: A Bibliographical Article. The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 36, No. 1, March 1964, 1-13.


[3] Wright Jonathan. Gustav Stresemann: Weimar’s Greatest Statesman. History Today GreatBritain: Nov. 2002; Vol. 52, 53-59.



[4] Crozier, Andrew J. The Colonial Question in Stresemann’s Locarno Policy. The International history Review, Vol. 4, Issue 1, Feb. 1982, 37-54.



[5] Fink, Carole, German Revisions politik, Historical Papers [Canada] 1986, 134-145.


[6] Grathwol, Robert. Gustav Stresemann: Reflections on his Foreign Policy. The Journal     of Modern History; Vol. 45, No. 1, March 1973, 52-70.



[7] Jones, Catherine. The 1929 League of Nations Initiative: Aristide Briand’s Plan for European Federation. The Journal of theGeorgia Association of Historians; Vol. 19, 1998, 15-38


[8] Enssle Manfred J. Stresemann’s Diplomacy Fifty Years after Locarno. The Historical Journal, Vol. 20, No. 4, Dec. 1977, 937-948.