Gustav Shtrezeman

Gustav Shtrezeman

German Reich Chancellor (August - November 1923), Minister of Foreign Affairs from August 1923.
Date of Birth: 10.05.1878
Country: Germany

  1. Biography of Gustav Stresemann
  2. Early Life and Education
  3. Career in Business and Politics
  4. Changing Beliefs and Political Achievements
  5. International Relations and Legacy

Biography of Gustav Stresemann

Early Life and Education

Gustav Stresemann was born into a prosperous family of restaurant owners and hoteliers. He assisted his father in the family business during his early years, but as the only son, he was sent to study at a gymnasium in Berlin. He later pursued literature, history, and political economy at the University of Berlin and the University of Leipzig. Stresemann displayed exceptional literary talent, writing critical articles on Thomas More's Utopia, Richard Strauss' poetry, historical works on Bismarck and Napoleon, and a dissertation on the economic analysis of bottled beer trade in Berlin. In 1902, he earned his doctorate degree.

Career in Business and Politics

After completing his studies, Stresemann decided to pursue a career in the business world. He began as an assistant manager at the Association of German Chocolate Manufacturers in Dresden in 1901. Within a year, he transitioned to a clerk position at the Association of Industrialists. Through his organizational skills and perseverance, he increased the association's membership from 180 to 1000 within two years.

Believing in the direct connection between commerce and politics, Stresemann decided to test his abilities in elected office. He ran for and won a seat in the Dresden municipal council in 1906 and became a member of the Reichstag in 1907. In 1917, he became the leader of the National Liberal Party. In Dresden, he married Käte Kleefeld, the daughter of a Berlin industrialist. With the support of his wife, Stresemann was able to concentrate his intellect and energy towards achieving a brilliant political career.

Changing Beliefs and Political Achievements

As a product of the Prussian lower-middle-class environment, Stresemann wholeheartedly supported German policy prior to World War I, believing in strength, power, and discipline. He advocated for a strong imperial fleet, particularly emphasizing the development of submarines, and opposed the Treaty of Versailles. However, the mutinies in the German navy, the abdication of the Kaiser, and the humiliating defeat in World War I in 1918 led him to reconsider his belief in an uncompromising policy of force.

A month after the armistice on November 11, 1918, Stresemann formed the People's Party of Germany and was elected to the National Assembly in Weimar to draft the constitution of the German Republic in 1919. In 1920, he became a member of the newly formed Reichstag and spent the following three years in opposition. From August to November 1923, he served as Chancellor in a coalition government. He was known for his tough stance, suppressing the Communist revolution attempt in Saxony and restoring order after the Hitler-led "Beer Hall Putsch" in Bavaria. He also initiated measures to stabilize the devalued German currency.

Stresemann's actions led the Socialists to withdraw from the coalition. In the new government in 1924, he became the Foreign Minister. He held this position through four cabinets and was regarded as the most skilled German diplomat after Bismarck. The primary objective for post-war Germany was to alleviate the burden of reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles (amounting to 35.5 billion dollars), which was an unbearable sum for the already war-ravaged economy. In 1924, at the London Conference, Stresemann succeeded in negotiating a favorable debt restructuring agreement for Germany and obtained credits for economic reconstruction from the United States. He pursued a policy of reconciliation with former enemies, particularly France.

Initiated by Stresemann, a meeting with French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand and British Foreign Secretary Austen Chamberlain took place in Locarno, Switzerland in October 1925. The agreements signed there, known as the "Locarno Pact," ensured mutual security guarantees and a commitment not to alter existing borders by force. Italy and Great Britain provided guarantees for the demilitarization of the Rhineland, which was occupied by French troops.

International Relations and Legacy

Another significant breakthrough for post-war Germany's international isolation was the rapprochement with Soviet Russia. In April 1926, a neutrality agreement was signed in Berlin between Germany and Russia, which required both countries to refrain from political alliances and economic boycotts against each other. In the same year, Germany was admitted to the League of Nations, signaling a partial forgiveness of past grievances.

Despite declining health and medical advice, Stresemann remained in the position of Foreign Minister. He lived to see the signing of the "Young Plan" in 1930, which halved Germany's reparation payments to the victorious nations and set a date for the withdrawal of allied forces from the resource-rich Rhineland.

Gustav Stresemann passed away on October 3, 1929 in Berlin from a heart attack.

Publications: Stresemann, Gustav, Essays and Speeches. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for library press, 1930.