Gustav Stresemann (1878-1929) was one of Germany's outstanding diplomats and a leading political figure of the post-World War I Weimar Republic. He championed a policy of postwar reconciliation and cooperation in Europe.
Gustav Stresemann was born in Berlin on May 10, 1878, the son of a small businessman. His involvement in his family's business and the difficulties of small businesses in general influenced Stresemann to study economics and political science at the University of Berlin, from which he received a doctorate.
Stresemann's first job, in a small business, carried him into the arena of liberal politics. In 1902 he founded the Association of Saxon Industrialists, serving as its director from then until 1918. Stresemann entered the Reichstag in 1907 as a deputy of the strongly nationalist, economically liberal National Liberal party. He was reelected in 1914, and his fervent nationalism and extraordinary parliamentary skill quickly earned him the chairmanship of his party in July 1917.
After the end of World War I, during which he had supported the monarchy and an annexationist policy, Stresemann founded the conservative German People's party. As leader of this group, he hoped to reconcile Germany with its former enemies and to regain for his country a position of international respect.
Stresemann became chancellor in 1923 at the height of the postwar inflation. His government lasted only 100 days—from Aug. 13 to Nov. 23, 1923—but it mastered the inflation and firmly established a new foreign policy of economic understanding with France over the reparations question.
In 1923 Stresemann also became foreign minister, a post he held until his death. Stresemann ended the occupation by French and Belgian troops of the Ruhr in 1924. Against bitter attacks from nationalists he defended Germany's acceptance of the Treaty of Versailles as a reality and as the only realistic starting point for a successful foreign policy. In cooperation with the British ambassador Lord D'Abernon and the French foreign minister Aristide Briand, Stresemann rapidly recaptured a position of international prestige and prosperity for Germany. He then began a gradual revision of the treaty. German reparations were drastically reduced in the Dawes Plan of 1924. The Locarno Pact of 1925, which guaranteed Germany's western borders and reassured France, gained admission for Germany to the League of Nations in 1926, and it left the door open for Stresemann to pursue future border modifications in the East. The removal of Allied controls in the years following permitted Germany to regain much of its freedom as a great power, including the opportunity for clandestine rearmament.
The special cooperation between Stresemann and Briand, the cornerstone of Germany's international diplomacy, earned the two statesmen the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926. However, an agreement to resolve all remaining problems between France and Germany, negotiated by the two diplomats at Thoiry in 1926, failed to survive the growing national opposition in both countries. A further reduction of the Versailles reparations, gained in the Young Plan of 1929, ranks as Stresemann's last success. He died of a stroke on Oct. 3, 1929, in Berlin.
Stresemann's papers, collected and screened by his former secretary, were translated and edited in slightly condensed form by Eric Sutton, Gustav Stresemann: His Diaries, Letters and Papers (3 vols., 1935-1940). Although there is no definitive biography of Stresemann, there are several fine, balanced studies. Henry L. Bretton, Stresemann and the Revision of Versailles (1953), emphasizes Stresemann as the skillful manipulator of peaceful diplomacy. Hans Gatzke, Stresemann and the Rearmament of Germany (1954), portrays him as an upright, great statesman and nationalist unabashedly two-faced about German armament. Stresemann's role in German politics is discussed in Henry A. Turner, Stresemann and the Politics of the Weimar Republic (1963). Marvin L. Edwards, Stresemann and the Greater Germany, 1914-1918 (1963), treats the war years. Of the many earlier, favorable accounts of the foreign minister as the "good European," two stand out: Rochus von Rheinbaben, Stresemann: The Man and the Statesman (1929), written with Stresemann's help, and Antonina Vallentin, Stresemann (trans. 1931). □
Gustav Stresemann (gŏŏs´täf shtrā´zəmän), 1878–1929, German statesman. A founder (1902) and director (until 1918) of the Association of Saxon Industrialists, Stresemann entered the Reichstag in 1907 as a deputy of the National Liberal party and represented the interests of big business. During World War I, he supported the monarchy and an annexationist policy, but after the proclamation of a German republic in 1918 he founded the conservative German People's party and turned to a conciliatory policy in harmony with the weak position of his country. As chancellor (1923) and foreign minister of the Weimar Republic from 1923 until his death, he made it his task to reconcile former enemy nations to Germany, to remove the harsh clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, and to regain for Germany a respected place in the world. His policy, although it alienated Germany's nationalist and monarchist elements, was remarkably successful.
Although Stresemann knew of efforts by Hans von Seeckt to evade the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, he won the confidence of the Allies. He ended (1923) the passive resistance in the Ruhr district against French and Belgian occupation and obtained the evacuation of the Ruhr in 1924; he accepted the Dawes Plan (1924) and the Young Plan (1929) for reparations; he raised the hope for peace by his part in the Locarno Pact (1925); he renewed (1926) the Rapallo treaty with the USSR; and he had Germany admitted (1926) into the League of Nations with the rank of a great power. His harmonious relation with France's Aristide Briand became one of personal friendship. In 1928, Stresemann signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Soon after obtaining his last success, the evacuation of the Rhineland, Stresemann died of the consequences of overwork. His death was, prophetically, considered a calamity by all but the extremist elements in Germany. Stresemann shared the 1926 Nobel Peace Prize with Briand.
See his Essays and Speeches (tr. 1930, repr. 1968); E. Sutton, ed., Gustav Stresemann: His Diaries, Letters, and Papers (3 vol., 1935–40); biography by J. Wright (2003); studies by H. L. Bretton (1953), H. A. Turner (1963), D. Warren (1964), F. E. Hirsch (1964), and C. M. Kimmich (1968).