On March 23, 1933 the newly elected Reichstag met in the Kroll Opera House in Berlin to consider passing Hitler's Enabling Act. It was officially called the "Law for Removing the Distress of the People and the Reich." If passed, it would in effect vote democracy out of existence in Germany and establish the legal dictatorship of Adolf Hitler.
Brown-shirted Nazi storm troopers swarmed over the fancy old building in a show of force and as a visible threat. They stood outside, in the hallways and even lined the aisles inside, glaring ominously at anyone who might oppose Hitler's will.
Before the vote, Hitler made a speech in which he pledged to use restraint.
"The government will make use of these powers only insofar as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures...The number of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to such a law is in itself a limited one," Hitler told the Reichstag.
He also promised an end to unemployment and pledged to promote peace with France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. However, in order to do all this, Hitler said, he first needed the Enabling Act. A two-thirds majority was needed, since the law would actually alter the constitution. Hitler needed 31 non-Nazi votes to pass it. He got those votes from the Catholic Center Party after making a false promise to restore some basic rights already taken away by decree.
Meanwhile, Nazi storm troopers chanted outside: "Full powers - or else! We want the bill - or fire and murder!!"
But one man arose amid the overwhelming might. Otto Wells, leader of the Social Democrats stood up and spoke quietly to Hitler.
"We German Social Democrats pledge ourselves solemnly in this historic hour to the principles of humanity and justice, of freedom and socialism. No enabling act can give you power to destroy ideas which are eternal and indestructible."
Hitler was enraged and jumped up to respond.
"You are no longer needed! - The star of Germany will rise and yours will sink! Your death knell has sounded!"
The vote was taken - 441 for, and only 84, the Social Democrats, against. The Nazis leapt to their feet clapping, stamping and shouting, then broke into the Nazi anthem, the Hörst Wessel song.
Democracy was ended. They had brought down the German Democratic Republic legally. From this day onward, the Reichstag would be just a sounding board, a cheering section for Hitler's pronouncements.
This one point in history was critical to Hitler. It allowed that everything that happened afterwards was technically legal. Bush and his rubber stamp Congress spent six years attempting to get their own version of the Enabling Acts into place. The clause in the Patriot Act that allowed for the appointment of US attorneys without Congressional approval is merely the tip of the tip of the iceberg. The new Congress must work extra diligently to reclaim a government by, for and of the people
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