Heinrich Brüning, the son of a wine merchant, was born in Münster, Germany, on 26th November, 1885. Brüning studied history and philosophy in Munich, Strasbourg and London where he carried out research into British railways.
After obtaining his doctorate in 1915 Brüning joined the German Army where he served in a machine-gun company during the First World War. In 1920 Brüning became an official of the German Trade Union Federation. A member of the Catholic Centre Party (BVP), Brüning was elected to the Reichstag in 1924. He became the party's spokesman on economic issues and in 1929 became leader of the BVP.
In 1928 Hermann Muller became chancellor in a coalition government that included the Social Democratic Party, the Catholic Centre Party and the Nationalist Party (DNVP). When Muller resigned in March 1930, Brüning was asked to become the new chancellor. The British politician, Robert Boothby, met him during this period: "In Berlin I saw Brüning, the Chancellor, who was Snowden's German counterpart - a puritanical ascetic and a bit of a masochist, with considerable charm. His sole indulgence was black coffee and a cigar, which he offered to me. He was a willing listener to the deplorable advice tendered to him by Dr Sprague, the emissary of the Bank of England. This, of course, was to continue his policy of deflation at all costs; and was designed primarily to maintain the value of the fantastic investments made by the City to Germany, at the instigation of Mr Norman.... Brüning was a lonely, saintly man, upon whom the burden of responsibility bore heavily."
Brüning attempted to halt the growth in German unemployed that followed the Wall Street Crash by increasing taxation and by imposing high tariffs on foreign imports. He also reduced government expenditure by lowering unemployment benefits. The policies were not successful and by 1930 unemployment reached 4 million. As Louis L. Snyder has pointed out that "Brüning was attacked bitterly by the Communists on the left and the National Socialists on the right."
In the General Election that took place in September 1930, the Catholic Centre Party won only 87 seats. The party was now much smaller than other parties such as the Social Democrat Party (143) and the Nazi Party (107). Brüning remained in power but now persuaded a more nationalistic foreign policy in an effort to please the growing shift to the right in German politics. Brüning's economic policies continued to be ineffective and with Germany's unemployment rate grow to six million.
In May 1932 General Hans von Seeckt joined up with Alfred Hugenberg, Hjalmar Schacht, Graf Kalkreuth, the president of Junkers' Land League and several industrialists, to call for the uniting of the parties of the right. They demanding the resignation of Heinrich Brüning. Germany's president, Paul von Hindenburg, agreed and forced him to resign and he was replaced as chancellor by Franz von Papen.
In July 1933 Bruening reliquished the chairmanship of the Catholic Centre Party. He became aware that he was in danger of being arrested and sent to a concentration camp after Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party gained power. In 1934 Brüning left Germany and emigrated to the United States.