File No. 763.72119/2076

The Chargé in the Netherlands ( Bliss ) to the Secretary of State


4715. North German Gazette, 6th, text Prince Max’s speech:2

In pursuance of the Imperial rescript of September 30 the German Empire has undergone a fundamental change of its political [Page 347] direction. I have been called by the Emperor to be head of the new Government as successor of Count Hertling, who tendered such great services to the country. It is in accordance with the nature of the manner of government now introduced with us that I set forth to the Reichstag in public without delay the principles according to which I intend to conduct my responsible office. These principles were laid down in agreement with the Federated Governments and with the leaders of the Majority parties of this high House before I resolved to assume the office of Chancellor. They therefore contain not only my own political creed, but also that of by far the greater majority of the representatives of the German people, that is to say, of the German Nation which has filled the Reichstag according to its wish on the basis of universal, equal and secret suffrage.

Only the fact that I am certain that the conviction and the will of the majority of the people are behind me has given me the strength to assume the direction of the affairs of the Empire in the severe and solemn times through which we are passing together. The shoulders of one alone would be too weak to carry the tremendous responsibility which falls upon the Government at this time. Only when the people take an active and most extensive part in the determination of their destiny and when the responsibility extends also to the majority of their freely elected political leaders can the leading statesman assume with confidence his share of the responsibility in the service of the people and the country.

The decision to do this was made easier for me by the fact that influential representatives of the working classes have also arrived at the highest offices of the Empire in the new Government; in this I see the safest guarantee that the new Government is supported by the firm confidence of the broad masses of the people, without whose earnest support its whole action would be doomed to failure from the beginning.

What I express today I therefore say not only in [my] name, and in the name of my official collaborators, but also in the name of the German people.

The program of the Majority parties on which I rest contains, first, an acknowledgment of the reply of the former Imperial Government to the Pope’s note dated August 1, 1917, and unconditional approval of the Reichstag resolution of July 19 of the same year. It further proclaims the readiness to join a general league of nations on the basis of equality of all—of the weak as well as the strong.

It sees [seeks?] a solution of the much-disputed Belgian question in the complete restoration of Belgium, in particular her independence and territory. An agreement regarding the question of indemnification is also to be sought.

The program does not wish to permit the peace treaties thus far concluded to become any obstacle to the conclusion of a general peace. It seeks particularly the early establishment of parliamentary government on a broad basis in the Baltic countries, Lithuania and Poland. We wish to facilitate without delay the establishment of conditions necessary to that end by introducing a civil administration. Those countries are to draw up their own constitutions and regulate independently their relations to neighboring nations.

In internal policy I have taken a clear and firm position by the method in which [my] Government was formed. In response to [Page 348] my proposal, leaders of the Majority parties have been appointed my immediate advisors.

Gentlemen, I was of the conviction that the unity of the Imperial Government should not only be guaranteed by merely schematic party connections of various members of the Government, but I considered unity of our views almost still more important. I have adopted this point of view likewise in the choice of my collaborators who do not belong to Parliament. I attached the greatest importance to having the members of the new Imperial Government accept the standpoint of a righteous peace independent of the war situation and to their having openly acknowledged this point of view at the time when we were at the acme of our military success.

Gentlemen, I am convinced that the [Majority] in which the Imperial Government has now been formed, with the cooperation of the Reichstag, doesn’t constitute anything temporary, and that [in] peace time no government [can] Be formed which doesn’t rest on the Reichstag and doesn’t take its leading men from the Reichstag. The war has carried us across the old and much-torn party life which made it so difficult for a united and determined political will to be asserted. Formation of a majority means formation of a political will, and it is an undisputed result of the war that for the first time in Germany great parties have joined together on a firm, uniform program and thus have become able to help determine the fate of the people themselves. This idea will never fade, this development will never be set back. I trust that, as long as Germany’s fate is surrounded with dangers, the circles of people outside the Majority, and their representatives who don’t belong to the Imperial Government, will relegate to the background all that disunites and give to the Fatherland what is due to it today.

This development necessitates an amendment of our constitutional provisions in the sense of the Imperial rescript of September 30 which will make it possible for those members of the Reichstag who enter the Imperial Government to retain their seats in the Reichstag. A measure along these lines has been sent to the Bundesrat and will immediately be submitted to you for your decisions.

Gentlemen, let us remain mindful of the words which the Emperor spoke on August 4, 1914, which I took the liberty of translating at Karlsruhe, December last, into the words: “There are parties, to be sure, but they are all German.” In the sign of these words of the Emperor, the political evolution in the leading German federated state, Prussia, must be carried out; and the messages of the King of Prussia promising democratic suffrage must be fulfilled quickly and entirely. The Prussian suffrage question is, in view of Prussia’s dominant position, a German question, and I do not doubt that those federated states also which are still backward in the development of their constitutional conditions will resolutely follow [Prussia’s] example. In this I adhere most firmly to the federative foundations of the Empire as a federated country the various members of which regulate their internal constitutional life in full independence, a right to which Alsace-Lorraine also has a full title. The independent and manifold nature of life in the various federated states, the close and loyal bonds which unite every German to his home, and his own Sovereign, are the sources whence the indescribable strength, the [Page 349] patriotism and the spirit of sacrifice of the German people during the whole war have risen.

Throughout the whole period of the war complaints have been made regarding the manner in which the state of siege has been applied. They have had a disuniting and embittering effect and hindered [cheerful] cooperation in the severe task of war. As the example of all belligerent countries teaches, the extraordinary powers which the state of seige confers cannot be disputed [dispensed?] with for the present, but close relations between military and civil authorities must be established which will make it possible for the views of the civil administration authorities to prevail in all matters not of purely military nature and particularly in the province of censorship so that the ultimate decision will be placed under the responsibility of the Imperial Chancellor. To this end an order of the Emperor will be issued to the military commanders in chief, and the Imperial ordinance of December 4, 1915, will immediately be enlarged accordingly.

September 30, 1918, the day of the rescript, is the beginning of a new epoch in Germany’s internal history. The internal policy herewith outlined is of decisive importance for the question of war and peace. The impulsive force which the Government will have in its efforts for peace depends on whether it has behind it a united, firm, and unshakable popular will. Only when the enemy feels that the German people stand united behind their responsible statesmen can words become deeds.

In the peace negotiations the German Government will aim to have provisions regarding the protection of laborers and labor insurance included in treaties which bind the contracting governments to establish in their countries within a reasonable time a minimum of similar or equivalent institutions to insure life and health and for the care of workingmen in case of disease, accidents and invalidity. In preparing this I reckon on the expert advice of labor associations and of employers.

As long as German brothers are prisoners I shall endeavor with all my strength to have their welfare looked after. I shall also take care in a just manner of enemies now our prisoners.

Gentlemen, I am convinced that this program of which I have merely set forth the fundamental points will stand comparison with all foreign principles of government.

To go still further into particulars doesn’t seem to me to be well-timed today. (Commotion.) Deliberations which we have held before the new Government was formed have, as a matter of course, gone more deeply into matters than I am able to repeat today in this place in my short summary of the most important points. On the other hand, however, I believe that the honorable House does at this time not at all care to learn my opinion concerning secondary things. The deciding point is, if I understand the situation correctly, my information regarding the general spirit of the new Government. For everyone who understands this spirit correctly can readily deduce from it the attitude of the Imperial Government regarding the pending individual questions. Naturally I am gladly prepared to report more fully to the Reichstag on later occasions. Of immediate importance are now the practical inferences [Page 350] which the new Imperial Government has drawn in the short space of time of its present existence from the situation by which it found itself confronted and from the application of its political principles to this situation.

More than four years of most bloody struggle against a world of numerically superior enemies lie behind us: years full of the severest battles and the most painful sacrifices. Every one of us has his scars, only too many of us [have] even yet open wounds, be it in the hidden recesses of his soul or on his body which is delivered up in the spirit of sacrifice on the battlefield for German freedom. Notwithstanding, we, strong of heart and full of confident belief in our strength, are resolved to make still greater sacrifices if it be absolutely necessary for the happiness of our descendants. (Lively acclamation.) With deep, glowing gratitude we think of our brave troops who under brilliant leaders have achieved almost superhuman deeds during the entire war, and whose deeds so far clone surely guarantee that the destiny of all of us will in the future [also] lie in good and dependable hands. One single terrible, murderous battle has been raging in the west for several months. Thanks to the incomparable heroism of our army, which will continue to live to all time in the history of the German people as an imperishable memorial of glory, the front has remained unbroken; this proud consciousness permits us to view the future with confidence.

Just because we are imbued with this sentiment and conviction it is also our duty to obtain the certainty that this bloody struggle which demands so much sacrifice shall not be continued one single day over and above the point of time when an ending of the war which doesn’t touch our honor appears possible to us. Therefore I haven’t even waited till today before taking action for furtherance of the peace idea. In full accord with all the competent authorities in the Empire, and upon the assent of the Allies acting in union with us, I directed, in the night preceding the 5th of October, through the mediation of Switzerland, a note to the President of the United States in which I request him to take into his hands the bringing about of peace and for this purpose to communicate with all the belligerent states. The note will arrive in Washington today or tomorrow. It is directed to the President of the United States because he has formulated, in his message to Congress on January 8, 1918, and in his later utterances, especially in his New York speech of September 27, a program for general peace which we can accept as the foundation for negotiations.

I have taken this step on the road leading not only to the salvation of Germany and its allies, but of entire mankind which has suffered for years through this war, because I believe that the thoughts pointing to future happiness of the peoples which Mr. Wilson proclaims are fully in accord with the general opinions which imbue also the new German Government and with it the greater majority of our people. As far as I myself am concerned, my former speeches delivered before another audience prove that no sort of change has taken place in the opinions which I hold of future peace since the guidance of the Empire’s affairs has been entrusted to me. What I desire is an honest lasting peace for the whole human race, and I believe confidently that such a peace would be at the same time the firmest protection for the future welfare of [Page 351] our own Fatherland. I accordingly see no kind of difference between national and international duties in reference to peace. The deciding point for me is exclusively that these duties are recognized and honored as binding by all participants with the same sincerity as is the case with me and the other members of our new Government.

Thus I look forward with the inner calmness which my good conscience as a man and as a servant of our people [lends] me, and which at the same time is founded upon [my] firm confidence in this great faithful people capable of any sacrifice and in its glorious militant power, to the result of the first action which I have taken as the leading statesman of the Empire. Whatever this result may be, I know it will find Germany firmly resolved and united—as well for an honest peace which refuses to consider every selfish violation of rights of others, as also for the final life or death battle to which our people would be forced without its own fault if the answer of the powers waging war with us to our offer should be dictated by the will to destroy us.

No faint-heartedness [troubles] me at the thought that this second result might happen, for I know the greatness of the gigantic forces which are present in our people even now, and I know that an irrefutable conviction that they are fighting for nothing but our existence as a nation would double these forces. (Acclamation.) But I hope for the sake of all mankind that the President of the United States will understand our offer as we mean it. This would open the door to an early honorable peace of right and reconciliation for us as well as for our opponents.

  1. Before the Reichstag, Oct. 5; for readability the necessary articles and connectives have been inserted in the telegraphic text.