File No. 763.72119/2335

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


4882. Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, 23d. Text of Prince Max’s speech:2

Gentlemen: Since I spoke to you last time further steps have been taken by both sides in prosecution of the peace action initiated by [my] Government when I entered office.3 First came President Wilson’s counter question. Our frank reply in the affirmative led to another question by the President; our reply to that was published yesterday. Gentlemen, the whole German people is waiting to hear what prospects the Government thinks it can see for the success of [its] peace work. You will readily understand that I can express myself on this point only with the greatest reserve. I know that the parties also wish to have debate limited in accordance with the gravity of the hour. The German people have been addressed by President Wilson. This fact gives increased weight to the statements of the representatives of all parties.

Regarding the international situation I should like to say only one thing today. The first reply of the President to the peace step of the German Government has brought the conflict of opinions in all countries concerning the question of a peace of right or a peace of force to a climax. This is the conflict of ideas which is being publicly fought out in every country, as it should be fought out with us also in the same situation. On the one side, those raise their voices louder than ever who imagine the time is near when they can satisfy their accumulated emotion of hate and revenge on the soil of our German home; on the other side, sincere advocates of a league of nations are absolutely clear on the point that the fundamental idea of the new faith is today undergoing its decisive test. This fundamental idea is as follows: Before any single power or group of [Page 387] powers undertakes to use compulsion of force to assert the right which it represents against another nation the attempt must be made with all thoroughness and honesty to preserve the peace by means of voluntary agreement, or, applied to the present international situation, to attain the peace. This conflict of opinions is still undecided.

We can name the spiritual forces which confront each other, but cannot estimate their relative strength. The last note of President Wilson has not made it clear to the German people what the issue of the public dispute of opinions will be. Perhaps the new reply of the President will bring final certainty. Until then, gentlemen, [all our] thoughts and all our acts must rest upon two possibilities. [The first is] that the enemy governments want war and we have no choice but to defend ourselves with all the strength of a people driven to the extreme. In the event of this necessity I have no doubt that the German Government will be permitted to issue an appeal for the national defense in the name of the German people, just as it was privileged to speak in the name of the German people when it took action for peace. Whoever sincerely takes the position of a peace of right assumes at the same time the obligation not to yield to a peace of force without a fight. A government void of appreciation of this would be exposed to the contempt of the fighting and working people and would be swept away by the wrath of public opinion.

But, gentlemen, we must also contemplate the second possibility today in its full significance. The German people must [not] be led blindfold to the conference table. The Nation has the right to ask today what it means for our life and future if peace is arranged on the basis of Wilson’s conditions. Our reply to the President’s questions has, to judge from the echo of public opinion, awakened the consciousness of the German people to what is at stake; now the people want clarity.

Yes, gentlemen, it is a decision of tremendous importance. Not what we ourselves consider right but what is recognized as right in free conversation with our adversaries is to apply in future to our position as a power. [This is a] difficult victory over oneself for a proud people accustomed to victory. For the question of right does not halt at our frontiers which we would never voluntarily open to force: the principles which we have accepted as applicable to us affect also problems within the territory of the Empire.

Gentlemen, it has been held up to me from many sides that acceptance of Wilson’s conditions would mean subjection to a tribunal hostile to Germany which would decide the question of right solely from the viewpoint of selfish interests. If that were the case why should the extreme-might politicians of the Entente be the very ones to shun the tribunal like guilty persons? The pith of Wilson’s whole program is the League of Nations; it cannot ever be established unless all nations rise to a height of national self-control Realization of the community of right demands surrender of a part of that absolute independence which was hitherto the sign of sovereignty with us, as well as others. It will be of decisive importance for our whole future, in what spirit we follow this necessary development. If we are tenacious inwardly of the basis of national egotism which was the ruling force in the life of the nations until a short time ago, then, gentlemen, there can be no reconstruction and renovation for us, then there would remain a feeling of bitterness which [Page 388] would cripple us for generations. But when we have recognized that the meaning of this terrible war is above all else victory of the idea of right, and when we subject ourselves to this idea, not with reluctance, not with internal reservations, but with all frankness, then we shall find in it a healing for the wounds of the present and a task for the forces of the future. The German people must cooperate in this task with all the real seriousness and conscientiousness which we inherit.

Gentlemen, we need only go back two generations to find all the necessary moral incentives for the new development. If these aims of mankind are once ours the cooperation of the nations becomes the great task of liberation for us. I should like to quote my words of February 19: “The mere fight for existence standing alone leaves great sources of human power unexplored. We must take up the happiness and right of other nations in our national will.”

If I depict the idea of the League of Nations to our people today, at this critical hour, as a source of consolation and new strength, I will not attempt to deceive you for one moment as to the tremendous resistances which must still be overcome before the idea can become a reality. No human being can say whether this will take place quickly or slowly. Whether the next few days or weeks may summon us to further battle, or whether the road to peace [may] be opened, there can be no doubt that we can only cope with the duties of war or peace by carrying out the program of the Government and resolutely turning aside from the old system.

I now arrive, gentlemen, at questions of internal policy regarding which I owe an accounting to the German popular representative body. On October 5 I set forth to you the general principles according to which I intended to conduct my office as Chancellor and discussed the program of the Majority parties,1 whose confidence permitted me to enter this office. Guided by those principles I have taken steps with my collaborators which are intended to establish liberal conditions in the interior of Germany and regarding which I must now report to you.

Through the praiseworthy accommodation of the parties to the proposals of the Government, reform of the franchise in Prussia has progressed so far that the introduction of general, equal, direct and secret suffrage is assured there. Two drafts of laws have been submitted to the Reichstag which are to free our new form of government from the constitutional obstacles which are still in its way. The first measure intends to create the possibility for members of this High House to enter the Government without losing their Reichstag seats. This is indispensable if the connection between Parliament and the highest authorities of the Empire is to remain as firm as is called for by their joint labors and mutual confidence. The measure further proposes a change of the law relative to representation of the Imperial Chancellor. Heretofore only the chiefs of the highest departments of the Empire could become Vice Chancellor; in future, members of the Reichstag are to participate in the direction of Imperial policy and must be able to stand for the Chancellor although not having a department under them. [Page 389] This opens the new way to arrive at the responsible conduct of affairs of the Empire. It is the parliamentary way. We are convinced that it will prove a feeder of valuable popular forces heretofore unused, not merely for the Government, but indirectly for Parliament also. The rise of born leaders from other free vocations is not obstructed by it.

In connection with this are preliminary measures for legal enlargements of the political responsibility of the Imperial Chancellor which should be insured by the establishment of a state tribunal. It might be doubted whether a state tribunal is needed to enforce the responsibility of the Chancellor, since no Chancellor or Secretary of State can remain in office if he has lost the confidence of the Majority of this House. I nevertheless consider it useful to have the new political institutions of the German Government reforms sanctioned and safeguarded by such a new instrumentality of public law, and I hope soon to be able to submit to the Reichstag the result of the preliminary study.

The new system of Imperial Government has had a new form of government in the Reichsland as a natural consequence. An Alsatian has assumed the [governor-generalship] of Alsace-Lorraine and an Alsatian has become Secretary of State. Further, leading men from the Second Chamber of the Diet will enter the Government of the country. I assume that the new governor general will set up a program for his Government with the party leaders and publicly explain it.

Gentlemen, the second measure which looks to the amendment of article 11 of the Imperial Constitution contains the compulsory establishment of the fundamental idea of the new nature of the Government; it intends that the Reichstag as the chosen representative of the people shall have the full right of determination in deciding the most important vital questions of the whole Nation, the questions of war and peace. This constitutes a guarantee for the peaceable further evolution of the Empire and its relations with other powers. The guarantees could be strengthened [if] treaties of alliance were also made subject to the new provisions. The Imperial Government will gladly lend its hand for such extension of the people’s rights when the League of Nations assumes practicable shape. As long as no world law prevails on the point Germany would be at a disadvantage by binding herself alone, but when the League of Nations has abolished all secret separate alliances and privy agreements, article 11 can be extended in this direction also.

Gentlemen, the state of war has resulted in irksome restrictions of civic liberty in all countries. Peace will bring its complete restoration. The extraordinary powers of wartimes are [as] yet indispensable, but now they can only be exercised in agreement with the Imperial Chancellor, who is responsible for their application. Unreasonable hardships are to be avoided in this way. Orders of His Majesty the Emperor, which I announced October 5, have been issued meanwhile and include not alone measures in the province of censorship, right of association and meeting, and restriction of personal liberty, but extend also to the full activity of the executive, even in the field of economic and social policy. If local military commanders cannot agree with the administrative authorities on [Page 390] these points, the decision of the superior military commander must be sought, and he can make no decision and issue no order to which I, or my representative, have not assented. Secretary Groeber is my representative. Since the superior military commander has also received authority to establish general principles with my approval, provision has been made so that the act relative to the state of siege will be applied in the spirit in which I assumed direction of the affairs of the Empire and in which I am determined to carry them out.

Gentlemen, the pardoning of persons sentenced for political crimes or offences, especially in connection with strikes, street demonstrations, or similar occurrences, was part of my program of October 5. An extensive amnesty of this sort has been suggested to the Emperor and all federated governments [and] is being put into effect. A large number of those thus sentenced have already regained their liberty. The Government has arranged pardon for many of them only after overcoming serious patriotic apprehension. The conviction of the healing qualities of a policy of confidence was decisive.

Gentlemen, all constitutional [authorities] have agreed to all the steps on the new course which I [have] recited to you; they accordingly took the ground of the form of government represented by me and my collaborators. If you also, gentlemen, agree to these measures, and I have no doubt on this point, then government of the people will be firmly anchored in the laws of the Empire.

I know, gentlemen, that a review of the internal political harvest of the memorable three weeks of October produces feelings of different natures among you. To some it will appear as a description of an ill-considered course on the downward path leading to the overthrow of the existing regime, to others it will appear like an uncertain, hesitant feeling of the way towards a new form of government. Both feelings may find their expression; that is the right and duty of the opposition which we need for the independence of Parliament. Those free from any responsibility may freely criticize. To both I would state for the Government of the Reichstag Majority that my colleagues and I are in complete agreement as regards both the object and the means of reaching it. The [object is] the political majority of the German people. It stands before our eyes as an immovable guiding star. The various members of the Government proceeded from different positions originally, but they follow the common object with equal loyalty and for this reason their roads have continually approached each other.

The German people has been in the saddle for a long time; now it must ride. Our people had for a long time a number of rights which many politically mature neighbors envied it; German communal administration was a model in many respects, the Reichstag suffrage was for a long time the most liberal franchise of the world, and the Reichstag thus freely elected always had a strong political influence through its ability to refuse the budget. But the German people made no use of its power in decisive points.

[Page 391]

It is not enough to make a master violin player to make [him a] present of a fine violin. The player must be willing to try his capacity. The German people never tried to play its instrument with full force because it gladly trusted the efficient constituted powers; its main strength was deployed in great isolated achievements outside of [politics]. It was not the arbitrariness of the constituted powers but the lack of political will among the people that preserved Germany so long as a magistral state. Since July 1917 the resolve for political responsibility has been maturing; now at the end of September it has forced its way through and through. Thus everything has become new, gentlemen; in this lies the guarantee for the maintenance and enlargement of the new system. It came [about] through a decisive turn in the development of the character of the German people which had become inevitable after all the deeds and sacrifices of this war. This affords a more substantial guarantee than any legal paragraph. I see in [it] the roots of the power of the new Government. The result is for me a fixed line of march for all our measures. Not for the sake of foreign countries, nor in order to master the distress of the moment, must we resort to forms of government not backed by our inmost convictions and not expressive of our peculiar character and history, otherwise we should act insincerely and would deprive the new system, which is now passing through its first test, of the stamp of irrevocability with which we cannot dispense. Gentlemen, the great appeal addressed by Fichte to the Germans in time of need is heard by all of us: “Now preserve yourselves as a nation for those duties in the world which you alone can perform. Every nation has a duty of its own.” There are still great treasures in the depths of our people which can only be brought to light by the new freedom. Those hours in the life of the German Nation which seem to crush it down have always been the hours of the birth of new spiritual forces.

But in order to develop the quality of our peculiar nature we must be able to insist on our domiciliary right. The enemy stands at our gates; our first and last thoughts belong to [those] brave men who are defending us against superior forces and [whom] we must protect against unjust accusations. Gentlemen, it must not be believed that our army can be insulted without affecting the honor of our people. Isolated evil acts and measures have occurred in every army, but the fundamental will of the people’s army rejects them. When the words were spoken that the spirit of the Red Cross was just as appropriate for a true army as the spirit of attack, overwhelming approval came from the circles of the army and confirmation came from Christian soldiers in enemy countries who fought against the Germans.

Gentlemen, our soldiers have a terribly difficult task today; they are fighting with care for their country, they are fighting with the idea of peace and still hold fast. We thank them, we trust in them, we call to them: The country will not leave you in the lurch; whatever you need and whatever it can furnish in men, material and courage shall be sent you.

  1. Before the Reichstag, Oct. 22.
  2. For the text of Prince Max’s note and the notes mentioned in the two sentences here following, see ante, pp. 338, 343, 357, 358, and 380.
  3. For text of speech, see ante, pp. 346351.