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   Chapter 25 A GERMAN CRISIS.

Kelly Miller's History of the World War for Human Rights By Kelly Miller Characters: 13733

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

The Downfall of Bethmann-Hollweg-The Crown Prince in the Lime Light-Hollweg's Unique Career-Dr. Georg Michaelis Appointed Chancellor-The Kaiser and How He Gets His Immense Power.

The active participation of the United States in the war, as distinctly marked by the sending of troops to France, aside from giving needed inspiration to the Allied forces, may be said to have had a decided effect in Germany. While the German subjects are loyal, there has developed in the country, as in every other country, a large element of Socialists and progressives.

Something of a climax was reached in the affairs of the Hohenzollern dynasty just when the United States troops were preparing to take their places on the battle line in France and when the first of the conscripted forces of the country were being summoned to the colors.

With a suddenness that startled the entire world, Dr. von Bethmann-Hollweg, the German Imperial Chancellor, resigned on July 14, thus ending his career as the spokesman of the Kaiser, which he had maintained for a surprisingly long period. At the same time Dr. Alfred Zimmermann, Foreign Minister, who was responsible for the correspondence which revealed the fact that Germany was trying to induce Mexico and Japan to form an alliance against the United States, also quit his post.

The resignation of the Chancellor came quite unexpectedly, for von Hollweg, in the prolonged party discussion and heated debates of the main committee of the Reichstag which had been in progress, seemed to have triumphed over his opponents.

His opponents had been clamoring for his head, but he made concessions, and by the declaration that Germany was fighting defensively for her territorial possessions evolved a formula which for a time seemed satisfactory to both those who clamored for peace by agreement and those who demanded repudiation of the formula, "no annexation and no indemnities." In this position Dr. von Hollweg was backed by the Emperor.

The advent of the Crown Prince upon the scene-summoned by his imperial father to share the deliberations affecting the future of the dynasty-seems to have changed entirely the position with regard to the Imperial Chancellor. The Crown Prince at once took a leading part in the discussions with the party leaders, and his ancient hostility toward Dr. von Bethmann-Hollweg, coupled with his notorious dislike for political reform, undoubtedly precipitated the Chancellor's resignation.


The resignation of Dr. von Hollweg was followed by the appointment of Dr. Georg Michaelis, Prussian Under Secretary of Finance and Food Commissioner.

The fall of Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg removed the last of the statesmen who were in charge of the great Powers of Europe at the beginning of the war, and brought to an end a career which in successful playing of both ends against the middle was almost without parallel in recent history.

Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg, an aristocrat and personal friend of the Emperor, stood out strongly against democratic agitation before the war, and at times was sharply outspoken in his defiance of socialism and his rejection of any move toward making the Chancellor and his subordinates, the other Ministers, responsible to the Reichstag. Yet in the early stages of the war he became known as a moderate, and it has been generally accepted that his influence was usually employed against the breaking of relations with America and ruthless submarine warfare.


When the opposition of the parties favoring the most desperate measures became too strong for him, he conceded a little ground, taking up a middle position in which he balanced himself for a long time against both the Conservative Junkers and the National Liberal trust magnates on the one side and the radical Socialists on the other. Neither side could claim him; neither could interpret his ambiguous utterances as support of its policies, and between the antagonisms of the two he maintained his position until at last he was overthrown by the attack of Erzberger, leader of the more liberal wing of the Catholic party, the traditional holders of the middle ground.

Bethmann-Hollweg's agility was demonstrated by the fact that he survived Asquith and Grey, Viviani, Sazonoff, Berchtold, Salandra, Jagow, and all the rest of the statesmen who were in power in Europe in August, 1914.

In personality the Chancellor was studious, scholarly and pleasant, lacking the brilliance of his predecessor, Von Buelow, but generally regarded as one who was if anything too mild rather than too severe.

Dr. Georg Michaelis, the successor to Hollweg, was the first commoner to be appointed to that high office, without even a "von" before his name.

The son of a Prussian official, he was born on September 8, 1857, in Haynan, Silesia. He received a university education, making the law his profession. In 1879 he became a court referee in Berlin, and in 1884 was attached to the District Attorney's office in that city. Several years later he went as professor of law and political economy to the University of Tokio.

Returning to Germany in 1889, he was chosen District Attorney for Berlin. His services won much praise and he was afterward sent by the government as an official in the provisional government at Trevas, Germany. In 1897 he was transferred to Westphalia, where he was Chief Councilor for the government there.

In 1900 he was made Provisional President of Liebnitz and in 1902 First Privy Councilor in Breslau. His work there won him an appointment as Under Secretary of State in the Department of Finance, which post he held in connection with his work as Food Commissioner.

Doctor Michaelis was selected for the post of Prussian Food Commissioner in February, 1917, after all efforts of Adolph von Batocki's organization-the food regulation board-had failed to lay hands on large supplies of grain, potatoes and other produce which the Prussian landlords were holding for the fattening of cattle and swine instead of making them available for general consumption.


The orders of Herr Batocki and the Central Government for the surrender of these supplies were disregarded or evaded at least, if not, as charged in Germany, with the actual assistance and support of the reactionary Prussian Minister of Agriculture, Baron von Schorlemer.

Doctor Michaelis was eventually selected as Food Controller as the result of an agreement between von Bethmann-Hollweg and the military authorities as a fearless, determined official, who would execute his mission without fear or favor and produce results if such were possible. The selection was justified.

The conditions in Germany which marked the ascendancy of the Crown Prince in the deliberatio

ns of the Imperial Government and brought about the upheaval in the Ministry are the logical result of the system under which the country is ruled.

There is, in the mind of the public generally, a theory that Germany with its Bundesrath and Reichstag has a government akin to that of England and even the United States, but the impression is an erroneous one. It is true that Germany has a dual system of government and independent state sovereignties. There is, however, nothing democratic about the system.

To begin with, the Kaiser is a constitutional monarch in his capacity as German Emperor, but as King of Prussia he is a self-appointed and arrogant ruler-all that he advertises himself to be in the way of a God-chosen ruler.


To understand the difference in relationship between the King of Prussia and the German Emperor it is necessary to realize that the German constitution describes the Emperor thus: "The presidency of the Union belongs to the King of Prussia, who bears the title of German Emperor." On the other hand the King of Prussia, who happens to be the Kaiser, has his right to rule by birth. When the first king was crowned, about 1701, he placed the crown upon his own head, and that right has descended to King William. But as German Emperor the duties of the Kaiser are as clearly defined as those of the ruler of a modern democracy.

The difference between the Kingdom and the Empire is that the German Empire is a creation of sovereign states, ruled over by German Grand Dukes, Princes, and whatnot, who trace their lineage back to the days when might was right, and who won their power to rule by defeating their fellow men. At one time there were several hundred of these ruling princes. When Napoleon got through in Germany there were about twenty-two left. The German Empire today consists of these twenty-two states, and three free cities, comprising in all a group of twenty-five communities. It is a bond or association. It consists, in fact, of the twenty-five communities, of which it is composed, and represented by twenty-five kings, dukes, princes, etc., and not by the 65,000,000 population of the communities themselves. The sovereignty rests with the princes of the several states, who have bestowed a fixed power upon the Kaiser. As Emperor his office dates back to 1871.

The legislative machinery which has been devised for the use of these German sovereigns consists of the Bundesrath and the Reichstag. Sometimes the Bundesrath is likened to our Senate, or to the hereditary English House of Lords, while the Reichstag is compared to the House of Representatives or the House of Commons. But comparisons are odious.


The Bundesrath is an assembly in which the German kings, grand dukes, dukes, princes, etc., come together (by proxy) to direct the affairs of the Empire. Each of these sovereigns sends a specified number of delegates, in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. Thus the Kaiser, as the King of Prussia, sends seventeen delegates, while the King of Bavaria sends six. The total number of delegates is fifty-eight, so right in the beginning the Kaiser has a pretty good representation.

The delegations in the Bundesrath vote en masse-that is the "unit rule" prevails. The seventeen delegates from Prussia must vote as instructed by the Kaiser, and if there chanced to be but one member present he still would cast seventeen votes for the delegation. The members of the Bundesrath are referred to quite frequently as ambassadors. There is no need for discussion in the body since the delegations vote, in any event, as a unit.

The power of the German Bundesrath is, however, astonishing. Usually the lower house is supposed to be the one in which originates legislation, such as finance, affecting the people. But in Germany it is the Bundesrath which has the power to tax, and the lower chamber, the Reichstag, merely has the vetoing power.

This makes the taxing power in Germany primarily the privilege of the crown.

The financial program is prepared by the Chancellor, who is the direct representative of the Kaiser, and responsible only to him. In other governments members of the ministry are appointed by the legislative bodies, but the Chancellor is personally named by the Kaiser, and is not even a member of the Reichstag. He has the right, however, to address this body, as the privilege of a member of the Bundesrath of which, as the personal representative of the Kaiser, he is the presiding officer.

Since the Bundesrath, as already shown, practically controls the German Empire, and the King of Prussia, with his seventeen votes in the Bundesrath holds sway in that body, it is easy to see how the Kaiser is the dominating figure in the German Empire.


A unique provision of the German constitution is that fourteen votes in the Bundesrath can defeat any proposed amendment, and since the Kaiser controls seventeen votes, as King of Prussia, besides several others, he has a voting strength which can block any attempt to change the regime. Also, as King of Prussia, he can instruct his Chancellor to prepare laws to be introduced in the Bundesrath.

It is the power which the Kaiser possesses, as the King of Prussia, which gives him his control as the German Emperor. Prussia is the largest of the German states, and when the Kaiser, as King of Prussia, says that he is master in Prussia, he speaks the truth.

There is a ministry in Prussia, and the head of this body is usually the same person who occupies the position of Imperial Chancellor, and the Kaiser appoints this Minister as well as his associates, whom he can remove without reference to the Ministry as a body. There are two chambers in Prussian Ministry commonly known as the House of Peers, and the House of Representatives.

Just to give the King of Prussia a little more control, he has the right to appoint all the members of the House of Peers, and also to designate the number. The House of Representatives, on the face of it, is a popular body, because the members are supposed to be elected by universal suffrage. The taxpayers vote for representation in this chamber, but they do not vote directly nor on equal terms.

Members of the House of Representatives are chosen by an electoral college, and several hundred of these colleges are selected at each election. Though taxpayers vote for the electors, all the votes do not have the same relative value. The taxpayers whose combined taxes represent one-third of the whole amount of taxes in an electoral district choose one-third of the members from that district to the House. Those who pay the next one-third of the taxes choose another third of the electors, and the remaining body of voters choose the last third.

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