Philipp Scheidemann - Life - World War I and Revolution

World War I and Revolution

After the outbreak of the war in 1914 however, Scheidemann, along with Ebert was leader of the majority faction of the party, which continued to vote for war bonds, limiting his opposition to the war to urging the negotiation of a compromise peace without annexations. His declarations were nevertheless branded as "high treason" by nationalist circles. On the other hand, Scheidemann's utterances forwarded the break-up with the left-wing Social Democrats led by Karl Liebknecht, leading to the establishment of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) in 1917. In turn, Scheidemann approached to Progressive and Centre Party MPs to pass the Reichstag Peace Resolution, though to no avail.

In June 1918, Scheidemann was elected vice-president of the Reichstag. After the resignation of Georg von Hertling's government, the Social Democrats were for the first time included in the German cabinet of the new Chancellor Prince Max of Baden in October 1918. Scheidemann, who initially had opposed the Prince's appointment recommended by the Progressive Party, entered the government as a minister without portfolio. In his office, he achieved an amnesty to all political prisoners and especially the release of his convicted former party fellow Karl Liebknecht.

Following the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II on November 9, Prince Max resigned in favour of Ebert. The new government intended to leave the question of whether to retain the monarchy in the hands of the people, though it preferred to turn Germany into a constitutional monarchy in the person of one of the Kaiser's grandsons. Hours after the Kaiser abdicated, Scheidemann, concerned in the face of a possible workers' revolution in Berlin, gave a speech from the balcony in the Reichstag building. He closed his speech with the following words:

The old and rotten, the monarchy has collapsed. The new may live. Long live the German Republic!"

The timing of this proclamation was probably due to the expectation of a similar proclamation of a "Workers' Republic" by the communists led by Karl Liebknecht, which indeed followed a couple hours later.

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