The German Reichstag Resolution; A Call for Peace in WWI

When the German parliament, called the Reichstag, called for a peaceful end to the First World War, their calls fell on deaf ears. It was July 19, 1917, 100 years ago.

The peace resolution passed through parliament in a vote, 212 to 126, but the military high command would have nothing of this. By that time, the German leadership had assumed a military dictatorship. Peace was not on the table. Parliament was a formality, one they could ignore.

Had the call for peace ended the war, the United States would have only been in the fight for a matter of months. The world might never have witnessed the rise of Hitler or Mussolini, not in the way history records these events. There might never have been a World War II.

The actions of the Reichstag, as the elected voice of the people, indicated the will of those people. If they ever did in the first place, at least by 1917 the Germans did not desire to be at war.

The Reichstag

Bethmann-Hollweg speaking to the Reichstag in 1916 |

Established in 1871, Reichstag translates to the diet of the realm. The Reichstag was the balance to the Kaiser’s rule, even though the German Empire’s Kaiser [read: king] ultimately held all the cards. It was he who controlled the military.

In contrast to the bipartisan Congress of the United States, the Reichstag was home to many political parties. Uniting all of those agendas was a task like no other.

When the Reichstag began in 1871, there were 382 members. By the time the Great War took place, it was 397 members strong. Officers to the Reichstag by that time served five years, all elected by German men over age 25.

Albeit the Germans limited the voting pool to men, the Reichstag were elected officials. They spoke the will of the people.

Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg

The Chancellor to the Reichstag, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, assumed office in 1909, appointed to his role by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Bethmann-Hollweg was liberal leaning, but during his time as chancellor, he worked to unify the Reichstag.

The chancellor was not a fan of the war. Before the first bullet flew, Bethmann-Hollweg tried to influence the German naval build up in the early 1900s.

Not only did he fail, he branded himself a liberal, a fact not overlooked by the military voices and Kaiser Wilhelm. When the peace resolution came to the table in July 1917, the chancellor had already resigned, but he would still absorb blame for letting the conversation go that far.

Peace Resolution

Presented by a Catholic leader within the Reichstag, Matthias Erzberger, the call for peace resonated with more centrist parties, the democratic socialists, the Catholic Center Party, and the Progressive People’s Party, but not by the liberals or conservatives.

Those political extremists did not outweigh the centrists, though. They lost the vote. The resolution didn’t pass until August 1, but it was all for naught. The Kaiser and his sphere of influence ignored it, save the mental note made of the Chancellor allowing it to go through.

Invoking the values of the German people, that “We seek no conquest,” the resolution had this to say:

“Germany took up arms in defense of her freedom, her independence, and the integrity of her soil.  The Reichstag strives for a peace of understanding and a lasting reconciliation of peoples.  Any violations of territory, and political, economic, and financial persecutions are incompatible with such a peace.”

Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg resigned on July 10, 1917, one week before the peace resolution hit the floor.

The military command, The Third Supreme Command, in place since August the prior year was not amused or moved to respond. They did not act in favor of the German people’s will. They acted on their own.

The war raged on until its end in 1918, leaving behind the embers which would eventually ignite two decades later in the blaze we remember as World War II.