Philipp Scheidemann

Philipp Heinrich Scheidemann was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. On 9 November 1918, in the midst of the German Revolution of 1918–1919, he proclaimed Germany a republic. Later, beginning in the early part of the following year, he became the second head of government of the Weimar Republic, acting in this post for 127 days.

Early life

Philipp Scheidemann was born in Kassel on 26 July 1865, the son of Friedrich Scheidemann an upholsterer, and his wife Wilhelmine. He had two sisters.
Scheidemann attended elementary and secondary schools between 1871 and 1879. After the death of his father, the family fell into poverty. In 1879-83, Scheidemann was apprenticed as a printer.
In 1883, he joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany and became a union member. At the time, the German Anti-Socialist Laws were still in force and the SPD was essentially an underground organisation. Until 1895, Scheidemann worked as a printer and proofreader. Scheidemann married in 1889 at Kassel. His wife was Johanna Dibbern. They had three daughters: Lina, Liese and Hedwig. From 1895 to 1903, he worked as an editor at social democratic newspapers at Gießen, Nuremberg, Offenbach and Kassel.

Political career and World War I

In the German federal election of 1903, Scheidemann was elected from the SPD to the German Reichstag for a constituency in Solingen; he retained this seat until 1918. In 1906, he also became a member of the city council of Kassel, a position he held until 1911, when he became part of the executive committee of the SPD party secretariat.
After the German federal election of 1912, Scheidemann was the first social democrat to become "1st Vice-President" of the Reichstag. When August Bebel, long-time leader of the SPD, died in 1913, Scheidemann and Hugo Haase became joint chairmen of the SPD parliamentary group. His oratory skills, pragmatism, sense of humour and middle-class manners won him appreciation beyond his own party.
Although he voted for the Imperial war loans in 1914 at the start of World War I, Scheidemann later argued for a Verständigungsfrieden without annexations or reparation demands. Scheidemann tried to mediate between the moderate and more extreme left of his party, but could not prevent the eventual split. In 1917, the SPD split on the issue of continued funding for the war effort and Scheidemann became chairman of the "Majority" SPD, alongside Friedrich Ebert. In January 1918, during the "January strike," he was a member of the "Executive Council". He joined the new government of Prince Maximilian of Baden in October 1918 as Staatssekretär without portfolio. This was the first time members of the SPD had served in the Imperial government, although the party had had the largest number of seats in the Reichstag since 1912. Scheidemann was chosen for the position due to his popularity.

German Revolution

On 9 November 1918, Chancellor Max von Baden unilaterally announced the abdication of the German Emperor Wilhelm II and the renunciation of the hereditary rights to the throne of Crown Prince Wilhelm. However, he and SPD leader Friedrich Ebert both still hoped to retain the monarchy in face of the revolution. Maximilian von Baden preferred a younger son of Wilhelm II to succeed to the throne. Around noon, Friedrich Ebert arrived at the Imperial chancellery and demanded that the authority to govern be handed over to him and the SPD. Maximilian von Baden resigned and unconstitutionally designated Ebert his successor as "Imperial chancellor" and "Minister-President" of Prussia. All of the Secretaries of State, including Scheidemann, remained in office. Ebert issued a proclamation asking the masses on the streets to remain quiet and to go home.
Ebert and Scheidemann then went to the Reichstag building for lunch and sat at separate tables. A huge crowd assembled outside, and there were calls for a speech. Ebert refused to speak to the crowd, but Scheidemann stood up and rushed to a window facing it. According to Scheidemann's own recollection, someone told him along the way that the Spartacist leader Karl Liebknecht intended to declare Germany a Soviet Republic. Scheidemann then made a spontaneous speech that closed with these words:
When he returned to the Reichstag dining room, a furious Ebert confronted him. Ebert pounded the table with his fist and shouted, "You have no right to proclaim the Republic! What becomes of Germany, a Republic or whatever, that is for the constituent assembly to decide!"
Later that day, in spite of Scheidemann's announcement, Ebert asked Prince Maximilian to stay on as Imperial regent, but was refused. In fact, Scheidemann's speech was without legal authority. Wilhelm II had not really abdicated, although he soon fled to the Netherlands and did sign an abdication later in November 1918. As of 9 November 1918, Germany was legally still a monarchy. Both Ebert and Scheidemann at this point hoped to preserve the existing structure of government under a Chancellor Ebert, restore calm and deal with the pressing issue of the armistice with the Allied powers. Yet the revolution seemed likely to force the SPD to share power with those on the far left: the Spartacists and the Independents of the USPD. In the afternoon of 9 November, Ebert grudgingly asked the USPD to nominate three ministers for a future government.
Ebert's plans were thrown into disarray when a group known as Revolutionary Stewards then forced the SPD leadership to join with the revolutionary forces. That evening a group of several hundred followers of these non-union workers' representatives occupied the Reichstag and held an impromptu debate. They called for the election of soldiers' and workers' councils the next day with an eye to name a provisional government: the Council of the People's Deputies. The SPD leadership managed to co-opt that process and sent three delegates to the Council set up on 10 November: Ebert, Scheidemann and Otto Landsberg. Ebert became joint Chairman with Hugo Haase of the USPD. Scheidemann was a member of the Council of the People's Deputies for its whole period of existence, from 10 November 1918 to 13 February 1919.


In the German federal election held on 19 January 1919, Scheidemann was elected to the Weimar National Assembly. On 13 February 1919, the newly elected provisional German President Ebert asked him to form the first democratically elected government of Germany. A few months later, in June, he resigned with his cabinet in protest over the harsh terms imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.
Scheidemann's government adopted a law in the National Assembly on 6 March 1919 that, in the words of one historian, "greatly modified and liberalized the code of military justice" causing a leap into the realms of social policy. In February 1919, as a concession to the mass movement in the Ruhr, labour minister Gustav Bauer decreed the setting up of workers chambers for the mining industry commencing a political struggle for Workers Councils representation of boards of directors. On 18 March 1919, a regulation issued by the Demobilisation Office introduced the eight-hour working day for office employees, while a government declaration made that same month accepted workers' committees "as official representatives of the economy."

Later life and death

From June to December 1919, Scheidemann once again was a member of the SPD party executive. In the elections of 6 June 1920, Scheidemann was re-elected to the Reichstag, this time for Hesse-Nassau. From 1920 to 1925, Scheidemann was also mayor of Kassel.
For many on the extreme right, Scheidemann had become a personification of the hated republican, democratic system. They even coined the term Scheidemänner to use as a derogatory way of referring to the supporters of the Weimar Republic. On 4 June 1922, he was attacked with prussic acid, but escaped mostly unharmed. In December 1926, he exposed the clandestine cooperation between the Reichswehr and the Red Army. Since this was in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, the revelation caused the resignation of the third cabinet of Chancellor Wilhelm Marx.
Scheidemann remained in the Reichstag throughout the period of the Weimar Republic, writing political treatises that were widely read. The Nazi Seizure of Power in 1933 caused him to emigrate in early March via Salzburg, Prague, Switzerland, France and the USA to Denmark. There he pseudonymously wrote articles on the political situation in Germany for Danish workers' newspapers.
Philipp Scheidemann died on 29 November 1939 in Copenhagen.
The Copenhagen Municipality sent his ashes to Kassel in 1953.