Philipp Scheidemann

Philipp Heinrich Scheidemann (26 July 1865 – 29 November 1939) was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). On 9 November 1918, in the midst of the German Revolution of 1918–19, 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.

Philipp Scheidemann
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1979-122-29A, Philipp Scheidemann.jpg
Chancellor of Germany
In office
13 February 1919 – 20 June 1919
PresidentFriedrich Ebert
DeputyEugen Schiffer
Bernhard Dernburg
Preceded byFriedrich Ebert
Succeeded byGustav Bauer
Co-Chairman of the Council of the People's Deputies
In office
29 December 1918 – 11 February 1919
ChancellorFriedrich Ebert
Preceded byHugo Haase
Member of the Council of the People's Deputies responsible for Finance
In office
10 November 1918 – 11 February 1919
ChancellorFriedrich Ebert
Minister for the Colonies
In office
13 December 1918 – 13 February 1919
ChancellorFriedrich Ebert
Preceded byWilhelm Solf
Succeeded byJohannes Bell
State Secretary without portfolio
In office
4 October 1918 – 9 November 1918
ChancellorPrince Maximilian of Baden
Mayor of Kassel
In office
19 November 1919 – 1 October 1925
Preceded byErich Koch-Weser
Succeeded byHerbert Stadler
Personal details
Philipp Heinrich Scheidemann

26 July 1865
Kassel, Electorate of Hesse
Died29 November 1939 (aged 74)
Copenhagen, Denmark
Political partySocial Democratic Party (1883–1939)
Spouse(s)Johanna Dibbern

Early lifeEdit

Philipp Scheidemann was born in Kassel on 26 July 1865, the son of Friedrich Scheidemann (1842–79) an upholsterer, and his wife Wilhelmine (née Pape; 1842–1907). He had two sisters.[1]

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.[1][2]

In 1883, he joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany (the SPD) and became a union member (Buchdruckerverband). At the time, the German Anti-Socialist Laws were still in force and the SPD was essentially an underground organisation.[1] Until 1895, Scheidemann worked as a printer and proofreader.[2] Scheidemann married in 1889 at Kassel. His wife was Johanna (Hanne) Dibbern (1864–1926). They had three daughters: Lina (1889–1933), Liese (1891–1955) and Hedwig (1893–1935).[1] From 1895 to 1903, he worked as an editor at social democratic newspapers at Gießen (Mitteldeutsche Sonntagszeitung), Nuremberg, Offenbach and Kassel.[1][2]

Political career and World War IEdit

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.[2]

After the German federal election of 1912, Scheidemann was the first social democrat to become "1st Vice-President" of the Reichstag.[1] When August Bebel, long-time leader of the SPD, died in 1913, Scheidemann and Hugo Haase became joint chairmen of the SPD parliamentary group.[2] His oratory skills, pragmatism, sense of humour and middle-class manners won him appreciation beyond his own party.[1]

Although he voted for the Imperial war loans in 1914 at the start of World War I, Scheidemann later argued for a Verständigungsfrieden (compromise peace) without annexations or reparation demands (it also became known as Scheidemannfrieden). 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.[2] 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 (literally "Secretary of State", but at the time used for top-level cabinet-rank positions today usually referred to as ministers) without portfolio.[2] 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.[1]

German RevolutionEdit

Scheidemann's proclamation on the Reichstag balcony, 9 November 1918

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.[3]: 86–88 

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.[3]: 88–90  According to Scheidemann's own recollection, someone told him along the way that the Spartacist (communist) leader Karl Liebknecht intended to declare Germany a Soviet Republic.[4] Scheidemann then made a spontaneous speech that closed with these words:[4][5]: 7 

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

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!"[3]: 90 

Later that day, in spite of Scheidemann's announcement, Ebert asked Prince Maximilian to stay on as Imperial regent, but was refused.[3]: 90  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.[3]: 92  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.[3]: 96  In the afternoon of 9 November, Ebert grudgingly asked the USPD to nominate three ministers for a future government.[citation needed]

Ebert's plans were thrown into disarray when a group known as Revolutionary Stewards (Revolutionäre Obleute) 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 (Rat der Volksbeauftragten).[3]: 100–103  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.[2]


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.[citation needed]

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.[6] 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.[7] On 18 March 1919, a regulation issued by the Demobilisation Office introduced the eight-hour working day for office employees,[8] while a government declaration made that same month accepted workers' committees "as official representatives of the economy."[9]

Later life and deathEdit

From June to December 1919, Scheidemann once again was a member of the SPD party executive.[2] In the elections of 6 June 1920, Scheidemann was re-elected to the Reichstag, this time for Hesse-Nassau.[1] From 1920 to 1925, Scheidemann was also mayor of Kassel.[2]

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.[1] On 4 June 1922, he was attacked with prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide), 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.[2]

Scheidemann remained in the Reichstag throughout the period of the Weimar Republic, writing political treatises that were widely read.[1] The Nazi Seizure of Power in 1933 caused him to emigrate in early March due to his strong anti-nazism stance via Salzburg, Prague, Switzerland, France and the US to Denmark.[2] There he pseudonymously wrote articles on the political situation in Germany for Danish workers' newspapers.[1]

Philipp Scheidemann died on 29 November 1939 in Copenhagen.[1]

The Copenhagen Municipality sent his ashes to Kassel in 1953.[citation needed]


  • Es lebe der Frieden, 1916.
  • Der Zusammenbruch, 1921.
  • Der Fürsten Habgier, Die Forderungen der Fürsten an das Notleidende Volk, 1926.
  • Die Sozialdemokratie und das stehende Heer. 1910.
  • Der Feind steht rechts! 1919.
  • Memoiren eines Sozialdemokraten. 2 vols., 1928. (new edition 2010, Severus-Verlag, Hamburg, ISBN 978-3-942382-37-3 und ISBN 978-3-942382-54-0).
  • Das historische Versagen der SPD. Schriften aus dem Exil. Hrsg. von Frank R. Reitzle. zu Klampen, Lüneburg 2002.
  • Kasseläner Jungen – Mundartliche Geschichderchen. (Pseudonym Henner Piffendeckel) Faksimile-Druck der Ausgabe von 1926. Comino-Verlag, Berlin, ISBN 978-3-945831-06-9

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Biografie Philipp Scheidemann (German)". Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Biografie Philipp Scheidemann (German)". Deutsches Historisches Museum. Archived from the original on 11 July 2014. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Haffner, Sebastian (2002). Die deutsche Revolution 1918/19 (German). Kindler. ISBN 3-463-40423-0.
  4. ^ a b "Bericht über den 9. November 1918 (German)". Deutsches Historisches Museum. Archived from the original on 12 July 2014. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  5. ^ Sturm, Reinhard (2011). "Weimarer Republik, Informationen zur politischen Bildung, Nr. 261 (German)". Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. ISSN 0046-9408. Retrieved 9 August 2013. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ R.M.Watt, The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution
  7. ^ Feb 22 1919, German Worker chambers in mining industry
  8. ^ Weimar Republic: Fowkes and the eight hour working 20 day employees
  9. ^ German Labor government Nov 1918


  • Braun, Bernd: Die Weimarer Reichskanzler. Zwölf Lebensläufe in Bildern. Droste, Düsseldorf 2011, ISBN 978-3-7700-5308-7.
  • Gellinek, Christian: Philipp Scheidemann. Gedächtnis und Erinnerung. Waxmann, Münster/New York/München/Berlin 2006, ISBN 978-3-8309-1695-6.
  • "Philipp Scheidemann". In: Franz Osterroth: Biographisches Lexikon des Sozialismus. Verstorbene Persönlichkeiten. Volume 1. J. H. W. Dietz Nachf., Hannover 1960, pp. 262–263.
  • Mühlhausen, Walter: "Das große Ganze im Auge behalten". Philipp Scheidemann Oberbürgermeister von Kassel (1920–1925). Marburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-942225-11-3.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by Colonial Minister of Germany
13 December 1918–13 February 1919
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chancellor of Germany
13 February 1919–20 June 1919
Succeeded by