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Wilhelm II's "Easter Message" (April 7, 1917)

Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg’s (1856-1921) “new orientation” challenged the entrenched interests of conservatives. With popular protest on the rise in the spring of 1917, he persuaded the Kaiser to issue a statement, the so-called “Easter Message,” which was delivered in the Prussian parliament and then published on the same day the USPD was founded. Wilhelm’s statement appeared to promise constitutional reform at the war’s end, but it was formulated so ambiguously that it carried little credibility. Bethmann Hollweg’s own credibility was not above suspicion, for at the time of the “Easter Message” he endorsed the Supreme Command’s demands for German annexations in France, Poland, and the Baltic states.

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Never before has the German people proved so unshakable as in this war. The realization that the Fatherland faced a grave emergency exerted a wonderfully conciliatory force, and despite all the sacrifices of blood that we made on foreign fields, and despite all the difficult privations that we bore at home, the will has remained unshakable to risk the utmost for the last, victorious struggle. The national and social spirits were unified in mutual understanding and gave us lasting strength. Everyone felt: what had been built up during long years of peace, amid many internal difficulties, was worth defending.

The achievements of the whole nation in war and need shine before my soul. The experiences of this struggle for our national existence are inaugurating a new epoch in magnificent solemnity. As the responsible Chancellor of the German Reich and First Minister of my Prussian Government, you face the obligation to help fulfill the demands of this time with the proper means and at the proper time. On various occasions you have spoken of the spirit in which the forms of our state’s life are to be rebuilt in order to foster the free, enthusiastic cooperation of all members of our nation. The principles that you worked out on these occasions have, as you know, my approval. I am aware that in giving it, I am following the course of my grandfather, the founder of the Reich, who fulfilled his monarchical responsibilities in exemplary fashion, both when, as king of Prussia, he presided over the organization of the military, and when, as German Kaiser, he oversaw social reform. In so doing, he created the foundations on which the German people will survive this bloody time in unanimous and wrathful perseverance.

To preserve the armed forces as a true army of the people, to promote the social improvement of all classes of the people, has been my aim from the beginning of my reign. Determined as I am to serve the commonwealth, in hard-tested unity between the people and the monarchy, I have decided to begin the reconstruction of our domestic political, economic, and social life to the extent that the conditions of war permit.

Millions of our fellow countrymen are still on the battlefield. Behind the front, the settlement of differences of opinion, which are unavoidable in connection with a far-reaching alteration of the Constitution, must be postponed in the highest patriotic interest, until our warriors have returned home and can themselves by word and deed aid in the progress of the new age. However, in order to allow the necessary and practical steps in this connection to take place immediately upon the successful end of the war, which I confidently hope is not far off, I wish that the preparations be concluded without delay.

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