The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Bethmann-Hollweg, Theobald Theodore Friedrich Alfred von
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Bethmann-Hollweg, Theobald Theodore Friedrich Alfred von
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BETHMANN-HOLLWEG, Theobald Theodore Friedrich Alfred von, German statesman: b. Hohenfinow, Brandenburg, 29 Nov. 1856. Descended from one of the oldest patrician families, who were engaged as bankers at Frankfort-on-Main, he was educated at the Universities of Strassburg, Leipzig, Berlin and Bonn. At the last named he was a fellow-student of the future Kaiser Wilhelm II; a close friendship was formed between them. Bethmann-Hollweg entered the civil service in 1879, was appointed Landrat of Ober-Barnim in Brandenburg in 1885 and thence tox in rapid succession to provincial president oi Potsdam, president of the government of Bromberg and president of the province of Brandenburg. He became Prussian Minister of the Interior in 1905, introduced numerous important social reforms and in 1907 was appointed Imperial Home Secretary and vice-president of the Prussian Council. On 14 July 1909 the Kaiser conferred the greatest office of the state upon Doctor Bethmann-Hollweg by making him Imperial German Chancellor in succession to Prince Buelow. Two notable incidents of his chancellorship were the Agadir crisis of 1911 and the famous Zabern affair, which resulted in the censure of the imperial and military executives by a large majority in the Reichstag. But it was the European War and its diplomatic connections that made the Chancellor a prominent actor in the drama. He was the author of the now famous phrase describing the Treaty of 1839, which guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium, as “a scrap of paper.” Much has been written concerning his personal share in the events of July and August 1914; that part of history remains for the future. In his speech in the Reichstag on 4 Aug. 1914, when the violation of Belgian neutrality was already in progress, he said; “We are now in a state of necessity, and necessity knows no law. Our troops have occupied Luxemburg and perhaps have already entered Belgian territory. Gentlemen, this is a breach of international law. It is true that the French government declared at Brussels that France would respect Belgian neutrality as long as her adversary respected it. We knew, however, that France stood ready for an invasion. France could wait, we could not. . . . Thus we were forced to ignore the rightful protests of the governments of Luxemburg and Belgium. The wrong — I speak openly — the wrong we thereby commit we will try to make good as soon as our military aims have been attained. He who is menaced as we are and is fighting for his highest possession can only consider how he is to hack his way through (wie er sich durcbhauen kann).” Later in the evening the British Ambassador called upon him for a final interview. Sir W. E. Goschen reported: “I found the Chancellor very agitated. . . . He at once began a harangue, which lasted for about 20 minutes. . . . Just for a word — neutrality — a word which in war time had so often been disregarded — just for a scrap of paper Great Britain was going to make war on a kindred nation who desired nothing better than to be friends with her. . . . He held Great Britain responsible for all the terrible events that might happen.” (See War, European — Diplomatic History). On the eighth anniversary of Doctor Bethmann-Hollweg's assuming the office of Chancellor, the following was sent out through the wireless stations of the German government: “The Kaiser has accepted the resignation tendered by the Imperial Chancellor, Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg, and has appointed as his successor the Prussian Under-Secretary of Finance, Herr Michaelis” (14 July 1917). The Chancellor fell as a result of the powerful opposition he encountered from the military party. He has the reputation of being a man of peace, a scholar and a philosopher, yet he has been identified throughout his official career with the agrarian and military caste known as Junkers (q.v.). He had never served in the army, but since the war he was appointed to an honorary rank which carried with it the wearing of a general's uniform. The Kaiser has more than once offered him a title, which he has steadily refused. His activities as Chancellor are spread over a wide field, not the least important being the various peace manœuvres conducted under his official patronage. See Germany — History; Morocco; Peace Proposals; William II.