Georg Michaelis

Last updated
Georg Michaelis
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2004-0720-500, Georg Michaelis.jpg
Chancellor of the German Empire
In office
14 July 1917 1 November 1917
Monarch Wilhelm II
Preceded by Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg
Succeeded by Georg von Hertling
Personal details
Born(1857-09-08)8 September 1857
Haynau, Province of Silesia, Kingdom of Prussia
Died24 July 1936(1936-07-24) (aged 78)
Bad Saarow, Province of Brandenburg, Nazi Germany
Political partyNone as Chancellor, later the German National People's Party
Spouse(s)Margarete Schmidt
Georg Sylvester

Georg Michaelis (8 September 1857 – 24 July 1936) was Chancellor of Germany for a few months in 1917. He was the first chancellor not of noble birth to hold the office. With an economic background in business, Michaelis' main achievement was to encourage the ruling classes to open peace talks with Russia. Contemplating the end of the war was near, he encouraged infrastructure development to facilitate recovery at war's end through the media of Mitteleuropa. A somewhat humourless character, known for process engineering, Michaelis was faced with insurmountable problems of logistics and supply in his brief period as chancellor.



Early life

Michaelis, born in Haynau in the Prussian Province of Silesia, grew up in Frankfurt (Oder). He studied jurisprudence at the University of Breslau, the University of Leipzig and the University of Würzburg from 1876 to 1884, becoming a Doctor of Laws.

Chojnów Place in Lower Silesian, Poland

Chojnów(listen) is a small town in Legnica County, Lower Silesian Voivodeship, in south-western Poland. It is located on the Skora river, a tributary of the Kaczawa at an average altitude of 170 m (560 ft) above sea level. Chojnów is the administrative seat of the rural gmina called Gmina Chojnów, although the town is not part of its territory and forms a separate urban gmina. As of 2006 it had 14,389 inhabitants.

Prussia state in Central Europe between 1525–1947

Prussia was a historically prominent German state that originated in 1525 with a duchy centred on the region of Prussia on the southeast coast of the Baltic Sea. It was de facto dissolved by an emergency decree transferring powers of the Prussian government to German Chancellor Franz von Papen in 1932 and de jure by an Allied decree in 1947. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organised and effective army. Prussia, with its capital in Königsberg and from 1701 in Berlin, decisively shaped the history of Germany.

Province of Silesia province

The Province of Silesia was a province of Prussia from 1815 to 1919. The Silesia region was part of the Prussian realm since 1740 and established as an official province in 1815, then became part of the German Empire in 1871. In 1919, as part of the Free State of Prussia within Weimar Germany, Silesia was divided into the provinces of Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia. Silesia was reunified briefly from 1938 to 1941 as a province of Nazi Germany before being divided back into Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia.

From 1885 to 1889 he lived and worked in Tokyo in Japan as a law professor of the Law School of the Society for German Sciences. [1]

Tokyo Metropolis in Kantō

Tokyo, officially Tokyo Metropolis, one of the 47 prefectures of Japan, has served as the Japanese capital since 1869. As of 2018, the Greater Tokyo Area ranked as the most populous metropolitan area in the world. The urban area houses the seat of the Emperor of Japan, of the Japanese government and of the National Diet. Tokyo forms part of the Kantō region on the southeastern side of Japan's main island, Honshu, and includes the Izu Islands and Ogasawara Islands. Tokyo was formerly named Edo when Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu made the city his headquarters in 1603. It became the capital after Emperor Meiji moved his seat to the city from Kyoto in 1868; at that time Edo was renamed Tokyo. Tokyo Metropolis formed in 1943 from the merger of the former Tokyo Prefecture and the city of Tokyo. Tokyo is often referred to as a city but is officially known and governed as a "metropolitan prefecture", which differs from and combines elements of a city and a prefecture, a characteristic unique to Tokyo.

Japan Constitutional monarchy in East Asia

Japan is an island country in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies off the eastern coast of the Asian continent and stretches from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea in the south.

Dokkyo University Higher education institution in Saitama Prefecture, Japan

Dokkyo University is a private university in Sōka, Saitama, Japan, which is a liberal, co-educational institution noted for its language education programs and international exchanges. The university was founded in 1964, its roots can be traced back as early as 1881.

After his return to Germany, he became a member of the Prussian administration. In 1909 he won appointment as undersecretary of state to the Prussian Treasury in Berlin. From 1915 onwards he headed the Reichsgetreidestelle , an office responsible for the administration of Prussian corn and wheat in World War I. [1]

Berlin Capital of Germany

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with its capital, Potsdam. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.


After the Reichstag and the High Command (OHL) forced the resignation of Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg on 10 or 13 July 1917, [2] Michaelis emerged as the best candidate for both Chancellor of Germany and Minister President of Prussia. Army commander Paul von Hindenburg agreed because Michaelis was the army's man. He had visited the OHL on several occasions in his position as Undersecretary of State in the Prussian Ministry of Finance and Commissioner of Food Supplies.

Paul von Hindenburg Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and president of Germany

Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg, known generally as Paul von Hindenburg, was a German Generalfeldmarschall and statesman who commanded the Imperial German Army during the second half of World War I before later being elected President of the Weimar Republic in 1925. He played a key role in the Nazi "Seizure of Power" in January 1933 when, under pressure from advisers, he appointed Adolf Hitler chancellor of a "Government of National Concentration", even though the Nazis were a minority in both the cabinet and the Reichstag.

Michaelis was described as "Germany's first bourgeois chancellor," [3] as he was the only non-titled person to serve as chief minister during the Hohenzollern monarchy's 400-year rule over Prussia and Germany. But the army 'dictatorship' of Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff of the German General Staff remained in control behind the scenes. [4]

House of Hohenzollern dynasty of former princes, electors, kings, and emperors of Hohenzollern, Brandenburg, Prussia, the German Empire, and Romania

The House of Hohenzollern[ˈhoːəntsɔlɐn] is a German dynasty of former princes, electors, kings and emperors of Hohenzollern, Brandenburg, Prussia, the German Empire, and Romania. The family arose in the area around the town of Hechingen in Swabia during the 11th century and took their name from Hohenzollern Castle. The first ancestors of the Hohenzollerns were mentioned in 1061.

Erich Ludendorff German Army officer and later Nazi leader in Adolf Hitlers Beer Hall Putsch

Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff was a German general, the victor of the Battle of Liège and the Battle of Tannenberg. From August 1916, his appointment as Quartermaster general made him the leader of the German war efforts during World War I. The failure of Germany's great Spring Offensive in 1918 in its quest for total victory was his great strategic failure and he was forced out in October 1918.

German General Staff full-time body at the head of the Prussian Army and German Army

The German General Staff, originally the Prussian General Staff and officially Great General Staff, was a full-time body at the head of the Prussian Army and later, the German Army, responsible for the continuous study of all aspects of war, and for drawing up and reviewing plans for mobilization or campaign. It existed unofficially from 1806, and was formally established by law in 1814, the first general staff in existence. It was distinguished by the formal selection of its officers by intelligence and proven merit rather than patronage or wealth, and by the exhaustive and rigorously structured training which its staff officers undertook. Its rise and development gave the German armed forces a decisive strategic advantage over their adversaries for nearly a century and a half.

On 19 July the Reichstag passed Erzberger's Peace Resolution for "a peace without annexations or indemnities", after the Chancellor's speech "devalued" the Peace. [5] The inability of the government to impose controls on rising prices, demands for wage increases, strikes, and mounting economic chaos, drove the 'political fixers' towards a military takeover of the reins of power. The Kaiser wanted a chancellor who could manage the Reichstag, and the army wanted a chancellor who would bring about a 'German Peace'. On 25 July 1917, Michaelis told the crown prince that the devil was in the detail; "I have deprived it of its most dangerous features by my interpretation of it. One can make any peace one likes with this resolution"; he reassured the heir to the throne. But it was a feint, and Michaelis role in the discreditable episode was designed to facilitate a permanent closure of the Reichstag. The army perceived the Majority Parties as posing a threat to stability in Germany in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution had brought an end to the Russian war effort. But this had left him very "uncertain" as to the place of the Central Powers. Knowing Austro-Hungary was bankrupted by the fighting, he understood their demand to sue for peace; but the military was unwilling to relinquish any power to the civilian authorities. The OHL hoped to destabilize Ukraine and the Baltic States so as to bring Russia's ailing Tsarist regime to the negotiations, while guaranteeing Germanic frontiers, in more than Michaelis' status quo ante bellum. But Michaelis was a pragmatist and a realist, whatever the Kaiser might have believed about military victory.

Cabinet (July – October 1917)
OfficeIncumbentIn officeParty
Chancellor Georg Michaelis14 July 1917 – 24 October 1917 None
Vice-Chancellor of Germany
Secretary for the Interior
Karl Helfferich 22 May 1916 – 23 October 1917None
Secretary for the Foreign Affairs Arthur Zimmermann 22 November 1916 – 6 August 1917None
Richard von Kühlmann 6 August 1917 – 9 July 1918None
Secretary for the Justice Hermann Lisco 25 October 1909 – 5 August 1917None
Paul von Krause 7 August 1917 – 13 February 1919None
Secretary for the Navy Eduard von Capelle 15 March 1916 – 5 October 1918None
Secretary for the Economy Rudolf Schwander (Acting)5 August 1917 – 20 November 1917None
Secretary for Food Adolf Tortilowicz von Batocki-Friebe 26 May 1916 – 6 August 1917None
Wilhelm von Waldow 6 August 1917 – 9 November 1918None
Secretary for the Post Reinhold Kraetke 6 May 1901 – 5 August 1917None
Otto Rüdlin 6 August 1917 – 19 January 1919None
Secretary for the Treasury Siegfried von Roedern 22 May 1916 – 13 November 1918None
Secretary for the Colonies Wilhelm Solf 20 November 1911 – 13 December 1918None

The Chancellor chaired the Second Kreuznach Conference discussing the fate of Alsace-Lorraine on 14 August 1917. [6] The proposal included one for an integrated Federal State coupled to socio-economic changes connecting the Prussian-Hessian railways across Germany. Alsace's connectivity was an extension of a war aims policy via Aachen into the Belgian occupied zones and across neutral Netherlands, as had already been achieved in Luxembourg. Longwiy was the centre of German Steel Association's industry. Located on the border of Belgium and Lorraine, it was at the contractual nexus of the Low Countries adjacent to the Dutch treaty town of Maastricht. Germany's producers like Thyssen and Krupp wanted a guaranteed supply of coal from France and return to an answer to the Belgian Question, which monopolised the thinkers on the Western Front. [7]

On 29 August it was in light of the Longwy-Briey Plan meeting in a railway carriage near Aachen that he was given "an impossible task" of perpetuating the war for "another ten years". But the economic plan Mitteleuropa depended on the Quadruple Alliance which was in trouble. The brains behind the second conference was the new Secretary of State, Max von Kuhlmann, with Czernin (Russia) and Hohenlohe (Austria) chaired in chamber by Michaelis. But he underestimated Britain's economic determination to stay the course until the bitter end. [8] The unenviable task to spell out the myth of a German victory fell to Michaelis, still obliged to the Kaiser and OHL in a report to the Conference. [9] In the end the government won over the Reichstag with only one small party outstanding in its continual opposition to the plan. The Fatherland Party and the OHL now under Ludendorff demanded a rigorous pro-Kaiser pursuance of a Rumanian-Germany; Bessarabia was a rich, fertile cereal basin was ripe for the Central Powers to pick. Michaelis was sceptical of OHL's avowal of the closest relationship with Austria when another conference was called for 7 October. Still dominated by the obsession with seaports for the Reich, Michaelis demanded access in Dalmatia from the Austrians, as well as those on the Belgian coast. Through the vehicle of Mitteleuropa he sought to enable the Austrian economy to withstand the peace conditions he knew would be imposed on the German customs union. [10]

But the candidate chosen as the new Chancellor was the Army's and not the Reichstag perceived to be dominated by the centre-left. "We have lost a statesman and secured a functionary in his place", remarked Conrad Haussmann, a Social Democrat Member of Reichstag, [11] Michaelis was perceived to be a mere bureaucrat, rather than an orator of standing.


In August, the naval mutinies at Wilhelmshaven led to executions. Michaelis blamed the socialists in the Reichstag hoping to split the coalition. But the Reichstag demanded his resignation. On 24 October 1917 the National Liberals three socialist parties in the coalition made representations to the Kaiser. In his autobiography he laid the blame on his own refusal to bend to pressure for liberal electoral reforms. The deputies hoped to replace him with a Zentrum aristocrat, Georg von Hertling. [1] He remained in this position until 1 November 1917, when he was forced to resign after coming under fire for refusing to commit himself by endorsing a resolution passed by the Reichstag favouring peace without annexation or indemnities. Michaelis attempted to retain his role as Prussian Minister President, but without success as Count Hertling was determined that the two posts could not be separated. [12]

Late life and death

From 1 April 1918 to 31 March 1919 he served as Oberpräsident of the Prussian province of Pomerania. [1] After the end of World War I, he cooperated with the local workers' and soldiers' council. Nevertheless, the socialist-dominated government of Prussia soon replaced him.

Michaelis worked in the fields of economic lobbying, in student organizations, in the synod of the Evangelical Church of the old-Prussian Union and became a member of the monarchist/national conservative German National People's Party (DNVP). In 1921, he published his memoirs, Für Staat und Volk. Eine Lebensgeschichte.

Georg Michaelis died on 24 July 1936 in Bad Saarow-Pieskow (Brandenburg) at the age of 78.


Related Research Articles

Stab-in-the-back myth

The stab-in-the-back myth was the notion, widely believed and promulgated in right-wing circles in Germany after 1918, that the German Army did not lose World War I on the battlefield but was instead betrayed by the civilians on the home front, especially the republicans who overthrew the Hohenzollern monarchy in the German Revolution of 1918–19. Advocates denounced the German government leaders who signed the Armistice on November 11, 1918, as the "November Criminals".

German Empire empire in Central Europe between 1871–1918

The German Empire, also known as Imperial Germany, was the German nation state that existed from the unification of Germany in 1871 until the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1918.

Prince Maximilian of Baden German chancellor

Maximilian, Margrave of Baden, also known as Max von Baden, was a German prince and politician. He was heir presumptive to the grand ducal throne of Baden, and in October and November 1918 briefly served as Chancellor of the German Empire. He sued for peace on Germany's behalf at the end of World War I based on U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, which included immediately transforming the government into a parliamentary system, by handing over the title of Chancellor to SPD Chairman Friedrich Ebert and unilaterally proclaiming the abdication of Emperor Wilhelm II. Both events took place on 9 November 1918, the beginning of the Weimar Republic.

Battle of Tannenberg Battle between Russia and Germany during World War I

The Battle of Tannenberg was fought between Russia and Germany between the 26th and 30th of August 1914, the first month of World War I. The battle resulted in the almost complete destruction of the Russian Second Army and the suicide of its commanding general, Alexander Samsonov. A series of follow-up battles destroyed most of the First Army as well and kept the Russians off balance until the spring of 1915. The battle is particularly notable for fast rail movements by the Germans, enabling them to concentrate against each of the two Russian armies in turn, and also for the failure of the Russians to encode their radio messages. It brought considerable prestige to Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and his rising staff-officer Erich Ludendorff.

Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg German chancellor during World War I

Theobald Theodor Friedrich Alfred von Bethmann-Hollweg was a German politician who was the Chancellor of the German Empire from 1909 to 1917.

Friedrich Ebert 19th and 20th-century German politician and president of Germany

Friedrich Ebert was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the first President of Germany from 1919 until his death in office in 1925.

Hermann von François German general

Hermann Karl Bruno von François was a German General der Infanterie during World War I, and is best known for his key role in several German victories on the Eastern Front in 1914.

Georg von Hertling German chancellor

Georg Friedrich Karl Freiherrvon Hertling was a German politician who served as the Minister-President of Bavaria 1912–1917 and then as Minister-President of Prussia and Chancellor of the German Empire from 1917 to 1918. He was the first party politician to hold the office.

Erich von Falkenhayn Chief of Germanys General Staff during the first two years of the First World War

General Erich Georg Sebastian Anton von Falkenhayn was the Chief of the German General Staff during the First World War from September 1914 until 29 August 1916. He was removed in the late summer of 1916 after the failure at the battle of Verdun, the opening of the Allied offensive on the Somme, the Brusilov Offensive and the entry of Romania into the war. He was later given important field commands in Romania and Syria. His reputation as a war leader was attacked in Germany during and after the war, especially by the faction which supported Paul von Hindenburg. Falkenhayn held that Germany could not win the war by a decisive battle but would have to reach a compromise peace; his enemies said he lacked the resolve necessary to win a decisive victory. Falkenhayn's relations with the Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg were troubled and undercut Falkenhayn's plans.

Wilhelm Groener German general

Karl Eduard Wilhelm Groener was a German general and politician. His organisational and logistical abilities resulted in a successful military career before and during World War I.

The Progressive People's Party was a social liberal party of the late German Empire.

Gottlieb von Jagow German diplomat

Gottlieb von Jagow was a German diplomat. He served as the State Secretary of the German Foreign Office between January 1913 and 1916.

<i>Oberste Heeresleitung</i> highest echelon of command of the army (Heer) of the German Empire

The Oberste Heeresleitung was the highest echelon of command of the army (Heer) of the German Empire. In the latter part of World War I, the Third OHL assumed dictatorial powers and became the de facto political authority in the empire.

Max Bauer German artillery expert in the First World War

Colonel Max Hermann Bauer was a German General Staff officer and artillery expert in the First World War. As a protege of Erich Ludendorff he was placed in charge of the German Army's munition supply by the latter in 1916. In this role he played a leading role in the Hindenburg Programme and the High Command's political machinations. Later Bauer was a military and industrial adviser to the Republic of China under Chiang Kai-shek.

The Ebert–Groener pact, sometimes called the Ebert-Groener deal, was an agreement between the Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert, at the time the President of Germany, and Wilhelm Groener, Quartermaster General of the German Army, on November 10, 1918.

Hindenburg Programme

The Hindenburg Programme of August 1916 is the name given to the armaments and economic policy begun in late 1916 by the Third Oberste Heeresleitung, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff. The two were appointed after the sacking of General Erich von Falkenhayn on 28 August 1916 and intended to double German industrial production, to greatly increase the output of munitions and weapons.

Events in the year 1917 in Germany.

Abdication of Wilhelm II

Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated as German Emperor and King of Prussia in November 1918. The abdication was announced on 9 November by Prince Maximilian of Baden and was formally enacted by Wilhelm's written statement on 28 November, made while in exile in Amerongen, the Netherlands. This ended the House of Hohenzollern's 500-year rule over Prussia and its predecessor state, Brandenburg. Wilhelm ruled Germany and Prussia from 15 June 1888 through 9 November 1918, when he went into exile. Following the abdication statement and German Revolution of 1918–19, the German nobility as a legally defined class was abolished. On promulgation of the Weimar Constitution on 11 August 1919, all Germans were declared equal before the law. Ruling princes of the constituent states of Germany also had to give up their monarchical titles and domains, of which there were 22. Of these princely heads of state, four held the title of king (könig), six held the title of grand duke (großherzog), five held the title of duke (herzog), and seven held the title prince.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Chisholm 1922.
  2. Strachan, Hew, "The First World War" (London 2003), p.263, 264, 266-67.
  3. Daniel Hord (ed.), "The Private War of Seaman Stumpf" (London 1969), p.345; Strachan, p.266.
  4. M. Kitchen, The Silent Dictatorship, pp.170-1.
  5. Strachan, p.263.
  6. Volksmann, pp.204; Fischer, p.408
  7. Fischer, pp.401-21
  8. Fischer, pp.410-11
  9. Fur Staat und Volk (Berlin 1922), p.335
  10. Fischer, pp.436-9
  11. Hanssen, "Diary of a Dying Empire", p.231.
  12. Michaelis, pp.365-68; Fischer, p.439-40


Political offices
Preceded by
Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg
Chancellor of Germany
Succeeded by
Georg Graf von Hertling
Prime Minister of Prussia