|1st President of Germany|
11 February 1919 – 28 February 1925
|Succeeded by||Paul von Hindenburg|
|9th Chancellor of Germany|
9 November 1918 – 11 February 1919
|Preceded by||Prince Maximilian of Baden|
|Succeeded by||Philipp Scheidemann (Weimar Republic)|
|20th Minister President of Prussia|
9 November 1918 – 11 November 1918
|Preceded by||Prince Maximilian of Baden|
|Succeeded by||Paul Hirsch|
|Born||4 February 1871|
|Died||28 February 1925(aged 54)|
After Ebert was elected leader of the SPD on the death of August Bebel, the SPD became deeply divided because Ebert led it to support war loans for World War I. A moderate social democrat, Ebert was in favour of the Burgfrieden, in which domestic political squabbles were put aside and all forces in society were expected to support the war effort. He tried to isolate those in the party opposed to the war but could not prevent a split. After the war and the end of the monarchy he served as the first President of Germany from 1919 until his death in office in 1925. Before being elected as President, he briefly served as Chancellor during the last months of the German Empire. Under his presidency, the government together with the army and right wing Freikorps used force against leftist uprisings, which resulted in the death of several politicians of the left and ended the partnership of the SPD in government with the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD).
After that he changed his politics to a "policy of balance" between the left and the right, between the workers and the owners of business enterprises. For that he followed a policy of brittle coalitions. This resulted in some problems, such as the acceptance, during the crisis of 1923, by the SPD of longer working hours without extra compensation while the conservative parties ultimately rejected the other element of the compromise, the introduction of special taxes for the rich. His death, which resulted in the monarchist Paul von Hindenburg as his Presidential successor, is seen as an important break in the Weimar Republic, which ended less than a decade later.
Early life 
Ebert was born in Heidelberg on February 4, 1871 as the fourth of six children of a tailor. Although he wanted to attend university, this proved impossible due to the lack of funds of his family. He thus trained as a saddle-maker. After he had become a journeyman he travelled, according to the German custom, from place to place in Germany, seeing the country and learning fresh details of his trade until he finally settled at Bremen. He had been introduced by an uncle from Mannheim to the Social Democratic Party and joined the party in 1889. Although Ebert studied the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, he was less interested in ideology than in practical and organisatorial issues that would improve the lot of the workers then and there. In 1893, he obtained an editorial post on the socialist Bremer Volkszeitung and in 1900 was appointed a trade-union secretary and elected a member of the Bremer Bürgerschaft (comitia of citizens) as representative of the Social Democratic Party. He became a leader of the "moderate" wing of the Social Democratic Party and in 1905 Secretary-General of the SPD, at which point he moved to Berlin. In 1912, he was elected to the Reichstag (parliament of Germany) for the constituency of Elberfeld-Barmen (now part of Wuppertal). This was the election which also made the SPD the strongest party in the Reichstag, surpassing the Zentrum. On the death of August Bebel in 1913, Ebert was elected as party chairman at the convention in Jena with 433 out of 473 votes.
World War I 
In August 1914, Ebert led the SPD Reichstag members to vote almost unanimously in favour of war loans, accepting that the war was a necessary patriotic, defensive measure, especially against the autocratic regime of the Tsar in Russia. The party's stance and participation in the Burgfrieden, under the leadership of Ebert and other "moderates" like Philipp Scheidemann, in favour of the war with the aim of a compromise peace, eventually led to a split, with those radically opposed to the war leaving the SPD in early 1917 to form the USPD. For similar reasons, Ebert had ended the parliamentary union with several left-wing members of parliament and stareted to work closely with the Center Party and the Progress Party in 1916. Later those kicked out by Ebert called themselves "Spartacists". Since 1916, Ebert shared the leadership of the Reichstag delegates (Fraktionsvorsitz) with Scheidemann. Although he was against a policy of territorial gains by military conquest, Ebert supported the war effort which he saw as a defensive struggle. In January 1918, when the workers in munition factories in Berlin went on strike, Ebert worked hard to get the strikers back to work.
Revolution of 1918 
As the war continued, the military high command (OHL) and in particular Erich Ludendorff, had become the de facto ruler of Germany.:19-20 When it became clear that the war was lost in late summer/fall of 1918, Ludendorff started to favour the "parliamentisation" of the Empire, i.e. a transfer of power to those parties that held the majority in the Reichstag (SPD, Center Party and Progress Party). The goal was to shift the blame for the military defeat from the OHL to the politicians of the majority parties.:25-26
On September 29, 1918 Ludendorff suddenly informed Paul von Hintze, the German Foreign Minister, that the western front could collapse at any moment and that a ceasefire had to be negotiated without delay. However, he suggested that the request for the ceasefire should come from a new government, based on the Reichstag majority. A "revolution from above" was needed. Chancellor Hertling and the Emperor agreed, although the former resigned.:36-40 Scheidemann and a majority of SPD deputies were opposed to joining "a bankrupt enterprise" but Ebert convinced his party, arguing that "we must throw ourselves into the breach" and "it is our damned duty to do it".:44-45 In early October, Emperor William II appointed a liberal, Prince Maximilian of Baden, as chancellor to lead peace negotiations with the Allies. The new government for the first time included ministers from the SPD, Phillip Scheidemann and Gustav Bauer. The request for a ceasefire went out on October 4.:44 On October 5, the government informed the German public about these events. However, there was then a delay, as the American President Wilson initially refused to accept the ceasefire. His diplomatic notes seemed to indicate that the changes to the German government were insufficient and in particular that the fact that William II remained head of state was an obstacle.:52-53 Ebert did not favour exchanging the monarchy for a republic but like many others he was worried about the danger of a socialist revolution—and this seemed to become more likely with every day that passed. On October 28, the constitution was changed, transferring power to the Reichstag.
On October 30, a confrontation between officers and crews on board the German fleet at Wilhelmshaven set in motion a train of events that would result in the German Revolution which spread over a substantial part of the country over the next week.:59-72 On November 9, as the striking masses were marching on Berlin, Prince Max unilaterally and untruthfully declared that Emperor William II had abdicated. He then resigned himself and, in an unconstitutional move, handed his office over to Ebert, who thus became Minister President of Prusssia and German Chancellor.:87 Ebert had favoured retaining the monarchy under a different ruler ("If the Kaiser does not abdicate, the social revolution is inevitable. But I do not want it, I even hate it like sin"  he had said to Max von Baden on November 7).
Ebert's first action as Chancellor was to issue a proclamation asking the people to remain calm, get off the streets and to restore peace and order. It failed to work. Ebert then had lunch with Scheidemann at the Reichstag and, when asked to do so, refused to speak to the masses outside. Scheidemann however, seized the chance.:88-90 He proclaimed the German Republic. A furious Ebert promptly reproached him: "You have no right to proclaim the Republic!" By this he meant that the decision was to be made by an elected national assembly, even if that decision might be the restoration of the monarchy. Later that day, Ebert even asked Prince Max to stay as regent (Reichsverweser) but was refused.:90
Since William II had not actually abdicated on November 9, legally Germany remained a monarchy until the Emperor did sign an abdication on November 28.:92 But after his departure for Holland on November 10, the country was effectively without a head of state. An entirely Socialist provisional government based on workers' councils took power under Ebert's leadership. It was called Rat der Volksbeauftragten (Council of the People's Deputies). Ebert found himself in a quandary. He had succeeded in bringing the SPD to power and was now in a position to put into law social reforms and improve the lot of the working class. Yet as a result of the revolution, his party (and he himself) was forced to share power with those on the left that he despised—the Spartacists and the Independents.:96 On November 9, he asked the USPD to nominate three ministers for the future government. Yet that evening a group of several hundred followers of labour leaders from Berlin known as the Revolutionäre Obleute had occupied the Reichstag and were holding 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 Rat der Volksbeauftragten.:100-103 In order to keep control of events and against his own anti-revolutionary convictions, Ebert decided that he needed to co-opt the workers' council and thus—whilst the formal head of government—also become the leader of the revolution.
On November 10, the SPD led by Ebert managed to ensure that a majority of the newly elected workers' and soldiers' councils came from among their own supporters. Meanwhile, the USDP agreed to work with him and share power in the Rat der Volksbeauftragten, the new government. Ebert announced the pact to the assembled councils who were eager for a unified socialist front and approved the parity of three members each coming from SPD and USPD.:109-119 That same day, Ebert received a telephone call from General Groener of the OHL, who offered to cooperate with him. According to Groener, he promised the loyalty of the military to Ebert in exchange for some demands: fight against Bolshevism, an end to the system of soldiers' and workers' councils, a national assembly and a return to a state of law and order.:120
He used the army under the command of Minister of Defense Gustav Noske and also Freikorps (paramilitary organizations of former soldiers) to suppress the so-called Spartacist uprising against the establishment of a parliamentary democracy. Spartacist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered by members of the Freikorps.
President of Germany 
On February 11, 1919, five days after the Constituent Assembly convened in Weimar, Ebert was elected to be the first (temporary) president of the German Republic. He remained in that position after the new constitution came into force and—to avoid an election campaign at a critical time—in October 1922 the Reichstag extended his term of office with a qualified majority vote until June 30, 1925.
In 1920, German workers protected his government from the right-wing Kapp Putsch of some Freikorps elements by means of a nation-wide general strike. The armed forces Reichswehr remained neutral and did not defend the republic. Nevertheless, the government used the army and parts of the Freikorps in order to suppress a left-wing workers' rebellion in Germany's main industrial area, the Ruhr district in north-west Germany. Thousands of people were killed.
Participants in the Kapp Putsch were treated leniently. The judiciary in the Weimar Republic was "blind in the right eye". Some of the Freikorps already used the swastika as their symbol of resistance against the "red pack" at the time, and many of them as well as right-wing members of the Reichswehr would later become influential National Socialists.
As president, Ebert appointed centre-right figures like Wilhelm Cuno and Hans Luther as chancellor and made rigorous use of his wide-ranging powers under Article 48 of the Weimar constitution (Kapp-Putsch, Hitler-Putsch, Spartakus uprising).
Ebert suffered from gallstones and frequent bouts of cholecystitis. Vicious attacks by Ebert's right-wing adversaries, including slander and ridicule, were often condoned or even supported by the judiciary when the president turned to the courts. The constant necessity to defend himself against those attacks also undermined his health. In December 1924, a court in Magdeburg fined a journalist who had called Ebert a "traitor to his country" for his role in the January 1918 strike, but it also said that, legally, Ebert had in fact committed treason. This court case prevented him from seeking medical help for a while, as he wanted to be available to give evidence. He became acutely ill in mid-February 1925, from what was believed to be influenza. His condition deteriorated over the following two weeks, and at that time he was thought to be suffering from another episode of gallbladder disease. He became acutely septic on the night of February 23, and underwent an emergency appendectomy (which was performed by August Bier) in the early hours of the following day for what turned out to be appendicitis. He died of septic shock four days later, aged 54. He is buried in Heidelberg.
Friedrich Ebert Foundation 
Ebert's polity of balancing the political factions during the Weimar Republic is seen as an important archetype in the SPD. Today, the SPD-associated Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Germany's largest and oldest party-affiliated foundation, which, among other things, promotes students of outstanding intellectual ability and personality, is named after Ebert.
Controversy about the Freikorps collaboration 
Ebert remains a somewhat controversial figure to this day. While the S.P.D. recognizes him as one of the founders and keepers of German democracy whose death in office in February 1925 was a great loss, communists and others on the left argue that he paved the way for national socialism by supporting the Freikorps and their suppression of worker uprisings.
Elements of the Freikorps, which consisted of World War I veterans, maintained that the German working class, supported by the SPD, was responsible for Germany's defeat in World War I. The alleged proof of this Dolchstoßlegende was found in a number of strikes during 1917 and 1918 which had partly disrupted production in the Imperial German armaments industry. The aim of the striking workers and their socialist allies was said to have been to turn the German Empire into a Soviet Socialist Republic. Most historians, however, say that military defeat was inevitable after the U.S. had joined the war against Germany. In November 1918, a delegation of members of parliament represented Germany in the ceasefire negotiations at the request of the military leadership after the generals had decided that the war could no longer be won. Critics say that thus the politicians exactly played the role that the military wanted them to play. Ebert later on even cooperated with the generals in order to prevent the country from falling into chaos, as he saw it.
Some historians have defended Ebert's actions as unfortunate but inevitable if the creation of a socialist state on the model that had been promoted by Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and the communist Spartacus Group was to be prevented. Leftist historians like Bernt Engelmann (de) as well as mainstream ones like Sebastian Haffner on the other hand, have argued that organized communism was not yet politically relevant in Germany at the time. However, the actions of Ebert and his Minister of Defense, Gustav Noske, against the insurgents contributed to the radicalization of the workers and to increasing support for communistic ideas.
Although the Weimar constitution (which Ebert signed into law in August 1919) provided for the establishment of workers' councils on different levels of society, they did not play a major part in the political life of the Weimar Republic. Ebert always regarded the institutions of parliamentary democracy as a more legitimate expression of the will of the people; workers' councils, as a product of the revolution, were only justified in exercising power for a transitive period. "All power to all the people!" was the slogan of his party, in contrast to the slogan of the far left, "All power to the (workers') councils!". In Ebert's opinion only reforms, not a revolution, could advance the causes of democracy and socialism. So he has been called a traitor by the far left, paving the way for the ascendancy of the far right and even of Hitler, whereas those who think his policies were justified claim that he saved Germany from Bolshevik excesses.
See also 
- Herzfeld, Hans (ed) (1963). Geschichte in Gestalten:1:A-E (German). Fischer, Frankfurt. pp. 335–336.
- Harenberg Personenlexikon: Ebert, Friedrich. Harenberg Lexikon Verlag, Dortmund. 2000. pp. 274–275. ISBN 3-611-00893-1.
- "Ebert, Friedrich". Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). 1922.
- Eberhard Pikart: Der deutsche Reichstag und der Ausbruch des Ersten Weltkriegs, in: Der Staat 5, 1966, pp 58 ff
- Haffner, Sebastian (2002). Die deutsche revolution 1918/19 (German). Kindler. ISBN 3-463-40423-0.
- Sturm, Reinhard. Vom Kaiserreich zur Republik 1918/19 - Informationen zur politischen Bildung no. 261 (German).
- Kolb, Eberhard (2005). The Weimar Republic. Psychology Press. p. 226. ISBN 978-0-415-34441-8. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- "Friedrich Ebert 1871 - 1925 : vom Arbeiterführer zum Reichspräsidenten ; Ausstellung der Stiftung Reichspräsident-Friedrich-Ebert-Gedenkstätte, Heidelberg und der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Bonn ; Begleitheft mit den Haupttexten der Ausstellung / [hrsg. von Dieter Dowe]. Forschungsinstitut der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Historisches Forschungszentrum. - Electronic edition. - Bonn, 1995. - 72 S. : Ill. . - (Gesprächskreis Geschichte ; 9). - ISBN 3-86077-379-8 - Teil5". Fes.de. Retrieved 2013-01-20.
- "German president has appendicitis". The Evening Record (Ellensburg, Washington: Ellensburg Daily Record). Associated Press. 1925-02-24. p. 2. Retrieved 2012-06-09.
- Kershaw, I (1998). Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 267. ISBN 0393320359.
- "Erich von Ludendorff, 1865-1937, German General". Historyofwar.org. Retrieved 2013-01-20.
- Bernt Engelmann: Einig gegen Recht und Freiheit. Deutsches Anti-Geschichtsbuch. 2. Teil, Bertelsmann, München 1975
- Weimar Germany by Anthony McElligott
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Friedrich Ebert|
- (German) President Friedrich Ebert Memorial in Heidelberg
- The Battle for Berlin 1918-1919
- "Ebert, Friedrich". Collier's New Encyclopedia. 1921.
Prince Maximilian of Baden
|Chancellor of Germany
|Prime Minister of Prussia
as German Emperor
|President of Germany
as Acting president
|Party political offices|
Hugo Haase and
|Chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Germany
with Hugo Haase (1913—1916)
Philipp Scheidemann (1917—1919)
Otto Wels and