Friedrich Ebert

Friedrich Ebert (February 4, 1871 – February 28, 1925) was a German politician (SPD), who served as the last Chancellor of the German Empire and also as the first President of the Weimar Republic.

Born in Heidelberg as the son of a tailor, he himself was trained as a saddlemaker. He became involved in politics as a trade unionist and social democrat, and soon became a leader of the more moderate “revisionist” wing of the Social Democratic Party, becoming Secretary-General of the party in 1905, and party chairman in 1913.

In August 1914, Ebert led the party to vote almost unanimously in favor of war appropriations. The party’s stance, under the leadership of Ebert and other revisionists like Philipp Scheidemann, in favor of the war eventually led to a split, with the more left wing elements in the party leaving in early 1917 to form the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD).

When it became clear that the war was lost, a new government was formed by Prince Maximilian of Baden which included Ebert and other members of the Social Democratic party in October 1918. On November 9, Prince Max resigned, and Ebert was appointed Imperial Chancellor. The next day, however, in response to the unrest in Berlin, Ebert’s associate Scheidemann proclaimed the German Republic, and an entirely Socialist provisional government took power under Ebert’s leadership.

Ebert led the new government for the next several months, notably using the army to suppress an uprising by the far left Spartacist movement of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. When the Constituent Assembly met in Weimar in February, 1919, Ebert was chosen to be the first president of the German Republic.

As President, Ebert had considerable power, but he used it sparingly due to his respect for parliamentary principles. Although initially mocked by many on the right due to his working class origins, Ebert gradually won respect all across the political spectrum for his low-key leadership and non-partisan instincts (demonstrated, for instance, in November 1923, when he rebuked his own party for leaving the coalition government of Gustav Stresemann).

Ebert’s death in office in February 1925 was seen as a great loss for German democracy.