Birthday: February 4, 1871
Died At Age: 54
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Born Country: Germany
Born in: Heidelberg, Germany
Famous as: Politician
political ideology: Social Democratic Party of Germany
Spouse/Ex-: Louise Ebert (m. 1894)
father: Karl Ebert
mother: Katharina Ebert
children: Amalie (1900–1931), Friedrich (1894–1979), Georg (1896–1917), Heinrich (1897–1917), Karl (1899–1975)
Died on: February 28, 1925
Cause of Death: Septic Shock
Who was Friedrich Ebert?
Friedrich Ebert was a German political leader affiliated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Following the end of First World War and the German monarchy, he served as the first President of Germany from 1919 until his death in office in 1925. After the death of August Bebel in 1913, Ebert was chosen to serve as the leader of his party. However, in 1914, the party experienced severe division over Ebert's backing of war loans to finance the German war effort in World War I. He was a moderate social democrat and advocated for the Burgfrieden, a political policy that demanded an immediate solution of all domestic issues among political parties during wartime so the focus could be on the successful conclusion of the war effort. He attempted to single out those in his party that were against the war. However, he was unable to stop the split. During his tenure as the chancellor of Germany, his policies revolved around bringing back peace and order in the country. To achieve these objectives, he joined forces with conservative and nationalistic groups against the more extreme elements of both the revolutionary left and right. This has turned him into a controversial personality in German history.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on February 4, 1871, in Heidelberg, Baden, German Empire, Friedrich Ebert was the seventh of nine children of Katharina and Karl Ebert. His father was a tailor. Three of his siblings did not make it to adulthood.
His family was not wealthy, and this prevented him from gaining a university education. He decided to become a saddle-maker instead, receiving training between 1885 and 1888. He subsequently embraced the life of a journeyman and travelled all over Germany, acquiring fresh skills related to his trade.
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Early Political Career
While he was staying in Mannheim, Friedrich Ebert had his first real exposure to the Social Democratic Party. He became a member in 1889. His political activities landed him on the blacklist of the police, which forced him to seek new places of residence on a regular basis.
In 1891, he began living in Bremen, where he set up local chapters of Sattlerverband (Association of Saddlers) and earned a living by doing odd jobs.
In 1893, he landed the job of the editor of the socialist ‘Bremer Bürgerzeitung.’ He later owned a pub, which he turned into a centre of socialist and union activity. Ebert quickly rose through the ranks to become the secretary-general of SPD, after which he relocated to Berlin.
Ebert unsuccessfully contested for a Reichstag (parliament of Germany) seat multiple times from constituencies where SPD had little to no chances of winning. In 1912, he eventually won from the constituency of Elberfeld-Barmen (today part of Wuppertal).
This election turned SPD into the most powerful party in the Reichstag, with 110 out of a total of 397 members.
After August Bebel passed away in August 1913, Ebert was chosen as the joint party chairman at the convention in Jena on 20 September, with 433 out of 473 votes along with co-chairman Hugo Haase.
First World War
At the advent of World War I, Ebert convinced SPD to endorse the war appropriations. This action was no different from what other socialist parties did all over Europe at the time, discarding their international convictions and adopting patriotic sentiments. SPD gave unconditional support to the “fatherland” without demanding Germany to set up a genuine peace policy. This proved to be disastrous for the party.
Ebert failed to keep his party together for long as he continued his support for the German war efforts. In March 1917, a left-leaning faction made their departure from SPD to establish the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), which categorically refused to support war appropriations and Germany’s war policy.
A second split occurred not long after and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) was formed. These leftists desired a social revolution, while Ebert and his party were seeking to create a parliamentary democracy.
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While the war raged on, the Catholic Centre Party, the Democratic Party (previously the Progressive Party), and the Social Democrats established the so-called Black–Red–Gold (Weimar) coalition, the name of which was inspired by the colours of the flag of the liberal revolution of 1848.
Pursuit of Peace & Parliamentary Democracy
With the support of Ebert and the Black–Red–Gold coalition, a new government was formed under Maximilian, the Prince of Baden, in October 1918, by a sweeping constitutional reform that was essentially a precursor of the Weimar Constitution.
Ebert rejected the notion that Germany needed a revolution to bring about parliamentary democratic reform. He was right, to a degree. When the revolution did come in November 1918, it was not for any form of political administration, but peace. The Germans thought that Emperor William II (Kaiser Wilhelm II) could not deliver it.
For two days, Ebert served as the Prime Minister of Prussia, from 9 to 11 November 1918, succeeding Maximilian. He also replaced Maximilian as the chancellor of Germany on the same day. SPD formed the Council of the People's Deputies with USPD with Ebert as the leader. Kaiser Wilhelm II formally abdicated on 28 November.
The Council was active from November 10, 1918, to February 13, 1919. During this period, it arranged the armistice with the Allies on November 11, 1918, the Reichsrätekongress (General Convention) from 16 to 20 December 1918, and the preparation for the elections for the National Assembly (Nationalversammlung) on January 19, 1919.
It also introduced drastic changes to the system of suffrage and gave the German women voting rights. Furthermore, the council suppressed a naval and several leftist revolts, including the Spartacist uprising.
The German President
Ebert was elected as the Provisional President of the German Republic in the first German presidential election, held on February 11, 1919. He served in that position until the formal implementation of the Weimar Constitution on 21 August. After that, he became the Reichspräsident (President of Germany).
One of his earliest and most important actions as president was the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. When the terms of the treaty became public, it received near-universal condemnation in Germany.
On March 13, 1920, the government put down the Kapp Putsch, a coup d’état by radical nationalists that sought to restore the monarchy.
Ebert has the distinction of being the first commoner, the first socialist, the first civilian and the first person from a proletarian background to serve as the President of Germany. In October 1922, his term of office was increased until June 25, 1925, by Reichstag to circumvent an election campaign at a crucial time.
Family & Personal Life
Ebert exchanged wedding vows with Louise Rump in May 1894. The daughter of a manual labourer, Louise had worked as a housemaid and in labelling boxes. She was also involved in a labour union.
The couple had five children together: Friedrich (1894–1979), Georg (1896–1917), Heinrich (1897–1917), Karl (1899–1975), and Amalie (1900–1931).
Death & Legacy
Ebert had gallstones and often experienced bouts of cholecystitis. Remorseless attacks against him from his right-wing adversaries deteriorated his health. Whenever he turned to the judiciary for intervention, they supported the actions of the right-wing forces.
He passed away on February 28, 1925, in Berlin and is interred in Heidelberg. Shortly after his death, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation was established. It is active even today.
Although the SPD regards him as one of the founders and keepers of German democracy, others hold the view that he played a pivotal role in the rise of national socialism by backing the Freikorps and their quashing of worker uprisings.