Friedrich Ebert (German pronunciation: [ˈeːbɐt]; 4 February
1871 – 28 February 1925) 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.
Ebert was elected leader of the SPD on the death in 1913 of August
Bebel. In 1914, shortly after he assumed leadership, the party became
deeply divided over Ebert's support of war loans to finance the German
war effort in World War I. A moderate social democrat, Ebert
was in favour of the Burgfrieden, a political policy that sought to
suppress squabbles over domestic issues among political parties during
wartime in order to concentrate all forces in society on the
successful conclusion of the war effort. He tried to isolate those in
the party opposed to the war, but could not prevent a split.
Ebert was a pivotal figure in the German Revolution of 1918–19. When
Germany became a republic at the end of World War I, he became its
first chancellor. His policies at that time were primarily aimed at
restoring peace and order in
Germany and containing the more extreme
elements of the revolutionary left. In order to accomplish these
goals, he allied himself with conservative and nationalistic political
forces, in particular the leadership of the military under General
Wilhelm Groener and the right wing Freikorps. With their help, Ebert's
government crushed a number of socialist and communist uprisings as
well as such from the right, including the Kapp Putsch. This has made
him a controversial historical figure.
1 Early life
2 World War I
3 Revolution of 1918–19
3.2 The "November revolution"
3.3 Council of the People's Deputies
3.4 Civil war
4 President of Germany
Friedrich Ebert Foundation
7 Controversy about the
9 See also
11 External links
Friedrich Ebert (1890)
Ebert was born in Heidelberg, Baden,
German Empire on 4 February 1871
as the seventh of nine children of the tailor Karl Ebert (1834–92)
and his wife Katharina (née Hinkel; 1834–1897). Three of his
siblings died at a young age. Although he wanted to attend
university, this proved impossible due to the lack of funds of his
family. Instead, he trained as a saddle-maker from 1885 to 1888.
After he became a journeyman in 1889 he travelled, according to the
German custom, from place to place in Germany, seeing the country and
learning fresh details of his trade. In Mannheim, he was introduced by
an uncle to the Social Democratic Party, joining it in 1889.
Although Ebert studied the writings of
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels,
he was less interested in ideology than in practical and
organisational issues that would improve the lot of the workers then
and there. Ebert was on the "black list" of the police due to his
political activities, so he kept changing his place of residence.
Between 1889 and 1891 he lived in Kassel, Braunschweig,
Elberfeld-Barmen, Remscheid, Quakenbrück and Bremen, where he founded
and chaired local chapters of the Sattlerverband (Association of
After settling in
Bremen in 1891, Ebert made a living doing odd
jobs. In 1893, he obtained an editorial post on the socialist
Bremer Bürgerzeitung. In May 1894, he married Louise Rump
(1873–1955), a manual labourer, who had been employed as a housemaid
and in labelling boxes and who was active in union work. He then
became a pub owner that became a centre of socialist and union
activity and was elected party chairman of the
Bremen SPD. In 1900,
Ebert was appointed a trade-union secretary (Arbeitersekretär) and
elected a member of the Bremer Bürgerschaft (comitia of citizens) as
representative of the Social Democratic Party. In 1904, Ebert
presided over the national convention of the party in
became better known to a wider public. 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. At
the time, he was the youngest member of the Parteivorstand (party
Meanwhile, Ebert had run for a Reichstag (parliament of Germany) seat
several times in constituencies where the SPD had no chance of
Vechta (Oldenburg), 1903 and 1906
Stade (Province of
Hanover). However, in 1912, he was elected to the Reichstag for the
constituency of Elberfeld-Barmen (today part of Wuppertal). This
was the election that also made the SPD the strongest party in the
Reichstag with 110 out of a total of 397 members, surpassing the
Centre Party. On the death of
August Bebel on 13 August 1913, Ebert
was elected as joint party chairman at the convention in
Jena on 20
September with 433 out of 473 votes. His co-chairman was Hugo
Friedrich Ebert with his wife Louise and their children (from left to
right) Friedrich, Georg and Heinrich (Christmas 1898)
World War I
July Crisis of 1914 erupted, Ebert was on vacation. After war
was declared in early August, Ebert travelled to
Zürich with party
Otto Braun and the SPD's money to be in a position to build
up a foreign organisation if the SPD should be outlawed in the German
Empire. He returned on 6 August and 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. In January 1916, Haase
resigned. Under the leadership of Ebert and other "moderates" such
as Philipp Scheidemann, the SPD party participated in the Burgfrieden,
an agreement among the political parties in the Reichstag to suppress
domestic policy differences for the duration of the war in order to
concentrate the energies of the country solely on bringing the
conflict to a successful conclusion for Germany. This positioned the
party in favour of the war with the aim of a compromise peace, a
stance that eventually led to a split in the SPD, with those radically
opposed to the war leaving the SPD in early 1917 to form the USPD.
Similar policy disputes caused Ebert to end his parliamentary alliance
with several left-wing members of the Reichstag and start to work
closely with the Centre Party and the Progress Party in 1916. Later
those kicked out by Ebert called themselves "Spartacists". Beginning
in 1916, Ebert shared the leadership of his Reichstag delegates with
Scheidemann. Although he opposed a policy of territorial gains
secured through military conquest on the western front (aside from
Luxembourg which was German speaking and could be easily
incorporated), Ebert supported the war effort overall as a defensive
struggle. Ebert experienced the traumatic loss of having two of his
four sons killed in the war: Heinrich died in February 1917 in
Macedonia, whereas Georg was killed in action in May 1917 in
France. In June 1917, a delegation of social democrats led by Ebert
travelled to Stockholm for talks with socialists from other countries
about a conference that would have sought to end the war without any
annexations of territory on the western front except for Luxembourg
and giving back most of Alsace and Loraine with blessings from the
German government. The initiative failed, however.
In January 1918, when the workers in munition factories in
on strike, Ebert joined the strike leadership, but worked hard to get
the strikers back to work. He was pilloried by a few politicians
from the extremist left as a "traitor to the working class", and from
the right as a "traitor to the fatherland". Kaiser
Wilhelm II and most
politicians from both sides considered him an upstanding person and
hero for getting them back to work non violently.
Revolution of 1918–19
Main article: German Revolution of 1918–19
As the war continued, the military Supreme Command (OHL), nominally
headed by Paul von Hindenburg, but effectively controlled by his
subordinate Erich Ludendorff, became the de facto ruler of
Germany.:19–20 When it became clear that the war was lost in
late summer and fall of 1918, Ludendorff started to favour the
"parliamentisation" of the German Empire, i.e. a transfer of power to
those parties that held the majority in the Reichstag (SPD, Centre
Party and Progress Party). The goal was to shift the blame for the
military defeat from the OHL to the politicians of the majority
On 29 September 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 sanctioned by the Reichstag majority. In his
view, a "revolution from above" was needed. Chancellor Georg von
Hertling and Kaiser
Wilhelm II 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, the Kaiser
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 4 October.:44 On 5
October, the government informed the German public about these events.
However, there was then a delay, as the American President Wilson
initially refused to agree to the ceasefire. His diplomatic notes
seemed to indicate that the changes to the German government were
insufficient and the fact that
Wilhelm II remained head of state was a
particular 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, which seemed more likely with
every day that passed. On 28 October, the constitution was changed to
transfer power to the Reichstag. At this point, the majority parties
of the Reichstag, including Ebert's SPD, were quite satisfied with the
state of affairs; what they now needed was a period of calm to deal
with the issue of negotiating an armistice and a peace treaty.:6
The "November revolution"
The plans of the new German government were thrown into disarray when
a confrontation between officers and crews on board the German fleet
at Wilhelmshaven on 30 October set in motion a train of events that
would result in a revolution that spread over a substantial part of
the country over the next week.:59–72 Against the backdrop of a
country falling into anarchy, the SPD led by Ebert on 7 November
demanded a more powerful voice in the cabinet, an extension of
parliamentarism to the state of
Prussia and the renunciation of the
throne by both the Emperor and his oldest son, Crown Prince Wilhelm.
Ebert had favoured retaining the monarchy under a different ruler, but
at this time told Prince Maximilian von Baden, "If the Kaiser does not
abdicate, the social revolution is inevitable. But I do not want it, I
even hate it like sin." On the left, the Spartacists (numbering
around 100 in Berlin) and a group of around 80 to 100 popular labour
Berlin known as
Revolutionary Stewards (Revolutionäre
Obleute) prepared for a revolution in the capital.:7
On 9 November, the revolution reached
Berlin as the larger companies
were hit by a general strike called by the Spartacists and the
Revolutionary Stewards, but also supported by the SPD and the
mainstream unions. Workers' and soldiers' councils were created and
important buildings occupied. As the striking masses marched on the
centre of Berlin, the SPD, afraid of losing its influence on the
revolution, announced that it was resigning from the government of
Meanwhile, Prince Maximilian had failed to convince Emperor Wilhelm
II, who was at the army headquarters at Spa, Belgium, of the need to
abdicate. Wilhelm had resigned himself to the loss of the imperial
crown, but still thought he could remain king of Prussia. When
Maximilian failed to convince him of the unreality of this belief, he
unilaterally and untruthfully announced that Wilhelm had in fact
abdicated and that the Crown Prince had agreed to relinquish his right
of succession.:7 Shortly thereafter, the SPD leadership arrived at
the chancellery and Ebert asked Prince Maximilian to hand over the
government to him.:7 After a short meeting of the cabinet, the
chancellor resigned and, in an unconstitutional move, handed his
office over to Ebert, who thus became
Chancellor of Germany
Chancellor of Germany and
Minister President of Prussia: the first socialist, the second
politician and the second commoner to hold either office.:87 Ebert
left the government of Prince Maximilian mostly unchanged, but
appointed SPD operatives for the Prussian Minister of War and for the
military commander of the
Ebert's first action as chancellor was to issue a series of
proclamations asking the people to remain calm, stay out of 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 gathered outside. Scheidemann however
seized upon the opportunity,:88–90 and in hopes of forestalling
whatever the Communist leader
Karl Liebknecht was telling his
followers at the now-former royal palace, proclaimed
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 left to an elected national assembly, even if
that decision might be the restoration of the monarchy.:7–8
Later that day, Ebert even asked Prince Maximilian to stay on as
regent, but was refused.:90
Wilhelm II had not actually abdicated on 9 November, Germany
legally remained a monarchy until the Emperor signed his formal
abdication on 28 November.:92 But when Wilhelm handed over supreme
command of the army to
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg and left for the
Netherlands on the morning of 10 November, the country was effectively
without a head of state.:8
People's Deputies Otto Landsberg, Philipp Scheidemann, Gustav Noske,
Friedrich Ebert and
Rudolf Wissell after the USPD had left the Council
at the end of 1918
An entirely Socialist provisional government based on workers'
councils was about to take power under Ebert's leadership. It was
Council of the People's Deputies
Council of the People's Deputies (Rat der
Volksbeauftragten). Ebert found himself in a quandary. He had
succeeded in bringing the SPD to power, and he 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, he and his party were forced
to share power with those on the left whom he despised: the
Spartacists and the Independents.:96 In the afternoon of 9
November, he grudgingly asked the USPD to nominate three ministers for
the future government. Yet that evening a group of several hundred
followers of the
Revolutionary Stewards occupied the Reichstag
building 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 Council of the People's
Deputies.: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' councils and thus become the leader of the
revolution while at the same time serving as the formal head of the
On 10 November, 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 USPD agreed to work
with him and share power in the Council of the People's Deputies, the
new revolutionary government. Ebert announced the pact between the two
socialist parties 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 Ebert and Haase for the USPD
were to be the joint chairmen. That same day, Ebert received a
telephone call from OHL chief of staff Wilhelm Groener, who offered to
cooperate with him. According to Groener, he promised Ebert the
loyalty of the military in exchange for some demands: a 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
This initiated a regular communication between the two that involved
daily telephone conversations over a secret line, according to
Groener.:121 The agreements between the two became known as the
Council of the People's Deputies
In domestic policy, a number of social reforms were quickly introduced
Council of the People's Deputies
Council of the People's Deputies under Ebert's leadership,
including unemployment benefits, the eight-hour workday, universal
suffrage for everyone over the age of 20, the right of farmhands
to organise, and increases in workers’ old-age, sick and
A decree of 12 November 1918 established the Reich Office for Economic
Demobilization, with the purpose of carrying the German economy
over "to peace conditions." On 22 November 1918, a regulation was
issued by the Reich Food Office for election to “peasants’ and
workers’ councils” which were subscribed to “by all agricultural
associations.” On 23 November 1918, the Reich Office for
Economic Demobilization issued twelve regulations which set forth
rules governing duration of the working day, sick leaves, paid
vacations, "and other aspects of labour relations within the German
economy." A decree of the Office for Economic Demobilization made
on 9 December 1918 provided that the state governments "should require
the communes and communal unions to establish departments for general
vocational guidance and for placement of apprentices."
On 23 November 1918, an Order was introduced prohibiting work in
bakeries between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. In
December 1918, the income limit for entitlement to health insurance
coverage was raised from 2,500 to 5,000 marks. The right of free
assembly and association, which was extended even to government
workers and officials, was made universal, and all censorship was
abolished. The Gesindeordnung (servant's ordinance promulgated in
Prussia in 1810) was revoked, and all discriminatory laws against
agricultural workers were removed. A Provisional Order on 24
January 1919 provided various rights for agricultural workers. In
addition, provisions for labour protection (suspended during the war)
were restored, and a number of decrees were issued establishing
freedom of the press, religious freedom, and freedom of speech, and
amnesty of political prisoners. Protections for homeworkers were
also improved, and housing provision was increased.
A decree of 23 December 1918 regulated wage agreements, laying down
that a wage agreement that had been concluded in any branch of
employment between the competent trade union authority and the
competent employers’ authority had absolute validity, meaning that
no employer could enter into any other agreement of his own
initiative. In addition, an organisation of arbitral courts was set up
to decide all disputes. A decree of 4 January 1919 compelled employers
to reinstate their former labourers on demobilisation, while measures
were devised to safeguard workers from arbitrary dismissal. Workers
who felt that they had been treated unfairly could appeal to an
arbitration court, and in case of necessity the demobilisation
authorities "had the power to determine who should be dismissed and
who should be retained in employment." On 29 November 1918, the
denial of voting rights to welfare recipients was repealed.
A government proclamation of December 1918 ordered farmers to
re-employ returning soldiers “at their former working place and to
provide work for the unemployed,” while an important decree was
issued that same month in support of Jugendpflege (youth welfare).
In December 1918, the government granted provisionally the
continuation of a maternity allowance introduced during the Great
War, while a decree issued in January 1919 mandated the employment
of disabled veterans. A Settlement Decree was issued by the
government on 29 January 1919 “concerning the acquisition of
land for the settlement of workers on the land” that foresaw
“the possibility of expropriating estates over 100 hectares to
facilitate settlement.” However, only just over 500,000 hectares
were freed by 1928, benefiting 2.4% of the farming population.
In addition, Ebert's government got food supplies moving again and
issued various decrees related to the promotion of civil aviation
and restrictions on firearm possession.
In the weeks following the creation of the Council of the People's
Deputies, Ebert and the leadership of the SPD sided with the
conservative and nationalistic elements in German society (the civil
servants, the armed forces, the police, the judiciary) against the
forces of the revolution. The latter wanted to eliminate the challenge
to the existing order posed by the workers' councils as soon as
possible.:129 Yet the majority of those in the workers' and
soldiers' councils viewed themselves as supporters of the government.
It was only the Spartacists who wanted a dictatorship of the
workers.:130 Ebert and Groener worked out a "program" to restore
Berlin by having army units returning from the Western Front
move in and disarm all paramilitary forces from 10 to 15
December.:132–134 However, after the ten divisions had arrived,
rather than remaining as a cohesive force, they dispersed. On 16
December, the Reichsrätekongress (congress of councils) met in Berlin
and set the date for elections to the National Assembly for 19 January
1919. However, it also passed a resolution that was aimed at ensuring
that the military would be under the strict control of the civilian
government, i.e. the Council of the People's Deputies. It also called
for a powerful position of the soldiers' councils vis-à-vis the
professional officer corps. This was unacceptable to the leaders of
the military and the OHL began to establish volunteer regiments in the
Fighting erupted on 24 December on the Schlossplatz in
Skirmish of the
Berlin Schloss). On 23 December, dissatisfied members
of the Navy occupied the chancellery and put the Peoples' Deputies
under house arrest. Ebert asked the OHL for help over the phone and
troops assembled on the outskirts of the capital. During the night,
Ebert then ordered these troops to attack, which they did in the
morning of 24 December. When the fighting stopped in the afternoon,
the Navy forces held the field, but they returned to their barracks,
ending the crisis.:139–147 As a result of this event, which Karl
Liebknecht called "Ebert's Bloody Christmas," the USPD members left
the Council of the Peoples' Deputies on 29 December. The next day, SPD
Gustav Noske and
Rudolf Wissell took their place and from that
point on, government communiques were signed Reichsregierung (i.e.
federal government) instead of "Council of the Peoples'
Deputies.":151–152 That same day, the Spartacists severed their
remaining links with the USPD and set themselves up as the Communist
The week of 5–12 January 1919 became known as "Spartacus week," but
historians view this as a misnomer.:155 The "Spartacist uprising"
was more an attempt by the
Berlin workers to regain what they thought
had been won in the November revolution and what they now seemed to be
in the process of losing. The trigger was a trivial event: the head of
Berlin police, a member of the USPD, refused to accept his
dismissal.:155 The USPD called for a demonstration of solidarity,
but was itself surprised by the reaction as hundreds of thousands,
many of them armed, gathered in the city centre on 5 January. They
seized the newspapers and railway stations. Representatives from the
USPD and KPD decided to topple the Ebert government. However, the next
day, the gathered masses did not seize government buildings, as the
expected support from the military did not materialize. Ebert started
to negotiate with the leaders of the uprising, but simultaneously
prepared for military action. Noske was made commander of the
Freikorps (a right-wing paramilitary organization) and Ebert worked to
mobilise the regular armed forces of the
Berlin area on the
government's side.:162 From 9 to 12 January on Ebert's orders,
regular forces and
Freikorps successfully and bloodily suppressed the
President of Germany
Ebert, right, with Chancellor
Wilhelm Cuno (1923)
In the first German presidential election, held on 11 February 1919,
five days after the Nationalversammlung (constituent assembly)
convened in Weimar, Ebert was elected as provisional president of the
German Republic. He remained in that position after the new
constitution came into force and was sworn in as Reichspräsident on
21 August 1919. He was Germany's first-ever democratically elected
head of state, and was also the first commoner, the first socialist,
the first civilian and the first person from a proletarian background
to hold that position. In the whole time of the unified German Reich's
existence from 1871 to 1945,
Friedrich Ebert also was the only head of
state who was unequivocally committed to democracy.
One of Ebert's first tasks as president was to deal with the Treaty of
Versailles. When the treaty's terms became public on 7 May 1919, it
was cursed by Germans of all political shades as an onerous "Diktat,"
Germany had essentially been handed the treaty
and told to sign without any negotiations. Ebert himself denounced the
treaty as "unrealizable and unbearable." However, Ebert was well
aware of the possibility that
Germany would not be in a position to
reject the treaty. He believed that the Allies would invade Germany
from the west if
Germany refused to sign. To appease public opinion,
he asked Hindenburg if the army was capable of holding out if the
Allies renewed hostilities. He promised to urge rejection of the
treaty if there was even the remote possibility that the army could
make a stand. Hindenburg, with some prodding from Groener, concluded
that the army was not capable of resuming the war even on a limited
scale. Rather than tell Ebert himself, he dispatched Groener to
deliver the Army's conclusion to the president. Ebert thus advised the
National Assembly to approve the treaty, which it did by a large
majority on 9 July.
Demonstration against the
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles in front of the
Reichstag, 15 May 1919
The government's fight against communist forces, as well as
recalcitrant socialists, went on after Ebert became president. From
January to May 1919, in some areas through the summer, civil war in
Germany continued. Since the 19 January elections had returned a solid
majority for the democratic parties (SPD, Zentrum and DDP), Ebert felt
that the revolutionary forces had no legitimacy left. He and Noske now
used the same forces they had earlier employed in
Berlin on a national
scale to dissolve the workers' councils and to restore law and
In March 1920, during the right-wing
Kapp Putsch of some Freikorps
elements, the government, including Ebert, had to flee from Berlin.
However, a refusal by civil servants to accept the self-declared
government and a general strike called by the legitimate cabinet led
to the collapse of the putsch. After it ended, striking workers in the
Ruhr region refused to return to work and, led by members of the USPD
and the KPD, presented an armed challenge to the authority of the
government. It then sent
Freikorps troops to quell the
Ruhr Uprising by force.
To avoid an election campaign at a critical time, the Reichstag
extended his term of office on 24 October 1922 until 25 June 1925,
with a qualified majority vote that changed the constitution.
As president, Ebert appointed centre-right figures like Wilhelm Cuno
Hans Luther as chancellor and made rigorous use of his
wide-ranging powers under Article 48 of the Weimar constitution, e. g.
in order to deal with the Kapp-Putsch and the Hitler-Putsch.
Through 1924, he used the presidency's emergency powers a total of 134
After the civil war, he changed his politics to a "policy of balance"
between the left and the right, between the workers and the owners of
business enterprises. In that endeavor, 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.
Ebert's tomb in Heidelberg
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 23 February 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 was buried in Heidelberg. Several
high-ranking politicians and a trade union president held speeches at
his funeral, as did protestant minister Hermann Maas, pastor at the
Church of the Holy Spirit in Heidelberg; by doing so, Maas caused a
scandal in his church and conservative quarters, because Ebert had
been an outspoken atheist (though baptised a Roman Catholic, he had
officially left the church for a long time).
Friedrich Ebert Foundation
Ebert's policy of balancing the political factions during the Weimar
Republic is seen as an important archetype in the SPD. Today, the
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
Ebert remains a controversial figure to this day. While the SPD
recognizes him as one of the founders and keepers of German democracy
whose death in office was a great loss, others argue that he paved the
way for national socialism by supporting the
Freikorps and their
suppression of worker uprisings.
Ebert effectively allied himself with forces that in truth considered
the republic tainted beyond redemption for being associated with the
national humiliation of November 1918 and the Treaty of Versailles.
They also failed to thank him for working with them in suppressing the
more radical leftist groups. As a social democrat Ebert was considered
to be the political enemy by conservative and nationalistic groups.
They subsequently claimed 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. In addition, it had
been the majority parties of the Reichstag which formally asked for
the ceasefire in October 1918 and it had been the civilian government
rather than the military which represented
Germany in the ceasefire
negotiations of November 1918. Most historians, however, agree that
military defeat was inevitable after the U.S. had joined the war
against Germany.[better source needed][unreliable
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
Spartacists 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. He therefore has been called a
traitor by leftists, who claim he paved the way for the ascendancy of
the far right and even of Adolf Hitler, whereas those who think his
policies were justified claim that he saved
Germany from Bolshevik
Wolfgang Abendroth: Friedrich Ebert. In: Wilhelm von Sternburg: Die
deutschen Kanzler. Von Bismarck bis Kohl. Aufbau-Taschenbuch-Verlag,
Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-7466-8032-8, pp. 145–159.
Friedrich Ebert. Sein Leben, sein Werk, seine Zeit. Begleitband zur
ständigen Ausstellung in der
Reichspräsident-Friedrich-Ebert-Gedenkstätte, edited by Walter
Mühlhausen. Kehrer Verlag,
Heidelberg 1999, ISBN 3-933257-03-4.
Köhler, Henning: Deutschland auf dem Weg zu sich selbst. Eine
Jahrhundertgeschichte. Hohenheim Verlag, Stuttgart/Leipzig 2002,
Eberhard Kolb (ed.):
Friedrich Ebert als Reichspräsident –
Amtsführung und Amtsverständnis. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag,
München 1997, ISBN 3-486-56107-3. Containing:
Richter, Ludwig: Der Reichspräsident bestimmt die Politik und der
Reichskanzler deckt sie:
Friedrich Ebert und die Bildung der Weimarer
Mühlhausen, Walter: Das Büro des Reichspräsidenten in der
Kolb, Eberhard: Vom „vorläufigen“ zum definitiven
Reichspräsidenten. Die Auseinandersetzung um die „Volkswahl“ des
Braun, Bernd: Integration kraft Repräsentation – Der
Reichspräsident in den Ländern.
Hürten, Heinz: Reichspräsident und Wehrpolitik. Zur Praxis der
Richter, Ludwig: Das präsidiale Notverordnungsrecht in den ersten
Jahren der Weimarer Republik.
Friedrich Ebert und die Anwendung des
Artikels 48 der Weimarer Reichsverfassung.
Mühlhausen, Walter: Reichspräsident und Sozialdemokratie: Friedrich
Ebert und seine Partei 1919–1925.
Georg Kotowski (1959), "Friedrich Ebert", Neue Deutsche Biographie
(NDB) (in German), 4, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot,
pp. 254–256 ; (full text online)
Friedrich Ebert 1871–1925. Reichspräsident der
Weimarer Republik. Dietz, Bonn 2006, ISBN 3-8012-4164-5.
(Rezension von Michael Epkenhans In: Die Zeit. 1 February 2007)
Mühlhausen, Walter: Die Republik in Trauer. Der Tod des ersten
Reichspräsidenten Friedrich Ebert. Stiftung
Friedrich Ebert Memorial
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Council of the People's Deputies
Council of the People's Deputies – 10 November 1918 to 13 February
Friedrich Ebert (Chairman, also Chancellor, SPD)
Hugo Haase (Chairman, USPD)
Philipp Scheidemann (SPD)
Wilhelm Dittmann (USPD)
Emil Barth (USPD)
Otto Landsberg (SPD)
Gustav Noske (SPD)
Rudolf Wissell (SPD)
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