Päts (1874 -1956) acquired a law degree from the University of Tartu in 1898 and became a leading figure in the Estonian nationalist movement as the editor of newspaper Tallinna Teataja. As head of the Salvation Committee, Päts issued the Estonian declaration of independence on 24 February 1918. During the subsequent German occupation, he was imprisoned. Upon Germany’s capitulation in November 1918, Päts formed the Estonian provisional government. During the independence era, Päts served as prime minister on multiple occasions as leader of the Farmers’ Party. When a popular radical right-wing movement appeared to be on the verge of achieving power in 1934, he declared a state of emergency. Under a new constitution which he introduced in 1938, Päts was elected the first president of Estonia.
In September 1939, Päts acquiesced to a Soviet ultimatum for basing Red Army troops in Estonia. In June 1940, he bowed to Soviet pressure to form a pro-Soviet government. Rather than offer resistance in hopeless circumstances, Päts hoped to keep Estonia out of war by not giving the Soviets any pretext for hostile action. When the Soviets no longer required Päts to sign decrees dismantling the institutions of the independent republic, Päts and his family were deported to Russia in July 1940. He died in a psychiatric hospital in Kalinin (Tver) in 1956. His remains were found in 1990 and returned to Estonia where he was reburied with state honors.