Biography of Georges Eugène Benjamin Clemenceau (1841-1929)

Politician and French journalist, born at Mouilleron-en-Pareds (the Vendée) on September 28, 1841 and died in Paris on November 24, 1929. As a journalist and leader of the parliamentary left, he was one of the most influential men of French politics at the end of the 19th century. During his second term as Prime Minister (1917-1919), he led the war effort that led France to victory over the axis powers, and played a key role in the peace talks that concluded in the Treaty of Versailles, consecrating it as one of the most important figures in the politics of his time.

It was the first of six children of a humble family. Born and raised in a region of strong traditionalism, Clemenceau received, however, from a child, the anti-clerical and progressive influence of his father, Benjamin, imbued with the ideals of the enlightenment and the French Revolution. At the age of twelve he entered the Lycée de Nantes. During his time as student in that city was introduced, through his father, in the political cenacles opposed to Napoleón III and became acquainted with notable men of radical republicanism, as the great historian Jules Michelet.

In 1861 he moved to Paris to study medicine; He settled in the Latin quarter. There he joined the young Republicans of the avant-garde Association Agis comme your penses ('acts as you think'). Along with some of his colleagues he founded the bulletin Le Travail. Shortly after he was arrested and imprisoned for two months and a half for having published an appeal to the Parisian workmen for the commemoration of the anniversary of the revolution of 1848. After his release, he founded a new newspaper, Le Matin, which was closed shortly after by police authorities. At the end of his studies he went to United States, in the heat of the civil war. During the following four years (1865-1869) stayed most of the time in New York, where it was introduced in progressive political and intellectual circles and became fascinated by the freedom of expression that American democracy had its flag. He worked as a correspondent for the newspaper Paris Temps and, at the end of the war, was used as a Professor of French and riding in a school for young ladies in Stamford (Connecticut). In 1869 he married one of his students, Mary Plummer, which would have three children. The marriage broke up after seven years together.

Clemenceau, leader of the radical opposition

Few days after their wedding, moved to France and settled as a physician in the Vendée. Soon, however, their political interests led him back to Paris. In July 1870, Napoleón III declared war on Prussia's Chancellor Bismarck. Two months later the French army was defeated at Sedan and the Emperor captured. Clemenceau joined demonstrations that on September 4, 1870, raided the Palais-Bourbon and proclaimed the third Republic. A few days later he was elected Mayor of the Paris District of Montmartre, and on February 8, 1871, Deputy for the radical Republicans to the National Assembly in Bordeaux. It opposed the signing of the peace treaty imposed by Bismarck, which was considered shameful for France. His opposition to the terms of the Armistice induced him to return to the capital, where they were living the revolutionary days of the commune. It became the mediator between the comuneros rebels and the National Assembly, which had moved its headquarters to Versailles for the signing of the peace treaty. On 27 March, not to get any progress in the negotiation, he resigned from his seat in the Assembly.

In 1876 he was again elected Deputy for the constituency of Montmartre, since he joined the radical Republicans. Soon his eloquence and his political cunning became you the chief spokesman of the radical faction. The following year he led the parliamentary opposition to the attempt of President Patrice MacMahon subtract the Government of its responsibility to the House of representatives.

In 1880, she opened a new newspaper, La Justice, which became the main organ of the radicals. During the presidential term of Jules Grévy (1879-1887), the political prestige of Clemenceau was consolidated to present an implacable opposition to the management of successive Governments, some of which helped topple. He based his opposition on attacks on colonial policy in Africa and Asia, which considered counterproductive to the interior of the country development, and, in 1885, used this argument to bring down the Government of Jules Ferry with a passionate speech about the French defeat in Tonkin (Indo-China). In the elections of that year he returned to be elected Deputy, this time for the Var Department. Despite being one of the strongmen of the Parliament, refused to form a Government by not having one majority in the Senate, but he lent his support to the Cabinet of Charles de Freycinet (1886), where he managed include the General Georges Boulanger, which he considered an exemplary Republican. However, Boulanger was soon as a recalcitrant Bonapartist and managed form to its around a nacional-monarquico movement. Clemenceau made the boulangerismo the new target of their attacks. To counter their influence, he formed the League of human rights in order to promote social reforms of progressive nature.

In 1887 he managed the fall of Maurice Rouvier's Government to publicly denounce the son-in-law of President Grévy by influence peddling. However, he refused the offer to form a Government, although it exerted his influence to remove from power to his political rivals. Their relentless harassment and demolition work earned him many enemies, only awaiting an opportunity to undermine its credibility to the public. In 1892 the opportunity arose: due to his friendship with the financial Cornélius Herz, Clemenceau was punctuated by the scandal that caused the bankruptcy of the company of the Panama Canal. They even came to accuse him of collaborating with the British secret service. The campaign against him, led by the newspaper Le Petit Journal, reached its dramatic culmination when, on December 20, 1892, the MP and writer boulangerista Paul Déroulède complained you to the camera as fautor of Herz. Clemenceau accused Déroulède lie and challenged him to a duel, which the two unharmed. Most effective was the courts against his difamadores: his victory in court forcing those who had been charged to give up their seats in Parliament. However, the accusations made against it had undermined his prestige and, in the 1893 election, despite a brilliant campaign, he was attacked from all sides and defeated.

Journalism and political turmoil

Clemenceau then dived into journalism, becoming, after an initial stage of despondency, in one of the most respected and influential political commentators in the French press. This activity allowed him to display his excellent talent for political analysis, his vast culture and its many contacts with the intellectual world of the time. Great friend of some of the most important writers and artists of his time, was immortalized by Jean-François Rafaelli and Auguste Rodin , Claude Monet, who organized a major exhibition in the Tuileries Palace after the first world war. His book on the history of the Hebrew people, at the foot of the Sinai, told with illustrations of the great Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

But, without a doubt, its main contribution to the journalism of his time were its articles on the Dreyfus affair, which shook France between 1894 and 1906. Initially, Clemenceau was convinced of the guilt of Alfred Dreyfus, accused of selling state secrets to Germany. But, once you are sure of his innocence, it undertook a tireless campaign for his release, through La Justice publications and l'Aurore (founded in 1897), which harshly attacked the anti-Semitism of French army and the clergy. Between 1900 and 1902 he expanded his work as a journalist with the creation of a new weekly, Le Bloc. His vehement defense of Dreyfus restored his prestige among the radical Republicans. In April 1902 he obtained a seat in the Senate, that would already without interruption until his retirement in 1920.

Presidency of the Government and the war effort

In 1902 he began the most fruitful phase of his long political career. Since his first speech to the upper House defended vigorously the freedom of expression and conscience, as well as the complete separation between Church and State, radically opposed to interference by the Vatican in French Affairs and State monopoly on education that the Socialists demanded. In 1906 he accepted the ministerial portfolio of interior in the Cabinet of Ferdinand Sarrien. That same year consolidated its position as a '' strong man '' of France by sending the army to suppress a strike of miners in the Department of Pas-de-Calais that threatened to lead to serious social unrest. This was the cause of his complete break with Socialists and showed its turn towards a more conservative political stance. When Sarrien resigned in October 1906, Clemenceau replaced him at the head of the Council of Ministers.

His first term was marked by the strengthening of ties with Great Britain through the Entente formed in 1907. Soon after, a dispute between France and Germany, originated when the French Government is trying to consolidate its supremacy over Morocco, led to a growing tension between the two countries. The mediation of Austria-Hungary allowed to reach an agreement in February 1909 (Algeciras Conference), whereby the economic interests of Germany in the North African country, had been recognized at the time that ensured the French political hegemony over the same and the Anglo-French Alliance was strengthened. This meant the beginning of the international isolation of Germany. Despite his victory over the German claims, the question of Morocco provoked a major ministerial crisis, between Clemenceau and the influential Minister of foreign, Théophile Delcassé. On 20 July 1909 Clemenceau was forced to present its resignation, after losing the support of the House.

After his departure from the Government, he devoted himself to travel in South America (Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil), where he gave lectures on democracy. In 1911 he returned to the Senate and collaborated actively in the committees on Foreign Affairs and army. Convinced that Germany was preparing for war, he advocated relentlessly rearmament, both from his rostrum in the Senate and from the pages of their new newsletter, L'Homme Libre, founded in 1913.

When the first world war erupted in July of the following year, Clemenceau launched an appeal to the defense of the homeland and in favour of a supreme effort of war, prompting the closure of L'Homme Libre in September 1914. Two days after its closure, the newspaper returned to appear with the title of L' l'homme Enchaîné ('man chained'), publication that suffered constant mutilation by censorship. In the Senate, Clemenceau continued demanding more weapons, more ammo, more troops and better management of the resources of the country, with the sole purpose of winning the war. At the same time, he directed calls to the United States President, Woodrow Wilson, so it meant to his country in the race, what finally did in April 1917.

Despite their efforts to instil a "spirit of victory" in French society, the prolongation of the war left the broken country and at the limit of their human and economic resources. The pacifism that adopted the radical left became the new target of attacks of Clemenceau. In November 1917, in an attempt to remedy the critical situation that lived abroad, President Raymond Poincaré entrusted the formation of Government. Clemenceau was then 76 years old, but that did not prevent him throwing with energy to the work of putting all the resources of France at the service of a single goal: the defeat of Germany. He managed to convince Britain and the United States to establish a unified command, and in May 1918, the French Marshal Ferdinand Foch was appointed sole Commander of the Allied troops. Despite the defeats suffered in May of that year, Clemenceau continued defending the need to maintain at all costs the war effort.

On November 11, 1918 Germany signed the Armistice that sealed its defeat in the first world war. For Clemenceau, this fact became an historic rematch against the Germany that had humiliated to France in 1871. Along with the British Prime Minister Lloyd George and President Wilson, he was one of the main protagonists of the Paris Peace Conference (1919). Against the position of greater tolerance advocated by American diplomacy, it demanded the imposition to Germany of a grueling peace treaty. He not only got the return of Alsace-Lorraine, but it also managed to I have accepted the total German disarmament and the payment of exorbitant reparations of war. Finally, as a symbolic climax of his personal patriotic crusade, demanded that the peace agreement was ratified in the lounge of the mirrors of Versailles, where, in 1871, Bismarck had the audacity to proclaim the II Reich.

However, the performance of Clemenceau at the Versailles Conference raised suspicions of the French National Assembly, bordered by the Prime Minister on the peace talks. The elections of November 1919 resulted in an Assembly overwhelmingly opposed to the continuation of Clemenceau, head of the Government. In January following he was defeated in elections for the Presidency of the Republic, and as it was usual after the election of a new head of State, was forced to abandon the leadership of the Council of Ministers.

This meant their final withdrawal from political life. He left Paris and moved to live in Bel-L'ebat, the seaside villa he owned in the Vendée. From September 1920 to May 1921 conducted a trip by the India, where, despite his respectable age, he devoted himself to hunt Tigers. In November 1922, he made a last trip to United States, where he led a campaign against the progressive removal of the country's European Affairs. Back in Bel-L'ebat, was dedicated to reading and writing his latest works: Demosthenes and Au soir de la Pensée. His memoirs: Greatness and misery of a victory, were largely a response to the attacks launched against him by his former ally, Marshal Foch. They would be published posthumously in 1930. Georges Clemenceau died in his Paris apartment at the age of 88.


BRUUN, G. Clémenceau. Paris, 1968.

MONNERVILLE, G. Clémenceau. Paris, 1968.

WORMSER, G. La République de Clémenceau. Paris, 1961.