Georges Clemenceau

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Georges Clemenceau
Georges Clemenceau 1.jpg
54th Prime Minister of France
In office
16 November 1917 – 20 January 1920
President Raymond Poincaré
Preceded by Paul Painlevé
Succeeded by Alexandre Millerand
In office
25 October 1906 – 24 July 1909
President Armand Fallières
Preceded by Ferdinand Sarrien
Succeeded by Aristide Briand
Minister of War
In office
16 November 1917 – 20 January 1920
President Raymond Poincaré
Preceded by Paul Painlevé
Succeeded by André Joseph Lefèvre
Minister of the Interior
In office
14 March 1906 – 24 July 1909
President Armand Fallières
Prime Minister Ferdinand Sarrien
Preceded by Fernand Dubief
Succeeded by Aristide Briand
Member of the Senate
In office
10 June 1902 – 10 January 1910
Preceded by Ernest Denormandie
Succeeded by Gustave Fourment
Constituency Var
Member of the National Assembly
In office
4 October 1885 – 10 October 1893
Preceded by Auguste Maurel
Succeeded by Joseph Jourdan
Constituency Var
In office
20 February 1876 – 9 November 1885
Constituency Seine
In office
8 February 1871 – 27 March 1871
Constituency Seine
President of the Council of Paris
In office
28 November 1875 – 24 April 1876
Preceded by Pierre Marmottan
Succeeded by Barthélemy Forest
Personal details
Born Georges Benjamin Clemenceau
(1841-09-28)28 September 1841
Mouilleron-en-Pareds, Vendée, France
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Paris, Seine, France
Political party Radical Republican
Radical-Socialist Party
Spouse(s) Mary Plummer (m. 1869; div. 1891)
Children Michel
Alma mater University of Nantes
Profession Physician, journalist
Nickname(s) Father of Victory
The Tiger

Georges Benjamin Clemenceau[1] (French pronunciation: ​[ʒɔʁʒ bɛ̃ʒamɛ̃ klemɑ̃so];[2] 28 September 1841 – 24 November 1929) was a French politician, physician, and journalist who was Prime Minister of France during the First World War. A leader of the Radical Party, he played a central role in the politics of the French Third Republic.

Clemenceau was first Prime Minister from 1906 to 1909, and then again from 1917 to 1920. In favour of a total victory over the German Empire, he militated for the restitution of Alsace-Lorraine to France. He was one of the principal architects of the Treaty of Versailles at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Nicknamed "Père la Victoire" (Father Victory) or "Le Tigre" (The Tiger), he took a harsh position against defeated Germany, though not quite as much as the President Raymond Poincaré, and won agreement on Germany's payment of large sums for reparations.

Early years

Clemenceau was a native of the Vendée, born at Mouilleron-en-Pareds. During the period of the French Revolution, the Vendée had been a hotbed of monarchist sympathies, but by the time of his birth, its people were fiercely republican. The region was remote from Paris, rural and poor. His mother, Sophie Eucharie Gautreau (1817–1903), was of Huguenot descent. His father, Benjamin Clemenceau (1810–1897), came from a long line of physicians, but he lived off his lands and investments and did not practice medicine. Benjamin was a political activist; he was arrested and briefly held in 1851 and again in 1858. He instilled in his son a love of learning, devotion to radical politics, and a hatred of Catholicism.[3] The lawyer Albert Clemenceau (1861–1955) was his brother. His mother was devoutly Protestant; his father was an atheist, and insisted that his children should have no religious education. Georges was interested in religious issues. He was a lifelong atheist with a sound knowledge of the Bible. He became a leader of anti-clerical or "Radical" forces that battled against the Catholic Church in France and the Catholics in politics. He stopped short of the more extreme attacks. His position was that if church and state were kept rigidly separated, he would not support oppressive measures designed to further weaken the Church.[4][5]

After his studies in the Lycée in Nantes, Georges received his French baccalaureate of letters in 1858. He went to Paris to study medicine, eventually graduating with the completion of his thesis "De la génération des éléments anatomiques" in 1865.[6]

Journalism, medical career, and exile

In Paris, the young Clemenceau became a political activist and writer. In December 1861, he co-founded a weekly newsletter, Le Travail, along with some friends. On 23 February 1862, he was arrested by the police for having placed posters summoning a demonstration. He spent 77 days in the Mazas Prison.

He finally graduated as a doctor of medicine on 13 May 1865, founded several literary magazines, and wrote many articles, most of which attacked the imperial regime of Napoleon III. Clemenceau left France for the United States when the imperial agents began cracking down on dissidents, sending most of them to the bagne de Cayennes (Devil's Island Penal System) in French Guiana.

Clemenceau worked in New York City in the years 1865-69, following the American Civil War. He maintained a medical practice, but spent much of his time on political journalism for a Parisian newspaper. He taught French at the home of Calvin Rood in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and also taught and rode horseback at a private girls' school in Stamford, Connecticut.

Marriage and family

Mary Clémenceau in period costume. (portrait by Ferdinand Roybet)

On 23 June 1869, he married one of his students, Mary Eliza Plummer (1848-1922), in New York City. She was the daughter of William Kelly Plummer and wife Harriet A. Taylor. The Clemenceaus had three children together before the marriage ended in a contentious divorce.[7]

During this time, he joined French exile clubs in New York opposing the imperial regime.

The beginning of the Third Republic

Clemenceau returned to Paris after the French defeat at the Battle of Sedan in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of the Second French Empire. After returning to medical practice as a physician in Vendée, he was appointed mayor of the 18th arrondissement of Paris, including Montmartre, and was also elected to the National Assembly for the 18th arrondissement. When the Paris Commune seized power in March 1871, he tried unsuccessfully to find a compromise between the more radical leaders and the commune and the more conservative French government. The Commune declared that he had no legal authority to be mayor and seized the city hall of the 18th arrondissement. He ran for election to the Paris Commune council, but received less than eight hundred votes and took no part in its governance. He was in Bordeaux when the Commune was suppressed by the French Army in May 1871.[8]

After the fall of the Commune, he was elected to the Paris municipal council on 23 July 1871 for the Clignancourt quarter, and retained his seat till 1876. He first held the offices of secretary and vice-president, then became president in 1875.

Chamber of Deputies

In 1876, Clemenceau stood for the Chamber of Deputies (which replaced the National Assembly in 1875) and was elected for the 18th arrondissement. He joined the far left, and his energy and mordant eloquence speedily made him the leader of the radical section. In 1877, after the Crisis of 16 May 1877, he was one of the republican majority who denounced the ministry of the Duc de Broglie. He led resistance to the anti-republican policy of which the incident of 16 May was a manifestation. In 1879 his demand for the indictment of the Broglie ministry brought him prominence.

Portrait of Clemenceau by Édouard Manet, c. 1879–80
A painting from 1887 depicting a French child being taught about the "lost" province of Alsace-Lorraine in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War. Regaining those provinces was the main goal of Clemenceau and the French in general

In 1880, Clemenceau started his newspaper La Justice, which became the principal organ of Parisian Radicalism. From this time, throughout the presidency of Jules Grévy (1879-1887), he became widely known as a political critic and destroyer of ministries (le Tombeur de ministères) who avoided taking office himself. Leading the far left in the Chamber of Deputies, he was an active opponent of the colonial policy of Prime Minister Jules Ferry, which he opposed on moral grounds and also as a form of diversion from the more important goal of “Revenge against Germany”) for the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine after the Franco-Prussian War. In 1885, his criticism of the conduct of the Sino-French War contributed strongly to the fall of the Ferry cabinet that year.

During the French legislative elections of 1885, he advocated a strong radical programme and was returned both for his old seat in Paris and for the Var, district of Draguignan. He chose to represent the latter in the Chamber of Deputies. Refusing to form a ministry to replace the one he had overthrown, he supported the right in keeping Prime Minister Charles de Freycinet in power in 1886 and was responsible for the inclusion of Georges Ernest Boulanger in the Freycinet cabinet as War Minister. When General Boulanger revealed himself as an ambitious pretender, Clemenceau withdrew his support and became a vigorous opponent of the heterogeneous Boulangist movement, though the radical press continued to patronize the general.

Duel between Georges Clemenceau and Paul Déroulède

By his exposure of the Wilson scandal, and by his personal plain speaking, Clemenceau contributed largely to Jules Grévy's resignation of the presidency of France in 1887. He had declined Grévy's request to form a cabinet upon the downfall of the cabinet of Maurice Rouvier by advising his followers to vote for neither Charles Floquet, Jules Ferry, nor Charles de Freycinet, he was primarily responsible for the election of an "outsider," Marie François Sadi Carnot, as president.

The split in the Radical Party over Boulangism weakened his hand, and its collapse meant that moderate republicans did not need his help. A further misfortune occurred in the Panama affair, as Clemenceau's relations with the businessman and politician Cornelius Herz led to his being included in the general suspicion. In response to accusations of corruption leveled by the nationalist politician Paul Déroulède, Clemenceau fought a duel with him on 23 December 1892. Six shots were discharged, but neither participant was injured.

Clemenceau remained the leading spokesman for French radicalism, but his hostility to the Franco-Russian Alliance so increased his unpopularity that in the French legislative elections of 1893, he was defeated for his seat in the Chamber of Deputies, after having held it continuously since 1876.

Dreyfus Affair

After his 1893 defeat, Clemenceau confined his political activities to journalism for nearly a decade. His career was further clouded by the long-drawn-out Dreyfus case, in which he took an active part as a supporter of Émile Zola and an opponent of the anti-Semitic and nationalist campaigns. In all, Clemenceau published 665 articles defending Dreyfus during the affair.[9]

On 13 January 1898, Clemenceau, published Émile Zola's "J'accuse" on the front page of the Paris daily newspaper L'Aurore, of which he was owner and editor. He decided to run the controversial article, which would become a famous part of the Dreyfus Affair, in the form of an open letter to Félix Faure, the president of France.

In 1900, he withdrew from La Justice to found a weekly review, Le Bloc, to which he was practically the sole contributor. The publication of Le Bloc lasted until 15 March 1902. On 6 April 1902, he was elected senator for the Var district of Draguignan, although he had previously called for the suppression of the French Senate, as he considered it a strong-house of conservatism. He served as the senator for Draguignan until 1920.

Clemenceau sat with the Radical-Socialist Party in the Senate and moderated his positions, although he still vigorously supported the ministry of Prime Minister Émile Combes, who spearheaded the anti-clericalist republican struggle. In June 1903, he undertook the direction of the journal L'Aurore, which he had founded. In it, he led the campaign to revisit the Dreyfus affair, and to create a separation of Church and State in France. The latter was implemented by the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State.[10]

In cabinet

In March 1906 the ministry of Maurice Rouvier fell as a result of civil disturbances provoked by the implementation of the law on the separation of church and state and the victory of radicals in the French legislative elections of 1906. The new government of Ferdinand Sarrien appointed Clemenceau as Minister of the Interior in the cabinet. On a domestic level, Clemenceau reformed the French police forces and ordered repressive policies towards the workers' movement. He supported the formation of scientific police by Alphonse Bertillon, and founded the Brigades mobiles (French for "mobile squads") led by Célestin Hennion. These squads were nicknamed Brigades du Tigre ("The Tiger's Brigades") after Clemenceau himself.

The miners' strike in the Pas de Calais after the Courrières mine disaster, which resulted in the death of more than one thousand persons, threatened widespread disorder on 1 May 1906. Clemenceau ordered the military against the strikers and repressed the wine-growers' strike in the Languedoc-Roussillon. His actions alienated the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) socialist party, from which he definitively broke in his notable reply in the Chamber of Deputies to Jean Jaurès, leader of the SFIO, in June 1906.

Clemenceau's speech positioned him as the strong man of the day in French politics; when the Sarrien ministry resigned in October, Clemenceau became premier. During 1907 and 1908, he led the development of a new Entente cordiale with Britain, which gave France a successful role in European politics.[citation needed] Difficulties with Germany and criticism by the Socialist party in connection with the handling of the First Moroccan Crisis in 1905–06 were settled at the Algeciras Conference.

Clemenceau was defeated on 20 July 1909 in a discussion in the Chamber of Deputies on the state of the navy, in which bitter words were exchanged between him and Théophile Delcassé, the former president of the Council whose downfall Clemenceau had aided. Refusing to respond to Delcassé's technical questions, Clemenceau resigned after his proposal for the order of the day vote was rejected. He was succeeded as premier by Aristide Briand, with a reconstructed cabinet.

Between 1909 and 1912, Clemenceau dedicated his time to travel, conferences and the treatment of his illness. He went to South America in 1910, traveling to Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina (where he went as far as Santa Ana de Tucuman in northwest Argentina). There, he was amazed by the influence of French culture and of the French Revolution on local elites.[11]

He published the first issue of the Journal du Var on 10 April 1910. Three years later, on 6 May 1913, he founded L'Homme libre ("The Free Man") newspaper in Paris, for which he wrote a daily editorial. In these media, Clemenceau focused increasingly on foreign policy and condemned the Socialists' anti-militarism.

First World War

At the outbreak of World War I in France in August 1914, Clemenceau's newspaper was one of the first to be censored by the government; it was suspended from 29 September 1914 to 7 October. In response, Clemenceau changed the newspaper's name to L'Homme enchaîné ("The Chained Man"). He criticized the government for its lack of transparency and its ineffectiveness, while defending the patriotic union sacrée against the German Empire.

In spite of the censorship imposed by the French government on Clemenceau's journalism at the beginning of World War I, he still wielded considerable political influence. As soon as the war started, Clemenceau advised Interior Minister Malvy to invoke Carnet B, a list of known and suspected subversives who were supposed to be arrested on mobilisation. The Prefect of Police gave the same advice, but the government did not follow it, with the result that 80% of the 2,501 people listed on Carnet B volunteered for service.[12] Clemenceau declined to join the government of national unity as Justice Minister in autumn 1914.[13]

He was a vehement critic of the war-time French government, complaining that it was never doing enough to win the war. His inflexibility was driven by a will to regain the province of Alsace-Lorraine, a view shared by public opinion. The autumn of 1917 saw the disastrous Italian defeat at the Battle of Caporetto, the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia, and rumours that former Prime Minister Joseph Caillaux and Interior Minister Louis Malvy might have engaged in treason. Prime Minister Paul Painlevé was inclined to open negotiations with Germany. Clemenceau argued that even German restitution of Alsace-Lorraine and the liberation of Belgium would not be enough to justify France abandoning her Allies. This forced Alexandre Ribot and Aristide Briand (both the previous two Prime Ministers, of whom the latter was by the far more powerful politician and had been approached by a German diplomat) to agree in public that there would be no separate peace. For many years, Clemenceau was blamed for having blocked a possible compromise peace, but it is now clear from examination of German documents that Germany had no serious intention of handing over Alsace-Lorraine.[14] The prominence of his opposition made him the best known critic and the last man standing when the others had failed.[15] “Messieurs, les Allemands sont toujours à Noyon (Gentlemen, the Germans are still at Noyon) wrote Clemenceau’s paper endlessly.[16]

Prime Minister again

Clemenceau as Prime Minister of France

In November 1917, at one of the darkest hours for the French war effort in World War I, Clemenceau was appointed prime minister. Unlike his predecessors, he discouraged internal disagreement and called for peace among the senior politicians.


Clemenceau governed from the Ministry of War in the Rue Saint-Dominique. Almost his first act as prime minister was to relieve General Maurice Sarrail from his command of the Salonika Front. This was the main topic of discussion at the first meeting of the War Committee on 6 December, at which Clemenceau stated, “Sarrail cannot remain there”.[17][18] The reason for Sarrail's dismissal was his links with the socialist politicians Joseph Caillaux and Louis Malvy (at that time suspected of treasonable contacts with the Germans)

Churchill later wrote that Clemenceau "looked like a wild animal pacing to and fro behind bars" in front of "an assembly which would have done anything to avoid putting him there, but, having put him there, felt they must obey".[19]

When Clemenceau became prime minister in 1917 victory seemed to be elusive. There was little activity on the Western Front because it was believed that there should be limited attacks until the American support arrived. At this time, Italy was on the defensive, Russia had virtually stopped fighting – and it was believed (correctly - see the Treaty of Brest Litovsk) that they would be making a separate peace with Germany. At home, the government had to deal with increasing demonstrations against the war, a scarcity of resources and air raids that were causing huge physical damage to Paris as well as undermining the morale of its citizens. It was also believed that many politicians secretly wanted peace. It was a challenging situation for Clemenceau; after years of criticizing other men during the war, he suddenly found himself in a position of supreme power. He was also isolated politically. He did not have close links with any parliamentary leaders (especially after he had antagonized them so relentlessly during the course of the war) and so had to rely on himself and his own circle of friends.

Clemenceau's assumption of power meant little to the men in the trenches at first. They thought of him as "just another politician", and the monthly assessment of troop morale found that only a minority found comfort in his appointment. Slowly, however, as time passed, the confidence he inspired in a few began to grow throughout all the fighting men. They were encouraged by his many visits to the trenches. This confidence began to spread from the trenches to the home front and it was said, "We believed in Clemenceau rather in the way that our ancestors believed in Joan of Arc." After years of criticism against the French army for its conservatism and Catholicism, Clemenceau would need help to get along with the military leaders in order to achieve a sound strategic plan. He nominated General Henri Mordacq to be his military chief of staff. Mordacq helped to inspire trust and mutual respect from the army to the government which proved essential to the final victory.

Clemenceau was also well received by the media, because they felt that France was in need for strong leadership. It was widely recognized that throughout the war he was never discouraged and never stopped believing that France could achieve total victory. There were skeptics, however, that believed that Clemenceau, like other war time leaders, would have a short time in office. It was said, "Like everyone else … Clemenceau will not last long- only long enough to clean up [the war]."

1918: Clemenceau's crackdown

As the military situation worsened in early 1918, Clemenceau continued to support the policy of total war – "We present ourselves before you with the single thought of total war" – and the policy of "la guerre jusqu'au bout" (war until the end). His speech of 8 March advocating this policy was so effective that it left a vivid impression on Winston Churchill, who would make similar speeches on becoming British prime minister in 1940. Clemenceau's war policy encompassed the promise of victory with justice, loyalty to the fighting men, and immediate and severe punishment of crimes against France.

File:GB Clemenceau, Vanity Fair, 1908-05-27.jpg
Caricature of Clemenceau, by "Vanitas", in Vanity Fair, 27 May 1908

Joseph Caillaux, a former French prime minister, disagreed with Clemenceau's policies. He wanted to surrender to Germany and negotiate a peace, thus Clemenceau viewed Caillaux as a threat to national security. Unlike previous ministers, Clemenceau moved against Caillaux publicly. As a result, a parliamentary committee decided that Caillaux would be arrested and imprisoned for three years. Clemenceau believed, in the words of Jean Ybarnégaray, that Caillaux's crime "was not to have believed in victory [and] to have gambled on his nation's defeat".

It was believed by some in Paris that the arrest of Caillaux and others was a sign that Clemenceau had begun a Reign of Terror. The many trials and arrests aroused great public excitement, one newspaper ironically reported, "The war must be over, for no one is talking about it anymore". These trials, far from making the public fear the government, inspired confidence as they felt that for the first time in the war, action was being taken and they were being firmly governed. The claims that Clemenceau's "firm government" was a dictatorship found little support. Clemenceau was still held accountable to the people and media. He relaxed censorship on political views as he believed that newspapers had the right to criticize political figures: "The right to insult members of the government is inviolable". The only powers that Clemenceau assumed were those that he thought necessary to win the war.

In 1918, Clemenceau thought that France should adopt Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, mainly because of its point that called for the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France. This meant that victory would fulfill the war aim that was crucial for the French public. Clemenceau was sceptical about some other points, however, including those concerning the League of Nations, as he believed that the latter could succeed only in a utopian society.

As war minister, Clemenceau was also in close contact with his generals,but he did not always make the most effective decisions concerning military issues (though he did heed the advice of the more experienced generals). As well as talking strategy with the generals, he also went to the trenches to see the poilus, the French infantrymen. He would speak to them and assure them that their government was actually looking after them. The poilus had great respect for Clemenceau and his disregard for danger, as he often visited soldiers only yards away from German frontlines. The government was worried about the visits of Clemenceau to the front lines, as he was most of the time risking his own life by insulting and threatening the German soldiers in person directly from the trenches. These visits, his speech, and his verbal threats directly to the enemy impressed the soldiers and contributed to Clemenceau's title "Père la Victoire" (Father of Victory).

1918: the German spring offensive

On 21 March 1918, the Germans began their great Spring Offensive. Clemenceau was heard to say "Sacrebleu the Germans marched in backwards and we thought they were leaving". The Allies were caught off-guard and a gap was created in the British/French lines that risked handing over access to Paris to the Germans. This defeat cemented Clemenceau's belief, and that of the other allies, that a coordinated, unified command was the best option. It was decided that Ferdinand Foch would be appointed as Generalissimo.

The German line continued to advance, and Clemenceau believed that they could not rule out the fall of Paris. It was believed that if "the tiger" as well as Foch and Philippe Pétain stayed in power, for even another week, France would be lost. It was thought that a government headed by Aristide Briand would be beneficial to France, because he would make peace with Germany on advantageous terms. Clemenceau adamantly opposed these opinions and he gave an inspirational speech in the Chamber of Deputies. It voted their confidence in him by 377 votes to 110.

1918: the Allied counter-offensive and the Armistice

As the Allied counter-offensives began to push the Germans back, it became clear that the Germans could no longer win the war. Although they still occupied vast amounts of allied territory, they did not have sufficient resources and manpower to continue their attack. As countries allied to Germany began to ask for an armistice, it was obvious that Germany would soon follow. On 11 November 1918, an armistice with Germany was signed. Clemenceau was embraced in the streets and attracted admiring crowds. He was a strong, energetic, positive leader who was key to the allied victory of 1918.

Paris Peace Conference

To settle the international political issues left over from the conclusion of World War I, it was decided that a peace conference would be held in Paris, France. Famously, the Treaty of Versailles between Germany and the Allied Powers to conclude the conflict was signed in the Palace of Versailles, but the deliberations on which it was based were conducted in Paris, hence the name given to the meeting of the victorious heads of state that produced the treaties signed with the defeated powers: the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. On 13 December 1918, United States president Woodrow Wilson received an enthusiastic welcome in France. His Fourteen Points and the concept of a League of Nations had made a big impact on the war-weary French. Clemenceau realized at their first meeting that he was a man of principle and conscience.

It was decided that since the conference was being held in France, Clemenceau would be the most appropriate president. He also spoke both English and French, the official languages of the conference.

The progress at the conference was much slower than anticipated, and decisions were constantly being tabled. It was this slow pace that induced Clemenceau to give an interview showing his irritation to an American journalist. He said he believed that Germany had won the war industrially and commercially as its factories were intact and its debts would soon be overcome through "manipulation". In a short time, he believed, the German economy would be much stronger than the French.

France's diplomatic position at the Paris Peace Conference was repeatedly jeopardized by Clemenceau's mistrust of David Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson, and his intense dislike of French President Raymond Poincaré. When negotiations reached a stalemate, Clemenceau had a habit of shouting at the other heads of state and storming out of the room rather than participating in further discussion.

Attempted assassination

On 19 February 1919, during the Paris Peace Conference, as Clemenceau was leaving his apartment in the Rue Benjamin-Franklin (fr) to drive to a meeting with Woodrow Wilson's aide Edward M. House and British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour at the Hôtel de Crillon, a man jumped out and fired several shots at the car. One bullet hit Clemenceau between the ribs, just missing his vital organs. Too dangerous to remove, the bullet remained with him for the rest of his life. Clemenceau's assailant, anarchist Émile Cottin, was seized by the crowd following the leader's procession and nearly lynched. Taken back to his house, Clemenceau's faithful assistant found him pale, but conscious. "They shot me in the back," Clemenceau told him. "They didn't even dare to attack me from the front."[20]

Clemenceau often joked about the "assassin's" bad marksmanship – “We have just won the most terrible war in history, yet here is a Frenchman who misses his target 6 out of 7 times at point-blank range. Of course this fellow must be punished for the careless use of a dangerous weapon and for poor marksmanship. I suggest that he be locked up for eight years, with intensive training in a shooting gallery."

Rhineland and the Saar

Clemenceau in his office

When Clemenceau returned to the Council of Ten on 1 March he found that little had changed. One issue that had not changed at all was a dispute over France's long-running eastern frontier and control of the German Rhineland. Clemenceau believed that Germany's possession of this territory left France without a natural frontier in the East and thus simplified invasion into France for an attacking army. The British ambassador reported in December 1918 on Clemenceau's views on the future of the Rhineland: "He said that the Rhine was a natural boundary of Gaul and Germany and that it ought to be made the German boundary now, the territory between the Rhine and the French frontier being made into an Independent State whose neutrality should be guaranteed by the great powers".[21]

The issue was finally resolved when Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson guaranteed immediate military assistance if Germany attacked without provocation.[22] It was also decided that the Allies would occupy the territory for fifteen years, and that Germany could never rearm the area.[23] Lloyd George insisted on a clause allowing for the early withdrawal of Allied troops if the Germans fulfilled the treaty; Clemenceau inserted Article 429 into the treaty that permitted the Allied occupation beyond the fifteen years if adequate guarantees for Allied security against unprovoked aggression were not met. This was in case the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty of guarantee, thereby making null and void the British guarantee as well, since that was dependent on the Americans being part of it. This is, in fact, what did occur. Article 429 ensured that a refusal of the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaties of guarantee would not weaken them.[24]

President Poincaré and Marshal Ferdinand Foch both repeatedly pressed for an autonomous Rhineland state. At a Cabinet meeting on 25 April Foch spoke against the deal Clemenceau had brokered and pushed for a separate Rhineland. On 28 April Poincaré sent Clemenceau a long letter detailing why he thought Allied occupation should continue until Germany had paid all her reparations. Clemenceau replied that the alliance with America and Britain was of more value than an isolated France which held onto the Rhineland: "In fifteen years I will be dead, but if you do me the honour of visiting my tomb, you will be able to say that the Germans have not fulfilled all the clauses of the treaty, and that we are still on the Rhine".[25] Clemenceau said to Lloyd George in June: "We need a barrier behind which, in the years to come, our people can work in security to rebuild its ruins. The barrier is the Rhine. I must take national feelings into account. That does not mean that I am afraid of losing office. I am quite indifferent on that point. But I will not, by giving up the occupation, do something which will break the willpower of our people".[26] He said later to Jean Martel: "The policy of Foch and Poincaré was bad in principle. It was a policy no Frenchman, no republican Frenchman could accept for a moment, except in the hope of obtaining other guarantees, other advantages. We leave that sort of thing to Bismarck".[27]

There was increasing discontent among Clemenceau, Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson about slow progress and information leaks surrounding the Council of Ten. They began to meet in a smaller group, called the Council of Four, Vittorio Orlando of Italy being the fourth, though less weighty, member. This offered greater privacy and security and increased the efficiency of the decision-making process. Another major issue that the Council of Four discussed was the future of the German Saar region. Clemenceau believed that France was entitled to the region and its coal mines after Germany deliberately damaged the coal mines in northern France. Wilson, however, resisted the French claim so firmly that Clemenceau accused him of being "pro-German". Lloyd George came to a compromise; the coal mines were given to France and the territory placed under French administration for 15 years, after which a vote would determine whether the region would rejoin Germany.[28]

Although Clemenceau had little knowledge of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, he supported the causes of its smaller ethnic groups and his adamant stance lead to the stringent terms in the Treaty of Trianon that dismantled Hungary. Rather than recognizing territories of the Austrian-Hungarian empire solely within the principles of self-determination, Clemenceau sought to weaken Hungary, just as Germany was, and remove the threat of such a large power within Central Europe. The entire Czechoslovakian state was seen a potential buffer from Communism and this encompassed majority Hungarian territories.


Clemenceau was not experienced in the fields of economics or finance, and as John Maynard Keynes pointed out "he did not trouble his head to understand either the Indemnity or [France’s] overwhelming financial difficulties",[29] but he was under strong public and parliamentary pressure to make Germany's reparations bill as large as possible. It was generally agreed that Germany should not pay more than it could afford, but the estimates of what it could afford varied greatly. Figures ranged between £2,000 million and £20,000 million. Clemenceau realised that any compromise would anger both the French and British citizens and that the only option was to establish a reparations commission which would examine Germany's capacity for reparations. This meant that the French government was not directly involved in the issue of reparations.

Defence of the Treaty

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919. Clemenceau now had to defend the treaty against critics who viewed the compromises Clemenceau had negotiated as inadequate for French national interests. The French Parliament debated the treaty and Louis Barthou on 24 September claimed that the U.S. Senate would not vote for the treaty of guarantee or the Treaty of Versailles and therefore it would have been wiser to have the Rhine as a frontier. Clemenceau replied that he was sure the Senate would ratify both and that he had inserted Article 429 into the treaty, providing for "new arrangements concerning the Rhine". This interpretation of Article 429 was disputed by Barthou.[30]

Clemenceau's main speech on the treaty was delivered on 25 September. He said that he knew the treaty was not perfect, but that the war had been fought by a coalition and therefore the treaty would express the lowest common denominator of those involved. He claimed criticisms of the details of the treaty were misleading; they should look at the treaty as a whole and see how they could benefit from it:

The treaty, with all its complex clauses, will only be worth what you are worth; it will be what you make it...What you are going to vote to-day is not even a beginning, it is a beginning of a beginning. The ideas it contains will grow and bear fruit. You have won the power to impose them on a defeated Germany. We are told that she will revive. All the more reason not to show her that we fear her...M. Marin went to the heart of the question, when he turned to us and said in despairing tones, ‘You have reduced us to a policy of vigilance.’ Yes, M. Marin, do you think that one could make a treaty which would do away with the need for vigilance among the nations of Europe who only yesterday were pouring out their blood in battle? Life is a perpetual struggle in war, as in peace...That struggle cannot be avoided. Yes, we must have vigilance, we must have a great deal of vigilance. I cannot say for how many years, perhaps I should say for how many centuries, the crisis which has begun will continue. Yes, this treaty will bring us burdens, troubles, miseries, difficulties, and that will continue for long years.[31]

The Chamber of Deputies ratified the treaty by 372 votes to 53, with the Senate voting unanimously for its ratification. On 11 October he gave his last parliamentary speech, to the Senate. He said that any attempt to partition Germany would be self-defeating and that France must find a way of living with sixty million Germans. He also said that the bourgeoisie, like the aristocracy before them in the ancien régime, had failed as a ruling class. It was now the turn of the working class to rule. He advocated national unity and a demographic revolution: "The treaty does not state that France will have many children, but it is the first thing that should have been written there. For if France does not have large families, it will be in vain that you put all the finest clauses in the treaty, that you take away all the Germans guns, France will be lost because there will be no more French".[32]

Domestic policies

Clemenceau's final tenure as prime minister witnessed the implementation of various reforms aimed at regulating the hours of labour. A general 8-hour-day law passed in April 1919 amended the French Labour Code, and in June that year, existing legislation concerning the duration of the working day in the mining industry was amended by extending the eight-hour day to all classes of workpeople, “whether employed underground or on the surface.” Under a previous law of December 1913, the eight-hour limit had only applied to workpeople employed underground. In August 1919, a similar limit was introduced for all those employed in French vessels. Another law passed in 1919 (which came into operation in October 1920) prohibited employment in bakeries between the hours of 10 P.M. and 4 A.M. A decree of May 1919 introduced the 8-hour day for workers on trams, railways, and in inland waterways, and a second of June 1919 extended this provision to the State railways.[33] In April 1919, an enabling Act was approved for an eight-hour day and a six-day week, although farmworkers were excluded from the Act.[34]

Presidential bid

Georges Clemenceau by Cecilia Beaux (1920).

In 1919 France adopted a new electoral system and the legislative election gave the National Bloc (a coalition of right-wing parties) a majority. Clemenceau only intervened once in the election campaign, delivering a speech on 4 November at Strasbourg, praising the manifesto and men of the National Bloc and urging that the victory in the war needed to be safeguarded by vigilance. In private he was concerned at this huge swing to the right.[35]

His friend Georges Mandel urged Clemenceau to stand for the presidency in the upcoming election and on 15 January 1920 he let Mandel announce that he would be prepared to serve if elected. However Clemenceau did not intend to campaign for the post, instead he wished to be chosen by acclaim as a national symbol. The preliminary meeting of the republican caucus (a forerunner to the vote in the National Assembly) chose Paul Deschanel instead of Clemenceau by a vote of 408 to 389. In response, Clemenceau refused to be put forward for the vote in the National Assembly because he did not want to win by a small majority, but by a near-unanimous vote. Only then, he claimed, could he negotiate with confidence with the Allies.[36]

In his last speech to the Cabinet on 18 January he said, "We must show the world the extent of our victory, and we must take up the mentality and habits of a victorious people, which once more takes its place at the head of Europe. But all that will now be placed in jeopardy...It will take less time and less thought to destroy the edifice so patiently and painfully erected than it took to complete it. Poor France. The mistakes have begun already".[37]

Last years

Clemenceau resigned as prime minister as soon as the presidential election was held (17 January 1920) and took no further part in politics. In private, he condemned the unilateral occupation by French troops of the German city of Frankfurt in 1920 and said if he had been in power, he would have persuaded the British to join it.[37]

He took a holiday in Egypt and the Sudan from February to April 1920, then embarked for the Far East in September, returning to France in March 1921. In June, he visited England and received an honorary degree from the University of Oxford. He met Lloyd George and said to him that after the Armistice he had become the enemy of France. Lloyd George replied, “Well, was not that always our traditional policy?” He was joking, but after reflection, Clemenceau took it seriously. After Lloyd George's fall from power in 1922 Clemenceau remarked, “As for France, it is a real enemy who disappears. Lloyd George did not hide it: at my last visit to London he cynically admitted it”.[38]

In late 1922, Clemenceau gave a lecture tour in the major cities of the American northeast. He defended the policy of France, including war debts and reparations, and condemned American isolationism. He was well received and attracted large audiences, but America's policy remained unchanged. On 9 August 1926, he wrote an open letter to the American President Calvin Coolidge that argued against France paying all its war debts: "France is not for sale, even to her friends". This appeal went unheard.[39]

He condemned Poincaré's occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 as an undoing of the entente between France and Britain.[37]

He wrote two short biographies of the Greek orator Demosthenes and the French painter Claude Monet. He also penned a huge two-volume tome, covering philosophy, history and science, titled Au Soir de la Pensée. Writing this occupied most of his time between 1923 and 1927.[40]

During his last months, he wrote his memoirs, despite declaring previously that he would not write them. He was spurred into doing so by the appearance of Marshal Foch's memoirs, which were highly critical of Clemenceau, mainly for his policy at the Paris Peace Conference. He only had time to finish the first draft and it was published posthumously as Grandeurs et Misères d'une Victoire (The Grandeur and Misery of Victory). He was critical of Foch and also of his successors who had allowed the Versailles Treaty to be undermined in the face of Germany's revival. He burned all of his private letters.

Clemenceau died on 24 November 1929 and was buried at Mouchamps.


Clemenceau's First Ministry, 25 October 1906 – 24 July 1909


  • 4 January 1908 – Aristide Briand succeeds Guyot-Dessaigne as Minister of Justice. Gaston Doumergue succeeds Briand as Minister of Public Instruction and Fine Arts. Briand remains Minister of Worship. Jean Cruppi succeeds Doumergue as Minister of Commerce and Industry.
  • 22 October 1908 – Alfred Picard succeeds Thomson as Minister of Marine.

Clemenceau's Second Ministry, 16 November 1917 – 20 January 1920


  • 23 November 1917 – Albert Lebrun succeeds Jonnart as Minister of Liberated Regions and Blockade.
  • 26 November 1918 – Louis Loucheur becomes Minister of Industrial Reconstitution. His office of Minister of Armaments and War Manufacturing is abolished.
  • 24 December 1918 – The office of Minister of Blockade is abolished. Lebrun remains Minister of Liberated Regions.
  • 5 May 1919 – Albert Claveille succeeds Clémentel as Minister of Merchant Marine. He remains Minister of Public Works and Transport, while Clémentel remains Minister of Commerce, Industry, Posts, and Telegraphs
  • 20 July 1919 – Joseph Noulens succeeds Boret as Minister of Agriculture and Supply.
  • 6 November 1919 – André Tardieu succeeds Lebrun as Minister of Liberated Regions.
  • 27 November 1919 – Léon Bérard succeeds Lafferre as Minister of Public Instruction and Fine Arts. Louis Dubois succeeds Clémentel as Minister of Commerce, Industry, Posts, and Telegraphs.
  • 2 December 1919 – Paul Jourdain succeeds Colliard as Minister of Labour and Social Security Provisions.

Personal life

Clemenceau was a long-time friend and supporter of the impressionist painter Claude Monet. He was instrumental in persuading Monet to have a cataract operation in 1923, and for over a decade encouraged Monet to complete his donation to the French state of Les Nymphéas (Water Lilies) paintings that are now on display in Paris' Musée de l'Orangerie in specially constructed oval galleries (which opened to the public in 1927).[42][43]

Having fought a dozen duels against political opponents, Clemenceau knew the importance of exercise and practiced fencing every morning even when he was an old man.[44]

Clemenceau was an atheist.[45][46][47]


Clemenceau portrait by Nadar.
  • James Douglas, Jr. bought an apartment in Paris for his friend Georges Clemenceau in 1926 to use as a retirement home. This building later became the Musée Clemenceau.[9]
  • Clemenceau, Arizona, USA was named in honor of Georges Clemenceau by his friend James Douglas, Jr. in 1917
  • Mount Clemenceau (3,658m) in the Canadian Rockies was named after Clemenceau in 1919.
  • The French aircraft carrier Clemenceau was named after Georges Clemenceau.
  • Champs-Élysées – Clemenceau is a station on lines 1 and 13 of the Paris Métro in the 8th arrondissement. The stations platforms and access tunnels lie beneath Avenue des Champs-Élysées and Place Clemenceau.
  • The Cuban Romeo y Julieta cigar brand once produced a size named the Clemenceau in his honour, and the Dominican-made variety still does.
  • A character named "George Clemenceau" portrayed by Cyril Cusack appears in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles episode Paris, May 1919.
  • One of Beirut's streets is named in honour of Georges Clemenceau. See Rue Clémenceau
  • Similarly, there is a street named Clemenceau in a southeastern suburb of Montreal, Canada (Verdun).
  • Clemenceau's famous line "War is too important to be left to the generals" is quoted by the character Gen. Jack Ripper in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.
  • It is also quoted in the episode "Mindset" of "Exosquad", but the writers use Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord as the source.
  • He was played by Paul Bildt in the 1930 German film Dreyfus.
  • One of Singapore's streets is named in honour of Georges Clemenceau. See Clémenceau Avenue. Mon. Georges Clemenceau was on an eastern tour in the 1920s, when he visited Singapore, and was invited to witness the foundation stone laying of the Cenotaph. At that visit, he had the honor to mark the foundation of Clemenceau Avenue. The Clemenceau Bridge (1920s) was a crossing over the Singapore River.

See also


  1. Clemenceau's name is spelled with an (e) and not with the (é) that is normally required in French for the pronunciation /e/.
  2. Clemenceau rather preferred the pronunciation kləmɑ̃so, but current usage has adopted the vowel [e] (by analogy with the name Clément). See P. Fouché, Traité de prononciation française, Paris, 1956, p. 65.
  3. David Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (1976) pp. 16-22.
  4. David Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (1978) p 17, 152.
  5. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  6. Clemenceau (1865), pp. 7-11
  7. Watson (1976), pp. 23-32.
  8. Milza, Pierre, L'année terrible - La Commune (mars-juin 1871)
  9. 9.0 9.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  10. See the 30 September 1906 discourse, La Roche-sur-Yon (French)
  11. G. Clemenceau, Notes de voyage dans l'Amérique du Sud, Hachette, 1911
  12. Tuchman 1962, p93
  13. Tuchman 1962, p342
  14. Watson 1974, pp265-8
  15. Watson, Georges Clemenceau (1974) pp 249-72
  16. Tuchman 1962, p425
  17. Doughty 2005, p403
  18. Palmer 1998, p157
  19. Terraine 1978, p25
  20. Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, Random House: New York, (2003) 150
  21. Watson, p. 337.
  22. Watson, p. 347.
  23. Watson, p. 350.
  24. Watson, p. 351.
  25. Watson, pp. 351-352.
  26. Watson, p. 352.
  27. Watson, p. 353.
  28. Watson, pp. 349-350.
  29. Keynes, John, Maynard, The Economic Consequences of Peace, Cosimo, Inc., 2005, ISBN 9781596052222, p.150
  30. Watson, p. 360.
  31. Watson, p. 361.
  32. Watson, p. 362.
  33. The Encyclopædia Britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information, Volume 31 by Hugh Chisholm
  34. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  35. Watson, p. 385.
  36. Watson, p. 386.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Watson, p. 387.
  38. Watson, p. 388.
  39. Watson, p. 389.
  40. Watson, pp. 390-391.
  41. Index biographique des membres et associés de l'Académie royale de Belgique (1769-2005). p 56
  42. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  43. __________. Monet: Le cycle des ‘Nymphéas’ (Paris : Musée national de l’Orangerie, 1999).
  44. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  45. "M. Clemenceau does not belong to the Socialist party, but is nevertheless a convinced atheist. He opposes zealously the idea of God, and preaches revolt against Him." Eugne Tavernier, 'The Religious Question In France. I. A French Catholic's View', The Times, November 6, 1909; p. 5; Issue 39110; col F.
  46. The Nineteenth Century and After. Vol. 61. N.p.: Leonard Scott Publishing Company, 1907. Print. "When Georges Clemenceau arrived in Paris in 1862, to proceed with his medical studies, he was already both a Revolutionist and an atheist..."
  47. Strachan, Hew. The First World War: A New History. N.p.: Simon & Schuster UK, 2014. Print. "Georges Clemenceau, radical and atheist..."


  • Dallas, Gregor. At the Heart of a Tiger: Clemenceau and His World 1841-1929 (1993); emphasis on political milieu
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  • Duval-Stalla, Alexandre, "Claude Monet - Georges Clemenceau : une histoire, deux cacactères", ( Paris : Folio, 2013)
  • Greenhalgh, Elizabeth, " David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, and the 1918 Manpower Crisis," Historical Journal (2007) 50#2 pp. 397–421
  • Holt, E., The Tiger: The Life of Georges Clemenceau 1841–1929, (London : Hamilton, 1976)
  • Jackson, J. Hampden. Clemenceau and the Third Republic (1962) online edition
  • MacMillan, Margaret. Peacemakers: The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War (2001)
  • McAuliffe, Mary. Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends (2011) excerpt and text search
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  • Newhall, David S. Clemenceau: A Life at War (1991)
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
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  • Watson, D. R. "The Making of French Foreign Policy during the First Clemenceau Ministry, 1906-1909," English Historical Review (1971) 86#341 pp. 774–782 in JSTOR
  • Watson, David R. Georges Clemenceau: France: Makers of the Modern World (2009), 176pp excerpt and text search
  • Watson, David R. Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (1976) online edition
  • Clemenceau, Georges. "De la génération des éléments anatomiques" (1865) [1]

External links