Georges Clemenceau

Aristide Briand Paul Painlevé Alexandre Ribot

Georges Clemenceau
Georges Clemenceau par Nadar.jpg
Prime Minister of France
In office
16 November 1917 – 20 January 1920
PresidentRaymond Poincaré
Preceded byPaul Painlevé
Succeeded byAlexandre Millerand
In office
25 October 1906 – 24 July 1909
PresidentArmand Fallières
Preceded byFerdinand Sarrien
Succeeded byAristide Briand
Minister of War
In office
16 November 1917 – 20 January 1920
Prime MinisterHimself
Preceded byPaul Painlevé
Succeeded byAndré Joseph Lefèvre
Minister of the Interior
In office
14 March 1906 – 24 July 1909
Prime MinisterFerdinand Sarrien
Preceded byFernand Dubief
Succeeded byAristide Briand
Senator for Var
In office
10 June 1902 – 10 January 1910
Preceded byErnest Denormandie
Succeeded byGustave Fourment
Member of the Chamber of Deputies
In office
15 October 1885 – 14 October 1893
Preceded byAuguste Maurel
Succeeded byJoseph Jourdan
In office
8 March 1876 – 14 October 1885
Member of the National Assembly
In office
12 February 1871 – 27 March 1871
President of the Council of Paris
In office
28 November 1875 – 24 April 1876
Preceded byPierre Marmottan
Succeeded byBarthélemy Forest
Personal details
Georges Benjamin Clemenceau

(1841-09-28)28 September 1841
Mouilleron-en-Pareds, France
Died24 November 1929(1929-11-24) (aged 88)
Paris, France
Political partyRadical Republican (1871–1901)
Radical-Socialist Party (1901–1920)
(m. 1869; div. 1891)
ChildrenMichel Clemenceau
Alma materUniversity of Nantes
ProfessionPhysician, journalist
Nickname(s)Father of Victory
The Tiger

Georges Eugène Benjamin Clemenceau (/ˈklɛməns/,[1] also US: /ˌklɛmənˈs, ˌklmɒ̃ˈs/,[2][3] French: [ʒɔʁʒ bɛ̃ʒamɛ̃ klemɑ̃so];[a] 28 September 1841 – 24 November 1929) was a French statesman who served as Prime Minister of France from 1906 to 1909 and again from 1917 until 1920. A popular figure of the Independent Radicals, he played a central role in the politics of the Third Republic, most notably successfully leading the country through the end of the First World War.

At the peace conference he demanded a victory that would keep France safe from Germany. He wanted reparations, a transfer of colonies, and strict rules to prevent a rearming process, as well as the restitution of Alsace-Lorraine. Clemenceau achieved these goals in the Treaty of Versailles signed at the Paris Peace Conference (1919–1920). Nicknamed Père la Victoire ("Father of Victory") or Le Tigre ("The Tiger"), he continued his harsh position against Germany in the 1920s, though not quite as much as President Raymond Poincaré. He signed mutual defence treaties with Great Britain and the United States, to unite against a possible future German aggression, but these never took effect.

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. 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.[5] 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[citation needed]. 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.[6][7]

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.[8]

Political activism and American experience

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 imperial police for having placed posters summoning a demonstration. He spent 77 days in the Mazas Prison. Around the same time, Clemenceau also visited the old French revolutionary Auguste Blanqui and another Republican activist, Auguste Scheurer-Kestner, in jail, further deepening his hatred of Napoleon III's regime and his fervent republicanism.[9]

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. After a failed love affair, Clemenceau left France for the United States as 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, Le Temps. 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, where he would meet his future wife. During this time, he joined French exile clubs in New York opposing the imperial regime.

Clemenceau covered the country's recovery following the Civil War, the workings of American democracy and the racial questions related to the end of slavery, as part of his journalistic activity. From his time in America, he retained a strong faith in American democratic ideals as opposed to France's imperial regime, as well as a sense of political compromise that would later become a hallmark of his political career.[9]

Marriage and family

Mary Clémenceau in period costume. Portrait by Ferdinand Roybet

On 23 June 1869, he married one of his horse riding students, Mary Eliza Plummer (1849–1922), in New York City. She was the daughter of William Kelly Plummer and wife Harriet A. Taylor. The Clemenceaus moved to France and had three children together, Madeleine (born in 1870), Thérèse (1872) and Michel (1873).[9] The marriage ended in a contentious divorce.[10]

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 of 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.[11]

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.[12]

Chamber of Deputies

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 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.[13]

From 1876 to 1880, Clemenceau was one of the main defenders of the general amnesty of thousands of Communards, members of the revolutionary government of the 1871 Paris Commune, who had been deported to New Caledonia. Along with other radicals and figures such as poet and then-senator Victor Hugo, as well as a growing number of republicans, he supported several unsuccessful proposals. A general amnesty was finally adopted on July 11, 1880. The "reconciliation" envisaged by Clemenceau could begin, as the remaining deported Communards such as his friend Louise Michel returned to France.[9]

Clemenceau giving a speech in the Parisian Fernando Circus (painting by Jean-François Raffaëlli, 1883).
Portrait of Georges Clemenceau by Édouard Manet, c. 1879–80

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[14]

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 Independent Radicals in the Senate and moderated his positions, although he still vigorously supported the Radical-Socialist 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.[15]

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.[13]

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.

After a proposal by the deputy Paul Dussaussoy for limited women's suffrage in local elections, Clemenceau published a pamphlet in 1907 in which he declared that if women were given the vote France would return to the Middle Ages.[16] As the revolt of the Languedoc winegrowers developed Clemenceau at first dismissed the complaints, then sent in troops to keep the peace in June 1907.[17] 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.[18]

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.[19] Clemenceau declined to join the government of national unity as Justice Minister in autumn 1914.[20]

He suggested transportation of T. G. Masaryk legions from Russia to France s. c. "North trip" (by North sea) as first (the first realization 15 October 1917 from Archangelsk).[21]

He was a vehement critic of the war-time French government, asserting that it was not doing enough to win the war. His stance 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.[22] The prominence of his opposition made him the best known critic and the last man standing when the others had failed.[23] "Messieurs, les Allemands sont toujours à Noyon" (Gentlemen, the Germans are still at Noyon) wrote Clemenceau's paper endlessly.[24]

Prime Minister again

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.[13]


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".[25][26] 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)

Clemenceau as Prime Minister of France

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".[27]

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,[by whom?] "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 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,[by whom?] "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.[13]

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".[28]

The arrest of Caillaux and others raised the issue of Clemenceau's harshness but the only powers that Clemenceau assumed were those that he thought necessary to win the war. The many trials and arrests aroused great public excitement. 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."[29]

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.[30]

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. 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[by whom?] 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[by whom?] 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; the Chamber subsequently 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 French 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.[citation needed]

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.

The powers agreed 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. Clemenceau had an unassailable position of full control of the French delegation. Parliament gave him a vote of confidence on December 30, 1918, by a vote of 398 to 93. The rules of the conference allowed France five plenipotentiaries. Besides Clemenceau himself the other four were his pawns. He excluded all military men, especially Foch. He excluded the president of France, Raymond Poincaré, keeping him in the dark on the progress of negotiations. He excluded all parliamentary deputies, saying he would negotiate the treaty and it would be parliament's duty to vote it up or down after it was finished.[31]

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 leverage was repeatedly jeopardized by Clemenceau's mistrust of Wilson and Britain's David Lloyd George, and his intense dislike of President 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, as Clemenceau was leaving his apartment, 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 nearly lynched. Clemenceau's 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."[32]

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".[33]

The issue was finally resolved when Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson guaranteed immediate military assistance if Germany attacked without provocation.[34] It was also decided that the Allies would occupy the territory for fifteen years, and that Germany could never rearm the area.[35] 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.[36]

President Poincaré and Marshal Ferdinand Foch both repeatedly pressed for an autonomous Rhineland state. Foch thought the Treaty of Versailles was too lenient on Germany, stating "This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years."[37] 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".[38] 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".[39] 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".[40][41]

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.[42]

Although Clemenceau had little knowledge of the defunct 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",[43] 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.[44]

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.[45]

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".[46]

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.[47] 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.[48]

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.[49]

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.[50]

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".[51]

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.[51]

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".[52]

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.[53]

He condemned Poincaré's occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 as an undoing of the entente between France and Britain.[51]

He wrote two short biographies, one of the Greek orator Demosthenes and one of 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.[54]

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 miseres d'une victoire (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


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


Personal life

Clemenceau was a long-time friend and supporter of the impressionist painter Claude Monet, and was instrumental in persuading Monet to have a cataract operation in 1923. For over a decade Clemenceau encouraged Monet to complete his donation to the French state of the large Les Nymphéas (Water Lilies) paintings that are now on display in Paris' Musée de l'Orangerie. They are housed in specially constructed oval galleries which opened to the public in 1927.[56][57]

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.[58]

Clemenceau was an atheist.[59][60][61]

He took an interest in Japanese art, especially Japanese ceramics. He collected around 3,000 small incense containers (kōgō 香合), which are now in museums.[62] The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts held a special exhibition of his collection in 1978.[63]


Clemenceau portrait by Nadar.

Screen portrayals

Leonard Shephard portrayed Georges Clemenceau in Dreyfus (1931)

Grant Mitchell portrayed Georges Clemenceau in The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Alberto Morin portrayed Georges Clemenceau in Tennessee Johnson (1942)

Marcel Dalio portrayed Georges Clemenceau in Wilson (1944)

Gnat Yura portrayed Georges Clemenceau in The Unforgettable Year 1919 (1951)

Peter Illing portrayed Georges Clemenceau in I Accuse! (1958)

John Bennett portrayed Georges Clemenceau in Fall of Eagles (1974)

Michael Anthony portrayed Georges Clemenceau in The Life and Times of David Lloyd George (1981)

Arnold Diamond portrayed Georges Clemenceau in A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia (1992)

Brian Cox portrayed Georges Clemenceau in The Nature Vacations of Fantastic World of the Adventure (2016)

Gérard Chaillou portrayed Georges Clemenceau in An Officer and a Spy (2019)

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/. Clemenceau indeed preferred the spelling pronunciation [kləmɑ̃so], but current usage has adopted the vowel /e/ by analogy with the name Clément.[4]


  1. ^ "Clemenceau, Georges". Lexico UK Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 9 August 2019.
  2. ^ "Clemenceau". Collins English Dictionary. HarperCollins. Retrieved 9 August 2019.
  3. ^ "Clemenceau". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 9 August 2019.
  4. ^ P. Fouché (1956). Traité de prononciation française (in French). Paris. p. 65.
  5. ^ David Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (1976) pp. 16–22.
  6. ^ David Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (1978) p 17, 152.
  7. ^ David S. Newhall (1991). Clemenceau: A Life at War. E. Mellen Press. p. 526. ISBN 9780889467859.
  8. ^ Clemenceau (1865), pp. 7–11
  9. ^ a b c d Winock, Michel (2013). Clemenceau. Éditions Perrin. pp. 73–90. doi:10.3917/perri.wino.2013.01. ISBN 978-2-262-03878-6.
  10. ^ Watson (1976), pp. 23–32.
  11. ^ Milza, Pierre, L'année terrible – La Commune (mars-juin 1871)
  12. ^ Chisolm, Hugh (1910). Encyclopaedia britannica : a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information (11th ed.). New York: The Encyclopaedia Britannica Company. p. 482. OCLC 962864074.
  13. ^ a b c d Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (1976).
  14. ^ a b "G.Clemenceau Museum – Paris". Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  15. ^ See the 30 September 1906 discourse Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine, La Roche-sur-Yon (in French)
  16. ^ Gazdar 2016, PT56.
  17. ^ Castillon 2007.
  18. ^ G. Clemenceau, Notes de voyage dans l'Amérique du Sud, Hachette, 1911
  19. ^ Tuchman 1962, p93
  20. ^ Tuchman 1962, p342
  21. ^ Preclík, Vratislav. Masaryk a legie (Masaryk and legions), váz. kniha, 219 str., vydalo nakladatelství Paris Karviná, Žižkova 2379 (734 01 Karvina, CZ) ve spolupráci s Masarykovým demokratickým hnutím (Masaryk Democratic Movement, Prague), 2019, ISBN 978-80-87173-47-3, pages 12, 23 – 24, 34, 86, 124–128, 140–148, 184–190.
  22. ^ Watson 1974, pp265-8
  23. ^ Watson, Georges Clemenceau (1974) pp 249–72
  24. ^ Tuchman 1962, p425
  25. ^ Doughty 2005, p403
  26. ^ Palmer 1998, p157
  27. ^ Terraine 1978, p25
  28. ^ Edgard Holt, The Tiger: the life of Georges Clemenceau, 1841–1929 (1976) p 192.
  29. ^ Holt, p 192-93.
  30. ^ L. Ambrosius (2002). Wilsonianism: Woodrow Wilson and His Legacy in American Foreign Relations. p. 69. ISBN 9781403970046.
  31. ^ Elizabeth Greenhalgh, "Marshal Ferdinand Foch versus Georges Clemenceau in 1919." War in History 24.4 (2017): 458-497 at p. 468. online
  32. ^ Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (2003) p. 150
  33. ^ Watson, p. 337.
  34. ^ Watson, p. 347.
  35. ^ Watson, p. 350.
  36. ^ Watson, p. 351.
  37. ^ Spencer Tucker and Priscilla Mary Roberts, eds. World War I: Encyclopedia (2005)1:426
  38. ^ Watson, pp. 351–352.
  39. ^ Watson, p. 352.
  40. ^ Watson, p. 353.
  41. ^ "Marshal Ferdinand Foch versus Georges Clemenceau in 1919." pp 458-497
  42. ^ Watson, pp. 349–350.
  43. ^ Keynes, John, Maynard, The Economic Consequences of Peace, Cosimo, Inc., 2005, ISBN 9781596052222, p.150
  44. ^ Watson, p. 360.
  45. ^ Watson, p. 361.
  46. ^ Watson, p. 362.
  47. ^ The Encyclopædia Britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information, Volume 31 by Hugh Chisholm
  48. ^ Cross, Gary S.; Cross, Distinguished Professor of Modern History Gary (1 January 1989). A Quest for Time. University of California Press. p. 131. ISBN 9780520065321. Retrieved 24 May 2016. france The Eight-hour Act of April 23, 1919.
  49. ^ Watson, p. 385.
  50. ^ Watson, p. 386.
  51. ^ a b c Watson, p. 387.
  52. ^ Watson, p. 388.
  53. ^ Watson, p. 389.
  54. ^ Watson, pp. 390–391.
  55. ^ Index biographique des membres et associés de l'Académie royale de Belgique (1769–2005). p 56
  56. ^ Smith, Roberta (10 September 2009). "Serenade in Blue". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2010.
  57. ^ __________. Monet: Le cycle des 'Nymphéas' (Paris : Musée national de l'Orangerie, 1999).
  58. ^ MacMillan, Margaret (2013). The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. New York City: Random House. p. 254. ISBN 978-1-4000-6855-5.
  59. ^ "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." Eugène Tavernier, 'The Religious Question in France. I. A French Catholic's View', The Times, 6 November 1909; p. 5; Issue 39110; col F.
  60. ^ 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..."
  61. ^ Strachan, Hew. The First World War: A New History. N.p.: Simon & Schuster UK, 2014. Print. "Georges Clemenceau, radical and atheist..."
  62. ^;jsessionid=A1665DAD1595502972B028182B12B490?method=preview&lang=EN&id=13062
  63. ^ Exhibition of Kogo: Japanese Ceramic Incense Boxes from the George Clemenceau Collection. Asahi Shimbun. 1978.