Clemenceau, Georges

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Clemenceau, Georges

Georges Clemenceau (zhôrzh klāmäNsō´), 1841–1929, French political figure, twice premier (1906–9, 1917–20), called "the Tiger." He was trained as a doctor, but his republicanism brought him into conflict with the government of Napoleon III, and he went to the United States, where he spent several years as a journalist and a teacher. Returning to France in 1869, he was mayor of Montmartre in Paris after the overthrow (1870) of Napoleon III. His political career, beginning in Revolution, continued to be a stormy one punctuated by verbal and physical duels. As a Socialist, he opposed the moderate Léon Gambetta; drove Jules Ferry from power; and first supported but then bitterly opposed General Boulanger. A member of the chamber of deputies from 1876, he failed to win reelection in 1893 after being implicated in the Panama Canal scandal and then unjustly accused of being in the pay of the British. During the next nine years he devoted himself to journalism, writing a daily article in La Justice and founding (1900) Le Bloc. He was a passionate defender of Alfred Dreyfus in the Dreyfus Affair. In 1902, Clemenceau was elected senator, and in 1906 he became minister of the interior and then premier. During his tenure the first crisis over Morocco was settled and the alliance with Great Britain strengthened. In 1909 his cabinet fell and Aristide Briand became premier. In the next years Clemenceau vigorously attacked Germany and pressed for military preparedness. His newspaper, L'Homme libre (after its suppression in 1914, L'Homme enchâiné), attacked the government for defeatism even after the outbreak of World War I. Succeeding Paul Painlevé as premier in Nov., 1917, Clemenceau formed a coalition cabinet in which he was also minister of war. He renewed the dispirited morale of France, persuaded the allies to agree to a unified command, and pushed the war vigorously until the final victory. Leading the French delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, Clemenceau insisted on Germany's disarmament and was never satisfied with the Versailles Treaty. He was the main antagonist of Woodrow Wilson, whose ideas he viewed as too idealistic. Ironically, he was defeated in the presidential election of 1920 because of what was regarded as his leniency toward Germany. Alexandre Millerand succeeded him as premier. Clemenceau retired to his native Vendée, where he wrote In the Evening of My Thought (tr. 1929) and other works.

See biographies by G. Bruun (1943, repr. 1962) and J. H. Jackson (1946, repr. 1962); study by J. King (1960).

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