Clemenceau and the Third Republic

By J. Hampden Jackson | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
The Second Crisis: Panama

AFTER TEN YEARS in the Chamber, Clemenceau was at the very centre of Parliamentary intrigue. The position did not suit him: he was no spider but, as Allain-Targé said, a tiger, better equipped for tearing down Ministries than for weaving the elaborate webs on which representative government depends, better endowed for attacking from the outside than for working constructively from within. As an inspirer of destructive articles in his paper La Justice, as a maker of disruptive twenty-minute speeches in the Chamber, he was unsurpassed; but he had neither the patience and flair necessary in a powerbehind-the-throne, nor the popularity needed in a ruler. When President Grévy invited him to form a Ministry, in 1886, he refused, knowing that he could not command a majority in the Senate. At the same time he knew that no one could hold a majority in the Chamber in face of his opposition. Freyincet, "the white mouse," in office for the third time, also realized that; and when Clemenceau demanded that he should appoint a young general, Boulanger, as Minister of War, he dared not refuse.

Boulanger had been Clemenceau's senior by four years at the Lycée de Nantes. He was a handsome, dashing, romantic creature, just the man in Clemenceau's view to restore the prestige of the French Army, which must be a necessary prelude to restoring the prestige of France in Europe. As Minister of War he endeared himself immediately to the soldiers by improving their clothing, rations and arms (he gave them the Lebel rifle), and to the civilian masses by holding scintillating military reviews and cutting a fine figure on horseback. When Bismarck publicly referred to him as a danger to the peace of Europe, his popularity in France knew no bounds; and

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