Clemenceau and the Third Republic

By J. Hampden Jackson | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
The Making of a Government

WHEN CLEMENCEAU ACCEPTED the office of Minister of Home Affairs in March 1906, everybody was surprised. He had hitherto refused every government post that had been offered, and there was nothing in the programme of M. Sarrien's ministry that seemed likely to attract him. The only apparent reason for his accepting responsibility for Home Affairs under Sarrien was that the circumstances of the moment were particularly critical.

An explosion of fire-damp in the Courrièrs-Lens mines had cost the lives of 1,150 workers underground; it was the greatest disaster that had ever occurred in the mining industry. The miners came out on strike, furious with the owners whose failure to enforce the most elementary safety precautions seemed to be the obvious cause of the tragedy. Everything pointed to a riot, and the mayor and deputy of the district were asking the Government to send down a hundred thousand troops immediately. "I will go myself," said Clemenceau, "I will tell the miners that their rights will be respected as full as those of the owners, provided that there is no disorder. Democracy is the art of disciplining oneself." And he went to Lens, unaccompanied, to interview the Strike Committees and to harangue the miners.

It was magnificent, but it was not politics. Clemenceau failed to convince the miners, as he had failed to convince every crowd of working men, from the morning on the Butte of Montmartre to the evening at Salernes. His case was perfectly logical. The miners had the right to strike; he would guarantee it. The blacklegs had the right to work; he would protect them, with State troops if necessary. The owners had the right to their property; he would put troops in the pits to see that there was no sabotage. All this was fully consonant with the Rights

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