Pierre Mendes France

Pierre Mendes France

Pierre Mendes France

Pierre Mendes France

Excerpt

At a little after three in the afternoon on June 17, 1954, in the aquarium light that bathed the doings of the representatives of the nation in gloomy unreality, Pierre Mendès France, deputy from Eure, chairman of the Finance Committee of the National Assembly, undersecretary of state for the treasury in Lion Blum's second government, former minister under General Charles de Gaulle, stepped to the podium. Four days earlier, after nine years out of power, he had been named by President Coty as head of the fifteenth government of the Fourth Republic. He was forty-seven, but looked younger. Thickset, rather short, wearing his usual dark suit, he ascended the steps with a nearly Roman gravity.

Out of ambition, vocation, abnegation, or pride, he was totally devoted to public service. Everyone who contemplated him at this solemn moment knew that, however banal and repetitious the rite of passage of a parliamentary vote of confidence might be in that place, it was being confronted this time by a different man who would make it into a different kind of test with a different meaning. They were about to accept or reject not merely one more head of government, but a strong will with a new program. What was at stake was a basic political change, a break with the past. Hence, he was greeted with passionate expectation by some and suppressed irritation by others.

He was a born Jacobin and secularist; he had been a model pupil of the public educational system and a brilliant student at the Faculty of Law . . .

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