Between Justice and Politics: The Ligue Des Droits de L'homme, 1898-1945

By William D. Irvine | Go to book overview

ONE
Origins, Organization, and Structure

In 1894 a French army officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, was tried and convicted of espionage and sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial caused a brief public sensation and was soon forgotten except by a handful of relatives, intellectuals, and army officers who had growing reservations both about Dreyfus’s guilt and about the conduct of his trial. Faced with the government’s refusal to reopen the case, in January 1898 the famous novelist Emile Zola published J’Accuse, an open letter to the President of the Republic, appearing in the Radical newspaper L’Aurore, which bluntly and eloquently accused the army of having knowingly convicted an innocent man. The government promptly laid criminal charges against Zola.

On February 20, 1898, in the midst of the Zola trial, a group of upper-class Parisian intellectuals met at the home of Senator Ludovic Trarieux. The senator, who had just testified in Zola’s defense, desperately wanted to found “a group, an association, a League [or] something” whose mission was to “safeguard individual rights, the liberty of citizens and their equality before the law.”1 There was in fact precedent for such a League. Ten years earlier, when the democratic republic had seemed menaced by the renegade General Boulanger, a group of militant republicans had founded a League of the Rights of Man to defend public liberties and the regime. As that League had dissolved itself on the defeat of Boulanger, Trarieux and his associates decided to readopt the name.2

Within a month of the initial meeting, the new League had attracted 269 members. By the time it held its first general assembly on June 4, there were 800 members; by the end of that year there were 4,580 members, 200 of whom attended the second general assembly in December. When Dreyfus was finally pardoned by the French government at the end of 1899, the League had 12,000 dues-paying adherents in seventy sections. The new League also displayed an indefatigable energy. The Central Committee elected in June 1898 met no fewer than twenty-three times in the next six months. When Trarieux wrote

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Between Justice and Politics: The Ligue Des Droits de L'homme, 1898-1945
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Between Justice and Politics - The Ligue Des Droits de L'homme, 1898–1945 iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • One - Origins, Organization, and Structure 5
  • Two - Ici on Ne Fait Pas de la Politique 20
  • Three - Politics, Yes, but Not Electoral Politics 53
  • Four - Liberty with All Its Risks 81
  • Five - The League from below 111
  • Six - War and Peace- 1914–1934 132
  • Seven - From the Popular Front to the Fall of France 160
  • Eight - Vichy 194
  • Epilogue 213
  • Notes 225
  • Bibliography 255
  • Index 257
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