Men Shape History, History Shapes Men : Georges Clemenceau

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Paik, Hae Rin
Term Paper, AP European History Class, May 2008

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Young Age : History Shapes Men
III. The Third Republic and Clemenceau : Men shape history & History shapes Men
III.1. Clemenceau's Journalism : Men shape History
III.2. Clemenceau's First Ministry, 1906 - 1909: Men shape History
III.3. Beginning of World War I: History shape Men
III.4. World War I and Clemenceau's Second Ministry : Men shape History
III.5. Post World War I and the Peace Conference : Men shape History & History shape Men
IV. Conclusion : History Shape Men & Men Shape History
V. Notes
VI. Bbliography

I. Introduction
            History can be compared to a giant stream that flows across time, with many twists and curves. Within history, there are numerous figures that helped in shaping these twists and curves. However, one cannot deny the fact that these historically important figures were also shaped and influenced by the torrent of history. Georges Clemenceau, a famous French statesman whose political career spans from late 19th century into early 20th century, is a statesman of France who shaped curves in the giant stream of history. However, he was also influenced by history. This paper will examine his life and career in chronological order under the theme "Men shape history, or history shapes men".

II. Young Age : History shape Men
            Georges Clemenceau was born on 28th of September, 1841, in a small village in the province of Vendee. His father was an important figure to young Clemenceau; he looked up to his father, who was a strong republican politician. It was chance for him to broaden his knowledge and insights in political activities and interests. From his early exposure to politics with considerable influence from his father and unstable political situations of his time, he was politically active from his young age. He produced public papers called "Le Travail" with group of students ? which was considered radical by Napoleon III. Because of this he was temporarily incarcerated in prison.
            Despite his political activities in his student years, he turned his career into medicine; after studying medicine in Nantes, he moved to New York. In America, he was impressed by the U.S. democratic system and situation, where freedom of speech and individual was guaranteed. That was something that French government under Napoleon III did not possess. This exposure into new situation gave Clemenceau new insight into political situations in France at that time. Later, as a doctor He settled in Montmartre in 1869. At this time, France was under political transition; after revolution of 1870 and foundation of Third Republic, Clemenceau was nominated as mayor of 18th arrondissement (district) of Paris (Montmartre). Rather than becoming a doctor, he chose the path of a politician.

III. The Third Republic and Clemenceau : Men shape history & History shapes Men
            The Franco-German War took place from 1870 to 1871; the country suffered significantly from defeat by a strong Prussia and her allies, under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck. During the war, Emperor Napoleon III was taken prisoner. The Third Republic was proclaimed on September 4th, 1870, and the Provisional Government took office. Clemenceau remained in Paris during the siege of Paris. After the termination of war on January 1871, he ran for election as mayor and elected as a Radical into National Assembly. The Franco-German war and the anti-sentiments against Prussia influenced Clemenceau's policies and views. As a radical, he voted against the peace treaty with unified Germany. He introduced new bill to National Assembly at Versailles, representing his Radical fellow politicians; however, it was rejected. Moreover he lost elections. He was an active supporter of the Paris Commune.
            He was reelected to Paris municipal council on July 1871 for Clignancourt Quartier, and became president of the Paris Municipal Council in 1875. He was ardent supporter of Gambetta, and he succeeded as leader of extreme left. He advocated strong radical republican policy. He supported Charles de Freycinet, republican statesman, rise into power as prime minister of France. Also, Clemenceau supported General Georges Boulanger. His contribution helped Boulanger to rise into Minister of War under Freycinet's cabinet. However, the policies of new Prime Minister did not satisfy the expectations of Radical Republicans policies; his policies are "optimistic", and the radical republicans wanted stronger policies, who desire for internal transformation of society. His policies were discordant with Georges Clemenceau and Chamber of Deputies. The Republican party saw split into two factions ? opportunist republicans and radical republicans. He turned against Freycinet's cabinet. Freycinet's cabinet did not last a year; it ended in December 1886. He influenced the next election, as he turned against Freycinet, by advising his followers to vote for Sadi Carnot, an "outsider", as president. He also withdrew from supporting Boulanger, after discovering that his political aims are against what he pursues. General Boulanger's neo-Bonapartism policies, with distinct chauvinistic characteristics, included Revenge on Germany, Revision of the Constitution, and the return to monarchy. However, the general consensus of the French citizens was highly in favor of Boulanger. The rise of Boulangisme temporarily weakened Radicals. Clemenceau failed in the election in 1893. After his failure in elections, he confined his political activities to journalism; during this period, his journalist works influenced French politics.

III.1 Clemenceau's Journalism : Men shape History
            Clemenceau was an influential journalist. His career in journalism dates back to early days, when he published "Le Travail" with group of students. He founded his newspaper, "La Justice", and it served an important function in French Radicalism. He was a bitter critic of politicians, and soon he gained fame as "destroyer of ministries". During the presidency of Gravy his political reputation as a critic rapidly grew. He wrote an article concerning the Wilson Scandal (1). This scandal was about the president¡¯s son-in-law, Daniel Wilson, and his illegal trafficking in awarding L?gion d'Honneur. His continuous censure of Jules Grevy was one of main cause of Jules Grevy's resignation of presidency in 1887.
            From the year 1893 after his defeat in the election he devoted himself into journalism. He was opponent of anti-semitic, nationalistic movements. He ardently supported Emile Zola in advocating the Dreyfus case. On January 1898, in a newspaper "L'Aurore" which Clemenceau founded, he published Emile Zola's "J'accuse" on the front page. Alfred Dreyfus was French General Staff officer of Jewish origin, who was unlawfully sentenced to life in a prison for treason. This article, "'j'accuse", was addressed to Felix Faure, the president of France. The main purpose of this accusation was to reveal fractured infrastructure of French Military, Judicial system and accuse government of Anti-Semitism. This was critical to French government and its popularity. In contrast, Clemenceau's fame rose. He was widely supported, from citizens to considerable number of politicians. Finally, in 1902, he was reelected as senator for Var, representing Radical Socialist party. His journalism has changed the consensus of public, and contributed significantly in shaping his reputation and popularity into positive direction.
            His career in Journalism continues after his reelection; after his First Ministry from 1906 to 1901, he once again becomes an active journalist. He publishes "Journal du Var" on April 1910, and he publishes his editorials. His later journalism was more focused on international politics. He condemned Socialists' anti-militarism and blunders of ministers and army staffs in his newspaper "L'homme Libre". His newspaper was severely censored, so he changed his newspaper title to "L'homme enchaine".

III.2 Clemenceau's First Ministry, 1906 - 1909 : Men shape History
            His influence in French government's policies continued onward from his reelection; he supported anti-clericalist republican policies, separation of church and state. This was embodied by the Act passed in 1905. In 1906, Clemenceau was appointed as the Premier. His leadership brought many changes in both domestic and international policies of France. He carried out the anti-clerical policies, which separates the church and the state. Also he implemented several domestic reforms, including police force reform, shortening the working day, healthcare to sick people through income tax, and pensions for aged people.
            Clemenceau's economic policies were strongly "Laissez-faire". He believed that government interruption in economy, in any terms, is not right. So he did not intervene in economy, not even in terms of improving working conditions. As a result, thousands of workers went out on strike, to strive for better working conditions. However, he repressed all strikes mercilessly, and even called himself "Premier Flic de France" - "first cop of France". French workers suffered from higher rates of plagues, diseases and deaths, comparing to workers in Germany and England. Germany and England passed more laws for improving the working conditions, such as laws to ensure insurance, etc. However, French legislation under Clemenceau's ministry did not.
            His main achievement in international negotiations includes setting the "Entente Cordiale" with England. The Entente Cordiale is a series of agreements signed on April 8, 1904, between France and United Kingdom. This ensured peaceful relationships between France and England. He was a successful diplomat representing France in European politics. He handled Moroccan Crisis successfully, despite uneasy relationship with Germany. Through the Algeciras Conference Clemenceau enhanced positive relationship with England. Clemenceau However, in 1909 he resigned, after a conflict involving Theophile Delacasse, the former president of Council.

III.3 Beginning of World War I : History shape Men
            The World War I broke out in year 1914. As the war broke out, President Poincare attempted to enhance national unity by creating a "Sacred Union" which would contain all the political party, including Socialist party. However, under Poincare, the wartime administration was not stable; the Military commander changed several times. Moreover, French wartime economy was facing an unfavorable situation. In addition to this, ongoing political crisis surrounding General Petain and General Nivelle worsened the morale of France. The failure of spring offensive planned by General Nivelle caused mutinies among the troops. Petain, the key figure of the mutiny, succeeded and became commander of chief. France was under state of confusion under political instability and ongoing mutinies of workers. Under these circumstances, the president of France, Poincare, asked Clemenceau to take the position of Prime Minister and lead the wartime France, which marks his second ministry. The situation at that time needed neutral, strong leadership, and Clemenceau was judged as a suitable person for leading France during wartime. Thus the position was offered to him, who was also known as "the Tiger" (Le Tigre).

III.4 World War I and Clemenceau's Second Ministry: Men shape History
            When Clemenceau entered the scene, France was financially, politically and militarily weak. The morale of French citizens was low. Opinions among politicians were divided; there were some politicians who wished to terminate war and find peace. A large number of people were against the war, for they thought this was totally disadvantageous for France. It was politically difficult task for Clemenceau to lead France in this period, because he did not have strong support from French politicians; he was actually isolated from them, so he had to rely on himself. However, he decisively carried out the "la guerre jusqu'au bout" policy ? which translates into "War until the end". He appointed General Ferdinand Foch as the supreme allied commander. He called on second-rank people for support, who was not well known, and this enhanced his authority. He gave confidence and hope to soldiers, citizens and politicians that it is possible for France to win the war. To increase morale of soldiers he frequently visited trenches, and encouraged the soldiers. He was harsh to believers of negotiated peace. For instance, he incarcerated Joseph Calliux, a premier Prime Minister of France, because of his belief in negotiated peace. His efforts during World War I earned him the name "Pere la Victoire", the father of Victory. In the end, the Allied Side was victorious. Clemenceau was respected highly, and was welcomed enthusiastically by French citizens. However, many French politicians started to worry that since his policies are didactic, he could become the future dictator of France.

III.5 Post World War I and the Peace Conference : Men shape History & History shape Men
            After termination of World War I, the Paris Peace Conference took place in Paris suburbs like Versailles, France. Clemenceau was appointed as the president of the conference. Two important issues discussed in the Paris Peace Conference were American President Woodrow Wilson's 14 points, and the concept of the League of Nations. He was skeptical to Wilson's policies, regarding Wilson's ideas as too utopian and unrealistic. Rather, he focused on promoting security and prosperity of France. On the process of peace conference, his relationships with Woodrow Wilson and Lloyd George, the prime minister of England, was quite rough; they frequently disagreed, and had contrasting opinions in deciding matters. Clemenceau's proposals in negotiation included a French annexation of the Saar, moving France's military frontier to the Rhine, which means permanent occupation of the German Rhineland. However, Wilson strongly opposed these steps, because he thought this would be contrary to Fourteen Points. In regard to the Saar region was determined that it would be administered by League of Nations for 15 years, and the administration of the coal mines would be given to France. Clemenceau succeeded in gaining the return of Alsace-Lorraine region and reparation bill of Germany. However, Clemenceau had to give up idea of annexing the Rhineland.
            Clemenceau at that time was regarded as hero in France, with immense popularity. However, Clemenceau's dominating presence made a number of French politicians anxious, as they judged him as future potential "dictator" of France. They worried of him accepting the position of President of France in the year 1920. Clemenceau was accused of his ambitions for becoming dictator of France. The Campaign against Clemenceau saw its success when he lost to Paul Deschanel, the president of the Chamber, in a trial vote in preparatory gathering of republican groups in Chamber and Senate in January 1920. After this, he rejected to run as candidate for Presidency. Deschanel was elected as President of France, and consecutively Clemenceau resigned from the cabinet. As Clemenceau, leader of the left, resigned from politics, the Right was now the majority dominating the country's policies.

IV Conclusion : History Shape Men & Men Shape History
            There were times when Georges Clemenceau was largely influenced and shaped by history , or in other words, the surrounding situations. However, his life is more characterized as "Men Shaping the History" - he influenced significantly in French policies, both domestic and international, and played a key role in Allied side's victory in World War I.
            Looking his life in chronological order, Georges Clemenceau¡¯s early background was influenced largely from surrounding situations, and also by his father. The political situations back then were unstable, and his experience of American democracy also had impact in his future political aims. Also, his early careers in politics was largely influenced by historical frame back then; Franco-German war , establishment of Third Republic and provisional government, and the policies within France shaped much of his actions and policies. Also his position of his First ministry was due to surrounding situations. Because the surrounding situations, he was judged as most suitable for the position. This could also be interpreted as "History shapes men".
            As his political career continues, he stands as an independent individual whose influence becomes increasingly substantial in French politics. As a mayor of Montmartre and senator representing Radicals, he pursues certain political goals with strong will and stubbornness. He also shapes History through serving as a Prime Minister of France two times. Known as "tiger", his leadership was widely known. His policies influenced France significantly. Even though he was responsible for implementing many reforms within society, he was also responsible for French Workers' inferior working conditions comparing to other countries; this was because he supported "lassiez-faire" policy, no interruption of Government in Economics. During World War I, he adhered to a "Total War" policy, encouraged French citizens and soldiers, and finally led Allied forces into victory. uring his second ministry, his power not only shaped history of France but also of the World. Without him victory of France in World War I would not have been possible.
            Another way of his shaping history was through communication. Clemenceau, a talented orator and journalist, influenced mass public through his newspapers and speeches. Known as "destroyer of ministries" in early days, he was famous for his bitter criticism of government. Later, through publishing "J'accuse" in his newspaper "L'Aurore", he reveals the judicial errors of French government thus weakening their power. His journalism career continues after his first ministry. As the word "Pen is mightier than sword" demonstrates, His influence in French Politics through pen was formidable.
            Another interesting aspect of his life is about his downfall. After Paris Peace Conference, his popularity dropped due to underground campaigns spread by large group of politicians. The campaign was based on apprehension of many political leaders that Clemenceau had a secret ambition to become a dictator of France. The impression Clemenceau gave France - stubborn, firm skilled orator, sometimes dogmatic, convinced people that he had potential to become a dictator. Also, His stubborn attitude and his representation of France in Paris Peace Conference without enough communication with Government body invoked anti-sentiments among many politicians in France. Due to this campaign, he lost the trial vote for Presidency. He withdrew from candidate for presidency, and retired from politics. In his early political careers and during World War I, his forceful will and stubbornness was his strength; now it has turned against him. This action could be interpreted as both "history shapes men" and "men shape history". Because he "shaped history" through leading France in wartime, he was "shaped by history" by failing to gain consistent support after World War I.
            One cannot deny that his achievements are prominent in shaping French history, and also world history. However, he was also consistently influenced by his surrounding environments, both domestic and political situations. Without "History", or in other words, "Situations and environment that surround him", Georges Clemenceau would not have been possible; Without Georges Clemenceau, history would have been so different from what it is now.


(1)      the Wilson Scandal ; from : NationMaster Encyclopedia - Boulangisme


Note : websites quoted below were visited in May 2008.
1.      Ganse, Alexander. KMLA Handbook Modern European History. 5th ed. KMLA, 2007
2.      Price, Roger. A Concise History of France. New York: Cambridge UP, 1993
3.      Haine, W.Scott, The History of France. Greenwood 2000
4.      Bernard, Philippe, and Henri Dubief. The Decline of the Third Republic, 1914-1938. New York: Cambridge UP, 1988.
5.      "France 1870-1890 : Foreign Policy", from WHKMLA, <>
6.      "France 1890-1914 : Foreign Policy", from WHKMLA, <>
7.      Who's Who - Georges Clemenceau, from First World War.Com
8.      "Georges Clemenceau", from Why We Go To War,
9.      France at War - Bet Geste : CLemenceau, Wilson and the Fourteen Points ? "The Great War Society", from World War I.Com,
10.      Article : Georges Clemenceau, from Wikipedia French edition
11.      Article : Georges Clemenceau, from LoveToKnow 1911 " Classic Encyclopedia" (= Britannica, 1911 edition)
12.      Historical Biography : George Clemenceau, from Essortment,

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