Incarnant par le verbe et l’action un idéal politique fondé sur la conception intransigeante qu’il avait de l’intérêt général, Georges Clemenceau fut l’une des grandes figures de la IIIe République. « Il y a en moi un mélange d’anarchiste et de conservateur dans des proportions qui restent à déterminer. » La vie de Clemenceau illustre assez bien ce jugement de l’homme d’État sur lui-même. Au terme d’une carrière politique qui a marqué un demi-siècle, c’est lui qui mena la France à la victoire en 1918.
A man known to his own people as “the Tiger” for his ferociously brilliant political writing, Georges Clemenceau did as much as anyone to weaken the Fourteen Points that Woodrow Wilson brought to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Clemenceau saw Wilson as too idealistic. As French Premier, Clemenceau had acted as minister of war in his own cabinet, pushing the war vigorously until the Allies achieved victory over Germany. As leader of the French delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, he insisted on Germany’s disarmament.
Named mayor of Montmartre in Paris after the 1870 overthrow of Napoleon III, Clemenceau was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1876. Touched by a scandal over Panama Canal funding in 1893, Clemenceau lost re-election after being falsely accused of taking money to work for British interests. Divorced by now, and alone, Clemenceau spent nine years as a journalist – writing a column for La Justice before founding Le Bloc. Most notably he defended Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish military officer falsely convicted of treason in 1894 in what came to be called the Dreyfus Affair.
Redeemed politically, Clemenceau was elected to the French senate, and in 1906 he became minister of the interior and then premier for the first time. The French alliance with Great Britain was strengthened on his watch. However, Clemenceau’s cabinet fell in 1909, and he was swept from power.
Using his newspaper, L’Homme Libre, as a public platform for his views, Clemenceau spent the years before World War I advocating for a strong military, expressing his hatred of Germany, and, once the war began, accusing the French government of defeatism. Called back to power in November 1917, Clemenceau renewed the dispirited morale of France while persuading the Allies to agree to a unified command under Marshal Foch in the last year of the war.
Despite his best efforts, Clemenceau was defeated when he ran for the French presidency in 1920 because of what many French perceived as his government’s post-war leniency toward the Germans. He died in Paris in November 1929.