Émile Combes was born in Roquecourbe in the Tarn départment. He studied for the priesthood, but abandoned the idea before ordination, and took the diploma of doctor of letters 1800). Then he studied medicine, taking his degree in 1867, and setting up in practice at Pons in Charente-Inférieure. In 1881 he presented himself as a political candidate for Saintes, but was defeated. In f885 he was elected to the senate by the départment of Charente-Inférieure. He sat in the Democratic left, and was elected vice-president in 1893 and 1894. The reports which he drew up upon educational questions drew attention to him, and on November 3 1895 he entered the Bourgeois cabinet as minister of public instruction, resigning with his colleagues on April 21 following.
He actively supported the Waldeck-Rousseau ministry, and upon its retirement in 1903 he was himself charged with the formation of a cabinet. In this he took the portfolio of the Interior, and the main energy of the government was devoted to the struggle with clericalism. The parties of the Left in the chamber, united upon this question in the Bloc republicain, supported Combes in his application of the law of 1901 on the religious associations, and voted the new bill on the congregations (1904), and under his guidance France took the first definite steps toward the separation of church and state.
He was opposed with extreme violence by all the Conservative parties, who regarded the secularization of the schools as a persecution of religion. But his stubborn enforcement of the law won him the applause of the people, who called him familiarly le petit père. Finally the defection of the Radical and Socialist groups induced him to resign on January 17 1905, although he had not met an adverse vote in the Chamber. His policy was still carried on; and when the law of the separation of church and state was passed, all the leaders of the Radical parties entertained him at a noteworthy banquet in which they openly recognized him as the real originator of the movement.
|Prime Minister of France|