In his early years in Paris, he was a political activist, publishing what was seen by the then government of Emperor Napoleon III as radical. Clemenceau then traveled to the United States, where he spent four years (from 1865 to 1869). He was impressed by the freedom of discussion and expression he witnessed, which was unknown in France during the reign of Napoleon III, and he had great admiration for the politicians who were forging American democracy. He taught in a girls' school in Stamford, Connecticut, and married one of his pupils, Mary Plummer, in 1869. Three children were born of the marriage, but the couple separated after seven years.
Back in France, having adopted medicine as his profession, he settled in 1869 in Montmartre; and after the revolution of 1870 he had become sufficiently well known to be nominated mayor of the 18th arrondissement of Paris (Montmartre)--an unruly district over which it was a difficult task to preside.
On February 8 1871 he was elected as a Radical to the National Assembly for the department of the Seine, and voted against the peace preliminaries. The murder of Generals Lecomte and Clement Thomas by the communists on March 15, which he vainly tried to prevent, brought him into collision with the central committee sitting at the hotel de ville, and they ordered his arrest, but he escaped; he was accused, however, by various witnesses, at the subsequent trial of the murderers (November 29), of not having intervened when he might have done, and though he was cleared of this charge it led to a duel, for his share in which he was prosecuted and sentenced to a fine and a fortnight's imprisonment.
On March 20 1871, he had introduced in the National Assembly at Versailles, on behalf of his Radical colleagues, the bill establishing a Paris municipal council of eighty members; but he was not returned himself at the elections of March 26. He tried with the other Paris mayors to mediate between Versailles and the hotel de ville, but failed, and accordingly resigned his mayoralty and his seat in the Assembly, and temporarily gave up politics; but he was elected to the Paris municipal council on July 23 1871 for the Clignancourt quartier, and retained his seat till 1876, passing through the offices of secretary and vice-president, and becoming president in 1875.
In 1876 he stood again for the Chamber of Deputies, and was elected for the 18th arrondissement. He joined the Extreme Left, and his energy and mordant eloquence speedily made him the leader of the Radical section. In 1877, after the Seize Mai, he was one of the republican majority who denounced the Broglie ministry, and he took a leading part in resisting the anti-republican policy of which the Seize Mai incident was a symptom, his demand in 1879 for the indictment of the Broglie ministry bringing him into particular prominence.
In 1880 he started his newspaper, La Justice, which became the principal organ of Parisian Radicalism; and from this time onwards throughout Jules Grévy's presidency his reputation as a political critic, and as a destroyer of ministries who yet would not take office himself, rapidly grew. He led the Extreme Left in the Chamber. He was an active opponent of Jules Ferry's colonial policy and of the Opportunist party, and in 1885 it was his use of the Tonkin disaster which principally determined the fall of the Ferry cabinet.
At the elections of 1885 he advocated a strong Radical programme, and was returned both for his old seat in Paris and for the Var, selecting the latter. Refusing to form a ministry to replace the one he had overthrown, he supported the Right in keeping Freycinet in power in 1886, and was responsible for the inclusion of General Boulanger in the Freycinet cabinet as war minister. When Boulanger showed himself as an ambitious pretender, Clemenceau withdrew his support and became a vigorous combatant against the Boulangist movement, though the Radical press and a section of the party continued to patronize the general.
By his exposure of the Wilson scandal, and by his personal plain speaking, M. Clemenceau contributed largely to M. Grévy's resignation of the presidency in 1887, having himself declined Grevy's request to form a cabinet on the downfall of that of Maurice Rouvier; and he was primarily responsible, by advising his followers to vote neither for Floquet, Ferry nor Freycinet, for the election of an "outsider" as president in Carnot.
The split in the Radical party over Boulangism weakened his hands, and its collapse made his help unnecessary to the moderate republicans. A further misfortune occurred in the Panama affair, Clemenceau's relations with Cornelius Here leading to his being involved in the general suspicion; and, though he remained the leading spokesman of French Radicalism, his hostility to the Russian alliance so increased his unpopularity that in the election for 1893 he was defeated for the Chamber, after having sat in it continuously since 1876.
After his defeat for the Chamber, M. Clemenceau confined his political activities to journalism, his career being further overclouded by the long-drawn-out Dreyfus case, in which he took an active and honourable part as a supporter of Emile Zola and an opponent of the anti-Semitic and Nationalist campaign. On January 13, 1898, Clemenceau, as owner and editor of the Paris daily, L'Aurore, published Emile Zola's "J'accuse" on the front page of his paper. Clemenceau decided that the controversial story that would become known as the Dreyfus Affair, would be in the form of an open letter to the President, Félix Faure.
In 1900 he withdrew from La Justice to found a weekly review, Le Bloc, which lasted until March 1902. On April 6 1902 he was elected senator for the Var, although he had previously continually demanded the suppression of the Senate. He sat with the Socialist Radicals, and vigorously supported the Combes ministry. In June 1903 he undertook the direction of the journal L'Aurore, which he had founded. In it he led the campaign for the revision of the Dreyfus affair, and for the separation of Church and State.
In March 1906 the fall of the Rouvier ministry, owing to the riots provoked by the inventories of church property, at last brought Clemenceau to power as Minister of the Interior in the Sarrien cabinet. The strike of miners in the Pas de Calais after the disaster at Courrieres, leading to the threat of disorder on the 1st of May 1906, obliged him to employ the military; and his attitude in the matter alienated the Socialist party, from which he definitely broke in his notable reply in the Chamber to Jean Jaurès in June 1906.
This speech marked him out as the strong man of the day in French politics; and when the Sarrien ministry resigned in October, he became premier. During 1907 and 1908 his premiership was notable for the way in which the new entente with England was cemented, and for the successful part which France played in European politics, in spite of difficulties with Germany and attacks by the Socialist party in connexion with Morocco. But on July 20, 1909, he was defeated in a discussion in the Chamber on the state of the navy, in which bitter words were exchanged between him and Delcassé; and he at once resigned, being succeeded as premier by M. Briand, with a reconstructed cabinet.
Later he served as the forceful wartime premier of France from 1917 to 1920. Nicknamed Le Tigre (The Tiger) and Le Père la Victoire (The Father Victory) he was a major contributor to the Allied victory in World War I and as a framer of the postwar Treaty of Versailles, he opposed leniency toward Germany after WWI and as the effects of his decision contributed to the events that lead to World War II, Clemenceau's historical reputation can be argued to have suffered as a result.
Clemenceau was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency of the Third French Republic. Embittered by his defeat, he dismissed the office as being 'as superfluous as a prostate gland'. He died in Paris and was buried in Le Colombier, Vendée, Mouchamps.
Prime Minister of France
Prime Minister of France