Gaston Doumergue


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(b. Aigues Vives, Aug. 1863; d. Aigues Vives, 18 June 1937)

French; President of the Republic 1924–31, Prime Minister 1913, 1934 Born in 1863, Doumergue studied law and became a colonial magistrate before being elected to the Chamber of Deputies. A moderate Radical, he enjoyed a reasonably successful career in government before the First World War and then settled comfortably into the role of regime dignitary. His moderation and respect for constitutional proprieties made him an attractive candidate for the presidency when the right-wing incumbent Millerand was forced to resign after the victory of the Socialist-Radical coalition in the 1924 elections. Doumergue was an outstandingly successful President for a political system which expected its head of state to behave like a constitutional monarch and allowed him to exercise surreptitious political influence. Jovial, shrewd, reliable, he appealed to the democratic left and reassured the middle classes. The national popularity he gained as President explains why his successor, Lebrun, invited him to take over the reins of government in the crisis circumstances created by the riots of 6 February 1934. Doumergue formed a government of national unity, which included Marshal Pétain. As Prime Minister, he offered no solution to the economic problems facing France and embarked instead on a programme of constitutional reform designed to strengthen the Executive. In so doing, he ignited the fears of those who regarded any attempt to constrain the powers of parliament as an assault on the principles of Republican democracy. By November 1934 his usefulness to the system parties of the Third Republic was at an end. Broadcasts to the nation, modelled on Roosevelt's fireside chats, allowed the political parties to accuse him of incipient Fascism. His coalition government fell apart and he was compelled to resign.

Subjects: Politics.

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