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Alexandre Millerand

(b. 1859)


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(b. Paris, 10 Feb. 1859; d. Versailles, 6 Apr. 1943)

French; Prime Minister 1919–20, President of the Republic 1920–4 Alexandre Millerand was born in Paris and came from a hardworking family of shopkeepers. He studied law, became a barrister, and plunged when still in his twenties into the political life of Paris, which would be his base for over three decades. In 1884, he was elected to the Paris municipal council and the following year entered the Chamber of Deputies. His initial political sympathies lay with the left-wing radicalism of Clemenceau but in the early 1890s he moved over to the emerging socialist movement. His decision was motivated by his work as a barrister defending workers' rights. In 1896, in a celebrated speech in his Saint Mandé constituency, he set out the elements of a programme which virtually all the socialist factions could accept and which combined the Marxist belief in the collectivization of property with a commitment to patriotism and to the principles of Republican democracy. It was this commitment to Republicanism which led to his controversial decision in 1899 to join the government of Republican defence formed at the height of the Dreyfus Affair by Waldeck-Rousseau. Many Socialists condemned his participation in a bourgeois government. Millerand argued that the Republic was worth defending and used his three years as Minister of Commerce to introduce a number of laws which improved the legal rights of trade unions and the social rights of workers.

By 1914, Millerand had moved far from his political origins and his professional activities increasingly concentrated on highly paid commercial litigation. He opposed the anti-clerical enthusiasms of the 1902 Combes government, and of the Radical Party which supported them, and was expelled from the Socialist Party. His earlier interest in social issues was replaced by a fascination with foreign and defence questions. He was Minister of War in Poincaré's 1912 government and was a strong supporter of the Three Years Law extending the length of military service. Back at the War Ministry from August 1914 to October 1915, he was criticized for the total backing he gave to the army high command and for his opposition to parliamentary attempts to intervene in the conduct of military operations. In early 1919 he was briefly High Commissioner for the Liberated Regions of Alsace Lorraine and then led the conservative coalition known as the Bloc National for the 1919 elections. His Ba Ta Clan speech which argued for a stronger Executive and denounced the perils of Bolshevism—and by extension socialism—set the tone for a campaign which saw the Bloc National sweep to power. In December 1919 Millerand was appointed Prime Minister with a programme that linked military support for the enemies of the Soviet Union with rigorous insistence on Germany's implementation of the reparation clauses of the Versailles Peace Treaty. Less than a year later he was triumphantly elected President of the Republic, following the enforced resignation of his predecessor.

He immediately showed that his determination to break with the constitutional convention that a president should be a figurehead by involving himself closely with policy-making. He proved to be the most interventionist president in the history of the Third Republic and in 1922 provoked the resignation of his Prime Minister Briand by criticizing his alleged willingness to be soft on the Germans. He backed the military occupation of the Ruhr carried out by Poincaré in 1924.

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Subjects: Politics.


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