User menu


Clemenceau, Georges (1841-1928)

Essayist, Journalist, Novelist, Politician

Described as one of the "Knights of the Round Table" of the "lions of Bohemia," Georges Clemenceau was a great French statesman who served twice as Premier in 1906-1909 and again in 1917-1919 ("In and About the City"). As a young man, Clemenceau studied medicine before traveling to the United States in 1865. He quickly made a home for himself in New York City and was described as "vigorous and intrepid, a man of quick rejoinders and piercing witticisms, an untiring walker in a New York without cables, an elegant horseman, a good fencer and marksman in times of enthusiastic 'Schuetzenfest'--he soon cut a figure in the haunts and headquarters of journalistic and artistic New York" (Baldensperger 16-17). Clemenceau was a "newcomer to Pfaff's" in its later years of existence during the Civil War (Lause 111). So deeply did Clemenceau involve himself in the bohemian lifestyle that "he is said to have had a 'reserved table at Pfaff's on Broadway'" (qtd. in Baldensperger 17-18). Clemenceau was quickly accepted into the Pfaffian circle, and George Clapp even loaned him money at one point ("Old 'Barry Gray' Dead" 5). Over the next few years he worked as a journalist for a Paris newspaper and he also spent two days per week teaching French at an exclusive school for girls. Clemenceau married Mary Plummer in a civil ceremony on June 25, 1869. They met while he was working at the Catherine Aiken School for Girls and she was attending the school as a student. The couple had three children together, but separated after seven years (25-26).

Clemenceau returned to his homeland in 1869. In the wake of the 1870 Revolution, he was named mayor of a section of Paris that included Montmarte, and, in 1871, he became a representative to the National Assembly. During the years of political turmoil that followed, Clemenceau attempted to avoid bloodshed, but was unsuccessful. He eventually resigned his Assembly seat and joined the municipal council of Paris. After a series of political battles and various shifts in position, Clemenceau was unable to win reelection to the Chamber of Deputies. In 1893 he began writing pieces for La Justice and L'Aurore. He also published the novel Les Plus forts, Au pied de Sinai, "a volume of sketches on Jewish subjects," ("Georges Clemenceau"), and a book of articles entitled, Au fil des jours. Between 1900 and 1903 he also worked as editor of L'Aurore. In 1913 he created L'Homme Libre as an outlet to express his opinions about political and military weaknesses and the imminent dangers presented by Germany. This daily paper was briefly closed because of its anti-government message, but was quickly reopened as L'Homme Enchaine.

In 1917 Clemenceau was asked to serve as war minister and Premier and his appointments and policies led to a rise in French confidence. At the end of World War I, Clemenceau led the French delegation at the Paris Peace Conference. He "played a major role in drafting the Treaty of Versailles and determining conference policies. He tried to obtain a strong League of Nations backed by military force, and when this failed he proposed other measures to ensure French security" ("Georges Clemenceau"). Other French delegates blamed Clemenceau for what they viewed as a "too lenient" peace treaty. He relinquished his position as premier in 1919. In 1922 he toured the United States in an attempt to "recall that country to its obligations after American rejection of the Versailles Treaty and the Anglo-American guarantee of French security" ("Georges Clemenceau").

In his final years, Clemenceau wrote Au soir de la pensee, "a two-volume philosophical testament." His memoirs, Grandeurs et miseres d'une victoire, were published after his death.