Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau

2 Dec 1846
10 Aug 1904
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Pierre Marie René Ernest Waldeck-Rousseau ( 2 December 1846 – 10 August 1904) was a French Republican statesman.

Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau was born in Nantes, Loire-Atlantique. His father, René Waldeck-Rousseau, a barrister at the Nantes bar and a leader of the local republican party, figured in the revolution of 1848 as one of the deputies returned to the Constituent Assembly for Loire Inférieure.

The son was a delicate child whose eyesight made reading difficult, and his early education was therefore entirely oral. He studied law at Poitiers and in Paris, where he took his licentiate in January 1869.

His father’s record ensured his reception in high republican circles. Jules Grévy stood sponsor for him at the Parisian bar. After six months of waiting for briefs in Paris, he decided to return home and to joined the bar of St Nazaire early in 1870.

In September he became, in spite of his youth, secretary to the municipal commission temporarily appointed to carry on the town business.

He organized the National Defence at St Nazaire, and himself marched out with his contingent, though they saw no active service owing to lack of ammunition, their private store having been commandeered by the state.

In 1873, following the establishment of the Third Republic in 1871, he moved to the bar of Rennes, and six years later was returned to the Chamber of Deputies.

In his electoral program he had stated that he was prepared to respect all liberties except those of conspiracy against the institutions of the country and of educating the young in hatred of the modern social order. In the Chamber he supported the policy of Léon Gambetta.

The Waldeck-Rousseau family was strictly Catholic in spite of its republican principles; nevertheless Waldeck-Rousseau supported the Jules Ferry laws on public, laic and mandatory education, enacted in 1881–1882. In 1881 he became minister of the interior in Gambetta’s grand ministry.

He further voted for the abrogation of the law of 1814 forbidding work on Sundays and fast days, for compulsory service of one year for seminarists and for the re-establishment of divorce.

He made his reputation in the Chamber by a report which he drew up in 1880 on behalf of the committee appointed to inquire into the French judicial system.

He was chiefly occupied with the relations between capital and labour, and had a large share in securing the recognition of trade unions in 1884. He became again minister of the interior in the Jules Ferry cabinet of 1883–1885, when he gave proof of great administrative powers.

He sought to put down the system by which civil posts were obtained through the local deputy, and he made it clear that the central authority could not be defied by local officials.

Waldeck-Rousseau also deposed the 27 May 1885 act establishing penal colonies, dubbed “Law on relegation of recidivists”, along with Martin Feuillée. The law was supported by Gambetta and his friend, the criminologist Alexandre Lacassagne.

Waldeck-Rousseau had begun to practise at the Paris bar in 1886, and in 1889 he did not seek re-election to the Chamber, but devoted himself to his legal work. The most famous of the many noteworthy cases in which his cold and penetrating intellect and his power of clear exposition were retained was the defense of Gustave Eiffel in the Panama scandals of 1893.

In 1894 he returned to political life as senator for the department of the Loire, and next year stood for the presidency of the republic against Félix Faure and Henri Brisson, being supported by the Conservatives, who were soon to be his bitter enemies. He received 184 votes, but retired before the second ballot to allow Faure to receive an absolute majority.

During the political crisis of the next few years he was recognized by the Opportunist Republicans as the successor of Jules Ferry and Gambetta, and at the crisis of 1899 on the fall of the Charles Dupuy cabinet he was asked by President Émile Loubet to form a government.

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