Auguste Scheurer-Kestner (1833 - 1899)

Auguste Scheurer-Kestner



The most prestigious of the Dreyfusard MPs, Auguste Scheurer, was born at Mulhouse in the Upper Rhine department on 11 February 1833.

The son of a Republican industrialist, Scheurer studied chemistry in Paris, where he became allied with Clemenceau and opposed the Second Empire. In 1856 he married Céline Kestner, the daughter of a Republican industrialist from Thann. He was sentenced to four months in prison in 1862 for "inciting hatred and contempt for the government." In February 1871, he was elected deputy from the Upper Rhine and opposed the annexation of Alsace; he resigned from his mandate and was elected deputy from the Seine in July of 1871.

With Gambetta, he led the Republican Union party, and was appointed senator for life on 14 September 1875. Vice-president of the Senate in February 1895, he was given the name of the real guilty party on 13 July 1897 by Louis Leblois, a friend of Colonel Picquart. Unable to reveal his source, he made inquiries and attempted to inform Dreyfus via Joseph Reinach, who vainly applied to the Minister of Colonies, André Lebon.

Scheurer-Kestner met with Félix Faure on 29 October 1897, repeatedly contacted the War Minister, and submitted for evidence letters in which Esterhazy expressed his hatred of France. Encountering only "politicians more interested in their portfolio than in the holy cause of justice," he persuaded Clemenceau and Octave Mirbeau, and on 14 November of the same year, he wrote in Le Temps of his certainty of the existence of documents proving Dreyfus's innocence, and of his wish for a legitimate investigation.

This unleashed fierce hatred, and he suffered the seeming victory of the anti-Dreyfusards in January 1898, after the acquittal of Esterhazy and the loss of the vice-chairmanship of the Senate. Although he disapproved of the tone of Zola's I Accuse!, he testified in the author's favor at his trial. In 1899, stricken with cancer, he sent a letter to the Rennes court martial, but died at Bagnères-de-Luchon on 19 September, the day of Dreyfus's pardon. His family held Scheurer-Kestner's spiritual testament, which states that he died "in the Republican faith (…) in the religion of freethinking." One of the few senators who attended his funeral, Armand Fallières, would sign the 1906 law rehabilitating Dreyfus.

In 1988, his Memoirs of a Dreyfusard Senator was republished, with support from the Centre National du Livre. In his Carnets, Dreyfus spoke of Scheurer-Kestner as a "beautiful, noble figure who died at labor." On 3 July 1906, the senators decided that the busts of presidents Scheurer-Kestner and Trarieux would be placed in the gallery leading to their Chamber, in homage to their civic courage.

Although the press honored the memory of president Scheurer-Kestner, the Camelots du Roi, the youth organization of Action Française, damaged the monument to him in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Nevertheless, it is still there, and his bust can still be found in the town of Thann, where he was buried.