Godefroy Cavaignac (1853 - 1905)

Godefroy Cavaignac



Godefroy Cavaignac was born in Paris on 21 May 1853. He was an anti-Dreyfusard Minister of War, but was also at the origin of the discovery of the Henry forgery.

He was the grandson of Jean-Baptiste Cavaignac-a member of the Convention who was banished as a regicide under the Restoration-and the son of General Louis-Eugène Cavaignac, a Minister of War who put down the revolutionary uprising in June 1848, before being appointed head of the Executive Commission. He was beaten in the presidential election by Louis-Napoléon, the future Napoléon III.

Godefroy Cavaignac attended the Ecole Polytechnique and received an engineering diploma from Ponts et Chausées. He also had a law degree; as maître des requêtes at the Council of State, he began a career as a local elected official. He was mayor of Flée, and then served as departmental councilor and president of the departmental council for the Sarthe, before being elected deputy in 1882. He was Minister of the Navy in the Loubet cabinet from 27 February to 12 July. As Under-Secretary of War from November 1895 to April 1896, he was given this portfolio a second time, succeeding General Billot when Méline was replaced by Brisson. A civilian who fought at age 17 in the Franco-Prussian War, Cavaignac was decorated and saw himself as the defender of the "Sacred Ark." The officers had confidence in the son of the man who had assembled 25,000 soldiers to put down the riots of 1848.

The summer of changing political power was the most intense moment in the Dreyfus Affair: Cavaignac's statements to the deputies on 7 July 1898 with respect to the irrefutable proof of the captain's guilt ended in the public denunciation of the forgeries by Colonel Picquart. Although Picquart was jailed, the crude nature of the false evidence was revealed to the minister by Captain Cuignet. The confession and dramatic death of Joseph Henry led to the resignations of General de Boisdeffre-the head of the general staff-and of the minister himself.

Replaced by General Zurlinden from 2 to 5 September and by General Chanoine for a single day (18 September), Cavaignac had not real successor until 1 November 1899, when former President of the Council Charles de Freycinet took up the position that he had already held between April 1888 and March 1890, and between February 1892 and January 1893.

Reelected to the Chamber of Deputies in April 1902, Godefroy Cavaignac sided with the nationalist Republicans, and was opposed to the second review demanded by Jaurès. He did not live out his term: shortly after marrying his daughter to a commissioned general staff officer, he died at Flée in his Château d'Ourne on 24 September 1905.