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The league and the innocence of dreyfus

The league and the innocence of dreyfus

The struggle for rehabilitation

Although, during discussions around their first manifesto, the League's members wondered whether it should "assert both the irregularity of the trial and the innocence of the condemned man," anti-Dreyfusard violence forced the League to gather its newly-assembled forces and join the fray. Jean-Pierre Rioux has given us a picture of the League "born of moral protest, growing up beneath the spur of a requisite protest that unendingly became political, delving each month into the consequences of the Affair, sometimes to the point of frightening its founding fathers." When the September 1899 pardon turned public opinion away from the divisions caused by the Affair-as the government had hoped-the League continued the struggle. Francis de Pressensé, president of the League starting in the fall of 1903, brought to the struggle his "blast of warrior alacrity, fighting energy and feverish activity." He fought with the same vigor that he had used to support Zola by resigning from the Legion of Honor and by holding meeting after meeting throughout France. For him, the League was "the attempt to organize the French conscience" but, after the victory of 1906, he continued to fight for social solidarity. He also defended the freedom of thought of Catholic officers in Laon, who were convicted for having attended mass and a meeting of young Christians. On 29 August 1907, his central committee also stated that the League "intends to defend the freedom of conscience of all, regardless if they are Catholic, Protestants, Jews or free-thinkers."

The struggle to preserve the memory of an innocent man

After Dreyfus's rehabilitation in July 1906, the public lost interest. However, faced with the nationalists and unrepentant revisionists of Action Française, the League stubbornly reaffirmed Alfred Dreyfus's innocence. The rehabilitation was the first great victory for the League's members; its memory encouraged them in their battles in the following decades-hence they vigilantly preserved it. Dreyfus remained a member until his death, and recognized its contribution. He supported the League in 1911 when it defended the stevedore Jules Durand, who was driven mad by a death sentence for a crime that he did not commit; he also signed a petition circulated among academics requesting a fair trial for Sacco and Vanzetti. Nevertheless, Dreyfus was circumspect when it came to dossiers critical of the Army, as he did not want to confuse the military institution with the handful of scoundrels who had conspired against him.

The name of Dreyfus became synonymous with judicial error, both in France and abroad, and was used to designate every case in which an unjust conviction was suspected. Starting in 1920, Les cahiers des Droits de l'Homme replaced the official bulletin of the LHR, and became an influential publication, regularly reporting on the victory of the Dreyfusards, the history of the Affair, and its symbolic meaning. The members would for a long time thereafter share the sentiment expressed by the anarchist author Octave Mirbeau, who was a friend of Bernard Lazare: "We bless this Dreyfus Affair for having somehow shown us to ourselves, for having given many of us-too selective or too sectarian in our understanding of social life-a larger sense of humanity, and a nobler and more passionate desire for justice."


In 1902, the LHR celebrate the election of one its deputies

Plaque commemorating the return of Dreyfus from deportation