Auguste Mercier (1833 - 1921)

Auguste Mercier



The first public accuser of Captain Dreyfus, on 28 November 1894, and the coordinator of the anti-Dreyfusards at the Rennes trial, Auguste Mercier was born in Arras in the Pas-de-Calais on 8 December 1833.

Mercier was an officer's son. He graduated from the Ecole Polytechnique in 1856 and was made a lieutenant in 1856. Captain Mercier served the General Staff Office in matters of artillery starting in 1864. As a lieutenant colonel in 1876, he was noted for his "cold and resolved character." A colonel in 1879, he was brigadier general when he became director of administrative services at the War Ministry on 27 December 1884. He remained in this post until January 1886, and performed its duties again from April 1888 to February 1890. It was as a man of the war offices that he was appointed War Minister on 3 December 1893.

As the press denounced the "Ramollot of the War Ministry," he stated, with respect to Dreyfus, "the guilt of this officer is absolutely certain" and pronounced what Le Gaulois called "a veritable conviction, a death sentence," adding "what freedom will the court martial have who will be called on to judge the defendant?" Michel Drouin wrote that he was stacking the deck; on 12 February 1898, at the Zola trial, Jaurès denounced him for having dared, by the communication of secret documents, "to take it upon himself (…) to decide on the life, the freedom, and the honor of another man."

Although he was no longer minister as of 24 January 1895, he directed the witnesses for the prosecution at the Rennes trial in the same manner. As a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor as of February 1895, a member of the Supreme War Council from March 1898, and a major general, he was the incarnation of the power of the "Sacred Ark," the French Army that public opinion hoped would avenge the disaster of Sedan and take back its lost provinces.

Elected senator from the Lower Loire on 28 January 1900, he was protected by the amnesty law. Before the Court of Cassation in 1904, he denied the existence of a document "bearing, in the handwriting of a foreign sovereign, an annotation implicating Dreyfus." However, in 1906, speaking of the secret dossier given to the court martial, public prosecutor Baudoin evoked a "monstrous violation of the inalienable rights of the defense." Exonerating the Rennes judges for not having grasped the flagrant illegality of which they were the tools, he emphasized the responsibility of General Mercier, proven, in this reprehensible act, by "the precautions that he took to ensure that the evidence would remain forever unknown and that he would thereby acquire impunity."

He remained the hero of the anti-Dreyfusards, and received from them a gold medal on 29 June 1907, and a seat in the Senate until 10 January 1920. He died in Paris on 3 March 1921; when the seals were removed from his house, it was found to contain "no papers of a military character of any interest."