Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau (1846 - 1904)




Pierre Marie René Waldeck-Rousseau was the initiator of Alfred Dreyfus's 1899 pardon, as well as the law that, in 1900, offered amnesty for "all crimes and misdemeanors related to the Dreyfus Affair, or that have been included in a proceeding relative to one of these deeds." He was born in Nantes on 2 December 1846.

The son of a lawyer who was elected deputy in 1848 and mayor of Nantes in 1870, Waldeck-Rousseau became a doctor of law and joined the Nantes Bar. He then served as deputy from lle-et-Vilaine from 1879 to 1889, and then, after 1894, as senator from the Loire. As Minister of the Interior under Gambetta from November 1881 to January 1883 and then under Jules Ferry, from February 1883 to April 1885, he continued in this function with the added post of Prime Minister from 22 June 1899 to 6 June 1902.

His Republican Defense cabinet, which stood united against the nationalist, was the longest ministry of the Third Republic. Its members notably included the socialist Millerand, who was Minister of Commerce and industry, and General-Marquis de Galliffet, the War Minister, whom the left thought of as the "firing squad of the Commune." The Prime Minister was pleased with the way in which de Galliffet handled the end of the critical phase in the Dreyfus Affair-limiting it to a closed matter leading to the pardon of the captain and amnesty for his accusers.

Although, on 10 September 1899, Clemenceau denounced ahead of time a pardon that would give "satisfaction to sensitive souls," little more than a year later, on 28 October 1900, the president stated "Humanity has found satisfaction in a measure of leniency ratified by the generosity of heart that has finally awakened in our country (…) [the government] will ask the Chamber to vote a law of obliteration that is crucial to discharge a definitive reassurance."

The amnesty law was voted in on 13 December by 314 votes to 205. Alfred Dreyfus was exempt from it, and could continue his struggle for complete rehabilitation. The former captain explained the vote by the majority of Republicans by the desire to "not foil the ministry, which is assailed by reactions on all sides."

Considering that "there is no longer a Dreyfus Affair," Waldeck-Rousseau turned his energies to the law concerning associations; voted on 1 July 1901, it was the counterpart to his 1884 law concerning the freedom of professional trade unions. He was also very supportive of a major reform of secondary education, and of diplomatic exchanges that resulted, in April 1904, in the Entente Cordiale. Struck by the cancer that would kill him on 10 August 1904, Waldeck-Rousseau resigned as Prime Minister on 3 June 1902, after the significant victory by the radicals, who would reintegrate Dreyfus into the ranks of the army in 1906.