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First steps

First steps

The petitions of an innocent deportee

"Health good. Succeed. Alfred." Upon requesting, 12 March 1895, that these words be sent to his wife, Dreyfus did not know that she would not even receive these exact words. He also did not imagine that he would have to wait more than four years for a new trial, and more than eleven years for his name to be cleared. He thought that the proof of his innocence was close at hand, and strived to be a model prisoner. His letters to the very highest authorities consistently demanded justice "I clamor for it, in the name of my honor." On 12 January 1896, he was informed verbally that his first letter to the President of the Republic, dated 5 October 1895, had been rejected without comment, even though Dreyfus had asked for neither pardon not favor, but simply that a full and complete light be shed on the matter. Despite his anger at human iniquity, his conviction did not waver; on 7 September 1896, he wrote in his journal, "Innocent, my duty is to use all of my strength, as long as I have not been killed," and stated his certainty that "light will be shone, the truth will be discovered, because, sooner or later, everything in life is revealed." Thinking himself close to death, he wrote once again to president Félix Faure on the 10th , asking only one thing "always the same, the search for the true guilty party." On the 12th, a letter to his wife speaks of an ongoing conspiracy in order to deepen the shadows. Until the fall of 1898, Dreyfus was held in such complete ignorance that he believed wrongly in the possibility of being supported by his superiors-to the extent that he wrote to Lucie on 6 January 1898, having "placed the defense of our rights in the hands of the War Minister, whose role it is to ensure that this too-long and dreadful error is repaired."

Campaigns by the family and the Dreyfusards

Dreyfus's family and friends understood that the battle was a question of public opinion, and they waged it as such. This is one of the reasons why a conviction for espionage turned into the Affair. However, in his family's letters written during the summer of 1896, Alfred Dreyfus sensed "horrible suffering and bitter despair at the ongoing inability to announce the discovery of the guilty party."

None of them was aware that Colonel Picquart was investigating Esterhazy, and they would not know what steps Auguste Scheurer-Kestner, vice-president of the Senate had taken until a year later. On 24 October 1897, Lucie swore to her husband that his name would be cleared; she asked him to "be patient a little longer (…) we have high hopes for the very near future." Lettres d'un innocent (Letters from an Innocent Man) was published in the wake of Zola's J'accuse! These 158 letters received by Lucie starting on 4 December 1894 bear witness that Dreyfus never admitted any guilt. The last letter in the series, dated 5 March 1898 is perfectly clear: "I ask and ask again for the government to rehabilitate me. And since then I wait each day to learn that the day of justice has finally dawned for us."