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The law of amnesty

The law of amnesty

The government's objectives

At the beginning of the trial in Rennes, an anti-Dreyfusard journalist hoped for a unanimous verdict in order to not leave "the Affair completely standing." Six weeks later, the War Minister declared that he saw in the presidential pardon "the first pledge of appeasement that public opinion calls for, and that the good of the Republic demands." The ministers wanted to pursue this path, even though the most ardent Dreyfusards wanted to continue the struggle and "to fight as fiercely for justice tomorrow as yesterday." President Waldeck-Rousseau's Republican Defense government was still fragile, and he favored a pardon in order to stop "revisionist agitation" and to avoid "six months of controversy and insults." His notes for the Council of Ministers for 12 September show that he sensed that the pardon would be perceived by the anti-Dreyfusards as "a pledge of amnesty." The notes were published by Pierre Vidal-Naquet, who pointed out that installing "forgetfulness in the city" was an old technique, used by the democratic Athenians in 403 BCE. However, this historian of Antiquity emphasized that although the amnesty covered both Mercier and Picquart, "the one responsible for the indictment and the artisan of the review, […] it was first and foremost a question of granting amnesty to the generals, who were guilty of the abuse of their authority in 1894."

Even though he was pleased that the Republican Defense cabinet had prevented a "government of bandits" and had begun High Court proceedings against DéroulèdePaul Déroulède
Déroulède became famous after the publication in 1872 of a collection of patriotic poems, Chants du soldat. He founded the Ligue des Patriotes in 1882, and was elected deputy in 1889. He was a Boulangist who later denounced the parliamentary Panama chéquards, and who attempted to march on the Elysée presidential palace in 1899. For this he was acquitted by a jury in the Court of Assizes, but was sentenced to ten years' banishment by the High Court. He returned from Spain following the general amnesty of 1905.
, Clemenceau was furious; "Now they must have an amnesty. Amnesty for themselves, of course. The innocent man must content himself with a dishonored pardon" (L'Aurore, 13 and 18 September 1899). Only a minority shared the opinion of Zola when he wrote to Lucie Dreyfus, on 29 September 1899: " We must clear the name of this innocent man, less to rehabilitate one so worthy, than to rehabilitate France, which would surely die from this surfeit of iniquity." On 22 May 1900, by 425 votes to 60, the Chamber of Deputies encouraged the government to vigorously oppose a revival of the Dreyfus Affair, from whatever side it might come.

The preservation of Dreyfus's interests

Although Le Petit Journal saw the Rennes verdict as "the legal truth and the end of this sad affair," and although the pardon was presented by Waldeck-Rousseau as "a measure of clemency that has been ratified by the generosity of spirit finally awakened in our country," Dreyfus's statement, prepared by Jaurès, showed that nothing had ended.

For Alfred Dreyfus, the amnesty project was a failure of law and justice and benefited no one except the villains who had taken advantage of the judges' good faith. On 8 March 1900, he protested to the Senate "against a measure that left [him] unarmed against iniquity," and asking that he be given his right to the truth, to justice. The amnesty-civic treason, in the opinion of Zola-was voted in the Senate on 2 June 1900 (with 231 for and 32 against) and definitively adopted by 304 deputies (against 205) on 13 December of the same year. For Alfred Dreyfus, the vote by the vast majority of Republicans was explained by the desire "to not foil the ministry, which is assailed by every reaction"; he obtained the fact that his personal case was not covered by the law. His second struggle could now begin.


Zola to Loubet "the truth has all eternity for herself"

Text from a song-book

Communiqué released on 20 September 1899