1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Caillaux, Joseph-Marie-Auguste

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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica
Caillaux, Joseph-Marie-Auguste
See also Joseph Caillaux on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

CAILLAUX, JOSEPH-MARIE-AUGUSTE (1863- ), French politician and financier, was born March 30 1863. After studying law and following lectures at the École des Sciences Politiques he entered the civil service in 1888 as an inspector of finance, and spent most of his official career in Algiers. Standing as a Republican candidate in the elections of 1898 for the department of the Sarthe, in opposition to the Duc de la Rochefoucault-Bisaccia, he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies by 12,929 votes to 11,737. He became Minister of Finance in the Waldeck-Rousseau Cabinet, and after its fall it was not until the Clemenceau Ministry of 1906 that he returned to office again, once more with the portfolio of Finance. In 1911 he became prime minister. Unfortunately it was his ambition to bring France and Germany together on the common ground of finance, and he failed. He endeavoured, while he was prime minister, to meet the arrogant demands of Germany in Morocco, in the course of protracted and secret negotiations carried out mainly through Baron von Lancken, who was then Chancellor of the German embassy in Paris. These negotiations became known, notably to Clemenceau, and they directly led to the dispatch by Germany to Agadir of the gunboat “Panther” in 1911. The convention which put an end to the ensuing crisis involved the surrender by France of large tracts of the French Congo to Germany. The whole negotiations formed the subject of an inquiry by a special committee of the Senate, whose report was very unfavourable to Caillaux. Nevertheless, thanks to his undoubted qualities as a financier, he remained a great power in French politics. He fought the Three Years' Service bill with the utmost tenacity; and although that measure became law, it was he who finally, on the financial aspect of that bill, brought about the downfall of the Barthou Ministry in the autumn of 1913. His past history was of a character which made it impossible, if the Entente Cordiale was to continue, that he should return to the position of prime minister, but he joined the new Cabinet as Minister of Finance. As a financial expert he had for long identified himself with a great and necessary reform in the fiscal policy of France — the introduction of the principle of an income tax. For this principle he strove — in public, at any rate — throughout the winter of 1913. His advocacy of an income tax and his uncertain and erratic championship of proletarian ideas, alarmed all the conservative elements in the country, and throughout the winter he was attacked with increasing violence from the platform and through the press. Those attacks reached their highest point of bitterness in a series of disclosures in the Figaro, of a more or less personal nature. This newspaper started the publication of letters addressed by him to the second Mme. Caillaux while he was still married to the first. A tragic end was made to the Figaro's campaign when the second Mme. Caillaux called upon the editor, M. Gaston Calmette, and fired five shots at him on March 16, mortally wounding him. Caillaux's resignation followed at once. The elections which took place shortly afterwards resulted in a crisis of unusual bitterness, which was solved eventually by Viviani becoming prime minister. The trial of Mme. Caillaux for murder began on July 20 1914 and ended by her acquittal on the very eve of war.

During the first part of the World War, Caillaux, who was by no means a popular figure, filled the duties of an army paymaster. After one or two scenes in Paris he was sent on a mission to South America. He returned in 1915, and at once attracted every effort of the German secret service. Although taking no overt part in politics he carried on a lobby campaign; he financed newspapers, and did everything he possibly could behind the scenes to consolidate his position. He became acquainted with the Bolos and the Malvys of political and journalistic life, and his activities aroused the alarm of all French patriots. By the spring of 1917 he had become in the eyes of the public “l'homme de la défaite” — i.e. the man who was willing to effect a compromise peace with Germany at the expense of Great Britain. The long political intrigue (see France: History) which led to the advent of Clemenceau to power killed all his hopes. Caillaux was arrested, and, after long delay, tried on a charge of high treason by the High Court of the Senate, and sentenced to three years' imprisonment, the term he had already served, and to the prohibition of residence in French territory for five years and deprivation of civil rights for ten years.