1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dreyfus, Alfred

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8172891911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 8 — Dreyfus, Alfred

DREYFUS, ALFRED (1859–  ), French soldier, of Jewish parentage, the scandal of whose condemnation for treason and subsequent rehabilitation convulsed French political life between 1894 and 1899, and only ended in 1906, was born in Mülhausen, Upper Alsace, removing to Paris in 1874. After going through the usual course of military instruction with credit, he became a sous-lieutenant in the artillery in 1882, and was promoted captain in 1889; and, after passing through the École de Guerre with distinction, he was appointed to the general staff. His name was, however, unknown to the general public till he was arrested on the 15th of October 1894 on a charge of selling military secrets to Germany, condemned, publicly degraded (January 4, 1895), and transported (March 10) to the Ile du Diable, French Guiana. The story of the subsequent proceedings in this celebrated case is told in the article Anti-Semitism, and need not here be repeated. It was not till 1899 that the unfortunate prisoner was brought back to France for retrial by court-martial, and even then, so strong was the anti-Semitic and military prejudice, he was again found guilty “with extenuating circumstances” at Rennes (September 9), though ten days later he was “pardoned” by President Loubet. It was not till the Cour de Cassation ordered a further investigation, and on the 12th of July 1906 decided that his conviction had been based on a forgery and that Dreyfus was innocent, that the agitation came to a final conclusion. He was then restored to his rank in the army and promoted major. But the anti-Semitic and anti-Dreyfusard spirit in certain French circles could not easily be quelled even then; and on the occasion of the translation of the remains of Emile Zola (Dreyfus’s determined champion) to the Pantheon on the 4th of June 1908, Major Dreyfus was shot at and wounded by a fanatical journalist named Gregori, who was subsequently acquitted by a Paris jury of the charge of attempted murder, his own plea being that he had merely intended a “demonstration.”

See Dreyfus’s own Five Years of my Life (1901), and literature cited under Anti-Semitism.