Aristide Briand

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Aristide Briand was a French statesman who served as Prime Minister of the French Republic eleven times and Foreign Minister for the longest period of time. Even though he began his political career as a member of the French Socialist Party, he transcended the party line to accomplish what he believed to be best. In his very first term as a Delegate, he sought to separate the church from the state, going so far as to join a bourgeois administration to accomplish his goal, thereby losing his Socialist Party membership. In contrast to many others, he did not form a political party but instead held numerous positions under several prime ministers. His primary purpose in later years was to abolish war from the world arena. It is ironic that he had to lead the nation through World War I before taking the initiative to establish permanent peace and being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His career was distinguished by his persuasiveness and personal diplomacy. The international leaders of that era admired his practice of focusing on the root of the problem rather than attempting to treat its symptoms.

Youth and Early Life

Aristide Briand was born on March 28, 1862, to Pierre Guillaume Briand and Madeleine Boucheau in Nantes, Western France. His parents, who were successful innkeepers, belonged to the petit-bourgeois class. As a result, he possessed the characteristics of both peasant and aristocracy.

Aristide began his formal schooling in Saint Nazaire. Later, he completed his secondary education at Nantes Lycée before moving to Paris to study law. There, he developed an interest in left-wing politics.

Briand was never a studious child and only studied when an exam was imminent. Then, he would focus intensely, and, backed by his remarkable intelligence and recall, he would breeze through the exam, leaving his contemporaries in the dust.

Although Briand developed a legal practice after earning a law degree, journalism was his true passion. Soon thereafter, he began writing for publications such as Le Peuple as his vocation. This publication was an ardent proponent of syndicalism. Later, he joined La Lanterne and then Petite République.

Aristide Briand’s Career

Aristide Briand joined the French Socialist Party while he was still an undergraduate law student. Later, he also became an active labor union member. In the 1889 election, he ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Chamber of Deputies. In 1893, he tried again, but again he was unsuccessful in winning a seat.

However, his influence within the party started to increase. In 1894, while attending a worker’s congress in Nantes, Briand persuaded the trade unionists to accept the general strike as a means of promoting the workers’ cause. He had to compete against formidable leaders such as Jules Guesde.

After the Nantes workers’ convention, Briand came to be regarded as one of the French Socialist Party’s leaders. Regardless, he lost the 1898 election. However, this defeat did not diminish his popularity, and in 1901 he was appointed General Secretary of the French Socialist Party.

In 1902, at the age of forty, he was elected for the first time as a deputy. He immediately began working on a measure aimed at separating the church and the state and became the driving force behind the panel appointed to develop the legislation.

Briand co-founded the French Communist Party’s daily newspaper, L’Humanité, with Jean Jaurès in 1904, when he was still working on the law governing the separation of church and state. However, it is now an independent publication that remains immensely popular.

Modifications were made to the law that established secularism in France on December 9, 1905. It was founded on three important principles: the neutrality of the state, religious freedom, and church-related public powers.

With the bill’s passing, Briand began to be recognized as one of the country’s future leaders by the majority of sectors. In 1906, despite his membership in the Socialist Party, he was invited to join the cabinet of Ferdinand Sareen as Minister of Public Instruction and Worship.

Briand accepted the reform portfolio with the argument that socialists should collaborate with others on all types of changes. However, his party disagreed, therefore he was forced to leave the French Socialist Party.

The cabinet of Ferdinand Sareen resigned in October 1906, and Georges Clemenceau was asked to establish the new government. Briand retained his position in the new government and remained in 1909 in the same capacity.

Aristide Briand succeeded Clemenceau as Prime Minister of France on July 24, 1909, and served in that role until March 2, 1911. In April of 1910, his ministry passed a pension bill for workers and farmers.

In addition, he had sponsored a second law mandating illness and retirement insurance for eight million rural workers. However, in 1912, the court ruled that some of its provisions were illegal, severely diminishing its significance.

Although he was a socialist in heart, he never hesitated to join right-wing parties if he believed he might contribute. Therefore, in 1912, he entered the administration of right-wing politician Raymond Poincare as Minister of Justice.

In 1913, Briand again served as prime minister for a brief period, from January 21 to March 22. Upon the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, he was appointed Minister of Justice in René Viviani’s cabinet, a position he held until October 1915.

Briand succeeded Viviani as France’s prime minister on October 29, 1915. During this period, he also served as foreign minister and focused on uniting the Allies. It was a crucial period for France, and Briand handled the situation as best he could.

Contrary to the advice of the military generals, Briand designed a highly effective plan to invade Bulgaria, Austria, and Turkey via Greece. In addition, he bolstered the French high command and secured Italy as a new ally. However, there were more issues to address.

Briand had assembled his sixth cabinet by December 1916. Still, the war effort fell short of expectations. As a result of the failure of the Balkan Expedition, the pressure on him increased. He barely survived a vote of no confidence. He eventually resigned on March 20, 1917.

Three years after his resignation as prime minister, he led an apolitical existence. Despite this, he advocated passionately in support of the League of Nations and the concept of collective security. The second time he returned to power was in January of 1921.

Again, he occupied the position of foreign minister and represented France at the Washington Naval Conference. He also attempted to arrange a security deal with the British but was unsuccessful. His efforts to reach a solution with the Germans regarding the reparations also failed. Consequently, on January 22, 1922, he resigned.

Briand joined the administration upon the formation of Paul Painlevé’s cabinet. He was appointed Foreign Minister in April 1925 and retained the position until his death in 1932. Interestingly, the administration changed fourteen times throughout this period, yet Briand remained Foreign Minister throughout.

Importantly, between the end of 1925 and the end of 1926, Briand founded four governments. The dates were November 20, 1925, to March 9, 1926, March 9 to June 23, 1926, June 23 to July 19, 1926, and July 29 to November 3, 1926. He had a portfolio of foreign affairs in each position.

Briand was historically decades ahead of his time. In his addresses to the League of Nations in 1929 and 1930, he argued vehemently for a union among European governments. The suggestion was never implemented, though.
Briand lost his campaign for the presidency of the French Republic in May 1931. He then retired from public life.

Briand’s Major Opera

Aristide Briand represented France at the Locarno Treaties, which were viewed as the basis for improved international relations in Europe following World War I. It included seven distinct agreements involving key European powers like as Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 is another professional highlight for Aristide Briand. Officially named the “General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy,” the pact was signed by fifteen nations. It prohibited the use of war as a means of settling disputes between signatory governments.

Awards & Achievements

In 1926, Aristide Briand and Gustav Stresemann of Germany were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their contributions to international collaboration and world peace, as well as for their roles in establishing the League of Nations.

Personal History and Legacy

Aristide Briand passed away unexpectedly in Paris on March 7, 1932, at the age of 69. His burial took place in Cocherel, his country retreat.

Estimated Net Worth