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Georges Benjamin Clemenceau (Mouilleron-en-Pareds, September 28, 1841 – Paris, November 24, 1929). Doctor, journalist and French politician who reached the position of prime minister and head of government during the regime of the Third French Republic.
Clemenceau came from the bourgeoisie of the Vendée region and was educated in a republican family, his father being a firm opponent of the monarchies of Charles X and Louis Philippe I, and then the Emperor Napoleon III. Following the family tradition, he studied medicine in Nantes and Paris where he participated in the creation of several magazines and wrote numerous articles opposing Napoleon III. From 1865 to 1869 he lived in the United States, where he taught at a secondary school.
Clemenceau’s political career began as soon as the Third Republic began, in September 1870, when he was appointed mayor of the 18th district (Montmartre district) of the French capital, where he carried out important social work. In the elections of February of 1871 was chosen deputy to the National Assembly by the department of Sena, in the rows of the radical republicans. During the Commune of Paris tried to mediate without result between the government of Adolphe Thiers and the government of the comuneros, which will lead him to resign both his duties as deputy and mayor of the district.
Re-elected deputy for Paris in the general elections of 1876, is imposed as head of the opposition of extreme left fighting for the amnesty of the prisoners of the Commune, advocating the separation of the Church and the State and against the colonial policy of France. His opposition to the French military interventions in the Suez Canal and in Tonkin, as well as his fight for the suppression of the Senate, led to the downfall of several governments, which earned him the nickname “El Tigre”.
After being unfairly implicated in the Panama scandal, he retired from the political scene a few years before the Dreyfus case. Clemenceau was then editor of the newspaper L’Aurore, and was the inventor of the famous title of Emile Zola’s article, called J’accuse …!, Distinguishing himself as one of the defenders of Captain Alfred Dreyfus.
In 1902 Clemenceau returns to political life, being elected senator for the department of Var. As a senator, he continued to militate in favor of the separation of powers between the Church and the State, supporting the anti-clerical legislation of Prime Minister Émile Combes. After the victory of the Radical Party in the elections of 1906, Clemenceau was appointed Minister of the Interior and the same year he went on to occupy the Head of Government (as President of the Council of Ministers). Shortly after the Courrières Catastrophe of the same year, there were numerous workers’ protests sponsored by the Socialists, which were repressed by Clemenceau using military force. Governing with an iron hand, Clemenceau reformed the police corps so that they could confront the protest movements by militants of the political left, creating “police brigades” (which in reference to him were nicknamed “brigades of the Tiger”) and describing himself as the “first French policeman”.
Faced with his political environment, and harassed by the Socialists, Clemenceau broke off relations with the socialist leader Jean Jaurès and supported the establishment of the Entente Cordiale with Great Britain. However, he was strongly questioned by Théophile Delcassé in 1909 regarding the state of the French navy, for which reason he resigned in that same year to return to his journalistic career. He founded the regional newspaper Le journal du Var and the Parisian newspaper L’homme libre (The free man).
First World War
After the outbreak of the Great War of 1914, Clemenceau is engaged in the press to address international and military issues, and forges a solid reputation as a patriot and nationalist. Detractor of the pacifist stance of his socialist colleagues against the war, is harshly questioned by the government chaired by René Viviani and suffers the censorship of his newspaper L’homme libre in September 1914, which changes its name to L’homme enchaîné (The chained man). In November of 1917, the President of the Republic Raymond Poincaré calls Clemenceau to be again head of government, accumulating the positions of prime minister (President of the Council) and Minister of War.
During his tenure, Clemenceau restored the confidence of the French people in the republican institutions by carrying out a true policy of “public salvation” to achieve the full mobilization of the French economy in order to sustain the war effort. Clemenceau actively persecuted the pacifists and the press to suggest defeatist ideas but without resorting to censorship, and his frequent visits to the troops at the front earned him enormous popularity. He also publicly called for the imprisonment of parliamentarian Joseph Caillaux, who had suggested that France initiate peace talks with the German Empire and abandon its alliance with Britain, a proposal that Clemenceau accused of betrayal and defeatism, insisting on the contrary in its decision to continue the war to the end (in French la guerre jusqu’au bout or jusqu’au-boutisme), maintaining the fight against Germany until the surrender of it.
In parallel, Clemenceau left the full conduct of the war to the military staff headed by Marshal Ferdinand Foch, without political interference, taking care to preserve hard a very solid “inner front”, which generated in his please broad support among the popular masses. The admiration and adhesion towards Clemenceau extended even among the front troops, a situation quite unusual among the politicians of the Third Republic.
The Council of Four, at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919: from left to right Lloyd George, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, Georges Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson.
Clemenceau was one of the architects and leading negotiators of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. During the signing of the Treaty of Versailles he was part of those who demanded severe punishment of Germany through the payment of high war reparations, the incorporation of from Rhineland to the French economy, and the complete extinction of the German colonial empire, along with several other plans to decisively weaken the vanquished side. The president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, and the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, opposed this kind of ideas and prevented Clemenceau’s plans from being fulfilled in full.
Clemenceau, however, succeeded in having various clauses in the peace accords aimed at weakening “definitely” Germany, but still maintained for the rest of his life the thought that the defeated Germany had been treated in a “too benevolent” way. “for France, so that several contemporary historians consider him partly responsible for the errors of the Treaty of Versailles. Even so, he opposed the French occupation of the Ruhr on the grounds that it futilely alienated France from its British and American allies.
In 1920 Clemenceau lost the elections for the Presidency of the Republic. With 79 years, he retired to devote himself to travel and to write two important works: Démosthène, Grandeur and Misères d’une victoire (Demosthenes, greatness and miseries of a victory), dedicated to defend his political position during the years 1917-1919, and Au soir de la Pensée (On the decline of thought), a reflection on his political evolution throughout his life.
A fan of art, Clemenceau was the protector of many painters like Claude Monet. Thanks precisely to his intervention, this painter gave his series of works The Water Lilies to the French State in 1922.
Clemenceau died in Paris on November 24, 1929, at the age of 88 years. According to his wish, he was buried in a simple grave in the village of Mouchamps (in the Vendée region), the land of his ancestors.
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