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Dreyfus Affair

Dreyfus Affair (drā´fəs, drī–), the controversy that occurred with the treason conviction (1894) of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus (1859–1935), a French artillery officer and graduate of the French military academy.

The Case

The case arose when a French spy in the German embassy discovered a handwritten bordereau [schedule], received by Major Maximilien von Schwartzkoppen, German military attaché in Paris, which offered to sell French military secrets. The French army, which, although considerably democratized in the late 19th cent., remained a stronghold of monarchists and Catholics and permeated by anti-Semitism, attempted to ferret out the traitor. Suspicion fell on Dreyfus, a wealthy Alsatian Jew, while the press raised accusations of Jewish treason. He was tried in camera by a French court-martial, convicted, and sentenced to degradation and deportation for life. He was sent to Devils Island, off the coast of French Guiana, for solitary confinement. Dreyfus protested his innocence and swore his loyalty to France, but public opinion generally applauded the conviction, and interest in the case lapsed.

The Controversy

The matter flared up again in 1896 and soon divided Frenchmen into two irreconcilable factions. In 1896 Col. Georges Picquart, chief of the intelligence section, discovered evidence indicating Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, who was deep in debt, as the real author of the bordereau. Picquart was silenced by army authorities, but in 1897 Dreyfus's brother, Mathieu, made the same discovery and increased pressure to reopen the case. Esterhazy was tried (Jan., 1898) by a court-martial and acquitted in a matter of minutes.

Émile Zola, a leading supporter of Dreyfus, promptly published an open letter (J'accuse) to the president of the French republic, Félix Faure, accusing the judges of having obeyed orders from the war office in their acquittal of Esterhazy. Zola was tried for libel and sentenced to jail, but he escaped to England. By this time the case had become a major political issue and was fully exploited by royalist, militarist, and nationalist elements on the one hand and by republican, socialist, and anticlerical elements on the other.

The violent partisanship dominated French life for a decade, dividing the country into two warring camps. Among the anti-Dreyfusards were the anti-Semite Édouard Drumont; Paul Déroulède, who founded a patriotic league; and Maurice Barrès. The pro-Dreyfus faction, which steadily gained strength, came to include Georges Clemenceau, in whose paper Zola's letter appeared; Jean Jaurès; René Waldeck-Rousseau; Anatole France; Charles Péguy; and Joseph Reinach. They were, in part, less concerned with Dreyfus, who remained in solitary confinement on Devils Island, than with discrediting the rightist government. The larger questions posed by the case involved the future of France itself, whether it would remain traditional or become modern, be Catholic or secular, function as a monarchy or a republic, and have a nationalist or a cosmopolitan character.

Pardon and Aftermath

Later in 1898 it was discovered that much of the evidence against Dreyfus had been forged by Colonel Henry of army intelligence. Henry committed suicide (Aug., 1898), and Esterhazy fled to England. At this point revision of Dreyfus's sentence had become imperative. The case was referred to an appeals court in September and after Waldeck-Rousseau became premier in 1899, the court of appeals ordered a new court-martial. There was worldwide indignation when the military court, unable to admit error, found Dreyfus guilty with extenuating circumstances and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

Nonetheless, a pardon was issued by President Émile Loubet, and in 1906 the supreme court of appeals exonerated Dreyfus, who was reinstated as a major and decorated with the Legion of Honor. Subsequently promoted, Dreyfus served in World War I as a colonel in the artillery. In 1930 his innocence was reaffirmed by the publication of Schwartzkoppen's papers. The immediate result of the Dreyfus Affair was to unite and bring to power the French political left wing. Widespread antimilitarism and anticlericalism also ensued; army influence declined, and in 1905 church and state were separated in France and legal equality among Catholics, Protestants, and Jews was established. At his death in 1935, Dreyfus was hailed as a French hero and a martyr for freedom.

Bibliography

See J. Reinach, Histoire de l'affaire Dreyfus (7 vol., 1901–11); A. Dreyfus and P. Dreyfus, The Dreyfus Case (tr. 1937); G. R. Whyte, The Dreyfus Affair: A Chronological History (2008); studies by G. Chapman (1955 and 1972), D. W. Johnson (1966), L. L. Snyder (1972), D. L. Lewis (1973), J.-D. Bredin (tr. 1986), N. L. Kleeblatt (1987), M. Burns (1991), L. Begley (2009), F. Brown (2010), and R. Harris (2010).

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Dreyfus Affair

DREYFUS AFFAIR

Famous turn-of-the-century case of French antisemitism.

In 1894 Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish captain in the French army, was convicted in a secret military court-martial of espionage on behalf of Germany and was sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island in French Guyana, off the coast of South America. His alleged espionage prompted virulent antisemitism and was cited by some French editorialists as but one manifestation of widespread Jewish perfidy. Two years later, an army intelligence investigator concluded that Dreyfus was innocent and the guilty party was Major Walsin Esterhazy. The army at first resisted reopening the case; when it did, it acquitted Esterhazy despite the blatant evidence against him. Later that year the new head of army intelligence confessed he had forged documents implicating Dreyfus and subsequently committed suicide in his jail cell.

A number of prominent liberals and leaders on the Left united in support of Dreyfus, whose conviction they viewed as an unholy antisemitic alliance of France's political Right and the church leadership. The novelist Emile Zola published his famous letter, "J'accuse," in which he vociferously denounced both the military and civil authorities, forcing the investigation into Dreyfus's conviction. A second court martial reiterated Dreyfus's guilt, but shortly thereafter he was pardoned. A number of years later he was declared innocent and returned to his former military rank.

The brazen corruption and antisemitism led to the end of the rightist government in France and, later, the firm separation of church and state there. The antisemitism that manifested itself in many liberal as well as rightist quarters deepened the ties of some Jewish intellectuals to the nascent Zionist Organization. The Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl, who had previously taken some interest in the organization, reported on the trial and, along with his colleague Max Nordau, became totally committed to Zionism.

See also Herzl, Theodor; Nordau, Max.


Bibiography

Bredin, Jean-Denis. The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman. New York: Braziller, 1986.

Burns, Michael. Dreyfus: A Family Affair, 17891945. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Derfler, Leslie. The Dreyfus Affair. Westport, CT: Green-wood, 2002.

Stanislawski, Michael. Zionism and the Fin-de-Siècle: Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism from Nordau to Jabotinsky. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

chaim i. waxman

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Dreyfus Affair

Dreyfus Affair French political crisis arising from the conviction of Captain Alfred Dreyfus (1859–1935) for treason in 1894. Dreyfus was a Jewish army officer, convicted on evidence later proved false. In 1898, publication of J'accuse, an open letter by Émile Zola in defence of Dreyfus, provoked a bitter national controversy in which the opposing forces of republicanism and royalism almost resulted in civil war. Dreyfus, initially imprisoned, later received a presidential pardon.

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"Dreyfus Affair." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Dreyfus Affair." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/dreyfus-affair