Briand, Aristide (1862–1932)

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BRIAND, ARISTIDE (1862–1932)


French statesman.

Aristide Briand was born on 28 March 1862, in Nantes, France, into a family of café owners. He attended high school in Nantes. After his baccalaureate, in 1881, he started clerking at a Saint-Nazaire attorney's office. Two years later he went to Paris to study law. He began his career simultaneously as a lawyer (he registered with the bar association of Saint-Nazaire in November 1886) and as a journalist (he published his first article in August of 1884 in La démocratie de l'ouest).

Politically involved at an early age (he was a Radical candidate in the 1889 legislative elections), during the 1890s Briand became a revolutionary activist and a supporter of general strikes. Briand founded the first trade union of the workers of Brière on 10 August 1892, and began to be seen as a fervent strike promoter. In collaboration with the anarchist Fernand Pelloutier (1867–1901) he worked on an essay, De la Révolution par la grève générale (Revolution by the general strike). From then on, he ran as a Socialist candidate, suffering several failures before being elected deputy in the 1902 parliamentary elections in the Loire region (he would be reelected for the next thirty years). As secretary general of the Socialist Party, he became close with Jean Jaurès (1859–1914), the founder of L'humanité, a newspaper for which Briand wrote several articles.

Though he joined the still-young French Section of the Workers' International in 1905, Briand had another ambition: to become a statesman. His first opportunity came during a debate on the law mandating the separation of church and state, for which he was the spokesperson at the Chamber of Deputies. In this debate he showed qualities that would forge the rest of his career: his talent for conciliation and both a sense of and a desire for openness and compromise. The success of that effort enabled him to become the minister of public education and of culture in 1906, in the cabinet of Jean Marie Ferdinand Sarrien. This was a turning point in his career. Henceforth, his revolutionary ideas would fade and be replaced by a concern for realism and pragmatism. His membership in the Socialist Party was revoked because the party forbade members from participating in "bourgeois" governments.

From then on, Briand ran as an independent socialist, straddling the left and the right. Thus he began an impressive ministerial career (he served as minister a total of twenty-two times over the next twenty-five years). When he was elected president of the council for the first time in 1909 (he was reelected ten times), he governed with firmness and pragmatism, repressing the strikes of 1910 and pursuing a policy of conciliation with the Catholics. During the First World War he was the head of the government (1915–1917); he served as prime minister also in 1921–1922, under the ruling majority of the National Bloc, and in 1925–1926, with the Left Wing Cartel.

Briand's grand design concerned foreign policy much more than it did domestic policy. He was appointed minister of foreign affairs fifteen times and served continuously from 1925 to 1932. At the end of World War I, he was at first a supporter of the firm application of the Treaty of Versailles in Germany—but the man who would "collar Germany" soon revised his position, realizing that France did not have the means to police the European continent. Three ideas would guide his politics from then on: closer ties between France and Germany, defending collective peace and security in the framework of the League of Nations, and developing the idea of a united Europe. So, Aristide Briand, along with his German counterpart Gustav Stresemann (1878–1929), negotiated the Locarno Pact (1925) and sponsored Germany's entry into the League of Nations (1926). Briand was also the originator of the Kellogg-Briand Pact "outlawing" war.

Finally, in a famous speech that he delivered before the general assembly of the League of Nations on 5 September 1929, he expressed his support for "a sort of federal link" that would unify "people who are geographically grouped together like those of Europe." A memorandum, presented on 17 May 1930 as an extension of this speech, proposed the political union of Europe in the name of security and closer ties between the European economies. Lionized by some, especially the "realist" youth of the review Notre temps, and despised by others of the nationalist, far-right end of the political spectrum who, like L'action française, stigmatized the illusions and pipe dreams of the man they called the "bleating pacifist," Briand's future darkened in the early 1930s. His failure in Geneva was compounded, in 1931, by his loss to the moderate Paul Doumer (1857–1932) in the French presidential elections. Briand's time had passed and his own will to continue was gone. He died on 7 March 1932.

See alsoLocarno, Treaty of; Stresemann, Gustav.


Bariety, Jacques. "Aristide Briand and the Security of France in Europe 1919–1932." In Germany and France: From Conflict to Reconciliation, Writings of Colloquium 46 of the Historical College, 117–134. Munich, Germany, 2000.

Fleury, Antoine, and Lubor Jilek, eds. "The Briand Plan for Europe's Federal Union." In Acts of the International Colloquium Held in Geneva, September 19–21, 1991. Bern, 1998.

Suarez, Georges. Briand, sa vie, son oeuvre avec son journal et de nombreux documents inédits. 6 vols. Paris, 1938–1952.

Olivier Dard