Theophile Delcasse

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delcassÉ in the chamber of deputies
delcassÉ and the diplomatic revolution

DELCASSÉ, THÉOPHILE (1852–1923), foreign minister of France (1898–1905 and 1914) and architect of the Anglo-French Entente Cordiale of 1904.

Théophile Delcassé was born in southwestern France, the son of a minor court official (huissier) in Pamiers (Ariège), on the edge of the Pyrenees. After studies at the University of Toulouse, Delcassé followed the route of ambitious young men to Paris, where an introduction to Léon Gambetta (1838–1882), the leading Radical politician of the early Third Republic, led to a career in journalism. Writing for Gambetta's newspaper, La République française, Delcassé soon became involved in politics, and at age twenty-five he inherited the paper's column on colonial and foreign affairs.

Delcassé's articles made him one of the Radical Party's leading voices on foreign affairs, and Gambetta encouraged him to stand for office but died in 1882 before securing the election of his protégé. Delcassé became a strong supporter of Jules Ferry (1832–1893) in the mid-1880s when Ferry launched his controversial policy of colonial expansion. Delcassé backed Ferry in La République française, although others denounced him for the expansionism or for colonial cooperation with Germany. When Georges Clemenceau (1841–1929), the most passionate voice of the Radical Party after the death of Gambetta, attacked Ferry in parliament in 1885, leading to the overthrow of the Ferry government, Delcassé was a member of the inner circle who met with Ferry.

delcassÉ in the chamber of deputies

His close ties to Gambetta and Ferry and his growing reputation as an authority on international relations earned Delcassé the support needed for a successful parliamentary campaign, and he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies from Ariège in 1889, a seat he would hold until 1919. In his first major speech, in November 1890, Delcassé attacked the government of Charles de Freycinet (1828–1923, a former rival of Gambetta) for following a weak foreign policy and for backing down to the English in Egypt. Delcassé became a leading voice on French colonial affairs, resulting in his appointment as undersecretary for the colonies in 1893–1894 and then minister of the colonies in 1894–1895. In these posts he advocated cautious expansionism, based on a realistic appraisal of national interests rather than expansion for expansion's sake.

Delcassé used his prominent position in the Radical Party to support the Franco-Russian Alliance as it evolved in the 1890s at a time when many Radicals feared that collaboration with autocratic Russia compromised the liberal-democratic principles of the party. When Henri Brisson (1835–1912) formed a cabinet including several Radicals in 1898, Delcassé was considered the logical choice to be foreign minister.

delcassÉ and the diplomatic revolution

Delcassé came to office in June 1898, at the height of the Fashoda Crisis, in which Britain and France confronted each other over control of Egypt and the Sudan. He extracted France from a vulnerable position by withdrawing a small exploratory mission (the Marchand mission) from the banks of the Nile (where they confronted a large British army), and won praise for his resolution of the crisis, but Delcassé realized that the Fashoda affair had exposed French vulnerability. He consequently negotiated two protocols strengthening the Franco-Russian Alliance (1899 and 1901) and then contemplated the need for France to resolve its differences with either Britain (in colonial affairs) or Germany (in continental affairs). The latter possibility remains the most controversial issue in the scholarly interpretation of Delcassé's career.

Delcassé briefly considered a Franco-German détente—the idea that had destroyed Ferry's career but later won a Nobel Peace Prize for Aristide Briand (1862–1932) and later still made the European Union possible—but he found negotiations much easier with the British. Delcassé thus became the central architect of the Anglo-French treaty of 1904, known as the Entente Cordiale. By this agreement, Britain and France settled centuries of lingering colonial disputes. France recognized the British position in Egypt, and Britain recognized the French position in Morocco.

The Entente Cordiale was not a military alliance analogous to the Franco-Russian Alliance or Germany's Triple Alliance, although it evolved into military collaboration. Combined with the Russian alliance, it represented one of the greatest diplomatic revolutions in modern European history, ending the isolation of France and counter-balancing the German alliances.

When Germany precipitated a crisis in 1905 to test the Entente Cordiale, a nervous Chamber of Deputies drove Delcassé from office. He remained a leading voice in international affairs and returned to serve as minister of the navy in 1911–1913. When World War I began in 1914 and the French formed a coalition ministry of all talents (the "sacred union"), Delcassé returned to the Foreign Ministry, where he stayed until 1915.

See alsoClemenceau, Georges; Ferry, Jules; France; Gambetta, Léon-Michel.


Andrew, Christopher M. Théophile Delcassé and the Making of the Entente Cordiale. London, 1968.

Neton, Albéric. Delcassé, 1852–1923. Paris, 1927.

Porter, Charles W. The Career of Théophile Delcassé. Philadelphia, 1936. Reprint, Westport, Conn., 1975.

Renouvin, Pierre. La Politique extérieure de Théophile Delcassé, 1898–1905. Paris, 1962.

Zorgbibe, Charles. Théophile Delcassé, 1852–1923: Le Grand ministre des Affaires étrangères de la Troisième République. Paris, 2001.

Steven C. Hause

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Théophile Delcassé

The French statesman and journalist Théophile Delcassé (1852-1923) was the chief architect of the Triple Entente between France, Britain, and Russia.

Théophile Delcassé was born on March 1, 1852, in Palmiers. After graduating from the University of Toulouse in 1874, he went to Paris and in 1879 began to write for Léon Gambetta's journal, La République française. He continued his association with that paper until 1888 and also contributed to the Parisfrom 1881 to 1889.

In 1889 Delcassé was elected to the Chamber of Deputies. He was undersecretary for the colonies from January to December 1893 and served as second minister of colonies from May 1894 to January 1895. His policies were governed by his belief that colonial strength would enhance France's position as a European power.

In June 1898 Delcassé was appointed minister of foreign affairs, and he retained this position until June 1905. His policies aimed to strengthen French interests and achieve the diplomatic isolation of Germany. He won both Spanish and American friendship by his successful mediation in the Spanish-American War of 1898. This opened the way for subsequent rapprochements with both the United States and Spain. Meanwhile, during the Fashoda crisis of 1898, Delcassé won a measure of respect from the British by withstanding their pressure for 6 weeks.

Between 1899 and 1903 Delcassé transformed the Franco-Russian alliance into an active instrument of policy by broadening its scope to include defense of the European balance of power. He achieved understanding with Italy, based on settlement of differences in Africa. This culminated in 1902 in mutual guarantees of neutrality. Three agreements of April 8, 1904, settled British and French colonial differences and became the foundation of the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France. Meanwhile, Delcassé also encouraged cooperation between Russia and Britain, which led in 1907 to the formation of the Triple Entente. Italian, British, and Spanish agreements guaranteed France a free hand in Morocco, but Delcassé was forced to resign in 1905 during the first Moroccan crisis, when the Cabinet refused to support his policy.

As minister of marine from March 1911 to January 1913, Delcassé reorganized and strengthened the French navy and engaged in joint naval planning with Britain. As ambassador to Russia between March 1913 and January 1914, he improved the joint military planning of France and Russia and accelerated development of Russia's strategic railroads. Early in World War I Delcassé was named minister of foreign affairs, but he resigned after 14 months, when Bulgaria joined the Central Powers, proving the failure of his Balkan policy. Delcassé refused to vote for the Treaty of Versailles, which he felt gave France "neither reparations nor security," and retired from public life after 1919. He died at Nice on Feb. 22, 1923.

Further Reading

The best study of Delcassé in English is Charles W. Porter, The Career of Théophile Delcassé (1936), which concentrates on his writings, speeches, and political acts and implies that he must bear a considerable responsibility for developments leading to World War I. See also John Francis Parr, Théophile Delcassé and the Practice of the Franco-Russian Alliance: 1898-1905 (1952), and Christopher Andrew, Théophile Delcassé and the Making of the Entente Cordiale (1968).

Additional Sources

Porter, Charles Wesley, The career of Théophile Delcassé, West-port, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975. □

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Théophile Delcassé (tāôfēl´ dĕlkäsā´), 1852–1923, French foreign minister. He began his career as a political journalist and then turned to politics. First undersecretary and then minister for the colonies (1893–95), he became foreign minister in 1898 and remained in office until 1905. Commencing with the Fashoda Incident, in which his conciliatory attitude marked the start of a Franco-British rapprochement, he greatly influenced the alignment of European powers prior to World War I. The Entente Cordiale with Great Britain (1904), for which he was largely responsible, settled colonial differences between the two nations, particularly in Morocco and Egypt; France agreed to recognize the British occupation of Egypt in return for British acknowledgment of French interests in Morocco. This convention opened the way for the Triple Entente (1907) between Great Britain, France, and Russia (see Triple Alliance and Triple Entente). During Delcassé's tenure as foreign minister, Franco-Russian relations were cemented (1899) by the extension of the Franco-Russian alliance of 1894, and a secret nonaggression treaty was signed (1902) between France and Italy that neutralized Italian membership in the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary. In 1905, Delcassé proposed the establishment of a French protectorate over Morocco. Emperor William II of Germany visited Tangier and proclaimed his country's support of Moroccan independence. Delcassé urged his government to stand firm, but the fear of war with Germany caused the French to oppose Delcassé, and he resigned. Delcassé was later naval minister (1911–13) and foreign minister (1914–15).

See biography by C. W. Porter (1936); C. Andrew, Théophile Delcassé and the Making of the Entente Cordiale (1968).