Raymond Poincaré

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The reduction of the executive power is the wish of neither the chambers nor the country...During all my magistracy, I will see, in accord with the responsible ministers, that the government of the republic maintains intact, under the control of parliament, the authority which it must have...It is possible for a people to be effectively pacific only on condition that they are always ready for war. A diminished France, a France exposed through her own fault to challenges or humiliations, would no longer be France.

Raymond Poincaré (20 August 186015 October 1934) was a French statesman who served three times as Prime Minister (1912-13, 1922-24, 1926-29), and as President from 1913 to 1920. Between 1913 and 1934 he published ten volumes of memoirs, titled Au service de la France.

Quotes[edit]

  • The reduction of the executive power is the wish of neither the chambers nor the country...During all my magistracy, I will see, in accord with the responsible ministers, that the government of the republic maintains intact, under the control of parliament, the authority which it must have...It is possible for a people to be effectively pacific only on condition that they are always ready for war. A diminished France, a France exposed through her own fault to challenges or humiliations, would no longer be France.
    • Speech to the Chamber (20 February 1913), quoted in Gordon Wright, Raymond Poincaré and the French Presidency (New York: Octagon Books, 1967), pp. 64-65.
  • Jaurès had over the last 8 days expiated many faults. He had helped the government in its diplomacy and, if war breaks out, he would have been amongst those who would have known how to do their duty...Quel crime abominable et sot!
    • Diary entry (31 July 1914), quoted in John Keiger, 'France' in Keith Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War 1914 (London: University College London Press, 1995), p. 130.
  • Excellent attitude of the socialists, even of the revolutionaries and of the CGT...We have not had arrested any of the individuals registered in the Carnet B, apart from a few rare exceptions, when the Préfets believed themselves confronted with dangerous anarchists.
    • Diary entry (2 August 1914), quoted in John Keiger, 'France' in Keith Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War 1914 (London: University College London Press, 1995), p. 136.
  • Yesterday Paris gave a sad spectacle which contrasts with the sang-froid of these last days and with the sang-froid of the whole of France. There were many incidents of pillaging of shops. The dairies of the Maggi company were widely plundered; it is true that the cause of this violence is competition between this company and small milk suppliers. But, on top of this, German and Austrian shops were looted; and the police stood passively by these scenes of disorder: officers even watched them with a certain complicity. I instructed Malvy [Minister of the Interior] to ask Hennion [Prefect of Police] to be merciless and to maintain public order at all costs. The fomenters will appear before a war tribunal.
    • Diary entry (3 August 1914), quoted in John Keiger, 'France' in Keith Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War 1914 (London: University College London Press, 1995), p. 137.
  • We are expecting, of course, a German attack through Belgium, as our High Command has always predicted. We have constantly recommended to General Joffre not to permit any crossing of the Belgian frontier nor over-flying of Belgium until further notice. On that depends the support of England and the attitude of Belgium. When King Albert came to Paris, he promised that Belgium would defend herself against Germany. Let us do nothing which could discourage that good will.
    • Diary entry (3 August 1914), quoted in John Keiger, 'France' in Keith Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War 1914 (London: University College London Press, 1995), pp. 139-140.
  • It was for all the members of the Cabinet a relief. Never before had a declaration of war been welcomed with such satisfaction. France having done all that was incumbent upon her to maintain peace and war having nevertheless become inevitable, it was a hundred times better that we should not have been led, even by repeated violation of our frontiers, to declare it ourselves. It was indispensable that Germany, who was entirely responsible for the aggression, should be led into publicly confessing her intentions. If we had had to declare war ourselves, the Russian alliance would have been contested, national unanimity would have been smashed, it would probably have meant Italy would have been forced by the clauses of the Triple Alliance to side against us.
    • Diary entry (3 August 1914), quoted in John Keiger, 'France' in Keith Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War 1914 (London: University College London Press, 1995), p. 140.
  • I had spoken of the [illegible] of things and added that at last we could release the cry, until now smothered in our breasts: Vive l'Alsace Lorraine. Thomson and Angagneur rightly pointed out to me that that it would be better, vis-à-vis foreign countries and even vis-à-vis part of French public opinion, to say nothing which could detract from the strictly defensive nature of the war. I bowed to their observations.
    • Diary entry (4 August 1914), quoted in John Keiger, 'France' in Keith Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War 1914 (London: University College London Press, 1995), pp. 141-142.
  • From the very beginning of hostilities, came into conflict the two ideas which for fifty months were to struggle for the dominion of the world - the idea of sovereign force, which accepts neither control nor check, and the idea of justice, which depends on the sword only to prevent or repress the abuse of strength...the war gradually attained the fullness of its first significance, and became, in the fullest sense of the term, a crusade of humanity for Right; and if anything can console us in part at least, for the losses we have suffered, it is assuredly the thought that our victory is also the victory of Right. This victory is complete, for the enemy only asked for the armistice to escape from an irretrievable military disaster...And in the light of those truths you intend to accomplish your mission. You will, therefore, seek nothing but justice, "justice that has no favourites," justice in territorial problems, justice in financial problems, justice in economic problems. But justice is not inert, it does not submit to injustice. What it demands first, when it has been violated, are restitution and reparation for the peoples and individuals who have been despoiled or maltreated. In formulating this lawful claim, it obeys neither hatred nor an instinctive or thoughtless desire for reprisals. It pursues a twofold object - to render to each his due, and not to encourage crime through leaving it unpunished.
  • What justice also demands, inspired by the same feeling, is the punishment of the guilty and effective guaranties against an active return of the spirit by which they were tempted; and it is logical to demand that these guaranties should be given, above all, to the nations that have been, and might again be most exposed to aggressions or threats, to those who have many times stood in danger of being submerged by the periodic tide of the same invasions. What justice banishes is the dream of conquest and imperialism, contempt for national will, the arbitrary exchange of provinces between states as though peoples were but articles of furniture or pawns in a game. The time is no more when diplomatists could meet to redraw with authority the map of the empires on the corner of a table. If you are to remake the map of the world it is in the name of the peoples, and on condition that you shall faithfully interpret their thoughts, and respect the right of nations, small and great, to dispose of themselves, and to reconcile it with the right, equally sacred, of ethnical and religious minorities - a formidable task, which science and history, your two advisers, will contribute to illumine and facilitate.
  • The annual payment [of German reparations] will very likely spread over some thirty years at least. It would therefore be fair and logical for the military occupation of the left bank of the Rhine and the bridgeheads to last for the same length of time...There is, moreover, something quite unusual in the idea of renouncing a security before the amount secured has been completely paid...After the war of 1870, the Germans occupied various French provinces until they received the last centime of the indemnity imposed on France...It is argued that even when the occupation ceased, it could be resumed in the vent of non-payment. This option to renew occupation may look tempting to-day on paper. But its bristling with drawbacks and risk. Let us imagine ourselves sixteen or seventeen years ahead. Germany has paid regularly for fifteen years. We have evacuated the whole left bank of the Rhine. We have returned to our side of the political frontiers which afford no military security. Imagine Germany again prey to Imperialism or imagine that she simply breaks faith. She suspends payment and we are obliged to reoccupy. We give the necessary orders, but who will vouch for our being able to carry them out without difficulty?
    • Memorandum to Clemenceau (28 April 1919), quoted in David Lloyd George, The Truth about the Peace Treaties. Volume I (London: Victor Gollancz, 1938), p. 428.
  • And, further, shall we be sure of finding the left bank free from German troops? Germany is supposedly going to undertake to have neither troops nor fortresses on the left bank and within a zone extending 50 km. east of the Rhine. But the Treaty does not provide for any permanent supervision of troops and armaments, on the left bank any more than elsewhere in Germany. In the absence of this permanent supervision, the clause stipulating that the League of Nations may order enquiries to be undertaken is in danger of being purely illusory. We can thus have no guarantee that after the expiry of the fifteen years and the evacuation of the left bank, the Germans will not filter troops by degrees into this district. Even supposing they have not previously done so, how can we prevent them doing it at the moment when we intend to re-occupy on account of their default? It will be simple for them to leap to the Rhine in a night and to seize this natural military frontier well ahead of us. The option to renew the occupation should not therefore from any point of view be substituted for occupation. It will then be simple for them to leap to the Rhine in a night and to seize this natural military frontier well ahead of us.
    • Memorandum to Clemenceau (28 April 1919), quoted in David Lloyd George, The Truth about the Peace Treaties. Volume I (London: Victor Gollancz, 1938), p. 430.
  • You who witnessed these horrors, you who saw your parents, wives, children fall under German bullets, how could you be expected to understand and stand idly by if today, after our victory, there were people sufficiently blind to advise you to leave unpunished the actions of such outrages, and to allow Germany to keep the indemnities she owes...That kind of behaviour...was encouraged or tolerated by all Germans; all Germans abetted the sacking and firing of the unfortunate provinces in the North and East...We shall see to it that they repair the damage
    • Speech at Triaucourt (c. 1922), quoted in Herbert Tint, The Decline of French Patriotism 1870-1940 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964), p. 172.
  • Judging others by themselves, the English, who are blinded by their loyalty, have always thought that the Germans did not abide by their pledges inscribed in the Versailles Treaty because they had not frankly agreed to them... We, on the contrary, believe that if Germany, far from making the slightest effort to carry out the treaty of peace, has always tried to escape her obligations, it is because until now she has not been convinced of her defeat... We are also certain that Germany, as a nation, resigns herself to keep her pledged word only under the impact of necessity.
    • Letter to Charles de Saint-Aulaire, French ambassador to Britain (c. December 1922), quoted in Leopold Schwarzschild, World in Trance (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1943), p. 140.
  • Germany's population was increasing, her industries were intact, she had no factories to reconstruct, she had no flooded mines. Her resources were intact, above and below ground...In fifteen or twenty years Germany would be mistress of Europe. In front of her would be France with a population scarcely increased.
    • 'Inter-Allied Conference on Reparations, etc.', Miscellaneous No. 3 (1923), pp. 123-124, quoted in Étienne Mantoux, The Carthaginian Peace, or The Economic Consequences of Mr. Keynes (London: Oxford University Press, 1946), p. 23.
  • Those of your fellow countrymen who believe that France dreams or has dreams of the political or economic annihilation of Germany are mistaken...no reasonable Frenchman has ever dreamt of annexing a parcel of German territory.
    • Letter to British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald (25 February 1924), quoted in Anthony Adamthwaite, Granduer and Misery: France's Bid for Power in Europe 1914-1940 (London: Arnold, 1995), p. 101.
  • If I do not yet see the light of day it is because the scaffolding of London still blocks my view of the rising sun. And what worries me the most is that this scaffolding rests upon quicksand: the good faith of Germany, the good faith, not only of the present government in Berlin, but of all those governments that will follow it.
    • Speech in the Chamber (26 August 1924), quoted in Stephen A. Schuker, The End of French Predominance in Europe: The Financial Crisis of 1924 and the Adoption of the Dawes Plan (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1976), p. 393.

About[edit]

  • What remains of the emotion, of the underhanded but incontestable hostility with which certain republican circles greeted his election to the supreme magistracy on January 17, 1913? Nothing, except perhaps the conviction, shared by all republican patriots from the most moderate to the most extreme, that the decision of the congress was the happiest and most judicious choice.
    • Le Radical (11 February 1920), quoted in Gordon Wright, Raymond Poincaré and the French Presidency (New York: Octagon Books, 1967), p. 241.
  • M. Poincaré has been a great, a very great president...Posterity...will ratify this judgment, and its admiration will increase with the revelation of documents in which the clear-sighted patriotism, the tenacity, the patience, the courageous confidence of the outgoing president are affirmed. It is known what he said...and he was an incomparable orator. It is hardly suspected how much good he did and how much evil he prevented, without ever departing from constitutional correctness.
    • Louis Barthou in L'Excelsior (18 February 1920), quoted in Gordon Wright, Raymond Poincaré and the French Presidency (New York: Octagon Books, 1967), p. 240, n. 36.
  • I recall the nomination of M. Poincaré seven years ago. It was almost a revolution...A man of great talent, sprung from a family of high morality and worthy in every respect...The coming of M. Poincaré was greeted as announcing the dawn of a new era. A patriotic policy was about to succeed a regime of diminution and debasement. It was expected that this Lorrainer, an orator, an upright man, a patriot...would revive the country...I do not hesitate to say that the total good in his activity is greater than the total of bad...he never weakened...his influence and his action were judicious, useful, and even very effective...Finally, if the country has maintained an honorable and worthy appearance, it is because he who represented it knew how to be worthy and honest himself.
    • Germain Bapst's diary entry (18 February 1920), quoted in Gordon Wright, Raymond Poincaré and the French Presidency (New York: Octagon Books, 1967), pp. 241-242.
  • Of Clemenceau he spoke in kindly terms. But when the name of Poincaré was mentioned, all the bitterness of his nature burst into a sentence of concentrated hatred. "He is a cheat and a liar," he exclaimed. He repeated the phrase with fierce emphasis. Poincaré disliked and distrusted him and the detestation was mutual.
    • David Lloyd George recounting Woodrow Wilson's opinion of Poincaré in 1923, quoted in David Lloyd George, The Truth about the Peace Treaties. Volume I (London: Victor Gollancz, 1938), p. 241.
  • Only now do I understand the harm done our nation's best interests by the rebuff administered to Poincaré's policy in 1924.
    • Léon Blum, quoted in Pertinax [André Géraud], The Gravediggers of France (1944), p. 374.
  • The fact that he was a Lorrainer, born and brought up in sight of the German eagle waving over the ravished provinces of France, bred in him an implacable enmity for Germany and all Germans. Anti-clericalism was with him a conviction; anti-Germanism was a passion. That gave him a special hold on France that had been ravaged by the German legions in the Great War. It was a disaster to France and to Europe. Where a statesman was needed who realised that if it is to be wisely exploited victory must be utilised with clemency and restraint, Poincaré made it impossible for any French Prime Minister to exert these qualities. He would not tolerate any compromise, concession or conciliation. He was bent on keeping Germany down. He was more responsible than any other man for the refusal of France to implement the disarmament provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. He stimulated and subsidised the armaments of Poland and Czecho-Slovakia which created such a ferment of uneasiness in disarmed Germany. He encouraged insurrection in the Rhineland against the authority of the Reich. He intrigued with the anti-German elements in Britain to thwart every effort in the direction of restoring goodwill in Europe and he completely baffled Briand's endeavour in that direction. He is the true creator of modern Germany with its great and growing armaments, and should this end in another conflict the catastrophe will have been engineered by Poincaré. His dead hand lies heavy on Europe to-day.
    • David Lloyd George, The Truth about the Peace Treaties. Volume I (London: Victor Gollancz, 1938), p. 252.
  • The most powerful figure in French politics after the retirement of Clemenceau was ex-President Poincaré. He disliked the Treaty [of Versailles] intensely. For several years after the withdrawal of Clemenceau, the policy of France was dominated by this rather sinister little man. He represented the vindictive and arrogant mood of the governing classes in France immediately after her terrible sacrifices and her astounding victory. He directly and indirectly governed France for years. All the Premiers who followed after Clemenceau feared Poincaré. Millerand was his creature. Briand, who was all for the League and a policy of appeasement, was thwarted at every turn by the intrigues of Poincaré. Under his influence, which continued for years after his death, the League became not an instrument of peace and goodwill amongst all men, including Germans; it was converted into an organisation for establishing on a permanent footing the military and thereby the diplomatic supremacy of France. That policy completely discredited the League as a body whose decisions on disputes between nations might be trusted to be as impartial as those of any ordinary tribunal in any civilised country. The obligations entered into by the Allies as to disarmament were not fulfilled. British Ministers put up no fight against the betrayal of the League and the pledges as to disarmament. Hence the Nazi Revolution, which has for the time—maybe for a long time—destroyed the hopes of a new era of peaceful co-operation amongst free nations.
    • David Lloyd George, The Truth about the Peace Treaties. Volume II (London: Victor Gollancz, 1938), p. 1410.
  • Had Lloyd George supported whole-heartedly the maximum demands of the French in 1919 could we have escaped 1939? No confident answer to this question is possible, and popular opinion today cannot avoid importing into its verdict on his policy knowledge not available to him at the time. It is plain today that Poincaré had a clearer understanding of the dangers of a resurgent Germany than had Lloyd George.
    • Thomas Jones, Lloyd George (London: Oxford University Press, 1951), p. 178.
  • He was the only man I have ever known who at any moment, on any subject within his wide range, could make a speech, logically developed, exact in phrasing, fortified with every fact and figure, which could be taken down and printed without revisions.
    • Sir Arthur Salter, Personality in Politics (London, 1947), p. 198.
  • Poincaré, the strongest figure who succeeded Clemenceau, attempted to make an independent Rhineland under the patronage and control of France. This had no chance of success. He did not hesitate to try to enforce reparation on Germany by the invasion of the Ruhr. This certainly imposed compliance with the treaties on Germany, but it was severely condemned by British and American opinion...A rift opened between Lloyd George and Poincaré, whose bristling personality hampered his firm and far-sighted policies.
    • Winston Churchill, The Second World War. Volume One: The Gathering Storm (London: The Reprint Society, 1950), pp. 28-29.

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