Émile Combes bigraphy, stories - French statesman

Émile Combes : biography

6 September 1835 - 25 May 1921

Émile Combes ( 6 September 1835 – 25 May 1921) was a French statesman who led the Bloc des gauches's cabinet from June 1902 – January 1905.



Combes's Ministry, 7 June 1902 – 24 January 1905

  • Émile Combes – President of the Council and Minister of the Interior and Worship
  • Théophile Delcassé – Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Louis André – Minister of War
  • Maurice Rouvier – Minister of Finance
  • Ernest Vallé – Minister of Justice
  • Charles Camille Pelletan – Minister of Marine
  • Joseph Chaumié – Minister of Public Instruction and Fine Arts
  • Léon Mougeot – Minister of Agriculture
  • Gaston Doumergue – Minister of Colonies
  • Émile Maruéjouls – Minister of Public Works
  • Georges Trouillot – Minister of Commerce, Industry, Posts, and Telegraphs


  • 15 November 1904 – Maurice Berteaux succeeds André as Minister of War

Prime minister

He actively supported the Waldeck-Rousseau ministry, and upon its retirement in 1902 he was himself charged with the formation of a cabinet. In this he took the portfolio of the Interior, and the main energy of the government was devoted to an anti-clerical agenda, partly in response to the Dreyfus Affair."Emile Combes who boasted of taking office for the sole purpose of destroying the religious orders. He closed thousands of what were not then called 'faith schools'" in the Guardian, 9 October 2005 The parties of the Left, united upon this question in the Bloc republicain, supported Combes in his application of the law of 1901 on the religious associations, and voted the new bill on the congregations (1904), and under his guidance France took the first definite steps toward the separation of church and state. By 1904, through his efforts, nearly 10,000 religious schools had been closed and thousands of priests and nuns left France rather than be persecuted.Burns, Michael p. 171 (1999 Palgrave Macmillan) ISBN 0-312-21813-3

He was vigorously opposed by all the Conservative parties, who saw the mass closure of church schools as a persecution of religion. Among people who looked with favor on his stubborn enforcement of the law, he was familiarly called le petit père.

In October 1904, his Minister of War, General André, was uncovered 'republicanizing' the army. He took the promotion process out of the hands of senior officers and handled it directly as a political matter. He used Freemasons to spy on the religious behavior of all 19,000 officers; they flagged the observant Catholics and André made sure they would not be promoted. Exposed as the Affaire Des Fiches, the scandal undermined support for the Combes government. It also undermined morale in the army, as officers realized that hostile spies examining their private lives were more important to their careers than their own professional accomplishments.Douglas Porch, The March to the Marne: The French Army 1871-1914 (2003) pp 92-104, is the most thorough account in English

Finally the defection of the Radical and Socialist groups induced him to resign on 17 January 1905, although he had not met an adverse vote in the Chamber. His policy was still carried on; and when the law of the separation of church and state was passed, all the leaders of the Radical parties entertained him at a noteworthy banquet in which they openly recognized him as the real originator of the movement.

The campaign for the separation of church and state was the last big political action in his life. While still possessed of great influence over extreme Radicals, Combes took but little public part in politics after his resignation of the premiership in 1905. He joined the Aristide Briand ministry of October 1915 as one of the five Elder Statesmen, but without portfolio.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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