13th November, 2006 Dreyfuss and Zola French Revolution: 1789

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13th November, 2006

Dreyfuss and Zola
French Revolution: 1789

  • Fought for arguably democratic ideals, it ended the reign of

  • “Liberty, Egality, Fraternity”

  • Following the Revolution, and the Terror, came the era of Napoleonic France.

  • “A whiff of the grapeshot’.

  • Also taught the reigning monarchs that the lower classes could obliterate them if they rose in an organized way.

Congress of Vienna: 1815

  • After the Napoleonic Wars, the Great Powers in Europe met to redraw the map of the continent.

  • Called the ‘Concert of Europe’

  • Austria, Prussia, Russia, Great Britain, and the restored French Bourbons.

Prussia Wasn’t Enough:

  • Germany wasn’t a country yet, but it the 300 different polities that made it up had some things in common.

  • Language, stories, culture, shared history.

  • The Prussian Kaiser, and Otto von Bismarck had a plan.

Unification of Germany:

  • The North German trade confederation, the Zollverein, was the first step to unification.

  • Following mutual economic development, the political borders softened.

  • What they needed was a war…they had three.

Wars of German Unification:

  • 1851 – Schleswig and Holstein

  • 1866 – Austro-Prussian War

  • 1870 – Franco Prussian War

Treaty of Frankfurt: 1870-71

  • Confirmed frontier between France and Germany, annexed Alsace, Lorraine, and Moselle to Prussia.

  • Framework for withdrawal of Prussian troops.

  • Assessed War Indemnity on France of 5B. Francs, 3 year payment schedule.

  • Military occupation of Prussians in France to continue until war indemnity paid.

Treaty of Frankfurt: Good Points

  • Regulated trade.

  • Established rules for using navigable waterways in the annexed territories.

  • Returned prisoners of war.

Treaty of Frankfurt: Bad Points

  • French forced to accept full indemnity for the war.

  • France lost territory that had ethnic French living on it.

  • Debt was crippling to the economy, effectively gave Prussia a massive spending power, free of charge.

  • Resulted in increased animosity and recrimination towards the Prussians to whom, after all, they had lost the war.

Alfred Dreyfus:

  • 9th October 1859 – 12th July 1935

  • Born in Mulhouse, Alsace, France.

  • Youngest of 7 children, son of a Jewish textile manufacturer who kept French nationality when the German Empire annexed Alsace.

Dreyfus’ Rise:

  • Age 11, sees Prussian troops enter his hometown, 1871.

  • Accepted into the Ecole Polytechnique class of 1877 for military training and scientific studies.

  • Graduated a Sub-Lieutenant in 1880.

  • 1880-1882 attended the academy at Fontainbleu for specialized training as an artillery officer.

  • By 1885 he’s a full Lieutenant, by 1889 a captain working as a pyrothecnical specialist at Bourges.

Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy Enter into the Triple Alliance

Glass Ceiling:

  • By 1885 he’s a full Lieutenant, by 1889 a captain working as a pyrothecnical specialist at Bourges.

  • 1892, war college examinations he was graded down by an examining officer because “Jews were not desired” in the upper echelons.

  • He protested, was declined, and the protest went into his military record.

  • He was generally, though, a completely obscure figure in a huge, busy organization.

France enters into the Dual Entente with Russia

Fin de Siecle:

  • Peace: (n) A period of cheating between two periods of fighting.” -A.Bierce

  • In 1894, papers discovered in a wastebasket belonging to the German military attaché made it appear that a French military officer was providing information to the German government.

Evidence Against Dreyfus:

  • Arrested 15th October, 1894.

  • He had access to the kind of information that had been linked to the Germans.

  • Army authorities declared he had handwriting that was similar to the author of the documents.

  • He was Alsatian, and he was a Jew.

Condemnation of Dreyfus:

  • Found guilty of treason in a secret military court-martial that lasted 4 days, under 7 judges.

  • During the trial, he was denied the right to examine the evidence against him.

  • In a humiliating ceremony, the Army stripped him of his rank.

  • Sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island off the coast of South America.

  • He came apart, and recorded every stage in his diary, the last entry of which is dated 10th September

Exile and Torture:

  • Lived in a hut, from which he couldn’t exit for two months, when he did, he discovered a wall that blocked the sea and the sky.

  • Suffered an illegal punishment “double buckle” in which his feet were shackled to his bedstead at night to prevent movement.

  • Almost lost the power of speech from not using his voice.

  • Books sent by his family were intercepted, letters from his wife appeared as copies rather than originals.

  • Didn’t know ‘on what day’ his brain would burst.

  • In spite of recurrent fever, he started to rally.

Back in France:

  • Political right cited the alleged espionage as evidence of the failure of the Republic.

  • The newspaper La Libre Parole intensified its attacks on Jews.

  • Used case as example of Jewish treachery.

First New Light on Case:

  • Evidence emerged that the espionage had been carried out by another officer who was still in place.

  • Lt. Col. Georges Picquart, an ‘unapologetic anti-semite’ looked into it.

  • Concluded that the guilty officer was Major Walsin Esterhazy, not Dreyfus.

  • The army covered it up, and transferred him to Tunisia.

  • Things got very quiet.

Emile Zola

  • 2nd April, 1840 to 29th September 1902

  • Influential novelist in the naturalist tradition.

  • Wrote a letter to the French President, Felix Fore.

Two Days Later:

  • 11th January 1898

  • Esterhazy had been court-martialled, but the court publicly found him innocent.

  • 13th January 1898

  • “J’accuse!” published in the daily paper L’Aurore


  • Run by Ernest Vaughan and Georges Clemenceau.

  • Published radical material that criticized the regime of Napoeleon III.

  • Ran “J’accuse!” on the front page.


  • Accused government and military of anti-semitism.

  • Implied criticism of the media for being anti-semitic.

  • Still, it was the press that published “J’accuse!”

  • (I wonder sometimes: Is there such a thing as “the press” or “the media” or even “the people”?)

Consequences: Zola

  • Zola charged with libel against the government.

  • Wound up fleeing to England for his safety

  • Political right and the Catholic church charged the case to be evidence of a conspiracy between Jews and Freemasons designed to damage the prestige of the army, and therefore of France.

Zola’s Trial:

  • Covered by hundreds of the world’s journalists.

  • London Times: “Zola’s true crime has been in daring to rise to defend the truth and civil liberty…and for that courageous defense of the primordial rights of the citizen, he will be honored wherever men have souls that are free…”

  • Trial was confused, farcical, and seen as an attempt by the government to suppress the truth of the Dreyfus Affair.

Consequences: Dreyfus

  • Media opinion swung over to Dreyfus

  • Public opinion swung with it.

  • Dreyfus eventually pardoned in September 1899, and able to return to France.

  • Exonerated in 1906.

Consequences: The Republic

  • Inspired moderate republicans, radicals, and socialists to work together.

  • Conduct of the army and the Catholic hierarchy seen as utterly deplorable.

  • In 1905, the Radical party, emphasizing role of Catholic leadership, succeeded in passing legislation separating church and state.

Zola’s Death: 1902

  • Anatole France read the eulogy:

  • “Given the obligation which befalls me to recall the struggle waged by Zola on behalf of truth and justice, is it possible for me to remain silent concerning those men so passionately bent on destroying an innocent man?...How might I remove them from your sight when it is mine to show you Zola rising up, weak and unarmed, before them?

Zola’s Eulogy:

  • “Let us envy Zola: he has honoured his country and the world with an immense body of work and a great deed…His destiny and his courage combined to endow him with the greatest of fates. He was a moment in the conscience of humanity.”


  • A dress military parade was organized and held on July 21st, 1906.

  • It was to honour Dreyfus, who had been publicly stripped of his rank and dignity.

United Kingdom, France, Russia enter into the Triple Entente


  • 4th June 1908

  • His remains were transferred to The Pantheon where the greatest citizens of the republic are interred.

  • Dreyfus attended the ceremony.


  • At the ceremony, a right wing journalist named Gregori pulled out a revolver.

  • He fired two shots at Dreyfus before being taken down.

  • Dreyfus was wounded, but survived.

  • Gregori was charged with attempted murder.


  • Right-wing newspapers praised the attempted murder as a “gesture for France.”

  • Gregori was acquitted.

1914 - First World War Commences.

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