In an article published in 1901, the historian Charles Seignobos drew attention to the Frenchman’s marked lack of interest in foreign affairs.1 Foreign affairs never figured in electoral campaigns. In the Chamber, apart from the debate on the Foreign Office budget (a debate usually devoted to demands for the suppression of the Vatican embassy), they were rarely mentioned. An interpellation was sometimes made by a friend in order to allow the Foreign Minister to make a pompous declaration, or by an enemy to embarrass him. Paul Cambon, writing to Delcassé in January 1899 told him that his recent speech was the first general survey of French foreign relations to have been given to the Chamber in twenty years.2 One might think the subject dead. Seignobos was right. The mass of peasants and workers was interested in only one aspect, the maintenance of peace. The appeal was unvoiced but recognised, the appeal of a people which had learnt from generation to generation that prosperity and misfortune go hand in hand, and having gained a level at which they could exist without too much danger, would risk as little as possible. They belonged to a world in which ‘honour’ was the false face of honesty. This their deputies well understood, and from that came their mastery over governments. Inveigh as he might, Gambetta was impotent against the Chamber. For all his popularity, the Chamber of 1881 broke him. The same Chamber six months later rejected his advice and overthrew Freycinet on the question of Egypt. It broke Ferry because, among other things, it believed him to be running unjustifiable risks. Boulanger’s popularity rested on the baseless belief that he had scared Bismarck, and he was eliminated by the politicians who knew the insubstantiality of the belief and the danger he presented.
KeywordsPrime Minister Foreign Affair Foreign Minister Russian Government German Army
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