Georges Clemenceau was born in Mouilleron-en-Pareds, France, on 28th September, 1841. His mother, Sophie Eucharie Gautreau (1817-1903) was from a Huguenot family. His father, Benjamin Clemenceau (1810-1897) was a supporter of the 1848 Revolution and this ensured he grew up with strong republican views.
With a group of fellow students Clemenceau began publishing Le Travail. It was seized by the police and Clemenceau spent 73 days in prison. On his release he started a new journal, Le Matin, but this also got him into trouble with the authorities.
After finishing his medical studies he went to live in New York. He was impressed by the political freedom enjoyed by the people of the United States and considered settling permanently in the country. He found work as a schoolteacher in Stamford, Connecticut and eventually married one of his former students.
Clemenceau returned home in 1869 and established himself as a doctor in Vendée. When Germany defeated France in 1870 Clemenceau moved to Paris and once again became involved in radical politics. In February, 1871, Clemenceau was elected as a Radical Republican deputy in the National Assembly. He voted against the peace terms demanded by Germany and became involved in the insurrection known as the Paris Commune. After being re-elected to the National Assembly in 1876, Clemenceau emerged as the leader of the Radical-Republicans. As a result of his aggressive debating style, Clemenceau was given the nickname, 'The Tiger'.
In 1902 Clemenceau became a senator and four years later, at the age of 61, was appointed minister of home affairs. Now a right-wing nationalist, Clemenceau ruthlessly suppressed popular strikes and demonstrations. Seven months later Clemenceau became France's prime minister. His period in office (1907-10) was marked by his hostility to socialists and trade unionists.
On the outbreak of the First World War Clemenceau refused office as justice minister under the French prime minister, Rene Viviani. As editor of L'Homme Libre, Clemenceau became an outspoken opponent of Joseph Joffre, chief of general staff in the French Army. Clemenceau also accused the interior minister, Louis Malvy, of being a pacifist when it became known that he favoured a negotiated peace.
In November 1917 the French president, Raymond Poincare appointed Clemenceau as prime minister. He immediately clamped down on dissent and senior politicians calling for peace, such as Joseph Caillaux and Louis Malvy were arrested for treason. In a speech on 20th November 1917 Clemenceau said: "We promise you, we promise the country, that justice will be done according to the law. Weakness would be complicity. We will avoid weakness, as we will avoid violence. All the guilty before courts-martial. The soldier in the courtroom united with the soldier in battle. No more pacifist campaigns, no more German intrigues. Neither treason, nor semi-treason: the war. Nothing but the war. Our armies will not be caught between fire from two sides. Justice will be done. The country will know that it is defended."
Clemenceau, who also became minister of war in the government, and played an important role in persuading the British to accept the appointment of Ferdinand Foch as supreme Allied commander. He also insisted that the exhausted French Army led the offensive against the German Army in the summer of 1918.
At the Versailles Peace Conference Clemenceau clashed with Woodrow Wilson and David Lloyd George about how the defeated powers should be treated. Lloyd George told Clemenceau that his proposals were too harsh and would "plunge Germany and the greater part of Europe into Bolshevism." Clemenceau replied that Lloyd George's alternative proposals would lead to Bolshevism in France. At the end of the negotiations Clemenceau managed to restore Alsace-Lorraine to France but some of his other demands were resisted by the other delegates. Clemenceau, like most people in France, thought that Germany had been treated too leniently at Versailles.
Clemenceau's failure to achieve all his demands resulted in him being rejected by the French electorate in January 1920. After retiring from politics Clemenceau wrote his memoirs, The Grandeur and Misery of Victory. In the book Clemenceau warned of further conflict with Germany and predicted that 1940 would be the year of the gravest danger.
Georges Clemenceau died in Paris on 24th November, 1929.