"Poincaré the war-monger" for some, "the eminent statesman" for others, Raymond Poincaré's political career has fueled two contradictory parallel legends. Despite this ambiguity, he nevertheless remains one of the most distinguished French statesmen of the contemporary age.
The fate of this cautious and persevering man of Lorraine has gone through the long period between 1880 and 1930, disturbed by the memory of the defeat of 1870, the difficulties of the first years of the Third Republic, the Franco-German antagonism, the First World War and its consequences. He distinguished himself as a lawyer as well as in literature and politics.
Raymond Poincaré was born on 20 August 1860 in Bar-le-Duc, department of the Meuse, in Lorraine. His mother, Marie-Nanine Gillon, came from a middle-class family. His father Nicolas Antoine was the heir to a dynasty of merchants, graduated at the Ecole Polytechnique, who had settled in Bar-le-Duc in 1855.
The peaceful provincial childhood of young Raymond was disturbed by the war of 1870. From August 13 to November 2, his mother went with the children to Dieppe. His father, officer of the Garde nationale sédentaire of the Meuse (the local territorial militia), remained to carry out his duty. Although it was not a direct witness to the German invasion, this event played an important role in the construction of the republican patriotism of the future "Poincaré-le-Lorrain".
Initiated studies already in 1865, the young Poincare soon proved a brilliant student. In 1877, he obtained the Baccalaureate in Arts and Sciences and enrolled in the faculty of jurisprudence in Paris. In October 1879, he served in the army as a volunteer for a year. At the age of twenty, Poincaré, a reserve lieutenant, a graduate and a doctor of jurisprudence, began a long and lively career.
Member of the Court of Paris, the brilliant lawyer soon emerged on the public stage. At the age of 27 he became general councilor of the Meuse and deputy of his native department, first in the Chamber (1887-1903, vice-president 1895-1907), then in the Senate (1903-1913, 1920-1934).
Although with a conservative past, he was a republican and anti-revisionist liberal. In fact, at the Chamber, he sat among the progressives. He was rapporteur of the budget of finances in 1890-1891 and general rapporteur of the budget in 1892. In 1893, Poincaré obtained his first ministerial portfolio: Public education and arts (April-November 1893), followed by Finance (May 1894-January 1895 ) and Education again in 1895.
During the Dreyfus affair, Poincaré, guided by his cautious and discreet temperament, did not rush to take a public position. In the end he joined the defenders of the unjustly condemned captain.
At the turn of the century, Poincaré temporarily broke away from political affairs by devoting himself to his career as a lawyer. In 1909 he was admitted to the French Academy. Returned to the political scene on January 14, 1912, at a time of strong social and diplomatic tensions. Appointed president of the Council of Ministers, he formed a national union cabinet with Briand, Delcasse and Millerand. On 17 February 1913 he was elected to the Élysée.
Confirming his firm stance towards Germany, "the man of revenge" worked to strengthen the Triple Alliance by going personally to London and St. Petersburg and supported the extension of military service to three years. During the crisis of July 1914, he was one of the main promoters of the Union sacrée, supporting the abandonment of the political struggle to face the war. During the First World War, Poincaré remained the incarnation of the “nation put to the test” in the eyes of the French; he was often seen in the front trenches. However, the political system of the Third Republic greatly limited the power of the head of state. In November 1917 he appealed to Clemenceau, who quickly eclipsed the president. Having refused to accept a second term on 18 February 1920, the House declared that "President Poincaré has served his country well".
However, he did not distance himself from the political scene: he became president of the Council and minister of foreign affairs between 1922 and 1924, criticizing the weaknesses of the Treaty of Versailles and the policy of conciliation with Germany led by Briand. In 1926, he formed a national union cabinet for three years that allowed for a return to political stability and economic prosperity. Weakened by his alarming state of health, he retired definitively from politics in July 1929 and spent the last years of his life writing his memoirs.