Théophile Delcassé

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Theophile Delcasse, French diplomat and statesman. Theophile Delcasse.jpg
Théophile Delcassé, French diplomat and statesman.
Delcasse caricatured by Guth for Vanity Fair, 1899 Theophile Delcasse Vanity Fair 9 February 1899.jpg
Delcassé caricatured by Guth for Vanity Fair, 1899

Théophile Delcassé (1 March 1852 22 February 1923) was a French statesman and foreign minister 1898–1905. He is best known for his hatred of Germany and efforts to secure alliances with Russia and Great Britain that became the Entente Cordiale. He belonged to Radical party and was a protege of Léon Gambetta.



Delcassé was born at Pamiers, in the Ariège département. He wrote articles on foreign affairs for the République Française and Paris, and in 1888 was elected conseiller général of his native département, standing as "un disciple fidèle de Léon Gambetta ." In the following year he entered the chamber as deputy for Foix. [1]

Colonial affairs

Delcassé was appointed under-secretary for the colonies in the second Ribot cabinet (January to April 1893), and retained his post in the Dupuy cabinet till its fall in December 1893. It was largely owing to his efforts that the French colonial office was made a separate department with a minister at its head, and to this office he was appointed in the second Dupuy cabinet (May 1894 to January 1895). He gave a great impetus to French colonial enterprise, especially in West Africa, where he organized the newly acquired colony of Dahomey, and despatched the Liotard mission to the upper Ubangi. While in opposition, Delcassé devoted special attention to naval affairs, and in noted speeches he declared that the function of the French navy was to secure and develop colonial enterprise, deprecated all attempts to rival the British fleet, and advocated the construction of commerce destroyers as France's best reply to England. [1]

Foreign Minister

On the formation of the second Brisson cabinet in June 1898 he succeeded Gabriel Hanotaux as Foreign Minister, and retained that post under the subsequent premierships of Dupuy, Waldeck-Rousseau, Combes and Rouvier. In 1898 Delcassé had to deal with the delicate situation caused by Captain Marchand's occupation of the town of Fashoda in the Sudan (the Fashoda Incident) for which, as he admitted in a speech in the chamber on 23 January 1899, he accepted full responsibility, since it arose directly out of the Liotard expedition; and in March 1899 he concluded an agreement with Britain by which the difficulty was finally adjusted, and France consolidated her vast colonial empire in North-West Africa. In the same year he acted as mediator (the main mediator being Jules Cambon, French ambassador in Washington) between the United States of America and Spain, and brought the peace negotiations to a successful conclusion. [1]

Delcassé was originally a moderate willing to find a compromise with Germany, but Berlin ignored his overtures, He then became very anti-German. Kaiser Wilhelm called him "The most dangerous man for Germany in France". Delcassé improved relations between France and Italy: at the same time, he adhered firmly to the alliance with Russia, and in August 1899 made a visit to Saint Petersburg, which he repeated in April 1901. In June 1900 he made an arrangement with Spain, fixing the long-disputed boundaries of the French and Spanish possessions in West Africa. Finally, in his greatest achievement, he concluded the Entente Cordiale with Great Britain, covering colonial and other questions which had long been a matter of dispute, especially concerning Egypt, Newfoundland and Morocco. Suspicion of the growing entente between France and England soon arose in Germany, and in 1905 German assertiveness was shown in a crisis which was forced on in the matter of French policy by Delcassé personally, a sore point with Germany. [1] The situation became acute, and Germany forced Delcassé's resignation in early 1906. [2] He retired into private life, but in 1908 was warmly welcomed on a visit to England. [1]

In 1909 Delcassé was appointed chairman of a commission appointed to investigate the French navy. The report was drawn up on 24 May 1909 and concluded that the French navy was unprepared and the naval administration and organization were in disarray. [3] Delcassé was appointed Minister of Marine on 2 March 1911 in the cabinet of Ernest Monis. [4] Delcassé promulgated closer cooperation between the British and French fleets. This arrangement was an important factor in leading Britain to side with France against Germany when World War I started.

On 25 September 1911, as the battleship Liberté was moored in Toulon harbor, an accidental explosion in one of her forward ammunition magazines for the secondary guns destroyed the ship. [5] 210 men died and 136 were seriously injured. [6] The captain, Louis Jaurès, was on leave at the time. [7] After the explosion there was a debate in the Chamber of Deputies in which the honour of Jaurès and the responsibility for the use of unstable powder by the navy was questioned. Jaurès had to face a court martial, but was acquitted unanimously on 21 December 1911. [7] Paul Painlevé, president of the navy committee, appointed a commission of inquiry after the explosion, which followed that of the battleship Iéna . Captain Antoine Schwerer was a member of the commission of inquiry and wrote a scathing "Report on Naval Powders" (1912). [8] Delcassé ordered that all ammunition made before 1907 be replaced. [6] The older ammunition was removed from the ships, and the remainder was steadily replaced with a new explosive containing the diphenylamine as a stabilizer. [9] Continued efforts were made to improve the powders, and there were no more major disasters. [10] It was not until 1914 that the "powder crisis" was fully resolved. [6]

Delcassé retained his position in the cabinet of Joseph Caillaux. When that fell on 14 January 1912 Raymond Poincaré urged Delcassé to become Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Delcassé declined, but agree to remain Minister of the Navy in Poincaré's cabinet. [11]

Later career

President Armand Fallières' term in office expired in January 1913, and Delcassé decided to leave the Ministry of Marine and run for the presidency. He did not succeed. [12] After the election, which was won by Poincaré, a new cabinet was formed by Aristide Briand. Briand offered Delcassé the post of Minister of Marine or Minister of War in the new cabinet, but Delcassé declined. He would soon be appointed Ambassador to Russia, and then Minister of War. [13] On 26 August 1914 after the Germans announced successes in the north and east, René Viviani announced the resignation of the cabinet. In the new cabinet, announced within an hour, Viviani retained his post. [14] Delcassé was Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aristide Briand was Minister of Justice and Alexandre Millerand was Minister of War. [14]

Delcassé resigned from the Cabinet on 14 October 1915, partly on the grounds of differing opinions and partly because of ill health. [15]


Portrayal in media

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Chisholm 1911.
  2. Porter 1936, p. 260.
  3. Porter 1936, p. 280.
  4. Porter 1936, p. 284.
  5. Gardiner 1979, p. 297.
  6. 1 2 3 Vego 2013, PT189.
  7. 1 2 Candar & Duclert 2014, PT305.
  8. Schwerer 1912.
  9. Porter 1936, p. 296.
  10. Porter 1936, p. 297.
  11. Porter 1936, p. 290.
  12. Porter 1936, pp. 308ff.
  13. Porter 1936, p. 310.
  14. 1 2 French Ministry Resigns 1914, p. 330.
  15. PD-icon.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Delcassé, Théophile". Encyclopædia Britannica . 30 (12th ed.). London & New York: The Encyclopædia Britannica Company. p. 816.
  16. Handelsblad (Het) 03-11-1900.
  17. "Court Circular". The Times (36811). London. 4 July 1902. p. 3.
  18. "Real y distinguida orden de Carlos III", Guía Oficial de España (in Spanish), 1901, p. 170, retrieved 28 July 2020
  19. The London Gazette, issue 27560, p. 3526


Further reading

Political offices
Preceded by
Ernest Boulanger
Minister of Colonies
Succeeded by
Émile Chautemps
Preceded by
Gabriel Hanotaux
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Maurice Rouvier
Preceded by
Auguste Boué de Lapeyrère
Minister of Marine
Succeeded by
Pierre Baudin
Preceded by
Joseph Noulens
Minister of War
Succeeded by
Adolphe Messimy
Preceded by
Gaston Doumergue
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
René Viviani