Gabriel Hanotaux, The Dreyfus Affair, and How London Orchestrated the Destruction of the Franco-German Alliance

by Dana Scanlon

Printed in The American Almanac, July, 1991


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In the year 1894, a French Captain and Jew named Alfred Dreyfus was tried by a military court, found guilty of treasonous spying for Germany and sentenced to life imprisonment in the penal colony hell hole known as Devil's Island. This miscarriage of justice became one more element of the national psychosis that was to periodically grip France since its defeat in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, and Germany's foolish annexation of two French provinces, Alsace and Lorraine. This was to become something of a French "Vietnam syndrome": at the push of a demagogue's button, French public opinion could be counted on to rally in the streets, for or against just about anything that France's actual historic enemy, England -- Perfidious Albion -- desired.

What has consistently been ignored in all accounts of this famous affair is that French Foreign Affairs Minister Gabriel Hanotaux was the crucial figure of the moment, commited to the establishment of a powerful alliance between France, Germany and Russia. The concept was not entirely new. Friederich List, the German economist who became Europe's chief proponent of Alexander Hamilton's American System of Economy, had spent years endeavoring to form an alliance between France, Germany, Russia and the United States. As outlined in his The National System of Political Economy (1841) it was necessary to isolate and essentially bankrupt Britain to allow industrial progress to continue in the rest of the world.

Hanotaux's plan was to shift the balance of forces in Europe -- and indeed, the world at that time -- away from the London imperialist axis and into a continental European bloc that could be an unstoppable force for economic and industrial development. But with France and Germany having just been at war, it was an alliance difficult to craft, one that necessitated a calming of the passions of the populations. Had Hanotaux's work in setting up this alliance not been destroyed by the combined effects of the Dreyfus Affair and other London-centered intrigues, the subsequent course of history would have been quite different. It can at least be stated with certainty that the mass slaughter of World War One, the draconian Versailles Treaty that followed, and Adolf Hitler's subsequent rise to power would not have occured.


Gabriel Hanotaux

Gabriel Hanotaux became France's Foreign Affairs Minister at the young age of 40, in the year 1894. Fortunately for France, he was not a career diplomat, but a historian with a passion for France's great figures such as Cardinal Richelieu, who fought to achieve the national unity of the realm in the early seventeenth century. In later years, he studied and wrote a voluminous biography of Joan of Arc, who led France in its battle against England in the 1400s. His Joan of Arc, he said, would strive to reconcile the French people, Republicans and the Church, through his effort to "reconcile science and religion."

In the wake of France's defeat in the 1870 war in which its two eastern provinces were seized, Hanotaux drove ruthlessly against the prevailing opinion for "revanche" (revenge), and despite all the cries of "sell out" by the Radical Republicans, to forge a front with forces in Germany against England's designs to subjugate the European continent and loot from a vast colonial empire.

He had been an early collaborator of Republican leaders Leon Gambetta and Jules Ferry, with whom he served as cabinet director when the latter was prime minister in the 1880s. Jules Ferry became the special target of arch-demagogue and British agent Georges Clemenceau, who much later was one the the architects of the disastrous Versailles Treaty imposed on Germany.

To the London orchestrated "European concert", Foreign Minister Hanotaux counterposed a policy of real national self- interest and material progress. His policies for the development of Africa and advocacy of the Trans-African Railroad project stood in sharp contrast to London's Empire doctrine: divide and conquer, pillage and loot. London's point of view was exemplified by the publication in 1881 by James Rothschild of French sociologist Gustave Le Bon's polemics against "assimilation" in the colonies. "All our ideas about assimilating or Frenchifying any inferior people" are "dangerous chimeras." Rather than introducing the benefits of Western civilization to Africa, he argued, "leave to the natives their customs, their institutions, their laws."

Hanotaux's rejection of this hideous policy was clear. "A colony is not a farm given to the mother country for exploitation, which has no value unless it earns rent by the end of each year.... I know of no formula of government more pityful than: what's in it for us?"

He spoke at length of his vision for Africa in May 1902, in a keynote address to the Geographical Congress of Oran:

"De Lesseps (the French engineer--ed.) pierced the isthmus of Suez, making the decisive incision. He thus put the entire Eastern coast of Africa into immediate communication with Europe: from a gulf which was nothing but a dead end, the Red Sea, he made the great route for world trade... Africa has been discovered. It must now be civilized... The day when science will have effectively routed the (tse-tse) fly, one of the greatest benefits which can be spread accross the planet by human genius will have been achieved. Half of the African continent will be given back to civilization, to life... Where water is lacking, it will be captured, retained, harnessed and utilized; the problem of the desert will be taken on, and one day, through appropriate cultivation, it will know a kind of richness and fertility... The exploitation of phosphates, tin, calamine and iron minerals is orienting the until-now exclusively agricultural Algeria and Tunisia towards industrial development. There is no lack of coal... Oil is appearing. In any event, the harnessing of water falls will soon furnish African industry with incalculable and inexhaustible energy resources... Is not a global program to methodically trace, through an international entente, the directions of a transcontinental railroad, regularizing navigation through a vast system of canals, making the interior of Africa an immense buzzing hive where trains and steamships capable of devouring distances will rush towards an immense garage and central depot where the people and merchandise of the universe will converge, is this not the most obvious and imminent of possibilities?... But the great benefit which civilization must bring to Africa is firstly peace... which must count on a precious auxiliary: labor... Not toilsome, damned and detested labor, but joyous, proud and satisfying labor..."
As Foreign Minister from 1894 to 1898, Hanotaux spearheaded the post-war resurgence of a grand design for France. He was one of a group of republicans who became dedicated to a war-avoidance strategy vis-a-vis Germany. It was a time when educational geographical societies were set up throughout the country, proclaiming that "trade is always, though often unconsciously, the great driving force, bringing the benefits of civilization and the fortunate discoveries of science to the furthest outposts of the inhabitable world."

Hanotaux set about the task of consolidating areas of French influence against British encroachments as soon as he entered office. Using what he termed "flanking maneuvers," instead of the hot-headed diplomacy characteristic of the Minister of Colonies at the time, Theophile Delcassé, he outdid the British on many occasions, without ever having to fire a shot. He sought German cooperation in the process of isolating them. In the change of climate afforded by the 1890 resignation of Chancellor Bismark, and after persistent efforts on his part, Germany was responding. In early 1896, for example, the records show the German Foreign Secretary speaking to the French Ambassador in Berlin about "limiting the insatiable appetite of England." He added: "It is necessary to show England that she can no longer take advantage of the Franco-German antagonism to seize whatever she wants."

Hanotaux's rapprochement policy was a fruitful one. It successfully led to the abrogation of numerous treaties in which England handed over to client-states various territories under dispute with the French. England was carrying out a continual war by proxy by setting up its client states as buffer zones against French expansion, particularly in Africa. Using the same method of negotiating for recognition of the French position with Germany and other European states, until London's isolation, Hanotaux was able to consolidate overseas territories from West to Northern Africa. (All of these negotiations, however, took place in the strategic context imposed by the Berlin Congress of 1874 which established and codified the notions of "spheres of influence" -- but that is another matter to be explored at a future date.)


The Suez Canal

But the key battle was to be fought over Egypt, the Sudan and the Nile Valley, with the strategically vital Suez Canal. The French engineer and economist Pierre Enfantin had surveyed the Suez area of Egypt and demonstrated that a lockless canal was possible. French diplomat Ferdinand De Lesseps got the concession to see the project through in 1854, but his agreement with Cairo stipulated that the concession must be ratified by the Sultan of Turkey -- and that required at least neutralizing London. De Lesseps arranged a June 1855 meeting with British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston who flatly told him that he would not stand for:

"seeing the commercial and maritime relations of Great Britain upset by the opening of a new route which, in being open to the navigation of all nations, will deprive us of the advantages which we at present possess."
As told by De Lesseps in his memoirs, Recollections of Forty Years:
"he spoke with me, with regard to the Suez Canal, in the most contradictory, the most incoherent, and, I will even add, the most senseless fashion imaginable."
He added:
"I could not help asking myself now and again whether I was in the presence of a maniac or a statesman... We now know the true motives of Lord Palmerston's opposition. It is that he is afraid of favoring the development of Egypt's power and prosperity."

Digging of the Canal finally began in 1859, and Palmerston kept his promise of intractable opposition to the project: the construction cite was continuously plagued by British-backed bandits amd constant threats from Constantinople. Finally, in the year 1869, one year before the Franco-Prussian war, the Canal was finished.

But in 1875 the debt-strapped Egyptian Khedive had to put up Egypt's 44 percent of the Canal company's stock for sale to pay off the national debt. Although France was asked to come up with the buyers, a traitorous French Foreign Minister, the Duke Decazes, consulted the British first. Prime Minister Disraeli, Palmerston's successor, bought the shares instead. In 1876 French-English "Dual Control" was established over Egyptian finances. In 1882, faced with a rebellion in Egypt, France and England agreed to a joint military intervention. But virulent opposition in France from the Radical Republicans and Georges Clemenceau in particular -- who demanded that no French forces be sent overseas until they warred with Germany to regain Alsace- Lorraine -- resulted in France withdrawing from its commitment. England began a "temporarly occupation" of Egypt which was to last 70 years.

Winston Churchill wrote of these events in 1930:

"Ferry's fall was due to Clemenceau more than any other man... TheEnglish invited French cooperation in restoring solvency and order in Egypt. Fear of Clemenceau was a recognizable factor in the momentous decision which made the French fleet steam supinely from the scene of the impending bombardment of Alexandria. Clemenceau had not been able to stop France from acquiring Tunis, Tonking or Indochina. But he had broken the man who did the work: and he had, in fact, kept her out of Egypt."
But Hanotaux, among others before him, was determined that France would regain influence in the area. The efforts of this faction prompted then-British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury to write, in the year 1887, to his ambassador in Paris:
"It is very difficult to prevent oneself from wishing for another Franco- German war to put a stop to this vexation."
This was also a time when Hanotaux's collaborator, Count Sergei Witte, the Finance Minister of Russia from 1892 to 1903, was busy with his Grand Design. The Trans-Siberian Railroad had already been started in 1889, with French financial backing, and with Witte in charge of the finance ministry's railroad department. (Witte was explicitly inspired by the works of Friederich List on economics -- an outlook that was sometimes lacking in his French collaborators. The railroad project and Witte financial and trade reforms were viewed by the British, rightfully, as a threat to their moneterist strangle-hold).

As Hanotaux was in the midst of the most delicate diplomatic negotiations with Germany aimed at preventing the British from using the Suez Canal as a stranglehold against the expansion of international commerce, the Dreyfus Affair was unleashed. Hanotaux left the government for a critical six month period, during which time the new cabinet initiated one of the great strategic miscalculations of the nineteenth century : the Fashoda expedition.


The Dreyfus Affair

In the very early stages of what was to become the Dreyfus Affair, before anything had been made public, Hanotaux intervened in a secret Council of Ministers meeting called by the Minister of War to brief the Cabinet on what purported to be a shocking spy scandal. As everyone now knows, the innocent Captain Dreyfus was to be made the scapegoat in this affair: everything from forgeries, with-holding of exculpatory evidence and rocket-docket style trials were going to be used to convict a man who had not the slightest connection to the spying incident in question. But in addition to the travesty of justice represented by the barbarous treatment metted out to Capt. Dreyfus, there were serious implications to accusing a French officer of spying for Germany. Hanotaux warned the assembled members of the cabinet that "if you have no proof beyond that written message (the famous "bordereau"--dss) and a similarity of handwriting, I am opposed to any legal action or even to any investigation." Above the protests of the other ministers, he warned that this ill- conceived investigation could "provoke the gravest of international difficulties," a "diplomatic rupture with Germany, even war."

What happened, however, was this:

A certain Count and officer Ferdinand Walsin-Esterhazy, a paid agent of the Rothschild family, was -- as all the history books will now tell you -- the actual perpetrator of the treasonous acts for which Dreyfus was convicted. Count Esterhazy was also an intimate collaborator of Edouard Drumont, the raving editor of the notorious anti-semitic rag and scandal sheet La Libre Parole. Drumont and Esterhazy, while being co-conspirators, had pretented to duel each other in 1893, setting the stage for Esterhazy to be subsidized by the Rothschilds for his valor in defending the Jewish cause against... his friend Drumont. Esterhazy's correspondence with the German military attache in Paris, Schwarzkoppen, in which he provided low-grade but useful military information, also contained reference to mutual relations with "the House of R."

Among those assigned from the French General Staff to hunt for clues to break up a suspected German spy ring was one Major Hubert Henry, Esterhazy's agent in military intelligence, and the man who supplied the forgeries to incriminate Dreyfus. Following the above-mentioned intervention of Hanotaux in the Council of Ministers, Hanotaux was able to secure an agreement that while investigations might continue into the spy case and Dreyfus, they would not be made public. But Major Henry leaked the affair to Drumont, who ran banner headlines charging the government with wanting to quash a case of treason -- on behalf of the hated Germans no less -- by a Jew. The conspirators had succeeded in forcing the government's hand, and Dreyfus was put on trial.

The railroading of Captain Dreyfus set the stage for more chaos to be unleashed in France. The flames of anti-German passions were at an all time high. Not since Georges Clemenceau forced the French government to appoint General Georges Boulanger as Minister of War in 1886 had the anti-German war frenzy reached such a fever pitch. (Fortunately for France and Germany, Boulanger commited suicide a few years later after attempting an unsuccessful coup d'etat.) But in the politically unstable framework of the Third Republic, cabinets were toppled in rapid succession. Hanotaux himself, forced out of office for several months, left for good in June 1898. On October 16, British Ambassador to Paris Monson, wrote a progress report to his government, noting smugly that "the existing conditions of unrest and suspicion is interesting to England on account of the influence it may exercise upon the foreign relations of France."


Fashoda and the Entente Cordiale

Hanotaux's successor, was the pathetic Theophile Delcassé, famous for his grandiose mustache and the lifts he wore in his shoes. Against Hanotaux's strategy of "flanking maneuvers", Delcassé had lobbied for a military expedition, across Africa from the Western coast to Fashoda, on the Nile, to plant a French flag under the nose of the British. This act of strategic folly unleashed a series of events that buried Hanotaux's grand design, and led to the disastrous Entente Cordiale between France and her worst historic enemy, England.

By the time Captain Marchand reached the coveted goal of Fashoda, a British expedition led by General Kitchener was not far behind. The two groups met in Fashoda in September 1898 and when the British officer ordered Marchand to remove himself and his small group of men from the premisses, the two countries found themselves on the brink of war. One thing France was not prepared for, was war with England: her navy was outnumbered two to one, and there was not the slightest possibility that Germany or Russia were goign to come to her aid. In November, after the two countries had been eye-ball to eye-ball for a period of several months, France was again gripped by a new outbreak of hysteria stemming from the Dreyfus Affair. Delcassé told the Marchand mission to come home.

By 1899 Delcassé had accepted a treaty with the British establishing "spheres of influence" which toally excluded France from the Nile Valley. He continued his capitulations, orchestrated by named Paul Cambon, the new Ambassador to London - - whom Hanotaux had denounced as a "traitor" in 1897. Part of the package deal with London involved reinterpreting France's Dual Alliance with Russia, defensive in nature, into a policy of aggressive encirclement of Germany.

In 1904 Delcassé signed the secret Entente Cordiale with London. Denounced by Hanotaux from the outset, when its contents were actually made public for the first time in 1911, Hanotaux wrote:

"It becomes more and more obvious that, in the years going back to 1902, France did not chose the directions of its foreign policy, but was submitted to them, that it did not act, but was 'acted upon'... The system was in fact a marvelous invention of English diplomatic genius... to divide its adversaries. After having beated Russia through Japan, she turned towards Europe and took on the easy task of creating an area of friction between France and Germany. France dreamed of Morocco. That was the bait, given to France, but under one condition: that France would deal with all the powers, save one, Germany. There was the bone of contention... For eight or ten years, the sustained effort of a diplomatic and political group, disposing of the most powerful means of information and action, tended to make us believe that the Franco-British combination was conceived in Paris... The conception of the Entente Cordiale is not French; it is English; it comes from Mr. Chamberlain."
The successive Moroccan crises of 1905 and 1912 with Germany, manipulated by London, provoked by Delcassé (with the able assistance of elements around the German Kaiser) and decried by Hanotaux, were one more tragic failure of France's foreign policy establishment after the great Foreign Minister's departure. The momentum was inexorably building towards World War One.


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The preceding article is a rough version of the article that appeared in The American Almanac. It is made available here with the permission of The New Federalist Newspaper. Any use of, or quotations from, this article must attribute them to The New Federalist, and The American Almanac.


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