February 18

This Day in History

World War I

Feb 18, 1913:

Raymond Poincare becomes president of France

Raymond Poincare, a conservative politician who had been elected president of the French Republic over the objections of Georges Clemenceau and the French Left a month earlier, takes office on this day in 1913.

Known for his right-wing nationalist beliefs and his strong Catholic faith, Poincare served as France's prime minister and foreign secretary before being elected to the presidency. A native of France's Lorraine region, lost to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, he bitterly hated and feared Germany. As prime minister in the years before World War I, Poincare worked to strengthen France's alliances with both Britain and Russia. While Poincare was convinced that the system of alliances in Europe would preserve the balance of power and avert a war, in reality the solidification of the Triple Entente (an alliance among France, Britain and Russia) in the years before 1914 made Germany increasingly nervous and only intensified the atmosphere of tension that would soon explode into world war.

During the war, Poincare fought to keep a spirit of strong national unity alive and urged France's military and civilian population alike to stand firm against the onslaught of the German enemy. In the spirit of this unity, Poincare appointed his liberal nemesis, Georges Clemenceau, as prime minister in 1917. Though the two men despised each other, they shared a hard-line attitude towards Germany and fought together for strong penalties for the losing nations at the Versailles peace conference, held in Paris in 1919.

Angered by what he saw as excessive leniency towards Germany in the final Versailles treaty, Poincare declined to stand for reelection and returned to the Senate in 1920. He was again appointed prime minister in 1922. In this post, he enforced the payment of German reparations; when the struggling country defaulted, he sent French troops to seize the industrial zones of the Ruhr Valley in January 1923. Poincare stepped down with the victory of a left-wing coalition in 1924, but returned to the post of prime minister in 1926. He would head two more ministries until 1929, when he retired from government service for health reasons. Poincare died in 1934.

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