1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Briand, Aristide

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BRIAND, ARISTIDE (1862-), French statesman (see 4.515). Few men in France had gained so much in political knowledge, ability and influence, during the 15 years preceding 1921, as Aristide Briand. The year of the separation of Church and State (1905) marked his entry into the ranks of the coming men in France. His tolerant interpretation of that measure, his desire to bring about a cessation of the bitter strife between old Radicals and the growing body of men who, while remaining Conservative, nevertheless accepted the Republic, marked him out as a man capable of interpreting the signs of the times. At the age of 59 Briand had been seven times prime minister of France. He was first Minister of Public Instruction in the Sarrien Ministry of 1906, and maintained that portfolio in the succeeding Clemenceau Government until Jan. 1908, when, still under Clemenceau, he became Minister of Justice, a portfolio which he resigned to become prime minister on July 24 1909. After a reshuffle he continued as prime minister from Nov. 3 1910 until Feb. 27 1911. He again took office as Minister of Justice in the Ministry formed by Raymond Poincaré on Jan. 14 1912. He followed Poincaré as prime minister between Jan. 21 1912 and Feb. 18 1913, and retained that office under Poincaré's presidency until March 18 1913. He was Minister of Justice in the Viviani war Cabinet from Aug. 26 1914 until Oct. 29 1915, when he again became prime minister, remaining in office until March 20 1917. He succeeded Georges Leygues as prime minister on Jan. 16 1921. (See France: History.)

By his eloquence and the suavity of his manner Briand earned for himself many soothing nicknames, such as the “charmer,” the “siren” and the “endormeur.” He had in his command a voice of pleasing resonance and yet capable of humour, and a wealth of gesture and a knowledge of histrionics acquired from his friend the great actor Antoine. These, with a handsome and dominating personality lightened by a very ready and supple intelligence, explain his countless successes at the tribune. They were reinforced by statesmanlike qualities of courage and firmness, and a proper appreciation of the right moment at which to strike or to stroke recalcitrant sections of the community. M. Briand struck hard when, in 1910, he mobilized the railwaymen and thus put an end to the most grave labour trouble that had yet threatened France. Leaving far behind him the bitter doctrines of class warfare from which he started, Briand, in speeches at Perigueux St. Chamond, appealed to the country to breathe the atmosphere of appeasement, to accept the clerical struggle as over, and to work unitedly on sane measures of social reform. He was, in these utterances, seeking to create a centre party of moderate Republican sentiment. The constant labour troubles and the dangerous pandering to the greed of labour which had marked previous Radical administrations made his task easy. It was upon this Republican centre that Briand based his majority. His chief work was done during the World War. He succeeded Viviani at a time of considerable difficulty. The first battle of the Marne had been won, but the second was still to come. He had ambitious desires to bring about the unification of allied war effort which Clemenceau and events alone had the power to achieve. It was under his influence that the first steps towards coördination were taken. He had to fight against the French Parliament's desire to play a greater part in the conduct of the war than that to which it was entitled. He had also to support in conference against British representatives the claims of the Salonika expedition. As Minister of Foreign Affairs he was largely responsible for the entry of Rumania into the war. In 1921 France gave him her confidence as being exceptionally qualified, by suppleness of character and firmness in argument, to maintain her claims for national security amid the difficulties encountered in enforcing the Peace Treaty. He attended the Disarmament Conference at Washington in Nov. 1921, and stated the case for his country.

(G. A.)