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The New International Encyclopædia/Dreyfus, Alfred

DREYFUS, drắ'fus', Alfred (1859—). A French artillery officer, who was brought into prominence as the central figure in one of the most celebrated cases of modern political history. He was born in Mülhausen, Upper Alsace, of Jewish parentage, removed to Paris in 1874, studied at the Chaptal College and at Sainte-Barbe, entered the Ecole Polytechnique in 1878, and later attended the Ecole d'Application (School of Applied Gunnery). After serving as second lieutenant in the Thirty-first Regiment of artillery at Le Mans (1882-83), and in the Fourth Mounted Battery at Paris, he was appointed captain in the Twenty-first Regiment of artillery, September 12, 1889. On April 21, 1890, he entered the Ecole de Guerre, where he ranked among the leading ten of his class. Within a year after leaving this institution, he received an appointment on the general staff. On October 15, 1894, Dreyfus was arrested on a charge of having sold military secrets to a foreign Power. The utmost secrecy was observed by the War Office in regard to the whole affair. Dreyfus was isolated in prison, and treated with great harshness. When he was tried, although he was allowed counsel, the court was a secret one, and he was sentenced to military degradation and solitary confinement on the the Ile du Diable, off the coast of French Guiana. On January 4, 1895, he was conducted by a military escort to the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire in Paris, and, in the presence of a great assembly of spectators, the stripes were torn from his uniform, and his sword was broken. On March 10th he was transported to the Ile du Diable, where he was treated with severity, on one occasion being chained to his pallet for two months. He persistently denied his guilt, and this fact, together with the secrecy of the proceedings and the bitterness of the anti-Semitic agitation, led to a growing conviction in the minds of many that the real culprit had been shielded, and that it had been found convenient to put Dreyfus forward as a scapegoat.

The evidence used against Dreyfus was a memorandum, known as the bordereau, and the prosecution simply attempted to show that it was in the Captain's handwriting. It began, “Without news indicating that you wish to see me, I send vou nevertheless, monsieur, some important information.” Then followed a numbered list of documents relating to the frontier forts, artillery instructions to the general staff, etc. Naturally it was never made known how this document was obtained by the War Office, as it would have caused complications with a friendly Power; but it was supposed to have come through an Alsatian porter in the service of Colonel von Schwarzkoppen, military attaché of the German Embassy. In May, 1896, another paper was brought to the War Office, and fell into the hands of Commandant Picquart. It bore the signature of Major Esterházy, an officer of doubtful character, and the handwriting corresponded exactly with that of the Dreyfus bordereau, while that of Dreyfus did not. Then began a remarkable series of attempts to bring to light and to suppress the truth. The most prominent defenders of Dreyfus were his brother Matthieu Dreyfus, the novelist Emile Zola, and M. Scheurer-Kestner, a member of the French Senate. A large part of the Liberal press also sided with the accused captain, and, during the later phases of the affair, his cause was adopted by the Socialists as a party issue for the time. Arrayed against him were the anti-Semitic elements of France and the powerful Nationalist influence, meaning by the latter all those who regarded the condemnation of Dreyfus as necessary for the vindication of the honor of the army, always dear to the hearts of Frenchmen. The War Office met the attacks of the friends of Dreyfus simply by asserting that the proceedings against him had been regular in every respect. There was a fixed purpose to prevent any discussion of the nature of the evidence or the facts of the case. Commandant Picquart, who showed an honest desire to bring out the truth, was made a lieutenant-colonel, and sent away on special service. Attempts were then made to compromise him by means of false dispatches, and he was finally removed from the active list of the army. On July 7, 1898, the agitation having risen high, a new declaration was made in the Chamber of Deputies by M. Cavaignac, Minister of War. He positively asserted that Dreyfus had been justly found guilty, and referred to certain documents not hitherto mentioned in the case. Colonel Picquart challenged these proofs and declared that of the three documents upon which M. Cavaignac based his belief in the guilt of Dreyfus, two were irrelevant, and the third, the only one in which Dreyfus's name occurred, was a forgery. Six weeks later, Colonel Henry, who had been connected with the intelligence department of the War Office, confessed to having committed this forgery, and committed suicide. This led to a general readjustment in the organization of the general staff. General de Boisdeffre, chief of staff, resigned; Major Esterházy and Colonel Paty du Clam were removed from the active list, but still the War Office proclaimed its belief in the guilt of Captain Dreyfus. Colonel Picquart was imprisoned on a charge of communicating secret documents, late in November. On the 29th of the previous month, however, the Court of Cassation, the highest tribunal in France, had taken up the matter of revision, and, after several mouths' deliberation, ordered (June 3, 1899), a retrial by a court-martial. The proceedings against Picquart were subsequently quashed. The court-martial sat at Rennes from August 7 to September 9, 1899, and rendered a decision that Dreyfus was guilty, with extenuating circumstances. He was sentenced to imprisonment for ten years, from which the period of his previous confinement was to he deducted. The evidence at the trial was of the flimsiest character, as it had been from the beginning, but the determination to protect the officers of the army at the expense of Dreyfus was maintained. The members of the court martial united in a recommendation of mercy, and on September 19th the prisoner was pardoned by President Loubet.

The Dreyfus case was far-reaching in its effect upon French affairs. It divided and wrecked the Brisson Ministry of 1898; it seemed for a time likely to furnish a rallying point for monarchist agitation; it exposed a state of gross corruption in the French army; and it presented grave possibilities of trouble with Germany and Italy, which were the countries naturally suspected of the bribery of a French officer. In 1896, both the German and Italian Governments had denied, through diplomatic channels, in the most emphatic manner, having had any dealings with Dreyfus. M. Zola was condemned to a year's imprisonment, July 18, 1898, for his protest against the travesty of justice involved in the whole management of the case, and went into exile to escape imprisonment. Esterházy, after he was dismissed from the service, went to London, and made a confession through the London Chronicle, June 2, 1899, that he wrote the bordereau by order of Colonel Sandherr, assistant chief of the intelligence department. This confession was ascribed by the anti-Dreyfus party to bribery by the friends of Dreyfus. The impression has generally prevailed among unprejudiced persons and in other countries than France, that Dreyfus was unfairly tried, unjustly convicted on manufactured evidence, and that justice was refused him by officers high in authority for personal and political reasons. In December, 1900, in order that the matter might be finally disposed of, an amnesty bill was passed by the Government relieving every one concerned of any further liability to criminal prosecution. This was opposed by the friends of Dreyfus, Picquart, and Zola, who demanded a full vindication. It was declared on behalf of the Government that the army had been so embittered by the affair that no court-martial could be depended on to give an unprejudiced verdict, and that, for the safety of France, all further agitation of the question must cease.

Bibliography. Contemporary literature contains many discussions of the affair. An excellent review of the case up to that date appeared in the London Times for October 13, 1898. Captain Dreyfus, after his release, published the story of his experiences in a volume which appeared simultaneously in several countries. The English translation was entitled, Five Years of My Life (New York, 1901). He also published letters to his wife, translated by Moreau (London, 1899), and Conseil de guerre de Rennes (Paris, 1901). Consult, in addition: Barlow, History of the Dreyfus Case, from the Arrest of Captain Dreyfus in 1894 to the Flight of Esterházy in 1898 (London, 1898); Conybeare, The Dreyfus Case (London, 1898); Guyon, The Dreyfus Case (London, 1898); Zola, The Dreyfus Case (London, 1898); Steevens, The Tragedy of Dreyfus (London, 1899); in French. Marin, Dreyfus: Comptes-rendus officiels (Paris, 1897); Vanex, Dossier de l'affaire Dreyfus (Paris, 1898); Brez, Le solécisme du bordereau et les lettres de Dreyfus (Paris, 1898); Esterházy, Les dessous de l'affaire Dreyfus (Paris, 1898); Clémenceau, Vers la réparation (Paris, 1899); id., Contre la justice (Paris, 1900); Cornely, Notes sur l'affaire Dreyfus (Paris, 1898); Guyot, L'innocent et le traitre: Dreyfus et Esterházy (Paris, 1898); Jaurès, Les preuves dans l'affaire Dreyfus (Paris, 1898); Villemar, Dreyfus intime (Paris, 1898). See Zola.