WITH no touch of malice one may begin a portrait of Caillaux with a quotation from the German philosopher who points out that ‘nothing actual can be impossible.’ It is only because Caillaux actually does exist that he is possible. No one would invent him. No writer of historical melodrama would conceive a character of such antagonistic qualities and defects, or imagine a career of such extreme ups and downs of fortune. In his personality no less than in the course of his history Caillaux is a challenge to all our sense of what is credible — and never more than in the latest phase.
It is not altogether beside the point that the quotation from Fechner was happened upon in a page of William James’s Pluralistic Universe. Only the nimble pluralistic method of dealing with facts and interpretations of facts can cope with Caillaux’s startling contradictions; by any absolute standard, or from any fixed standpoint, he escapes you altogether. One of these last, for example, presents him as a monster of iniquity, committed body and soul to the powers of darkness, and working from first to last to deliver France into the hands of her enemies — Germany for choice. By another conception — his own — he becomes a victim of unjust persecution, a liberal of genius and vision, striving to bring to a hatedistracted world peace, concord — and bigger dividends. There is some basis to each view; but they do not hold with each other; and as a matter of fact neither one corresponds to the reality.
An exception in all things, Caillaux reversed the usual process of French political evolution. At the outset a solid Conservative, he moved steadily to the Left and became in the end the perfect demagogue. Beginning his career in the social milieu of the Duc de Broglie and the Royalist noblesse, he burrowed downward through the successive layers of French society until he accepted the company of such persons as Bolo and Malvy — whom we may fairly take as the absolute zero. In public life he was a financial expert first and a politician afterward, but he lost no time in redressing the balance; the wider his grasp of sound financial and economic principles, the readier he has become to adapt them to political expediency.
Joseph - Pierre - Marie - Auguste Caillaux was born in 1863. His father before him had made his mark in public life, and reached high rank in the Government. After nearly twenty years in the public service, as an engineer in the Ponts et Chaussées, the elder Caillaux entered the service of the Chemins de Fer de l’Ouest, and became chief engineer of that great system. Now a successful man of affairs, he turned to politics, and in 1871 was elected Deputy; later on he entered the Senate. His political sympathies were marked by sudden fluctuations. He left the Conservatives of the Right to join a Centre group supporting Thiers as Republicans. With them later on he suddenly abandoned Thiers and brought about the election of MacMahon, a Royalist President. He was at once made Minister of Public Works, and joined thereafter in MaeMahon’s effort to head off the establishment of a republic and to prepare the return of the monarchy. He later joined in MacMahon’s attempted coup d’état of the Seize Mai, and was Minister of Finance in the reactionary Cabinet which MacMahon brought in to dissolve Parliament and establish the personal power of the President. This fiasco threw him out of office, and he was threatened with prosecution ‘for having illegally expended public funds for various unauthorized purposes.’ He was not reelected to the Senate.
With his father’s influence and official connections behind him, the son was naturally destined for a public career. Entering the office of the Inspector-General of Finance at the age of twenty-six, he showed from the start an exceptional ability in the work of his department; and in 1894, in collaboration with two of his colleagues, he published the first volume of a technical study of the subject, Les Impôts en France. No one up to this time had ventured to set forth a comprehensive and clear statement of the intricate operations of the French fiscal system; the success of this effort gained Caillaux a wide reputation outside the circle of his Department, and allowed him to launch out in a political career. At the next parliamentary elections, in 1898, he stood as a Conservative Republican candidate for the Chamber of Deputies, at Mamers in Sarthe, the constituency which had elected his father before him and has remained faithful to him ever since. His opponent, a Due de la Rochefoucauld, had gone abroad at the time on the reassurance that he would have no contest. But, like many after him, he reckoned without Caillaux, who was duly elected. Ten months later, before the young Deputy had made his mark in the Chamber, Waldeck-Rousseau was called upon to form a new Cabinet and picked out Caillaux to be Minister of Finance, on the strength of the reputation he had already acquired as a fiscal expert. Caillaux had reached full ministerial rank in an important department — the goal of the ordinary parliamentary ambition — at the age of thirty-seven, in a Cabinet which was to remain two years and a half in power.
Once in office, however, Caillaux showed no ardor for administering French finances on other than the usual political lines. In spite of his expert knowledge, he betrayed no eagerness for fiscal reform; and the outstanding achievement of his administration was his defeat of the Income Tax, a measure which later on he was to make the main instrument of his political career.
The Income Tax had long before been recommended by Treasury officials in the interests of the fisc, since a great part of the national income, the part most easily collected and best able to bear the burden of taxation, passed untouched through the meshes of the existing fiscal system. By 1894 it had been taken up as an attractive political issue by both Radicals and Socialists, and a resolution in favor of it had then failed in the Chamber by only a few votes. In 189G, Doumer, a Radical Minister of Finance, took it up in earnest and boldly incorporated it in the budget as a straightforward and thoroughgoing reform of the whole fiscal system. But before the budget was voted the country took alarm, and so much opposition developed that the Cabinet dropped the projected reform, after allowing the Chamber to approve it ‘in principle.’ This shuffling combination of principle and practice was the keynote of the whole policy of the Radical Party toward the Income Tax from then on until 1914. At heart they feared and detested it, like all true Frenchmen; from the standpoint of politics they wavered between the certain danger of its unpopularity with one section of the electorate and its possible appeal to another as a ‘democratic’ reform. But the Socialists accepted it without reserve, and the Radical leaders could not let the Socialists outbid them on an issue of such evident political possibilities. Henceforth, accordingly, the Income Tax was formally embodied in the Radical platform, to be brought forward or kept back according to circumstances—a hardy perennial, one shrewd observer termed it, which nothing could kill, but which no one could bring into bearing.
It sprouted up next just as Caillaux came into office. In 1899 the Chamber twice approved the measure, again ‘ in principle’; but two years later the Finance Committee formally incorporated it in the annual budget. Caillaux then stepped into the breach alone and by a determined stand succeeded in killing the proposal. The Conservative and Reactionary groups eagerly supported him, while the Radicals showed little rancor. Their anxiety was not to pass the bill but to go on record as having voted for it; in allowing them this satisfaction and then heading the thing off, Caillaux had rendered them a double service.
In this vigorous stand Caillaux was no more than loyal to the position of his party, and as a candidate three years before he had pledged himself against the Income Tax in any form. But we may note that he objected to it as a formula rather than as a reality — put forward under the illusion that it would be possible to raise the necessary taxes from the rich alone. It was precisely this illusion — among other and better arguments — that he was to appeal to so effectively later on.
Caillaux’s first period in office was a disappointment both to his hopes and to the expectations entertained of him. Partly by his own fault and partly from circumstances beyond his control, his exceptionally favorable start led into a blind alley. He had come on the scene at a time when France was passionately absorbed in the final crisis of the Dreyfus case, and in that whirlwind it was out of the question for any man to make himself a political leader through mere financial ability. The whole energy of the Waldeck-Rousseau Government was absorbed in liquidating the Dreyfus affair, and this operation led directly into the long struggle against the Church. From then on until the war, the conflict with the Church dominated directly or indirectly the whole course of French politics. Its immediate effect was to change the whole balance of political power, and to alter radically the alignment of parties in Parliament. For twenty years past, the balance of power had been held by the Progressistes, the great Conservative Republican Party which Caillaux had very naturally joined when standing for Parliament in 1898, normally in alliance with the parties of the Right. But during all the time Caillaux was in office the country was drifting steadily toward the Left, and the majority gradually centred around the Radical Party. When Waldeck-Rousseau resigned, in 1902, he was succeeded by an out-and-out Radical cabinet; and Combes, the new Premier, chose a Minister of Finance from his own party. Caillaux, with the rest of the Conservative Republicans, was left stranded.
He lost no time in getting back into the current. The Progressistes now broke up. Some of them, clinging to the Church, fell back in opposition before the parties of the Right. The rest followed the lead of the Republican bloc in the fight against the Church, settling down among the floor groups of Moderate Republicans just within the limits of the Majority — where they formed a right wing, technically anti-Clerical, but thoroughly conservative in other matters. In 1905 the religious issue reached its crisis, and like most of his friends Caillaux crossed the Rubicon and cast his vote for the separation of Church and State. He thereby, in spite of his Conservative first phase, qualified once for all as an orthodox Republican.
Caillaux had no sooner risen to be president of one of these groups of Moderates than the elections of 1906 showed the current swinging more strongly than ever toward the Radicals and gave them a clear balance of power in Parliament. From the danger of being left stranded a second time he was now saved, oddly enough, by Clemenceau, who on coming into power with a still more Radical cabinet offered Caillaux his old place at the Ministry of Finance. Then followed a second political migration across the Chamber, but this time it was no halfway measure. Entering the Cabinet as a Moderate, Caillaux before long had established himself further to the Left than Clemenceau himself—in the very bosom of the Radical Party.
The Radical Party in France, roughly speaking, was then about as radical as our own Republican Party, or any other political group securely established in power. If it offered its clientele a more advanced programme on one side, it was on the other even more heavily ballasted with bankers, captains of industry, and solidly Conservative affiliations. Its real policy was to combine a conservative policy with a radical programme; to be thoroughly ‘safe’ in actual practice, but yet to stand out as the great party of the Left; to maintain close working relations with the Socialists and to attract the working vote of the cities without actually passing Socialist legislation. But even this heavily discounted Radicalism was beyond the pale in the eyes of the orthodox world of Caillaux’s previous affiliations, and at this particular time the alliance with the Socialists was the guiding principle of the party strategy. Above all, of course, the Radicals were the party of anti-Clericalism, a matter in which he himself took no interest. Caillaux was quite untouched by the convictions and violent political emotions which the religious issue aroused in the breasts of all normal Frenchmen. He accepted the issue impatiently as a necessity of practical politics.
But these various divergences from his own views were trifling details, compared to the solid fact that the Radicals were the strongest and by far the best-organized party in France; and there was every indication that they would establish themselves as the dominant party of the future.
Clemenceau had recalled Caillaux to office in 1906, not from any close personal or political affiliation, but because he had not a very wide choice in making up his Ministry. Although a Radical of the old stock, Clemenceau’s exploits in overturning Cabinets had left him on distant terms with the elder statesmen of his party, and the best minds prudently held aloof. By his vote on Separation, Caillaux was politically eligible, and a year or two before he had freshened up his reputation as a financial expert by completing his Impôts en France. In his critical introduction (written in 1904), he had discussed the merits and the many defects of the existing fiscal system, but had avoided committing himself as to the advisability of reforming it by means of an income tax. This step his Moderate Republican friends did not favor. When Clemenceau presented his new Cabinet before Parliament in 1906 he duly included an income tax among the other Radical platform promises to be carried out, but six months later the country perceived with astonishment that his words were to be taken seriously. Caillaux himself launched the campaign for the reform in a speech to his constituents at Mamers, and immediately afterward laid before Parliament a bill embodying a thoroughgoing reform of French taxation and making a comprehensive application of the new system.
Coming from Caillaux, not only the general body of French taxpayers but even the Radicals in Parliament eyed the proposal as a Trojan Horse; it made no headway in the Senate and was stabled for more than a year in the Chamber. In this long debate, Caillaux showed plainly enough that he was the only person capable of grasping the subject clearly, or of dealing with its technical application to the general fiscal system; but on the floor of the Chamber he managed the bill so badly that Clemenceau himself had to intervene and apply the whip in order to carry it through. Apart from this venture, Caillaux gained little credit from his conduct of French finances during his second term at the Ministry. In dealing with Parliament he was weak and vacillating; his budgets became the usual playthings of political expediency; he accepted the indiscriminate pork-barrel demands of local politics, and lived by the usual hand-to-mouth methods of deficits, loans, and deficiency budgets characteristic of French parliamentary finance at its worst.
Last of all, Caillaux made the serious mistake of playing his own hand against Clemenceau, and making himself a sort of opposition within the Cabinet. The temptation was strong. Clemenceau had been always rather a free lance among the Radicals, and on distant and uncertain terms with the party organization. Throughout his Ministry the orthodox Radicals were restive and rebellious, and toward the end they broke out in open insurrection. At this period they were determined above all things to keep the anti-Clerical issue alive indefinitely as a permanent political issue. Clemenceau, like the rest of the country, grew tired of this prospect now that the Separation was an accomplished fact, and turned more and more to Briand’s new policy of burying the hatchet. Caillaux, however, was intent upon establishing his place among the regulars — the old Guard — of the Radical machine. During the declining months of the Clemenceau Government he played openly to that gallery, and exhibited in the lobbies of the Chamber all the confidence of an heir apparent. It was a serious error of judgment. The Radicals succeeded in upsetting the ministry, but Clemenceau turned over the reins of office to Briand. The Income Tax, which had not yet passed the Senate, disappeared in the shuffle.
Once again Caillaux had guessed wrong as to the course of the political market. For a second time he had come in at the peak, and joined the party in power just as its power was about to decline. The net result of the second stage of his career was that he had lost completely his original character of a fiscal expert, and had acquired in place of it the reputation of a political trimmer with unlimited ambition. It was not an advantageous exchange. His own somersault toward the Income Tax had not only developed the normal hostility of the country to the measure, but had added a rooted and quite sincere conviction that the whole reform was a matter of demagogue finance, a bar sinister which lay across it from this time forward. The French taxpayer after all had his side to the argument: for the Socialists from first to last enthusiastically hailed the reform as a means of penal taxation, against which the whole class who formed their political opponents would be left defenseless. This unpopularity and discredit now recoiled upon the measure, the Radical Party, and most of all upon Caillaux himself.
But at the same time Caillaux had pushed forward; he had revealed together with ominous faults of character certain talents peculiar to himself which left no doubt that henceforth he was a figure to be reckoned with in political life. He went out of office unmourned, unpopular, and more or less under a cloud; but every competent observer recognized that sooner or later he would come back.
This event occurred less than two years later, and was largely due to Caillaux’s own efforts. From 1909 on, popular sentiment was strongly behind Briand and strongly against the anti-Clerical Radical machine. From this time until the war, the real issue in French politics was a contest for the control of the Republican majority, between the Moderates — led by Briand, Millerand, Poincaré, and Barthou — and the Radical organization. The rank and file of the Radical Party wavered between the two, and for long it seemed that they would follow Briand’s lead toward new issues and a new party alignment. But in spite of their unpopularity, Caillaux and the anti-Clerical leaders were able to hold their own in the next Parliamentary elections, and a year later forced Briand out of office.
For the third time Caillaux returned to the Ministry of Finance, in what was known as the Monis-Caillaux Cabinet. Monis, the most ignominious of French Premiers, was a mere figurehead. His authority was divided up between Caillaux, Bertaux, and Delcassé, all three standing ready in line for the succession. The question of succession was settled in odd fashion only three months later, when an aeroplane fell on a group of Ministers at an aviation meet. Monis was injured, Bertaux was decapitated, and Caillaux — at the age of forty-seven, twelve years after entering politics — installed himself as President of the Council.
Having reached his goal, Caillaux at once turned to the serious business of consolidating his position and making himself the acknowledged head of the Radical Party. The Income Tax was swept into the discard without more ado; and to give full assurance on this point he tossed the Ministry of Finance to Klotz, an opponent of the measure. Caillaux himself took the Interior, — the Ministry from which patronage is distributed and from which the formidable steam-roller of the French administration is directed, — where he could act most effectively as party whip, and reach out to bring the party organization under his personal control. The older leaders were not enthusiastic, and the fact that no statesman of weight or reputation would accept the Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated certain misgivings in responsible quarters. But no one in Parliament disputed Caillaux’s authority and all the cards seemed at last in his hands. With justifiable confidence he set to work to make peace with the Moderates and to stabilize the Radical Party in its true position as a broad and fairly conservative ‘Centre’ group, leading the whole Republican majority, and untrammeled henceforth by the liaison with the Socialists. This revision of policy, had it succeeded, would have ‘fixed’ Caillaux’s political evolution in a stage comparable to that of the Lloyd George of the postwar Coalition.
This fair prospect was suddenly destroyed by the arrival of a German gunboat at Agadir. A fresh outbreak of the perennial Moroccan crisis dragged Caillaux away into the perplexing field of foreign affairs, and six months later drove him from office utterly discredited. For the crisis he had only himself to blame. His predecessor, Briand, had attempted to put an end to FrancoGerman friction in Africa by a pooling of commercial interests both in Morocco and in the Congo. Caillaux disapproved of this solution, perhaps rightly, and on coming into office at once vetoed it. He had, however, no other arrangement to offer in its place. Irritated and impatient, Kiderlin-Waechter proceeded to make the most extravagant demands, and before long Europe stood on the verge of war. In the end Caillaux gained his essential point and secured for France a fatstronger position in Morocco; and, although he had to pay a price, one could after all live happily without the uninhabitable river-bottoms of the Congo.
But in the course of the negotiation Caillaux had resorted pretty freely to private and unofficial channels, among others apparently an official of the Deutsche Bank at Berlin. Rumors of all this had spread abroad, and his whole Moroccan treaty was in bad odor when it came up before Parliament. The Chamber ratified it grudgingly and with misgivings, and while it was still before the Senate Caillaux was rash enough to bring forward a project authorizing the listing of certain German securities on the Paris Bourse. Under any circumstances the proposal would have caused an outburst in Paris, and in the present situation it amounted to defying the lightning. Caillaux had become a banker himself in the course of his rise in politics, and the short-lived Monis Ministry had been heavily clouded by the smoke of financial scandals. The French public instantly concluded that this new project was an international stockjobbing transaction, and expressed its view in the plainest terms. In this atmosphere of suspicion and distrust Caillaux, appearing before the Senate in regard to the Moroccan Treaty, swore upon his word of honor that he had carried on no unofficial negotiations — most foolishly, because the statement was false; and, whether blameworthy or not, the fact was notorious. Foolishly above all, because the recording angel stood waiting. Clemenceau arose in the Committee Room, and asked Caillaux’s Minister of Foreign Affairs to confirm the declaration; De Selves politely asked permission not to answer.
From this single question, without any proof being presented, without even any definite charge of wrongdoing being brought against him, Caillaux went dowm in ruin.
Without waiting for proof or charges, his Cabinet disappeared, so to speak, through door and window. His party turned from him as from one who brought the plague, and his parliamentary majority dissolved overnight into nothing. For all his imperturbable nerve, Caillaux this time did not face the issue; without appearing before Parliament to fight the matter out or to defend himself, he sent Fallières his resignation.
The dramatic perfection of this Judgment Day episode, and the rather indefinite nature of the alleged offense, gave free rein to rumors and accusing insinuations, and almost overnight Caillaux stood convicted of having sold out to Germany. Ever since he has been branded with this stigma. Without condoning his real offense, it may be suggested that in this verdict of his contemporaries Caillaux suffered from what the Indian described as too much justice. He deserved the fate that had overtaken him, for he had thrown away his own reputation and brought discredit on France; but as to selling out to Germany — that is another matter. It should be remembered that neither Clemenceau nor Poincaré nor any responsible leader among his opponents made this charge against him at the time, and it was not proven afterward. However irregular or even discreditable his methods of negotiation, and however dubious, for the sake of argument, his motives in the German securities dicker, it does not appear that the result he secured in Africa was a betrayal of French interests. He could point out with perfect justice in his own defense that he had got the best of the bargain, and that the Germans considered themselves worsted: Kiderlin-Waechter had been hooted in the Reichstag, the Minister of the Colonies had resigned. Last, of all, the Moroccan Treaty Caillaux had drawn up was at once accepted and ratified by Poincaré without the change of so much as a comma.
Caillaux, in short, had sinned not in the tangible substance of his venture in diplomacy, but in the incidental result. — the impression of intrigue and crookedness his methods had aroused. Even in this there seems to have been no little exaggeration, whatever the basis of substantial fact. Cambon, the Ambassador at Berlin, in his testimony before the Senate, in 1920, did not substantiate the charges of Caillaux’s mischievous interference. De Selves, his Foreign Minister, was incompetent and useless, and as Premier it was Caillaux s duty to take advantage of every means at his disposal, however private and unofficial. Asquith did not hesitate to approach Berlin privately through the Deutsche Bank when the opportunity offered. There was, however, a distinction — and in this lies the whole point of the matter. No one thought of suspecting Asquith of a disloyal purpose; no one thought of believing Caillaux when he denied it. Clemenceau had gone straight to the essential point in thrusting him under the guillotine; Caillaux had conducted affairs in such a way as to give the French Government the credit of underhand dealing. His course of proceeding had menaced the entente with England, and left Germany still more bitter and resentful. Rightly or wrongly, all Europe for the time being entertained the conviction that France was in the hands of a crook.
We may note here, out. of chronological order, that Caillaux’s arguments in defense, resting, many of them, on substantial and accurate evidence, sweep away the whole basis of a different case he later put forward. In his trial in 1920 he presented the Moroccan negotiation as the first step in a general policy of Franco-German reconciliation and of economic coöperation between the Continental nations. This vast project in turn was wrecked, first, by England’s forcing France to continue in the old path of antagonism to Germany; second, by those familiar powers of darkness, the nationalist-militarist parties in France, led by Clemenceau, Poincaré, and the Boy Scout Royalists of the Action Française. By this attractive thesis Caillaux becomes the man who would have prevented the war. Failing that, he would have made a peace which would have left all the belligerents contented and prosperous, dwelling together thereafter in peace and harmony — under the leadership of France, however, and the political principles of the French Revolution, and on an ‘imposed’ basis of free trade! This bewildering vision is set forth in his three post-war volumes of political apologia: Agadir (1919), My Prisons (1921), and Whither France? Whither Europe? (1922). It is out of the question to analyze here his arguments and sweeping generalizations; we may only note that they effectually contradict one another. This retrospective rearrangement of history is a campaign document, put forward to explain away Caillaux’s defeatist, activities during the war and to offer a basis for his political resurrection. It bears, so to speak, an inverse relation to historical facts.
In 1912, in any case, the question of war-responsibility did not exist. Caillaux was down and out, and the discredit of his debacle spattered over the Radical Party at large. So keen was the sense of national scandal that Poincaré was summoned forth from the background of politics for the express purpose of having an honest man at the head of the government. In the general revulsion of feeling away from the Radicals and all their works the tide turned more strongly than ever toward the Moderate Republicans, and the Radicals seemed doomed to a rapid decline. As the one immediately responsible for this reverse, Caillaux had become his party’s heaviest liability. Shunned by the world at large, among his party colleagues he had all the credit of a sea-captain who had driven his ship upon the rocks. Bad as was the prospect for them, his career seemed definitely ended; and for more than a year nothing was heard from him.
At this time, the midsummer of 1913, the Radical Party split sharply in two over Barthou’s bill restoring the three years’ military service. This development, which seemed the coup de grace of the party’s fortunes, was to give Caillaux his opportunity to return to power. The Radicals who opposed the law were, roughly speaking, the least worthy element of their party — the Jacobin anti-Clerical faction, the demagogue fringe most committed to the trading alliance with the Socialists. They were also, however, the most expert and thoroughgoing politicians, the strictly professional type — the boys who got out the vote. It happened that they were in need of a courageous leader; and all Caillaux needed was a following. By the most extraordinary industry and domineering aggressiveness he succeeded only a few months later in pushing these followers into control of the Radical Convention, and then by somewhat drastic caucus methods reorganized the party under the name of the Unified Radicals. This meant not a united but a divided party, since the older leaders and most of the better element held aloof; and only about half the Radical deputies enlisted under his banner. But Caillaux’s half included the cadre, t he working force, of the old organization; he had at last a disciplined body of which he was in full and formal control — and to this solid and reassuring basis of political power the bewildered Radical office-holders now pinned their faith. Among these last were the Prefects, the Great Electors of the French political system, the technicians who would operate the steam-roller in the approaching election. Much to Caillaux’s disappointment, the Socialist rank and file refused to ratify a project he made with their leaders for an outand-out coalition; but there remained always the old logrolling system of trading Radical patronage for Socialist votes, and it was definitely arranged that in the coming campaign Socialists and Unified Radicals would coöperate on the old basis. Caillaux had completed his evolution from Right to Left.
With the elections ahead of him, Barthou on behalf of the Moderates now began to lay hands on the Prefects, by way of seeing to his political fences. Faced by this danger, even the most respectable Radicals joined forces with Caillaux in a desperate effort to prevent the steam-roller from being applied against them. A few days later Caillaux himself caught Barthou in a blunder over the budget and turned the Moderate ministry out of office. To the exasperation of the country, the Radicals returned to power.
Caillaux was still too discredited throughout the country to be the head of the new Government. For the fourth time he returned to the Ministry of Finance, but there was no question as to who was the dominant and driving force in the Cabinet. Caillaux had made the repeal of the Three Years’ Service Law the main pledge of his campaign in opposition to Barthou, but once he was in power he wasted no time in trivial consistency. Instead of repealing the law he joined in carrying it out; over the clamors of the Socialists and other irreconcilablcs the Government provided the credits necessary for putting it into force, and threw in an extra Army Corps for good measure. In performing this judicious somersault, Caillaux was merely an adroit accessory. He now took matters directly into his own hands. Producing the Income Tax from the shelf where it had lain since 1909, he forced it ruthlessly through the Chamber, and presented it point-blank to the astonished Senate. The Radical majority in the Upper House relished the venture as little as ever, but was still less willing to turn out a Radical government on the eve of the elections. Caillaux, with his personal bloc behind him, now held the whip hand; he could force the government to toe the mark on the question of confidence, and the Senate reluctantly swallowed the bitter dose.
In this tour de force, Caillaux revealed as never before the full measure of his political talent, his financial ability, and above all his indomitable fighting spirit. Throughout the three months’ debate over the Income Tax he crushed every opponent by his obviously superior grasp of public finance and his mastery of the intricate details of the French fiscal system. By adroit and supple tactics on the floor, no less than by his courage and promptness of decision, he affirmed his control over Parliament; and by sheer force of his peremptory autocratic manner, his domineering passion for authority, forced a divided and wavering party to accept the leadership of the most unpopular figure in France.
Moreover, whatever bargain with the Socialists or other political considerations may have been involved in this resurrection of the Income Tax, the measure was as unpopular as ever, and only Caillaux’s persistence achieved a reform long needed in the interest of the French Treasury.
But now in the very moment of his triumph Caillaux’s evil genius again overtook him. Toward the end of the debate in the Senate he agreed that the rente should be exempt from tax, a concession to political expediency which crippled the effectiveness of the reform. The price of the rente instantly went up on the market. Next day in the Chamber he assured Jaurès that it would be taxed, and the rente dropped heavily. Paris then learned from the Figaro that each of these fluctuations had been preceded by heavy trading in the rente on the Bourse, and went on to read a direct accusation that Caillaux or certain of his friends had made large sums as a result of these tactics of parliamentary finance.
In the midst of the uproar that followed, the Figaro came forward on the scene and brought Caillaux a second time to ruin.
The Figaro for two months past had been attacking Caillaux as a discreditable character, taking up one after another the various charges brought against him in his past career, and particularly the scandals of his period in office in 1911. By a skillful combination of accusations, quoted documents, and summaries of documents not quoted, it was made clear that Caillaux had been intimately associated with affairs of which he had denied any knowledge; and that in one case an order from Monis which had permitted a notorious embezzler to escape from justice had been issued at Caillaux’s personal insistence. These disclosures incidentally touched upon matters of his private life.
Caillaux had married in 1906 a Mme. Dupré, recently divorced. Three years later Mme. Caillaux came upon a letter from her husband to another lady, the wife of a M. Clarétie, setting forth the reasons which made it impossible for him then to divorce his wife and marry Mme. Clarétie in the event of her own divorce. There was a break, a reconciliation, and in 1911 a divorce. Later that year Mme. Clarétie, now also divorced, became the second Mme. Caillaux.
It was a private letter involving indirectly this domestic history which the Figaro now spread before the eyes of Paris, under the classic heading, Intermède Comique — Ton Jo. The explanation Caillaux immediately issued was that the note was a private
message to ‘ une amie,' written on the evening of the day he had defeated the Income Tax, far back in 1901. In it Caillaux had informed her of a triumph: —
. . . J’ai d’ailleurs remporté un très beau succès. I crushed the Income Tax, while giving the impression of defending it. I gained the applause of the Centre and the Right, and did not offend too much the Left . . . and succeeded in giving the course of things the turn toward the Right which was absolutely necessary. . . . This evening I shall be irritated, dead tired, almost ill, but I shall have rendered a real service to my country.
TO the general public this epistle was a startling reminder of Caillaux’s attitude of thirteen years before, now brought forward just at the moment he had dragooned the Left into accepting his long-championed measure of ‘democratic fiscal reform.’ To his wife the document was a more intimate source of mortification, for it was not to her that the Minister of Finance had affectionately signed himself Ton Jo, and his letter antedated even the period of her predecessor, the first Mme. Caillaux. The Figaro serial had been bad enough already; there was now no telling how far back the trail might lead. Mme. Caillaux took up her revolver and called for a taxi.
One must grant Caillaux the credit for his conduct in the agony which followed; no husband could have been more loyal than was he to the wife who had completed his ruin and turned for a second time every man’s hand against him. But the struggle to save her from the guillotine exhausted the last shreds of his political credit; and in a sensational murder-trial, with its vast unsavory background of adultery, graft, divorce, and intrigue, Caillaux’s reputation finally foundered. During the years that followed he was to bring his name into still deeper ignominy; but this war-time Caillaux was rather a ghost of the old formidable reality, wandering through the outer darkness in despair and vindictive resentment at the fate which had overtaken him. The touch of that dead hand gave war itself another horror; and toward the end this apparition, with its ominous forebodings of failure and disaster, became a real danger. But, for all that, the world in which Caillaux lived after August 1914 was a world of unreality, filled only with himself and his ruined ambition. His history thenceforward is not a political but a pathological study.
From being the dominant power of the French Government he had become almost a pariah, deserted by his party, banished from office, even mobbed whenever he appeared in a café; and the swiftness and completeness of this downfall produced a collapse within the man himself. This collapse did not perhaps change him, but merely brought out the sbilancio, the fundamental disequilibrium between talent and character in his make-up.
As to the question of character, the problem for the analyst is very simple. In Caillaux’s case the word does not apply. He has strongly marked traits and strong qualities: intelligence, keen and quick perceptions, breadth of vision, with endless pluck, resource, and determination. But with all this goes a complete absence of the moral sense. Other men, in a pinch, are unscrupulous; Caillaux’s distinction is a perfect innocence of the nuance between right and wrong. What takes the place of character with him is a supreme unquestioning self-confidence, which when checked or thwarted swells into fantastic, almost comic, megalomania. This megalomania, distorted by resentment and baffled ambition, was the explanation, the guiding impulse, of his conduct during the war. Once again Caillaux did not sell out to Germany — he had little or nothing to offer. He did not desire a German victory per se, and still less, as an end in itself, the defeat of France. In his purpose, at least, he was working neither for France nor for Germany, nor for peace — but for Caillaux. The war was being fought by men who kept him out of power; the more successfully it was fought the more securely they could retain their hold and keep him in political exile. The failure of the war meant to him not the defeat of France but the downfall of his political enemies; not a military disaster, but a mere lobbying operation. Other French statesmen at times thought the war was hopeless; to Caillaux alone this prospect was itself a hope, for it offered the only means of his returning to power.
For this lofty object Caillaux, a former Premier of France and still a Deputy of the French Parliament, made himself a vague headquarters for all the political underworld of Europe, that queer war-time stratum of bungling spies and informers, German agents and defeatist propagandists, crooks and grafters of every description, and all the riffraff of French politics.
His purpose in all this, as he explained with perfect accuracy later on, was not to assist Germany but to form ‘a new current of opinion.’ The practical effect was stated bluntly by the German Chancellor when he informed a Reichstag committee, ‘Herr Caillaux ist unser Mann’; and later on this same general truth was dealt with in still more concrete fashion by Clemenceau.
Caillaux himself argued that his arrest was an act of personal animosity and persecution by partisan political enemies. The point is worth noting. Thanks largely to his own efforts, the Radicals, Caillaux’s own party, had retained their balance of power in the elections of June 1914; and throughout the whole period of the war, in spite of their unpopularity and beneath all the superficial unity of the Union Sacrée, they retained control of the French Parliament. No move could be made without, their consent, no Ministry formed without their support, and in every War Cabinet they were fully represented. In August 1914 his party joined in the common protective impulse to isolate Caillaux from all political authority. It was one of his friends who devised the pretext of the South American mission late that year in order to get him out of France; and all of them, even those who knew him still in private, disinfected themselves, so to speak, in public, by maintaining the formal excommunication against him.
When the time came Clemenceau merely arrested him. It was by his old political associates that Caillaux was kept under lock and key thereafter. Only the Socialists and a few of his personal followers protested at the time; the mass of the Radical Party joined in the vote which sustained the proceedings against him. Thenceforward until the end of the war, throughout the Peace Conference and the ratification of the Treaty, through the whole period of the parliamentary elections, — over a period of two years in all, — they made no move to release him from prison, to test or challenge the charges on which he was held, or to hurry forward his trial. From this record, from the certificate of character thus given him, we may discern the judgment of his own friends upon Caillaux. After their condemnation his trial later on was a mere detail of procedure; and a verdict — one way or the other — could be no more than a verbal formula.
Ambition, tireless energy, and exceptional ability have ever brought him to the fore, and ever will. But each time that power has come within his grasp, at each high point in his career, — in 1912 as in 1914, and again three years later, — his own actions have cast him down.
From beginning to end the same relentless enemies have pursued Caillaux and overcome him: himself, his record, and his reputation.
They stand now, close behind him, waiting and ready.