Edouard Herriot

Edouard Herriot

Edouard Herriot, the son of an army officer, was born in Troyes, France on 5th July, 1872. After graduation he taught in Nantes and Lyons. A radical liberal, Herriot became mayor of Lyons in 1905.

During the First World War Herriot held ministerial office under Aristide Briand (December 1916-March 1917). Herriot was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1919. A great orator he soon became leader of the Radical Party.

During the dispute with President Alexandre Millerand, Herriot helped organize the Cartel des Gauches, a left-wing coalition of Radicals and Socialists. In the elections of June, 1924 the group won a majority of the seats and Herriot became the new prime minister.

One in power Herriot attempted to improve relations between the European powers. He recognized the Soviet Union, accepted the Dawes Plan and agreed to evacuate troops from the Ruhr. He also advocated the formation of a European Union.

Herriot lost power in April 1925 and a second ministry in July 1926 only lasted three days. He also served as minister of education under the premiership of Raymond Poincare.

In 1929 Aristide Briand put forward the idea of a European Federal Union. He gained support from Herriot but the idea stimulated little interest and was not taken up by other political leaders.

Concerned by the emergence of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, Leon Blum, Maurice Thorez, Edouard Daladier, Daniel Mayer formed the Popular Front in 1934. Parties involved in the agreement included the Communist Party, the Socialist Party and Herriot's Radical Party.

The parties involved in the Popular Front did well in the 1936 parliamentary elections and won a total of 376 seats. Leon Blum, leader of the Socialist Party, now become prime minister of France. Once in power the Popular Front government introduced the 40 hour week and other social reforms. It also nationalized the Bank of France and the armaments industry.

When the German Army invaded France in May 1940, Herriot originally supported Henri-Philippe Petain as head of the Vichy government. He then turned against Petain and argued that Charles De Gaulle should become the new prime minister.

Herriot was arrested by the Vichy authorities and handed over to the Germans. He was interned in Potsdam until liberated by the Red Army on 22nd April, 1945.

After the war Herriot was once again elected as mayor of Lyons. Between 1947 and his retirement in 1954, Herriot was president of the National Assembly. Edouard Herriot died in Lyons on 26th March, 1957.

Primary Sources

(1) Edouard Herriot, The United States of Europe (1930)

(1) A European understanding can be achieved only within the framework of the League of Nations, as a part of the League, and marking a stage in its development.

(2) Since the League Covenant permits regional agreements within a comment it follows 'a fortiori' that it cannot oppose the agreement of a whole continent.

(3) A European understanding must take account both of international and of national alignments.

(4) It must be open to all the nations of Europe which are willing to enter.

(5) It is rendered necessary by the laws of economic evolution by industrial amalgamations, and by the necessity of defending the European market.

(6) It must be sufficiently comprehensive to admit nations like Great Britain, which have both European and world-wide interests

(7) The nations must be represented on absolutely equal terms.

(8) It might very well seek inspiration from the form taken by the Pan-American Union, its method of procedure would be the holding of periodical conferences with a permanent secretariat.

(9) It must be flexible, prudent and patient.

(10) It must regard the suppression of tariff barriers as the end, not the beginning, of an economic organisation of Europe

(11) It can achieve stability only by a European organisation of credit

(12) Its durability will depend upon a fixed system of arbitration, disarmament, and security.

(2) William Leahy, the USA ambassador to Vichy government, wrote about Edouard Herriot in his autobiography, I Was There (1950)

Edouard Herriot came to the Embassy on Thursday morning, April 23. Herriot was hopeful of going to the United States to discuss with President Roosevelt future relations between France and America, but since he and the President of the French Senate were the only two effective political leaders still anxious to preserve representative government in his country, he did not feel he should leave at that time.

He declared he would not undertake work of any kind for the Laval Government. Herriot and his followers did not believe that de Gaulle or his movement had committed any offence against France, but, on the contrary, were fighting for French survival and for French ideals.

This veteran leader of the Radical-Socialist Party impressed me as a very able and courageous French patriot-a type not often met in Vichy. He advised me that America must not have confidence in anything that Laval promised or said. Herriot spoke convincingly, but when speaking did not look at his hearer.