Théophile Delcassé

The French statesman and journalist Théophile Delcassé (1852-1923) was the chief architect of the Triple Entente between France, Britain, and Russia.

Théophile Delcassé was born on March 1, 1852, in Palmiers. After graduating from the University of Toulouse in 1874, he went to Paris and in 1879 began to write for Léon Gambetta's journal, La République française. He continued his association with that paper until 1888 and also contributed to the Parisfrom 1881 to 1889.

In 1889 Delcassé was elected to the Chamber of Deputies. He was undersecretary for the colonies from January to December 1893 and served as second minister of colonies from May 1894 to January 1895. His policies were governed by his belief that colonial strength would enhance France's position as a European power.

In June 1898 Delcassé was appointed minister of foreign affairs, and he retained this position until June 1905. His policies aimed to strengthen French interests and achieve the diplomatic isolation of Germany. He won both Spanish and American friendship by his successful mediation in the Spanish-American War of 1898. This opened the way for subsequent rapprochements with both the United States and Spain. Meanwhile, during the Fashoda crisis of 1898, Delcassé won a measure of respect from the British by withstanding their pressure for 6 weeks.

Between 1899 and 1903 Delcassé transformed the Franco-Russian alliance into an active instrument of policy by broadening its scope to include defense of the European balance of power. He achieved understanding with Italy, based on settlement of differences in Africa. This culminated in 1902 in mutual guarantees of neutrality. Three agreements of April 8, 1904, settled British and French colonial differences and became the foundation of the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France. Meanwhile, Delcassé also encouraged cooperation between Russia and Britain, which led in 1907 to the formation of the Triple Entente. Italian, British, and Spanish agreements guaranteed France a free hand in Morocco, but Delcassé was forced to resign in 1905 during the first Moroccan crisis, when the Cabinet refused to support his policy.

As minister of marine from March 1911 to January 1913, Delcassé reorganized and strengthened the French navy and engaged in joint naval planning with Britain. As ambassador to Russia between March 1913 and January 1914, he improved the joint military planning of France and Russia and accelerated development of Russia's strategic railroads. Early in World War I Delcassé was named minister of foreign affairs, but he resigned after 14 months, when Bulgaria joined the Central Powers, proving the failure of his Balkan policy. Delcassé refused to vote for the Treaty of Versailles, which he felt gave France "neither reparations nor security," and retired from public life after 1919. He died at Nice on Feb. 22, 1923.


Further Reading on Théophile Delcassé

The best study of Delcassé in English is Charles W. Porter, The Career of Théophile Delcassé (1936), which concentrates on his writings, speeches, and political acts and implies that he must bear a considerable responsibility for developments leading to World War I. See also John Francis Parr, Théophile Delcassé and the Practice of the Franco-Russian Alliance: 1898-1905 (1952), and Christopher Andrew, Théophile Delcassé and the Making of the Entente Cordiale (1968).

Additional Biography Sources

Porter, Charles Wesley, The career of Théophile Delcassé, West-port, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975.