French elections return left-wing bloc

1 Jun 1914
  • Paris
Joseph Caillaux

Elections held in France on 26 April and 10 May 1914 returned a strong left-wing bloc to the Chamber of Deputies. The Chamber began its new session on 1 June.

The Radical Party won 195 out of 601 seats, making it the largest single party in the Chamber. The French Section of the Workers International (Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière, SFIO) won 102 seats. This raised the prospect of a leftist government headed by Joseph Caillaux, leader of the Radicals (and a former Prime Minister), and with SFIO leader Jean Jaurès as Minister for Foreign Affairs. A Caillaux government would very likely have repealed the "Three Year Law", which lengthened the period of military service and had been passed in August 1913 following huge protests in March.

However, Caillaux's political position had been weakened by a scandal involving his wife Henriette, who had in March 1914 shot the editor of Figaro newspaper to death to prevent the publication of love-letters between her and Joseph. The letters had been passed to Figaro by Joseph Caillaux's former wife. Henriette Caillaux was acquitted in July on the grounds that the killing had been a crime passionel.

Because of the scandal, President Raymond Poincaré (who also had an eye on the fate of the Three Year Law) refused to name Caillaux as Prime Minister. Instead he offered the Chamber a series of alternatives for the job, creating a crisis that took nearly a fortnight to resolve. The Three Year Law was at the centre of the battle.