Childhood & Early Life
Léon Victor Auguste Bourgeois was born on May 21, 1851 in Paris. His father was a clock maker of Jurassian and Burgundian descent. He spent most of his childhood in an eighteenth century townhouse on the Rue Palatine.
He was initially enrolled at Massin Institute in Paris. Later he went to Lycée Charlemagne and finished his secondary education from there. As a student, he was hard-working, reflective and intelligent. He also displayed a unique leadership capacity as well as a distinct flair of oratory.
After he finished his secondary education, he joined military service sometime in 1870-71 and fought in the artillery regiment in the Franco-Prussian War. After the war, he enrolled at the Law School of the University of Paris.
During this period, Léon showed interest into a diverse range of things. He not only studied law, but was also a student of Sanskrit and Hinduism. Besides, he became interested in fine arts and gathered some expertise in music, sculpture and drawing.
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Although he started his career as a lawyer, Léon Bourgeois changed his vocation after few years and joined civil service. In 1876, he became a deputy in the claims division of Public Works Department.
Next in quick succession, he became Secretary-General of the Prefecture of the Marne in 1877, Under-Prefect of Reims in 1880, Prefect of the Tarn in 1882, Secretary-General of the Seine in 1883 and Prefect of the Haute-Garonne in 1885,
In 1886, he was brought back to Paris as the Director of Personnel in the Ministry of the Interior.
In November, 1887, Bourgeois was appointed prefect of police in Seine, which encompassed Paris and its immediate suburbs. In this position, he helped to prevent a military coup by supporters of George Boulanger, who wanted to launch a revanchist war against Germany
Léon Bourgeois joined politics after President Jules Grevy resigned on December 2, 1887. He entered the Chamber of Deputies from the department of Mame in February 1888. He was only thirty six years old then. His opponent was supported by formidable George Boulanger.
In the Chamber of Deputies, he joined the Radical Left and became came out as an effective orator. Sometime now he also attended the congress of Radical-Socialist Party. When Charles Thomas Floquet formed government on April 3, 1888, Bourgeois was appointed as Undersecretary for Home Affairs.
However, when Floquet resigned on February 22, 1889 after admitting his involvement in the Panama Scandal Bourgeois too resigned with him. He next got himself elected from Reims and on March 1, 1890, he was inducted in the cabinet of Prime Minister Pierre Tirard as the Minister of the Interior.
However, as Tirard resigned on March 17, 1890 on the issue of Franco-Turkish commercial treaty this post too was short-lived. Later in the same year, he was inducted in the cabinet of Prime Minster Charles de Freycinet as the Minister of Public Instruction and Fine Arts.
As education minister, he undertook extensive reforms, both in primary and secondary education system. In addition to this, he reconstituted the universities by regrouping the faculties and extended the scope of post graduation education.
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His reputation as the education minister was such that when Émile Loubet formed his government on February 27, 1892 he retained Bourgeois as the minister of public instruction and fine arts. Later, he was made the minister of justice when Alexandre Ribot formed his government on December 6, 1892.
On November 1, 1895, Leon Bourgeois became the Prime Minister of the French Republic. Most of his ministers were Radicals. The government took up many programs such as separation of the church from the state, starting a retirement plan for the workers and enacting a general income tax.
However, such programs did not meet the approval of Senate. Although the Bourgeois government depended on public opinion for passage of such bills but the public remained indifferent. As a result, the government succumbed on Aril 29, 1896.
However, the incident did not have any negative effect on his reputation. When Henri Brisson formed a new ministry on June 28, 1898, Bourgeois became his minister of public instruction and fine arts. In this capacity, he organized primary education courses for adults.
In 1899, Bourgeois was selected as the chairman of the French delegation to the First Hague Peace Conference. In this conference, he presided over the Third commission, which dealt in international arbitration and helped to form Permanent Court of Arbitration.
In 1902 and 1903, Bourgeois was elected as the President of the Chamber of Deputies. At the same time, he became the head of the Radical Socialist Party. When the International Court of Justice was formed at Hague in 1903, he was chosen as one of its members.
In 1904, Bourgeois became ill and stayed away from public life for a year. Instead, he travelled across Italy, Spain and Near East. He returned to active life in 1905 and won a seat in the Senate from Marme. He held that seat until 1923.
In 1906, he became the minister of foreign affairs in the government of Ferdinand Sarrien. In this capacity, he was successful in presenting his country’s view at the international conference held at Algeciras and played a lead role in formulating the 1906 agreement on Moroccan independence.
Iin 1907, he was chosen as a delegate to the Peace Conference in Hague. There he served as the Chairman of the First Commission on the questions of conciliatory arbitration of disputes.
From 1912 to 1917, he served in various capacities under different primers. In 1912 and 1913, he was the Minister for Labor and social Security under Poincaré. When World War I started in 1914, he became the minister of foreign affairs under Ribot. In 1915-1916, he was the minister of state and again the minister of labor and social security in 1917.
In 1918 after the end of World War I, he was appointed as the head of an official commission that was formed to look into various aspect of the proposed League of Nations. In this capacity, he presented his views in the form of a draft proposal.
In 1919, he attended the Peace Conference in Paris. In this conference he strongly supported the racial equality proposal put forward by Emperor of Japan. Later in the same year, he represented France in the League of Nation Commission.
In 1920, he became the President of the Senate of France. In the same year, he was unanimously elected as the President of the Council of League of Nations. Because of his deteriorating health, he ultimately resigned from Senate in 1923.