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byname THE TIGER, French LE TIGRE, statesman and journalist who was a dominant figure in the French Third Republic and, as premier (1917-20), a major contributor to the Allied victory in World War I and a framer of the postwar Treaty of Versailles.
Clemenceau was born in Vendée, a coastal département of western France. His youth was spent among peasants, but it was his father, Benjamin, a Voltairean, positivist, and admirer of the Revolution of 1789, who shaped him and remained his model.
Through his father he met men who were plotting to overthrow the emperor Napoleon III and came to know the historian Jules Michelet, who was being hunted by the imperial police. Benjamin was arrested briefly in 1858. Three years later (November 1861), he took Georges to Paris to study medicine.
In the Latin Quarter, Clemenceau associated with young men of the republican opposition, who created an avant-garde association named Agis Comme Tu Penses (Act as You Think). Clemenceau, with some friends, founded a journal, Le Travail ("Work"), which set forth the views that were to characterize his future political action. It was seized by the police, and, because of an advertisement inviting the workers of Paris to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the Revolution of 1848, Clemenceau was imprisoned for 73 days. Upon his release, he started a new paper, Le Matin ("Morning"), which was in turn seized by the authorities.
Having completed his studies, Clemenceau left for the United States, where he was to spend most of the next four years (1865-69). He reached New York City at the height of the Civil War. He was struck by the freedom of discussion and expression, unknown in France at the time, and he had great admiration for the politicians who were forging American democracy. When his father refused to continue financial aid, he taught in a girls' school in Stamford, Conn.; in due course, despite the opposition of her guardian, he married one of his pupils, Mary Plummer, in 1869.
Three children were born of this union, but the couple separated after seven years.
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