On May 21st, 1851, Léon Bourgeois was born – a man who went on to become the 49th Prime Minister of France and the first President of the League of Nations.
A liberal progressive, non-partisan politician, Bourgeois formed a government ministry on November 1st, 1895, following a constitutional crisis between the Senate and the previous government. His ministry too faced conflict with the Senate – in the early years of Bourgeois’ administration, the Senate appeared to be acting unconstitutionally by over-asserting itself. The government believed it could override this illegal behavior as they were under the impression that they had public support; however, the public were in fact indifferent and the government were unable to restrict the Senate’s activities.
A social republican, Bourgeois sought a middle ground between socialism and capitalism which he termed “solidarism”. He believed that the rich had a social debt to the poor which they should pay by the income tax, thus providing the state with the necessary revenue to finance social measures for those living in poverty. However, the Senate opposed his proposal, and opposition grew until his resignation as prime minister.
(J. E. S. Hayward, “The Official Philosophy of the French Third Republic: Leon Bourgeois and Solidarism,” International Review of Social History, (1961) 6#1 pp 19-48)
Bourgeois served as France’s Prime Minister for less than a year, until April 1896, primarily due to his aforementioned conflict with the Senate. Afterwards, Bourgeois went on to serve in various cabinet roles, as he had done before assuming top office.
Throughout his political career, Bourgeois had been an advocate of international cooperation – when the League of Nations was created in the aftermath of the First World War, Bourgeois rose to become the first President of the Assembly of the league in 1920, for which he won a Nobel Peace Prize.
Léon Bourgeois died of natural causes on September 29th, 1925, at the age of 74.