Gaston Monnerville

Portrait of Gaston Monnerville.

(2 January 1897: Cayenne, French Guyana - 7 November 1991: Paris) The grandson of a slave, Gaston Monnerville was born in Cayenne in 1897. A brilliant pupil, in 1912 he won a national scholarship to complete his secondary education at the Pierre de Fermat (Hôtel Bernuy) high school in Toulouse, before enrolling to study the Arts and Law at Toulouse university. In 1921, he became a doctor of law following a viva on a thesis on "Improvement without reason" which was sponsored by the ministry of public education and awarded a prize. That same year he was a successful candidate in the competitive examination for Secretaries to the Judicial Conference, receiving the "Alexandre Fourtanier" Gold medal which is awarded to one of the best secretaries, before leaving Toulouse to register at the Bar in Paris. He was soon to work for the office of the famous lawyer and statesman, César Campinchi, with whom he would be the main partner for eight years.

In 1923, Gaston Monnerville was a successful candidate in the competitive examination for Secretaries to the Conference of Advocates, at the Court of Appeal in Paris. In 1927, he was elected president of the Union of young lawyers, distinguishing himself in several important trials such as the "Galmot" affair in 1931. Fourteen Guyanese, accused after the riot in 1928 resulting from electoral fraud and the suspicious death of MP Jean Galmot, appeared before the court of assizes in Nantes. Along with Fourny, Zevaes, and Henri Torres, Monnerville was responsible for defending them. His pleading had a profound effect on the jury, who voted for their acquittal. This sensational trial signalled his political debut. He stood in Guyana against the outgoing MP, Eugène Lautier, and was elected in the first ballot in 1932 - he was to be re-elected in 1936, having been elected mayor of Cayenne in 1935. Twice under-secretary of State in the Colonies in 1937 and 1938, his experience of international and overseas matters led to his selection as a member of the French delegation to the Pacific Conference, known as the "Conference of the Nine Nations" which was held in Brussels in 1937, at the moment of Japan's attack on China. In 1939, Gaston Monnerville was a member of parliament over forty years of age. According to the Nation's wartime legislation, he was too old to be mobilised. With four of his colleagues, he had a government decree drawn up and signed by Daladier, which allowed an exception and he immediately enlisted in the Marines. He served as an "officer of justice", on the battleship "La Provence", writing of his experiences in the ship's log.
Monnerville was demobilised one week after the vote in Vichy granting full powers to Marshall Pétain on 10 July 1940. On 17 July 1940, he went to Vichy to protest against the Armistice and the status inflicted on overseas citizens by Pétain's government. In the winter of 1940-1941, he campaigned in the "Combat" resistance movement, defending those imprisoned for offences related to their opinions or ethnic backgrounds. Under the pseudonym of "Commandant Saint-Just", he was a member of the maquis (resistance fighters) of the Auvergne (Commander Cheval's group) from October 1942 until October 1944. He was in charge of administration at the Cheylade hospital from June to August 1944 and then recruited by the FFI, taking part in the "Bec d'Allier" operation between 7 and 10 September 1944. The War Cross 1939-1945, the Rosette of the Résistance and the Légion d'Honneur for his military achievements all bear witness to his courage and patriotism. In November 1944, he was appointed by the Resistance of Metropolitan France to sit on the provisional consultative Assembly, where he presided at the "French Overseas Commission" and, representing the nations of the French Union, had the honour of celebrating the Allied victory at the solemn session on 12 May 1945. During this session, he also made a speech in tribute to soldiers from the overseas territories.
In 1945, the temporary Government of the Republic called President Monnerville to lead the commission with the task of drawing up the future political statute for overseas territories. This commission laid down the constitutional framework for the French Union. On 21 October 1945, he was elected for a third time as MP for Guyana at the Constituent Assembly and his mandate was renewed on 2 June the following year at the second National Constituent Assembly. On 15 December 1946, he was appointed vice president of the Guyanese Assembly. In March 1947, he was elected president of the Council of the Republic and re-elected in January 1948. In November 1948 he was elected senator of the Lot, became mayor of Saint-Céré (Lot) from 1964 to 1971 and then president of the permanent Council of the Republic, replaced by the Senate, over which he was to preside for twenty-two years. From March 1974 until March 1983, he sat on the Constitutional Council. Gaston Monnerville was an important overseas statesman: after having been appointed delegate for France in 1937 at the Pacific Conference and then in January 1946 at the United Nations Assembly, he represented France in Latin America in 1957 and in Haiti in 1980, on the bicentenary of its capital, Port-au-Prince. Gaston Monnerville was also a man of letters: in May 1968 he published a work on Georges Clemenceau and then devoted himself to writing his memoirs, Témoignages, De la France équinoxiale au Palais du Luxembourg (Accounts, from equinoctial France to the Palace of Luxembourg) (1975), and Vingt-deux ans de présidence (Twenty-two years of presidency) (1980).

  • Monnerville résistant.
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