Vincent Auriol

1884-1966
Portrait of Vincent Auriol. Source: Clément Ader Museum

Vincent Auriol was one of the most important figures in contemporary French history. a Socialist movement leader, negotiator at the reparations conference with Germany in 1918, fierce foe of the Vichy regime and one of the Fourth Republic's "founding fathers". Vincent Jules Auriol was born into a farm family in Revel (Haute-Garonne). He earned the baccalaureate in Latin and Greek in 1902 and a law degree in 1905, the same year that he joined the socialist federation of Haute-Garonne. Then he earned a doctorate in political science and became a member of the Toulouse bar. He wrote for the newspaper La Dépêche du Midi, founded Le Midi Socialiste with Albert Bedouce, minister of parliament and mayor of Toulouse, and maintained a steady correspondence with Jean Jaurès and Jules Guesde. In June 1912 he married Michelle Accouturier and the couple had two children: Paul (1918-1992), who organised the Tarn Resistance, and Jacqueline (1912-2000), who in 1952 broke the world jet-plane speed record.

From May 1914 to May 1936, Auriol was the Socialist representative of the town of Muret at the National Assembly, where he specialised in economic and financial issues. From 1914 he was a member of the definitive accounts committee. During the peace conference after the First World War, Auriol advocated limiting Germany's debt and reparations to war-torn areas and cancelling all interallied debts. In December 1920, he was among the 12 Socialist members of parliament who followed Léon Blum and refused to join the Communist International. Auriol was elected mayor of Muret in May 1925, joined the finance committee, which he chaired from June 1924 to July 1926, and became general councillor of the Haute-Garonne for Carbonne canton three years later. His parliamentary activity included many bills and continuous opposition to the financial policies of the Poincaré, Herriot, Daladier, Doumergue, Tardieu and Laval governments.

In June 1936 Auriol joined Léon Blum's government as finance minister. He reformed monetary policy by devaluating the Poincaré franc and creating the floating franc. In 1937 he became justice minister in the Chautemps cabinet and, the following year, participated in the second Blum cabinet as minister without portfolio as the prime minister's chief of staff. After Germany defeated France in 1940, Auriol refused to vote for the delegation of full powers to Marshal Pétain on 10 July. Because of his opposition he was imprisoned in Pellevoisin and, later, Vals-les-bains, with Paul Raynaud, Georges Mandel and Marcel Dassault. Auriol was placed under house arrest in Muret between 1941 and 1942, joined the Resistance and reached Free France in Algiers in October 1943, when he became a member of the provisional consultative assembly at its first meeting. His wife, who had taken refuge in Lyon, helped to decipher coded messages from Allied headquarters. After the Liberation, Auriol represented France at the Bretton Woods conference because of his skills and position as chairman of the Constituent Assembly's foreign affairs committee. On 21 October 1945, Auriol was voted back into parliament as the representative of the Haute-Garonne. Later, he became mayor of Muret and general councillor again. He chaired the Socialists' parliamentary group and in November General de Gaulle asked him to join his cabinet as minister without portfolio in charge of relations wit the Assembly.

As chairman of the Constituent Assembly in January 1946, Auriol presided over the return of the National Assembly and the foundation of the Fourth Republic, which elected him as its head. He became president of the French Union on 16 January 1947. When Auriol's term ended in December 1953, he went back to local and family life. He travelled, wrote his memoirs and published two books, Hier, demain, le Journal du septennat (Yesterday, Tomorrow, the Journal of My Seven-Year Term) and Dix années d'administration socialiste (Ten Years of Socialist Administration). At a congress in Austria in December 1954, he was elected honorary president of the World Federation of Resistance Veterans and Medal Holders. He campaigned for General de Gaulle's return to power in May 1958 and became a member of the Constitutional Council in March 1959. Auriol was in total opposition with the secretary-general of the Socialist Party and resigned in February 1959. As an eminence grise of the Republic, he continued to participate in public life, above party quarrels. For his political and military commitment, Vincent Auriol received the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour and Grand Cross of the national orders of the 32 foreign states, the Rosette of the Resistance, the Cross of the Voluntary Resistance Fighter and honorary doctorate degrees from the universities of Columbia (New York), Laval (Québec), Oxford and Rio de Janeiro. Vincent Auriol died in Paris on 1st January 1966 in the aftermath of a broken hip suffered on his property in Labourdette.