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Dreyfus Affair

Dreyfus Affair, French political scandal of the Third Republic. In 1894, Alfred Dreyfus (1859–1935), a Jewish army captain, was convicted of betraying French secrets to the Germans. Further evidence pointed to a Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy as the traitor, but when tried (Jan. 1898), Esterhazy was acquitted on secret, forged evidence. Dreyfus's conviction had aroused anti-Semitism, and although evidence against him had been forged, the army was relunctant to admit the error. As public interest in the case was aroused, it became known that the Roman Catholic Church supported the conviction. After Esterhazy's acquittal, the French novelist Émile Zola published an attack on the army's integrity, J'accuse (“I accuse”), which roused intellectual and liberal opinion to a furor. With the suicide of an army officer who had acknowledged the forgeries and with Esterhazy's flight from France, a new court-martial began, but Dreyfus was found “guilty with extenuating circumstances” (Aug. 1899). Public opinion was outraged, and in Sept. the government gave him a pardon. He served in World War I and retired a lieutenant-colonel. The scandal had thrown government, army, and church into disrepute. Legislation followed that led to separation of church and state (1905). The original verdict against Dreyfus was quashed in 1906.

See also: Dreyfus, Alfred.

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