This is the main article of theDreyfus Affair series.
It centered on the 1894 treason conviction of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer in the French army. Dreyfus was, in fact, innocent: the conviction rested on false documents, and when high-ranking officers realised this they attempted to cover up the mistakes. The writer Emile Zola exposed the affair to the general public in the literary newspaper L'Aurore (The Dawn) in a famous open letter to the Président de la République Félix Faure, titled J'accuse! (I Accuse!) on January 13, 1898. In the words of historian Barbara W. Tuchman, it was "one of the great commotions of history".
The virulence of the passions aroused by the case was due to the spread of Anti-Semitism in France. This may have been due partly to the failure of the Union Générale--a Roman Catholic banking establishment which aimed at superseding Jewish finance--in 1885; it also may have been partly due to the publication of Edouard Drumont's book La France Juive in 1886.
But the case itself was more immediately the outcome of the continuous attack upon the presence of the Jews as officers in the French army, spearheaded by Drumont and others in the journal "La Libre Parole" (founded with the help of the Jesuits in 1892.) The articles of the "Libre Parole," which denounced French Jewish officers as being future traitors, led a Jewish captain of dragoons, Crémieu-Foa, to declare that he resented as a personal insult the slanderous assault made upon the body of Jewish officers. He fought a duel, first with Drumont, then with Lamase, under whose name the articles had appeared. It had been agreed that the report of the proceedings should not be made public. The brother of Crémieu-Foa, following the advice of Captain Esterhazy, one of the Jewish captain's seconds, communicated the information to the journal "Matin."
The Marquis de Morès, who had been chief second of Lamase, and was a well-known anti-Semite and famous duellist, held Captain Mayer, chief second of Crémieu-Foa, responsible for the breach of confidentiality. Though innocent of the matter, Mayer accepted a challenge from the marquis. The duel was fought on June 23, the Jewish captain being mortally wounded at the first attack; he died a few days after the duel. Owing to the sensation that was caused by this event, the "Libre Parole" thought it wise to stop the campaign against the Jewish officers until further orders.
Dreyfus was pardoned in 1899, readmitted into the army, and made a knight in the Legion of Honour. The factions in the Dreyfus affair remained in place for decades afterwords. The far right remained a potent force, as did the moderate liberals. The liberal victory played an important role in pushing the far right to the fringes of French politics. It also helped encourage regulations such as the 1911 separation of Church and state. The coalitions of partisan anti-Dreyfusards remained toghether, but turned to other causes. Groups like Maurras' Action Francais that were created during the affair continued for decades. The right-wing Vichy regime was composed mostly of old anti-Drefusards or their descendants. It is now universally agreed that Dreyfus was innocent, but his statues and monuments continue to be vandalised.