Joseph Caillaux, the son of Eugéne Caillaux, a conservative politician, was born in Le Mans, France, on 30th March, 1863. After obtaining a law degree in 1886 he joined the Finance Ministry as a deputy inspector.
Caillaux was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1898 and after acquiring a reputation as an expert on economic matters was appointed minister of finance in 1899, a post he held until 1902. He also served as minister of finance between 1906 and 1909. Caillaux introduced several important reforms but failed in his attempt to establish an income tax system.
On 27th June, 1911, Caillaux was appointed prime minister. While holding this position he upset a large number of people in France by making territorial concessions to the German colony of Cameroon. Caillaux, who was attempting to prevent a war over Morocco, was forced to resign over the issue in January 1912.
Caillaux was accused of being a pacifist in 1913 when he opposed an extension to conscription. This resulting in a press campaign against Caillaux. In 1914, Gaston Calmette, the editor of Le Figaro, threatened to publish love letters between Caillaux and his former mistress and now his second wife. This resulted in Madame Caillaux killing Calmette but at her trial she was acquitted of murder.
Caillaux, now a member of the Radical Party, was opposed to France’s involvement in the First World War. Caillaux worked hard to achieve a negotiated peace. In November 1917 George Clemenceau became prime minister. He immediately clamped down on dissent and Caillaux and Louis Malvy, another senior politician opposed to the war, were both arrested for treason.
Caillaux was eventually tried in 1920. Although acquitted on the treason charge he was convicted of corresponding with Germany during the war and banished from France and deprived of his civil rights for ten years.
After an amnesty in July, 1924, Caillaux was appointed by Paul Painleve as his finance minister. He also served briefly in this post in 1935.
In 1938 Caillaux supported Edouard Daladier in his attempts to negotiate an agreement with Adolf Hitler. After the failure of appeasement he retired from politics and refused to become a member of the Vichy government. Joseph Caillaux died in Mamers on 22nd November, 1944.