He was an accurate representative of his social class. He was the eldest of a rural noble family which had formed a local dynasty. Originally, he chose the classic army route before moving towards historical and sociological studies, during which he engaged with feminism and votes for women, which was very original for his time.
Descendant of an old Langres family, his great-grandfather, Jean François Moreau du Breuil, who returned from emigration under the Restoration, decided to re-root himself in the region and create a local “dynasty”. To do so, he bought a town house in Langres and the castle in Pailly. The project was completed with his grandson, the father of our hero, Albert Moreau du Breuil de Saint-Germain who, after an administrative career as the sub-prefect of Sarrebourg and chief of the cabinet of the interior minister, became mayor of Pailly, general councillor of the district of Longeau and deputy of Haute-Marne. Jean Marie Thomas was therefore brought up in a family of classic public figures of the time: rich, Catholic, conservative and nationalist.
Born in Paris on 30th January 1873, he studies at the Stanislas college and the integrated Saint-Cyr military school. He was a dragoon officer for ten years and favoured highly by his superiors. However, he wasn’t cut out for the monotonous garrison life and so he gave in his resignation at the time of the Boer war, after which he set off for Africa to join up with Colonel Villebois-Mareuil’s French volunteers who were fighting the English. He arrived after the Colonel’s death and fought at first in the French voluntary ranks and then in the Russian ones until the surrender of Pretoria (31st May 1902).
Before returning to France, he travelled to Madagascar and then to Peru, Chile, Columbia and Central America.
On his return, he devoted himself to History and Sociology studies and got married to Marie Denisson, widow of Richard Winslow, on 8th November 1904. The couple remained childless.
As a participant in the Mollé conferences and occasional collaborator in Action Française, he talked about his experiences in Africa and the Boer war and reflected on subjects as diverse as the separation of the church and the state, democracy, the “loi des trois ans” (which demanded 2-3 years of military service) and the alcohol monopoly in Indochina. His texts were made into a book in homage to him after his death.
In his writings, he has the preconceptions of a man of his time and background. He was convinced of his European superiority, anti-Semitic and adversary of Freemasonry, but even still he had a notable ability for analysis and reflection which allowed him to nuance his « conditioned intellectual reflexes » acquired from his education. But where he was astonishingly modern was in his fight for votes for women and against their social poverty. His conference of 3rd May 1911, « women’s social poverty and suffrage », is a model for this genre. In this piece, he concludes that to commence the fight against women’s poverty from an economic, social and intellectual standpoint, they must be given the right to vote. Entire sentences from this conference are still relevant today.
Text: Pierre Gariot, Société Historique et Archéologique de Langres