After a brilliant academic career, Caillaux entered the French Finance Ministry in 1888, becoming the Radical-Socialist deputy for Mamers ten years later. His prewar career included three periods as Finance Minister (when he introduced several far-reachin g fiscal reforms), and responsibility for negotiating with the Germans during the Agadir crisis of 1911. As a result of his achievement in preventing war at a point when France was even les ready than in 1914, he got a reputation as a Germanophile and pacifist. A virulent press campaign against him in 1911 led to the notorious scandal provoked by Mme. Caillaux who shot dead the editor of Le Figaro for publishing private letters. Recent scholarship has shown that Raymond Poincare may have had a hand in the campaign of denigration, intended to discredit an opponent of the Three-Year Service Law.
After the outbreak of war he was got out of the way when he was sent on an economic mission to South America. He returned to France in 1915 but remained a focus of protest for arch-patriots. In Vichy, in August 1916, Caillaux and his wife were pursued by a howling crowd of women and forced to take refuge in the sous-prefecture. Charles Maurras claimed the 'patriotic' credit for this episode.
Clemenceau was a particular enemy and on 11 December 1917 he demanded the suspension of Caillaux' political immunity. Caillaux was arrested in January 1918, accused of 'intelligence with the enemy.' The case was not heard until 1920, when he had already spent three years in prison. Although exonerated on most charges, he was deprived of his civic rights for ten years. His published account of his years in prison proved popular, and Caillaux benefited from a political amnesty in 1924. He returned to financial matters in Painleve's government and set about restoring some order to France's shattered finances, negotiating with Washington and London over the difficulty problem of inter-allied debts. Although Caillaux was seen as an arch pacifist during the war the British Ambassador, Lord Bertie, was a frequent critic, and British military and political circles were always afraid that he might become premier and make peace with Germany a recent biographer has claimed that he would never have accepted the loss of Alsace and Lorraine in any peace treaty. Thus, although he wanted peace, he was not prepared to buy it at any price.
See Jean-Claude Allain, Joseph Caillaux, 2 vols (Paris: Imprimerie nationale