Paul Deschanel was President of the Chamber of Deputies twice, from 1898 to 1902 and then from 1912 to 1920. He was the first person without prior ministerial experience to be elected President of the republic. But did you know that he fell out of a window in 1920?
French President Paul Deschanel fell from his sleeping compartment window in 1920. He was then spotted strolling around in his pajamas in the dark, proclaiming to be the President of France.
The Unusual President, Paul Deschanel
In 1855, Paul Deschanel was born in Brussels. His parents had fled France for Belgium due to domestic political unrest. Deschanel began literary studies before following his father into politics.
A politician’s job was more than signing treaties and shaking hands back then. The 30-year-old deputy did not hesitate to accuse Georges Clemenceau, the future President, of involvement in the Panama Affair, a corruption scandal that sparked widespread outrage in the 1890s. Clemenceau and Deschanel battled in a sword duel to clear up the misunderstanding.
Despite losing the duel without suffering any significant injuries other than his honor, Deschanel ran for President and was elected in 1920.
Deschanel served two terms as President of the Chamber of Deputies. When he was elected President of the republic, he was the first person with no prior ministerial experience to attain that post. His brief term was marked by ministerial instability and deteriorating health, forcing his resignation after only seven months. (Source: Story Teller’s Hat)
Paul Deschanel and His Deteriorating Health
Deschanel’s odd behavior started to raise some concerns. He delivered a speech at Nice, France, to which he was received with shouts and acclaim. Deschanel was so pleased that he decided to offer his audience more of the same, so he repeated the speech verbatim.
After receiving a bouquet from a group of schoolgirls, he flung the flowers back at them. There were also unsubstantiated rumors that Deschanel received the British Ambassador naked except for the French sash of office on another occasion when he paid a ceremonial visit. Other accounts said he was climbing trees in a park and wading into a lake half-dressed.
He fell out the window of his compartment on railway travel in May at around midnight. In his pajamas, the President ultimately came across employees who did not know him but treated his wounds and provided him a place to stay. The wife of one of the workers who discovered Paul seemed to notice that they had a unique visitor because his feet were clean.
Other incidents include him conversing with deputies in a park while obsessively climbing a nearby tree or going for a half-naked dip in a lake without warning, which could be factual or just made up in papers describing Deschanel’s mental state. Day after day, the President’s health deteriorated slowly but steadily. Finally, after seven months and three days in office, he quit in September 1920.
After a few months, he recovered well and returned to political tasks, albeit on a lower scale. However, no other incidents were ever documented. After all, it’s an excellent point of comparison to put things in context: Presidents used to resign because their mental health deteriorated. We now elect the most insane people. (Source: Story Teller’s Hat)