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Born Sept. 6, 1835, in Roquecourbe; died May 25, 1921, in Pons. French statesman. The son of a craftsman.
Combes defended doctoral dissertations in theology (1860) and medicine (1866). In 1885 he became a senator and joined the Radical group. In 1894–95 he was vice-president of the Senate; from November 1895 to April 1896 he was minister of education. In the 1890’s, a period of sharp struggle between democracy and reaction centered on the Dreyfus Affair, Combes came out for a review of the case, a stand that was a defense of the republican system. From June 1902 to January 1905, Combes was head of the government. The Combes government carried out several anticlerical measures: it closed a number of Catholic churches, suppressed schools directed by a religious congregation, and prepared a bill for the separation of church and state. (The latter was implemented in late 1905.) This anticlerical policy led to a break in diplomatic relations between the Vatican and France (1904). Under pressure from right-wing bourgeois circles, Combes was forced to resign. In 1915–16 he was minister without portfolio.