Aristide Briand (1862- ), French statesman, was born at Nantes, of a bourgeois family. He studied law, and while still young took to politics, associating himself with the most advanced movements, writing articles for the anarchist journal Le Peuple, and directing the Lanterne for some time. From this he passed to the Petite République, leaving it to found, with Jean Jaurès, L'Humanité. At the same time he was prominent in the movement for the formation of labour unions, and at the congress of working men at Nantes in 1894 he secured the adoption of the labour union idea against the adherents of Jules Guesde. From that time, Briand became one of the leaders of the French Socialist party. In 1902, after several unsuccessful attempts, he was elected deputy. He declared himself a strong partisan of the union of the Left in what is known as the Bloc, in order to check the reactionary deputies of the Right. From the beginning of his career in the chamber of deputies, Briand was occupied with the question of the separation of church and state. He was appointed reporter of the commission charged with the preparation of the law, and his masterly report at once marked him out as one of the coming leaders.
He succeeded in carrying his project through with but slight modifications, and without dividing the parties upon whose support he relied. He was the principal author of the law of separation, but, not content with preparing it, he wished to apply it as well, especially as the existing Rouvier ministry allowed disturbances to occur during the taking of inventories of church property, a clause of the law for which Briand was not responsible. Consequently he accepted the portfolio of public instruction and worship in the Sarrien ministry (1906). So far as the chamber was concerned his success was complete. But the acceptance of a portfolio in a bourgeois ministry led to his exclusion from the Unified Socialist party (March 1906). As opposed to Jaurès, he contended that the Socialists should co-operate actively with the Radicals in all matters of reform, and not stand aloof to await the complete fulfilment of their ideals.