Michel Debré Biography

Michel Jean-Pierre Debre was a prominent French political leader and the first Prime Minister of the French Fifth Republic. He played a crucial role in drafting the country’s constitution in 1958 and served as the premier under President Charles de Gaulle. While Debre was a staunch supporter of de Gaulle, he had differing opinions on Algeria’s independence in 1962. Despite his loyalty, Debre was excluded from secret negotiations with the anti-government movement in 1968 and advised against a referendum in 1969, which de Gaulle ultimately held and lost. Throughout his career, Debre held various ministerial positions and was known for his defense of France’s nuclear deterrent capability. After retiring from active politics in 1973, he dedicated himself to writing about political affairs in France, revealing his disagreements with de Gaulle while maintaining his loyalty to the former president.

Quick Facts

  • French Celebrities Born In January
  • Also Known As: Michel Jean-Pierre Debré
  • Died At Age: 84
  • Family: father – Robert Debré, children – Bernard Debré, Jean-Louis Debré
  • Political Leaders
  • French Men
  • Died on: August 2, 1996
  • Place of death: Montlouis-sur-Loire, France
  • Notable Alumni: École Libre Des Sciences Politiques
  • City: Paris
  • Education: University Of Paris, École Libre Des Sciences Politiques

Childhood & Early Life

Michel Debre was born in Paris on January 15, 1912. His parents were physicians. Debre initially attended the ‘Lycee Montaigne’ and then studied in ‘Lycee Louis-le-Grand’ high school. He did his diploma in law from ‘Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques’. He got his PhD in law from the University of Paris.


Michel Debre started his career by joining the University of Paris as a Professor of Law after completing his PhD. He joined the ‘School for Reserve Cavalry Officers’ at the same time. He became a member of the ‘Conseil d’Etat’ in 1934 after passing the entrance examination at the age of twenty-two. In 1938 he joined the staff in the ‘Ministry of Economical Affairs’ under Paul Reynaud. Debre enlisted in the French Army as a cavalry officer when the Second World War broke out in 1939. He was captured by the Germans in June 1940 during the invasion of France but managed to escape in September 1940. He rejoined the Conseil d’Etat under the Vichy regime at that time headed by Marshall Philippe Petain. He fled the country when German forces invaded the Free zone in November 1942. In 1943 he joined the French Resistance in Morocco and returned to German-occupied France to fight with the underground. After the liberation of France, de Gaulle made him the ‘Commissaire de la Republique’ for Angers in August 1944.

In 1945 he founded the ‘Ecole Nationale d’Administration’ for the French Civil Service. Though he supported the ‘Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance’ during the rule of the Fourth Republic at first, he defected to the ‘Radical-Socialist Party’ on the insistence of de Gaulle. He was given the Austrian and German desks of the Foreign Ministry in 1947. He was elected to the post of senator for ‘Indre-et-Loire’ after he joined the ‘Rally of the French People’ party led by de Gaulle. He held this post from 1948 to 1958. He founded a newspaper called the ‘Le Courier de la colerie’ in 1957 which was fiercely against the idea of giving independence to Algeria. Debre became the Minister of Justice in de Gaulle’s cabinet on June 1, 1958 and was mainly responsible for drafting the Constitution. He was elected the first Prime Minister of France on January 8, 1959 and held the post till 1962. The Evian Accords referendum in 1962 brought an end to the Algerian War and Algeria became independent. Since he had been opposing this move from the start, Debre was replaced by de Gaulle with Georges Pompidou. The National Assembly was dissolved and elections were held in November 1962 in which Debre tried unsuccessfully to be elected as the ‘Depute for Indre-et-Loire’.

In 1963 he decided to visit the island of Reunion which was also a French colony. He was against the ‘Communist Party of Reunion’ founded by Paul Verges which was asking for the independence of the island from France. He wanted to run for the post of mayor of Saint-Denis. He was elected as the ‘Depute for Saint-Denis’ on May 6, 1963. He joined the French government again in 1966 as the economy & finance minister. After the Civil unrest of 1968 came to an end, Debre was made the foreign minister. In 1969 he became the defense minister under President Georges Pompidou and remained in the position till 1973. After Valery Giscard d’Estaing became President in the 1974 elections, Debre was marginalized for his virulent attack on Giscard’s foreign policies. He 1976 he became the leader of the ‘Rassemblement pour la Republique’ or RPR and took part in the rallies conducted by it in 1979. He ran for president in the 1981 presidential elections as a dissident orthodox Gaullist candidate against Chirac but lost getting only 1.6 percent of the votes.

Major Works

Michel Debre published the book ‘The Death of the Republican State’ in 1947 criticizing the weaknesses of the Fourth Republic. He also published his memoirs in three volumes during the period 1961 to 1969.

Awards and achievements

He received many awards such as the ‘Commander of the Legion of Honor’, ‘Croix de guerre’, ‘The French Resistance Medal’ and the ‘Commemorative Medal for Voluntary Services in Free France’.

Personal Life & Legacy

He got married to Anne-Marie Lemaresquier, the daughter of a famous architect, in 1936. He had four sons from the marriage – Vincent, Francois, and the twins Jean-Louis and Bernard. Michel Debre died on August 3, 1996 of Parkinson’s disease at his home in Montlouis-sur-Loire, 150 miles south of Paris.

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