Nobel Peace Prize Recipient. Auguste Marie François Beernaert received world-wide recognition as the 1909 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, sharing jointly with Frenchman Paul Henri d'Estournelles de Constant. Born into a middle-class Catholic family, his intelligent mother was in charge of his education. In 1846 he was admitted to the University of Louvan, studying law and receiving his doctorate in law in 1851, graduating highest in class. He was awarded a traveling fellowship, spending two years studying legal education at the universities in Paris, Heidelberg, and Berlin. Upon his return, he submitted his report of this trip to the Minister of the Interior. This report was later published. In 1853 he was admitted to the bar, and following clerking, he established an independent practice, specializing in fiscal law. In the next twenty years he gained a reputation as a scholar after being published numerous times. Beernaert was considered one of Belgium's most skillful and wealthy lawyers, hence there was some surprise expressed in Belgian legal circles when he retired from his private practice in 1873 to become the minister of public works in Jules Malou’s conservative Catholic cabinet. Being serious at his cabinet position, he improved the railroad system, established two new port facilities, and beautified the capital. In June of 1874 he ran as a candidate for the Senate but lost the election. Three months later, he ran from a different district winning and was re-elected until his death. In 1884 when Jules Malou's Catholic Party had returned as head of the government, he was named as Minister of the Department of Agriculture, Industry, and Public Works in the cabinet. After many resignations from the new cabinet four months later and eventually Malou, King Lepold II asked him to manage the country as the Prime Minister of Belgium and minister of finance, serving from October of 1884 to March of 1894. Taking his position seriously, he balanced the budget; revised the 1831 constitution; gave the right of suffrage to numerous citizens; protected the Flemish language; yet he disagreed with King Lepold II's policy of Belgium's colonization of an area in central Africa, which would become the Belgium Congo in 1908, and the brutal treatment of the indigenous people. He involved in international efforts to abolish slavery and becoming one of Belgium’s leading pacifists. In 1895 he was elected president of the Chamber of Deputies. He held the post of president of the International Law Association from 1903 to 1905. He represented Belgium at the International Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague in 1899 and 1907. At the Hague, among other assignments, he headed the commission dealing with the laws and customs of land warfare, and with regard to the question of neutrality, he pleaded the cause of the small states. When the first case presented before the International Court at the Hague in 1902 , which was the United States against Mexico, Beernaert acted for Mexico. As a gifted writer and translator from ancient Greek, he wrote a play based on the myth of Pygmalion and many articles on French politics, feminism, arbitration and aviation. He published a textbook on King Lepold II's life while he was prime minister. In his last days, he attempted to prevent aerial warfare and submitted at the 1912 Geneva Convention a proposal against this, which was published. On his way home, he became ill, stopped in Lucerne to be hospitalized but within a short time died of pneumonia. He married Mathilde Wilhelmine Marie Bore, and there are no documented children born to this couple.
Bio by: Linda Davis