Historical focus: 1888-89
F. PASSY and W. CREMER sign the decision
to launch the First Inter-Parliamentary Conference

Attendance sheets of the 31 October 1888 ConferenceAttendance sheets of the 31 October 1888 Conference
Attendance sheets of the 31 October 1888 Conference
Frédéric Passy: "The world is made of achieved utopias. Today's utopia is tomorrow's reality"

The idea of bringing together members of Parliament from all countries gained ground among pacifists in very different circles in the 1870's and 80's. The founding of the Inter-Parliamentary Union appears to be almost an inevitable and logical consequence of these facts. But someone was needed who understood their implications and could take the necessary action.

In June 1888, at the time when the American Senate had adopted the proposal of its Committee on Foreign Relations and the French Chamber had decided to debate Passy's motion, W. Cremer wrote to F. Passy to say that a meeting should take place between English and French Members of Parliament to discuss arbitration and peace questions.

Parliamentary meeting between the English and the French in 1888

Thus it was that on 31 October 1888 the meeting which Herbert Gladstone, a son of the great English statesman, prophetically described in a letter as "historical", took place in the Grand Hotel in Paris. Passy, who opened the proceedings, was elected President, with Cremer (who at first was the only candidate proposed) and Sir George Campbell as Vice-Presidents. Jules Gaillard and Thomas Burt, the President of the International Arbitration League and Cremer's old comrade in the movement, were elected Secretaries.

Passy and Campbell made the opening speeches. It was repeatedly stated that an arbitration treaty between the United States and France would be easier to set up than one between the United States and Great Britain, since there were disagreements between the two countries to do with Ireland, Canada, and fisheries.

The declaration which had been prepared was unanimously adopted. It was decided that a second Conference would be held in the following year to carry on the work begun by the first, and that not only members of the three Parliaments concerned should take part, but also any member of Parliament who supported the same ideas. It was also decided that a Committee should be entrusted with the work of preparing following year's meeting and of carrying out the decisions already reached.

Launching the First Inter-Parliamentary Conference in 1889

Passy acted as secretary for France in the committee preparing the 1889 Conference, and Cremer as British secretary. After some initial delays, the first inter-parliamentary conference was held at the Hotel Continental. Only eleven representatives of other Parliaments had joined the fifty-five French and twenty-eight British members: five Italians and one from Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Hungary, the United States, and Liberia.

Although the foreign presence was somewhat negligible, it nonetheless sufficed to make the Conference an international one. Far from being discouraged, the meeting decided to make the Conference into a permanent institution. This decision, reached on 30 June 1889, may be regarded as the founding act of the Inter-Parliamentary Conference and thus, indirectly, of the Union.

Excerpts from "The Inter-Parliamentary Union from 1889 to 1939"
Published by the Inter-Parliamentary Bureau (Payot, 1939)

See the Summary Record of the First Inter-Parliamentary Conference (in French only)

Home page | IPU History | Areas of activity | Structure and documents