(1859-1935), a French army officer. He was the central figure in an espionage case that rocked France in the 1890's. In 1894 Captain Dreyfus, who came from a wealthy Jewish family, was accused of selling military secrets to Germany. He was convicted and sent to Devil's Island for life. It gradually became evident that the real criminal was a Major Ferdinand Esterhazy, but the bureaucratic and anti-Semitic French army did not want to admit its mistake.
The Dreyfus case soon became an issue between France's political factions, the conservatives backing the army and the liberals rallying to Dreyfus. The writer Émile Zola, for his famous defense of Dreyfus called J'Accuse (“I Accuse”), had to flee to England to avoid jail. Refusal of the conservatives to recognize Dreyfus's innocence helped cause their defeat at the polls in 1898 and pave the way for much liberal reform in France.
Dreyfus won a new trial in 1899; he was convicted again by the army, but popular outrage at the unjust decision led to his pardon. His name was completely cleared in 1906 and he served with distinction in World War I, becoming a brigadier general.