Daladier was born in Carpentras, Vaucluse. Later, he would become known to many as "the bull of Vaucluse" because of his thick neck and large shoulders and determined look, although cynics also quipped that his horns were like those of a snail. During World War I, he rose from private to captain and company commander.
A government minister in various posts during the coalition governments between 1924 and 1928, he was instrumental in the Radical Party's break with the socialist SFIO in 1926, the first Cartel des gauches – "Left-wing Coalition"), and with the conservative Raymond Poincaré in November 1928.
Daladier became a leading member of the Radicals. In 1932 he knew from German rivals to Hitler that Krupps was manufacturing heavy artillery and the Deuxieme Bureau had a grasp of the scale of German military preparations, but lacked hard intelligence of their hostile intentions. He first became Prime Minister in 1933, and then again in 1934 for a few days when the Stavisky Affair led to the riots of February 1934 instigated by the far right and the fall of the second Cartel des gauches.
Daladier became Minister of War for the Popular Front coalition in 1936; after the fall of the Popular Front, he became Prime Minister again on April 10, 1938.
While the forty-hour working week was abolished under Daladier's government, a more generous system of family allowances was established, set as a percentage of wages: for the first child, 5%; for the second, 10%; and for each additional child, 15%. Also created was a home-mother allowance, which had been advocated by pronatalist and Catholic women’s groups since 1929. All mothers who were not professionally employed and whose husbands collected family allowances were eligible for this new benefit. In March 1939, the government added 10% for workers whose wives stayed home to take care of the children. Family allowances were enshrined in the Family Code of July 1939 and, with the exception of the stay-at-home allowance, have remained in force to this day. In addition, a decree of was issued in May 1938 which authorized the establishment of vocational guidance centers. In July 1937, a law was passed (which was followed by a similar law in May 1946) that empowered the Department of Workplace Inspection to order temporary medical interventions.
Daladier's last government was in power at the time of the negotiations preceding the Munich Agreement, when France backed out of its obligations to defend Czechoslovakia against Nazi Germany. He was pushed into negotiating by Britain's Neville Chamberlain. Unlike Chamberlain, Daladier had no illusions about Hitler's ultimate goals. In fact, he told the British in a late April 1938 meeting that Hitler's real aim was to eventually secure "a domination of the Continent in comparison with which the ambitions of Napoleon were feeble." He went on to say "Today, it is the turn of Czechoslovakia. Tomorrow, it will be the turn of Poland and Romania. When Germany has obtained the oil and wheat it needs, she will turn on the West. Certainly we must multiply our efforts to avoid war. But that will not be obtained unless Great Britain and France stick together, intervening in Prague for new concessions but declaring at the same time that they will safeguard the independence of Czechoslovakia. If, on the contrary, the Western Powers capitulate again, they will only precipitate the war they wish to avoid."
Nevertheless, perhaps discouraged by the pessimistic and defeatist attitudes of both military and civilian members of the French government, as well as traumatized by France's blood-bath in World War I that he personally witnessed, Daladier ultimately let Chamberlain have his way. On his return to Paris, Daladier, who was expecting a hostile crowd, was acclaimed. He then commented to his aide, Alexis Léger: "Ah, les cons (morons)!".
World War II
In October 1938, Daladier opened secret talks with the Americans on how to bypass American neutrality laws and allow the French to buy American aircraft to make up for productivity deficiencies in the French aircraft industry. Daladier commented in October 1938, "If I had three or four thousand aircraft, Munich would never have happened," and he was most anxious to buy American war planes as the only way to strengthen the French Air Force. A major problem in the Franco-American talks was how the French were to pay for the American planes, as well as how to bypass the American neutrality acts In addition, France had defaulted on its World War I debts in 1932 and hence fell foul of the American Johnson Act of 1934, which forbade loans to nations that had defaulted on their World War I debts. In February 1939, the French offered to cede their possessions in the Caribbean and the Pacific together with a lump sum payment of 10 billion francs, in exchange for the unlimited right to buy, on credit, American aircraft. After tortuous negotiations, an arrangement was worked out in the spring of 1939 to allow the French to place huge orders with the American aircraft industry; though, as most of the aircraft ordered had not arrived in France by 1940, the Americans arranged for French orders to be diverted to the British.
When the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed, Daladier responded to the public outcry by outlawing the French Communist Party on the basis that it had refused to condemn Joseph Stalin's actions. In 1939, after the German invasion of Poland, he was reluctant to go to war, but he did so on September 3, 1939, inaugurating the Phoney War. On October 6 of that year, Hitler offered France and Great Britain a peace proposal. There were more than a few in the French government prepared to take Hitler up on his offer; but, in a nationwide broadcast the next day, Daladier declared, "We took up arms against aggression. We shall not put them down until we have guarantees for a real peace and security, a security which is not threatened every six months." On 29 January 1940, in a radio address delivered to the people of France entitled The Nazi's Aim is Slavery, Daladier left little doubt about his opinion of the Germans. In his radio address, he said: "For us, there is more to do than merely win the war. We shall win it, but we must also win a victory far greater than that of arms. In this world of masters and slaves, which those madmen who rule at Berlin are seeking to forge, we must also save liberty and human dignity."
In March 1940, Daladier resigned as Prime Minister in France because of his failure to aid Finland's defence during the Winter War, and he was replaced by Paul Reynaud. Daladier remained Minister of Defence, however, and his antipathy to Paul Reynaud prevented Reynaud from dismissing Maurice Gamelin as Supreme Commander of all French armed forces. As a result of the massive German breakthrough at Sedan, Daladier swapped ministerial offices with Reynaud, taking over the Foreign Ministry while Reynaud took over Defence. Gamelin was finally replaced by Maxime Weygand in May 1940, nine days after the Germans began their invasion campaign. Under the impression the government would continue in North Africa, Daladier fled with other members of the government to Morocco; but he was arrested and tried for treason by the Vichy government during the "Riom Trial". Daladier was interned in Fort du Portalet in the Pyrenees. He was kept in prison from 1940 to April 1943, when he was handed over to the Germans and deported to Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. In May 1943, he was transported to the Itter Castle in North Tyrol with other French dignitaries, where he remained until the end of the war. He was freed after the Battle for Castle Itter.
After the War ended, Daladier was a member of the Chamber of Deputies, where he was an opponent of Charles de Gaulle. He was also mayor of Avignon from 1953 until 1958. He died in Paris in 1970 and is buried in the famous cemetery of Père-Lachaise.