French History:
The Search for Stable Government

After Napoleon's defeat, Austrian, Prussian, Russian, French and British delegates reorganized Europe during the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) and restored the French borders to what they had been in 1790. In the years that followed, France underwent several political changes: it was first
governed by a constitutional monarchy, then by an authoritarian empire, and finally France became a republic as we know it today. The monarchy returned, with two more kings of the Bourbon royal family. Their rule was interrupted by the Second Republic during which French men got the right to vote. The last king, Louis-Philippe, abdicated in 1848. Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, established the Second Empire and declared himself Emperor Napoleon III in 1852.

Industrial development advanced, and new building flourished. His reign ended with French defeat in the Franco Prussian War (1870-1871). The post war treaty forced France to give much of Alsace and Lorraine to the new German empire. The people ousted Napoleon III and gradually evolved a new constitution that became the basis for the Third Republic. In 1940, the German backed Vichy government under Marshal Henri Philippe Petain replaced the Third Republic during the Nazi occupation of World War 2. France's older colonies in North America, the Caribbean, and India were mostly lost or sold by the 1800s. In their place, France established a powerful colonial empire in Africa and Asia. The glory of France was once again exported to new parts of the world, including Algeria, Tunisia, Indo-China, Senegal, Madagascar, and Morocco.
The late 19th century also saw the beginnings of secular, compulsory public education, the growth of the railroads, the rise of labor unions, and a clear separation of church and state.



History: Two World Wars

The great loss of life in World War I, a world economic depression that followed, and defeat by Germany in World War 2 marked very low periods in history of this country.
In 1907, France entered into a diplomatic agreement, the Triple Entente, with Britain and Russia. Germany invaded France shortly after World War I (1914-1918) began. Much of the war was fought in France, and almost 2 million French people died. Soldiers suffered the horrors of trench warfare and new technologies of death bombs dropped from airplanes and poison gas. After the war, Alsace and Lorraine were restored to France, but the French economy had suffered greatly. Recovery depended on German reparations. In the 1930s, the rise of Fascist leader Adolf Hitler in Germany and the world economic depression led to political turmoil.

In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, touching off World War II and France joined Great Britain in declaring war on Germany. In May 1940, Germany once again invaded France. France fell quickly, and Germany occupied the northern two thirds of France, including Paris. Southern France remained in French hands for a while with a German controlled puppet government in Vichy under Marshal Petain, a World War I hero. In 1942, the Germans also occupied southern France.
In June 1944, soldiers from the United States and the Allied countries landed in Normandy and liberated France. Petain was convicted of treason and sentenced to prison for life. After the war, a new constitution in 1945 created the Fourth Republic led by General Charles de Gaulle. French women voted for the first time that year. France rebuilt its economy with much help from the United States' Marshall Plan. In 1949, France became a charter member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Allied victory over Germany ultimately restored France's prewar boundaries.


History: Postwar France

France lost important colonies after the war. Indo China had been taken by the Japanese during the war, and after the war, France regained control of southern Indo China only. After eight years of bloody struggle the former colony was divided into Kampuchea (Cambodia), Laos, and North and South Vietnam. In 1954, the specter of rebellion reared its head in Algeria, and a long and brutal struggle ensued. Fear that the rebellion would spread to Morocco and Tunisia led the government to make such drastic concessions to these two countries that they finally gained independence in 1976. The costly war in Algeria lasted through the 1950s. sharply dividing the French people and inspiring terrorist violence. In April 1962. Algeria finally gained independence from France.

The president who succeeded Charles de Gaulle was Georges Pompidou (1969-1974). He contributed strongly to the development of France's nuclear proficiency and its new defense plan. Valery Giscard d'Estaing, leader of the independent Republican Party, followed with a coalition government. With the election of Francois Mitterrand of the Socialist Party in 1981, government ownership of businesses increased. He was reelected for a second term in 1988. Socialists also controlled Parliament until 1986, when Jacques Chirac, the conservative mayor of Paris, became prime minister. In 1991, Edith Cresson of the Socialist Party replaced Chirac's Successor, Michel Rocard, to become the first woman in France to hold that post. She was replaced by Pierre Beregovoy in April 1992. The election of March 1993 introduced a new period of cohabitation ("KOH-ah-be-tah-zjo") between a socialist and a center right government, led by Edouard Balladur as prime minister.
As one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, France maintains a strong position in world affairs.

Extract from “Cultures Of The World France”, Written by Etbel Caro Gofen. Times Editions Pte Ltd, Singapore: 1999.
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