Charle De Gaulle

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Charles de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle

18th President of the French Republic
In office
8 January 1959 – 28 April 1969
Preceded by René Coty
Succeeded by Alain Poher (interim), followed by Georges Pompidou

149th Prime Minister of France
In office
1 June 1958 – 8 January 1959
President René Coty
Preceded by Pierre Pflimlin
Succeeded by Michel Debré

Born 22 November 1890
Died 9 November 1970
Political party UDR
Spouse Yvonne de Gaulle

Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle (listen ) (22 November 1890 – 9 November 1970), in France commonly referred to as Général de Gaulle, was a French military leader and statesman.

Prior to World War II, he was primarily known as an armoured warfare tactician and an advocate of the concentrated use of armoured and aviation forces. During World War II, he reached the rank of Brigade General and then became the leader of the Free French government-in-exile and an anti-Nazi guerrilla leader. Between 1944 and 1946, following the liberation of France from German occupation, he was head of the French provisional government.

Called to form a government in 1958, he inspired a new constitution1 and was the Fifth Republic's first president, serving from 1958 to 1969. His political ideology is known as Gaullism, and it has been a major influence in subsequent French politics.



1890–1912: Formative years

Charles de Gaulle was the 2nd child out of 5 of a morally conservative but socially progressive Roman Catholic family. Born in Lille, de Gaulle grew up and was educated in Paris, at the College Stanislas and Belgium.

The name "de Gaulle" means of Gaul referring to the ancient Gauls. His father's side of the family was a long line of aristocracy from Normandy and Burgundy which had been settled in Paris for about a century, whereas his mother's side was a family of rich entrepreneurs from the industrial region of Lille in French Flanders. The de Gaulle family were an ancient family of ennobled knighthood. The earliest known de Gaulle ancestor was a squire of the 12th century King Philip Augustus.

De Gaulle's grandfather was a historian, his grandmother, a writer and his father Henri a professor in private Catholic schools who eventually founded his own private Catholic school. Political debates were frequent at home, and from an early age de Gaulle was introduced by his father to the important conservative authors. The family was very patriotic, and he was raised in the cult of the Nation (de Gaulle wrote in his memoirs that "my mother felt an uncompromising passion for the fatherland, equal to her religious piety").

Although traditionalist and monarchist, the family was also legalist and respected the institutions of the French Republic. Their social and political ideas were also more liberal, influenced by socially conscious Roman Catholicism (Rerum novarum), while morally and religiously the family was conservative. During the Dreyfus affair the family distanced itself from the more conservative nationalist circles and surprisingly supported Alfred Dreyfus. His family was a generous and encouraging one and they helped Charles de Gaulle throughout his life.


1912–1940: Military career

Statue of de Gaulle in uniform, near the Champs-Élysées in Paris. A copy of this statue also strides the intersection of aleje Jerozolimskie and Nowy Świat in downtown Warsaw, Poland, familiar to de Gaulle from his service there as a military adviser after World War I.

Young Charles de Gaulle chose a military career and spent four years at Saint-Cyr (the French equivalent of the American West Point or the British Sandhurst). Graduating in 1912, he decided to join an infantry regiment rather than an elite corps.

During World War I, then-Captain de Gaulle was severely wounded in March 1916 at the gruesome Battle of Verdun and left for dead on the battlefield. He was, however, found and taken prisoner by the Germans. He made five unsuccessful escape attempts, and was put in solitary confinement at Ingolstadt fortress, a retaliation camp, where he encountered another incorrigible — Russian Lieutenant Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

When World War I ended, de Gaulle remained in the military, serving on the staffs successively of Generals Maxime Weygand and Philippe Pétain. During the Polish-Soviet war (1919-1921), he volunteered to be a member of the French Military Mission to Poland and was an infantry instructor with the Polish Army. He distinguished himself in operations near the River Zbrucz and won the highest Polish military decoration, the Virtuti Militari.

He was promoted to Commandant and offered a further career in Poland, but chose instead to return to France. He was heavily influenced by the Polish-Soviet War — by the use of tanks, rapid maneuvers and limited trench warfare. De Gaulle would also adopt some lessons, for his own military and political career, from Poland's Marshal Józef Piłsudski, who, decades before de Gaulle, sought to create a federation of European states (Międzymorze), retired from active military service and politics, only to return to public service at a time of national crisis, and made no effort to enrich himself through his office.

De Gaulle, based partly on his observations during the war in Poland, so different from the experience of World War I, published books and articles on reorganizing the military, particularly his book, Vers l'Armée de Métier (published in English as The Army of the Future), in which he proposed the formation of a professional mechanized army with specialized armored divisions, in preference to the static theories exemplified by the Maginot Line.

While views similar to de Gaulle's were advanced by Britain's J.F.C. Fuller, Germany's Heinz Guderian, Russia's Mikhail Tukhachevsky, and Poland's General Władysław Sikorski, most of de Gaulle's theories were rejected by Pétain, and relations between them became strained. French politicians also dismissed de Gaulle's ideas, questioning the political reliability of a professional army — with the notable exception of Paul Reynaud, who would play a major role in de Gaulle's career.

General de Gaulle reviewing troops.
General de Gaulle reviewing troops.

At the outbreak of World War II, de Gaulle was only a colonel, having antagonized the leaders of the military through the 1920s and 1930s with his bold views. After the German breakthrough at Sedan, on 15 May 1940, he was finally given command of the 4th Armoured Division.

On 17 May 1940, de Gaulle attacked the German tank forces at Montcornet. With only 200 French tanks and no air support, the offensive had little impact on the German advance. There was more success on 28 May, when de Gaulle's tanks forced the German infantry to retreat at Caumont. This was one of the few significant French tactical successes against the Germans during the entire military campaign. Prime Minister Paul Reynaud appointed him acting Brigade General (thus his title of général de Gaulle).

On 6 June, Paul Reynaud appointed him undersecretary of state for national defense and war and put him in charge of coordination with the United Kingdom. As a junior member of the French government, he unsuccessfully opposed surrendering. He served as a liaison with the British government, and, with Churchill, proposed a political union between France and the United Kingdom on the morning of 16 June in London. The project would have in effect merged France and the United Kingdom into a single country, with a single government and a single army, for the duration of the war. This was a desperate last minute effort to strengthen the resolve of those members of the French government who were in favor of fighting on.

He took the plane back to Bordeaux (provisional seat of the French government) that same afternoon, but when he arrived in the evening, he learned that Pétain had become premier with the intention of seeking an armistice with Germany.

That day, he made the most important decision in his life and in the modern history of France: he refused to accept French surrender and instead rebelled against the legal (but illegitimate in his eyes) government of Pétain, calling for the continuation of the war against Hitler's Germany. On the morning of 17 June, with 100,000 gold francs in secret funds given to him the previous night by Paul Reynaud, he fled Bordeaux by plane, narrowly escaping German aircraft, and landed in London that afternoon. De Gaulle rejected French capitulation and set about building a movement which would appeal to overseas French, opponents of a separate arrangement with Germany.


1940–1945: The Free French Forces

General de Gaulle speaking on the BBC during the war.
General de Gaulle speaking on the BBC during the war.

On 18 June, de Gaulle prepared to speak to the French people, via BBC radio, from London. The British Cabinet attempted to block the speech, but was overruled by Churchill. In France, de Gaulle's Appeal of 18 June could be heard nationwide in the evening. The phrase "France has lost a battle; she has not lost the war", which appeared on posters in Britain at the time, is often incorrectly associated with the BBC broadcast; nevertheless the words aptly capture the spirit of de Gaulle's position.

Only a few people actually heard the speech that night, because the BBC was seldom listened to on the continent, and millions of French were refugees on the road. However, excerpts of the speech appeared in French newspapers the next day in the (unoccupied) southern part of France, the speech was repeated for several days on the BBC, and de Gaulle spoke again on subsequent nights.

De Gaulle's 22 June speech on the BBC can be heard here in its entirety. Audio excerpts of other speeches, the full texts of the speeches, and reproductions of posters from June 1940 can be found here.

Soon enough, among the chaos and bewilderment in France, the news that a French general was in London, refusing to accept the tide of events and calling for the end of despair and the continuation of war spread by word of mouth. To this day, it remains one of the most famous speeches in French history.

From London, de Gaulle formed and led the Free French movement. Whereas the United States continued to recognise Vichy France, the British government of Winston Churchill supported de Gaulle, initially maintaining relations with the Vichy government, but subsequently recognised the Free French.

On 4 July 1940, a court-martial in Toulouse sentenced de Gaulle in absentia to four years in prison. At a second court-martial on 2 August 1940, de Gaulle was condemned to death for treason against the Vichy regime.

In his dealings with his British allies and the United States, de Gaulle insisted at all times in retaining full freedom of action on behalf of France, even when this might embarrass or inconvenience his partners. "France has no friends, only interests" is one of his best-remembered statements. Churchill is often misquoted as having commented, regarding working with de Gaulle, that: "Of all the crosses I have had to bear during this war, the heaviest has been the Cross of Lorraine (de Gaulle's symbol of Free France)". (The actual quote was by Churchill's envoy to France, Major-General Edward Spears (see [1],[2]).)

Casablanca conference, January 1943. From left to right: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, General de Gaulle, Winston Churchill.
Casablanca conference, January 1943. From left to right: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, General de Gaulle, Winston Churchill.

Working with the French resistance and supporters in France's colonial African possessions, after the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa in November 1942, de Gaulle moved his headquarters to Algiers in May 1943. He became first joint head (with the less resolutely independent Gen. Henri Giraud, the candidate preferred by the USA) and then sole chairman of the Committee of National Liberation.

At the liberation of France following Operation Overlord, in which Free French forces played a minor, symbolic role, he quickly established the authority of the Free French Forces in France, avoiding an Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories. He flew into France from the French colony of Algeria a few hours before the liberation of Paris, and drove near the front of the liberating forces into the city alongside Allied officials. De Gaulle made a famous speech at that time, which raised eyebrows amongst his allies. [3] After his return to Paris, he moved back into his office at the War Ministry, thus proclaiming continuity of the Third Republic and denying the legitimacy of the Vichy regime.

After the war, he served as President of the provisional government from September 1944, but resigned on 20 January 1946, complaining of conflict between the political parties, and disapproving of the draft constitution for the Fourth Republic, which he believed placed too much power in the hands of a parliament with its shifting party alliances.


1946–1958: The desert crossing

De Gaulle's opposition to the proposed constitution failed as the parties of the left supported a weak presidency to prevent any repetition of the Vichy regime. The second draft constitution narrowly approved at the referendum of October 1946 was even less to de Gaulle's liking than the first.

In April 1947 de Gaulle made a renewed attempt at transforming the political scene with the creation of the Rassemblement du Peuple Français (Rally of the French People, or RPF), but the movement lost impetus after initial success. In May 1953 he withdrew again from active politics, though the RPF lingered until September 1955.

He retired to Colombey-les-deux-Églises and wrote his war memoirs, Mémoires de guerre. During this period of formal retirement, de Gaulle however maintained regular contact with past political lieutenants from wartime and RPF days, including sympathisers involved in political developments in Algeria.


1958: The collapse of the Fourth Republic

The Fourth Republic was tainted by political instability, failures in Indochina and inability to resolve the Algerian question.

On 13 May 1958, settlers seized the government buildings in Algiers, attacking what they saw as French government weakness in the face of demands among the Arab majority for Algerian independence. A "Committee of Civil and Army Public Security" was created under the presidency of General Jacques Massu, a Gaullist sympathiser. General Raoul Salan, Commander-in-Chief in Algeria, announced on radio that the Army had "provisionally taken over responsibility for the destiny of French Algeria".

Under the pressure of Massu, Salan declared "Vive de Gaulle!" from the balcony of the Algiers Government-General building on 15 May. De Gaulle answered two days later that he was ready to "assumer les pouvoirs de la République" (take on the powers of the Republic). Many worried as they saw this answer as support for the army.

At a 19 May press conference, de Gaulle asserted again that he was at the disposal of the country. As a journalist expressed the concerns of some who feared that he would violate civil liberties, de Gaulle retorted vehemently: "Have I ever done that? Quite the opposite, I have reestablished them when they had disappeared. Who honestly believes that, at age 67, I would start a career as a dictator?" A republican by conviction, de Gaulle maintained throughout the crisis that he would accept power only from the lawfully constituted authorities.

The crisis deepened as French paratroops from Algeria seized Corsica and a landing near Paris was discussed. Political leaders on all sides agreed to support the General's return to power, except François Mitterrand, and the Communist Party (which denounced de Gaulle as the agent of a fascist coup). Jean-Paul Sartre was quoted as saying "I would rather vote for God." On 29 May the French President, René Coty, appealed to the "most illustrious of Frenchmen" to become the last President of the Council (Prime Minister) of the Fourth Republic.

De Gaulle remained intent on replacing the constitution of the Fourth Republic, which he blamed for France's political weakness. He set as a condition for his return that he be given wide emergency powers for six months and that a new constitution[1] be proposed to the French people. On 1 June 1958, de Gaulle became premier and was given emergency powers for six months by the National Assembly.

On 28 September 1958, a referendum took place and 79.2% of those who voted supported the new constitution and the creation of the Fifth Republic. The colonies (Algeria was officially a part of France, not a colony) were given the choice between immediate independence and the new constitution. All colonies voted for the new constitution except Guinea, which thus became the first French African colony to gain independence, at the cost of the immediate ending of all French assistance.

De Gaulle described the role he envisaged for the French president when he wrote the new French constitution. He said a head of state should embody "the spirit of the nation" to the nation itself and to the world: une certaine idée de la France (a certain idea about France).


1958—1962: Founding of the Fifth Republic

In the November 1958 elections, de Gaulle and his supporters (initially organised in the Union pour la Nouvelle République-Union Démocratique du Travail, then the Union des Démocrates pour la Vème République, and later still the Union des Démocrates pour la République) won a comfortable majority. In December, de Gaulle was elected President by the parliament with 78% of the vote, and inaugurated in January 1959.

He oversaw tough economic measures to revitalise the country, including the issuing of a new franc (worth 100 old francs). Internationally, he rebuffed both the United States and the Soviet Union, pushing for an independent France with its own nuclear weapons, and strongly encouraged a "Free Europe", believing that a confederation of all European nations would restore the past glories of the great European empires. He set about building Franco-German cooperation as the cornerstone of the European Economic Community (EEC, now the European Union (EU)), paying the first state visit to Germany by a French head of state since Napoleon. In 1963, Germany and France signed a treaty of friendship.

On 23 November 1959, in a speech in Strasbourg, de Gaulle announced his vision for Europe: Oui, c'est l'Europe, depuis l'Atlantique jusqu'à l'Oural, c'est tout l'Europe, qui décidera du destin du monde. ("Yes, it is Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, it is Europe, it is the whole of Europe, that will decide the destiny of the world.") His phrase, "Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals", has oft been cited throughout the history of European integration. It became a favorite political slogan of de Gaulle's for the next ten years, in fact. De Gaulle's vision stood in contrast to the Atlanticism of the United States, Britain, and NATO, preferring instead a Europe which acted as a third pole between the United States and Soviet Union. By including in his ideal of Europe all the territory extending to the Urals, de Gaulle was implicitly offering détente to the Soviets, while his phrase was also interpreted as excluding the United Kingdom from the future of Europe.

He also took the opportunity to deny the British entry to the EEC for the first time (in January 1963), citing his belief that the United Kingdom would not accept the rules of the Community, and would prefer its overseas alliances (the United States and the Commonwealth of Nations) to its European partners, French ties to its own former empire notwithstanding. Although his supporters would argue that British ambivalence toward the EEC justified his fears, many Britons took de Gaulle's "non" as an insult. (See Euroscepticism in the United Kingdom).

De Gaulle believed that while the war in Algeria was militarily winnable, it was not defensible internationally, and he became reconciled to the colony's eventual independence. This stance greatly angered the French settlers and their metropolitan supporters, and de Gaulle was forced to suppress two uprisings in Algeria by French settlers and troops, in the second of which (in April 1961) France herself was threatened with invasion by rebel paratroops. De Gaulle's government covered up the Paris massacre of 1961. He was also targeted by the settler Organisation armée secrète terrorist group and several assassination attempts were made on him; the most famous is that of 22 August 1962, when he and his wife narrowly escaped an assassination attempt when their Citroën DS was targeted by machine gun fire arranged by Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry at the Petit-Clamart. In March 1962 de Gaulle arranged a cease-fire in Algeria and a referendum supported independence, finally accomplished on 3 July 1962.

In September 1962, he sought a constitutional amendment to allow the president to be directly elected by the people. Following a defeat in the National Assembly, he dissolved that body and held new elections; the Gaullists won an increased majority. Although the Algerian issue was settled, Prime Minister Michel Debré resigned over the final settlement and was replaced with Georges Pompidou.


1962–1968 Politics of grandeur

Meeting of de Gaulle and U.S. President John F. Kennedy at the presidential Élysée Palace in Paris.
Meeting of de Gaulle and U.S. President John F. Kennedy at the presidential Élysée Palace in Paris.

With the Algerian conflict behind him, de Gaulle was able to achieve his two main objectives: To reform and develop the French economy, and to promote an independent foreign policy and a strong stance on the international stage. This was the so-called "politics of grandeur" (politique de grandeur).


"Thirty glorious years"

In the context of a population boom unseen in France since the 18th century, the government under prime minister Georges Pompidou oversaw a rapid transformation and expansion of the French economy. With dirigisme — a unique combination of capitalism and state-directed economy — the government intervened heavily in the economy, using indicative five-year plans as its main tool.

High profile projects, mostly but not always financially successful, were launched: the extension of Marseille harbor (soon ranking third in Europe and first in the Mediterranean); the promotion of the Caravelle passenger jetliner (a predecessor of Airbus); the decision to start building the supersonic Franco-British Concorde airliner in Toulouse; the expansion of the French auto industry with state-owned Renault at its center; and the building of the first motorways between Paris and the provinces.

With these projects, the French economy recorded growth rates unrivalled since the 19th century. In 1963, de Gaulle vetoed Britain's entry into the EEC for the first of two times. In 1964, for the first time in 200 years, France's GDP overtook that of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, a position it held until the 1990s. This period is still remembered in France with some nostalgia as the peak of the Trente Glorieuses ("Thirty Glorious Years" of economic growth between 1945-1974).

The fourth nuclear power

This strong economic foundation enabled de Gaulle to implement his independent foreign policy. In 1960, France became the fourth state to acquire a nuclear arsenal, detonating an atomic bomb in the Algerian desert. In 1968, at the insistence of de Gaulle, French scientists finally succeeded in detonating a hydrogen bomb without American assistance. In what was regarded as a snub to Britain, de Gaulle declared France was the third big independent nuclear power, as Britain's nuclear force was closely coordinated with that of the United States (though critics countered that this "independence" was an illusory luxury since France remained under the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella).

While grandeur was surely an essential motive in these nuclear developments, another was the concern that the U.S., involved in an unpopular and costly war in Vietnam, would hesitate to intervene in Europe should the Soviet Union decide to invade. An additional effect was that the French military, which had been demoralised and close to rebellion after the loss of Algeria, was kept busy. In 1965, France launched its first satellite into orbit, being the third country in the world to build a complete delivery system, after the Soviet Union and the United States.


De Gaulle was convinced that a strong and independent France could act as a balancing force between the United States and the Soviet Union, a policy seen as little more than posturing and opportunism by his critics, particularly in Britain and the United States, to which France was formally allied. In January 1964, he officially recognized the People's Republic of China, despite U.S. opposition. (Eight years later, U.S. President Richard Nixon would begin to normalize relations with the PRC - see Nixon visit to China 1972).

Indeed, Nixon's first foreign visit after his election was to de Gaulle in 1969. They both shared the same non-Wilsonian approach to world affairs, believing in nations and their relative strengths, rather than in ideologies, international organizations, or multilateral agreements. De Gaulle is famously quoted for calling the United Nations le Machin ("the thing").

Second round

In December 1965, de Gaulle was returned as president for a second seven-year term, but for the first time had to go through a second round of voting in which he defeated François Mitterrand. In February 1966, France withdrew from the common NATO military command, but remained within the organization. De Gaulle, haunted by the memories of 1940, wanted France to remain the master of the decisions affecting it, unlike in the 1930s, when France had to follow in step with her British ally. Again though, the move was seen as further evidence of de Gaulle's hypocrisy; critics charged he was content for France to be protected by NATO, while publicly snubbing the alliance.

In September 1966, in a famous speech in Phnom Penh (Cambodia), he expressed France's disapproval of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War; calling for a U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam as the only way to ensure peace. As the Vietnam War had its roots in French colonialism in southeast Asia, this speech did little to endear de Gaulle to the Americans, even if they later drew the same conclusion.

Empty Chair Crisis

During the establishment of the European Community, de Gaulle helped precipitate one of the greatest crises in the history of the EC called the Empty Chair Crisis. It involved the financing of the Common Agricultural Policy, but almost more importantly the use of qualified majority voting in the EC (as opposed to unanimity). In June of 1965, after France and the other five members could not agree, de Gaulle withdrew all of France's representatives from the EC. Their absence left the organization essentially unable to run its affairs until the Luxembourg compromise was reached in January 1966. De Gaulle managed to make QMV essentially meaningless for years to come, and halted more federalist plans for the EC, which he opposed.

The Six Day War

Having vetoed Britain's entry into the EEC a second time, in June 1967, he condemned the Israelis for their occupation of the West Bank and Gaza following the Six Days War. This was a major change in French policy. Until then, France had been a staunch ally, helping Israel militarily and jointly planning the Suez Campaign in 1956. This change was brought about because de Gaulle was angry that Israel had ignored his advice to let the Arabs attack first and had instead launched a preemptive strike.[citation needed]

Under de Gaulle, following the independence of Algeria, France embarked on foreign policies more favorable to the Arab side, still a distinct aspect of French foreign policy today. Israel's leadership, stung by what it considered its capricious abandonment in the face of de Gaulle's desire to appease the Arabs, turned towards the United States for military support.

Nigerian Civil War

During Nigeria's civil war of 1967-1970, de Gaulle's government supported the Republic of Biafra in its struggle to gain independence from Nigeria. Despite lack of official recognition, de Gaulle provided covert military assistance through France's former African colonies. The United Kingdom opposed de Gaulle's stance, but he viewed the political position of the Igbo in Nigeria as analogous to that of the French Québécois living in Canada.

Vive le Québec Libre!

Main article: Vive le Québec libre speech

In July 1967, de Gaulle visited Canada, which was celebrating its centennial with a world's fair, Expo '67. On 24 July, speaking to a large crowd from a balcony at Montreal's city hall, de Gaulle uttered Vive le Québec! (Long live Quebec!) then added, Vive le Québec libre! (Long live free Québec!). De Gaulle left Canada of his own accord the next day without proceeding to Ottawa as scheduled. The speech caused outrage in English Canada; it led to a serious diplomatic rift between the two countries. However, the event was seen as a watershed moment by the Quebec sovereignty movement.

In December 1967, claiming continental European solidarity, he again rejected British entry into the European Economic Community.


Many have commented that the "policy of grandeur" was probably too ambitious and heavy for the shoulders of France. This policy, it is argued, was only made possible by de Gaulle's resolve, and was not sustainable in the long run. In any case, it is still remembered in France as a defining era of modern French foreign policy, and it still largely inspires policy to this day.

May 1968

Main article: May 1968
May 1968 poster. Translation:
May 1968 poster. Translation: "The Mess, it’s him." The Mess (or more literally the "carnival mask" – a medieval word) was how de Gaulle referred to the May 1968 events

De Gaulle's government, however, was criticized within France, particularly for its heavy-handed style. While the written press and elections were free, the state had a monopoly on television and radio broadcasts (though there were private stations broadcasting from abroad; see ORTF) and the executive occasionally told public broadcasters the bias that they desired on news. In many respects, society was traditionalistic and repressive, especially regarding the position of women. Many factors contributed to a general weariness of sections of the public, particularly the student youth, which led to the events of May 1968.

The huge demonstrations and strikes in France in May 1968 were a big challenge to de Gaulle's presidency. He briefly fled to Baden-Baden and met Massu, now French commander in Germany (to discuss possible army intervention against the protesters, according to popular unofficial accounts).

But de Gaulle offered to accept some of the reforms the demonstrators sought. He again considered a referendum to support his moves, but Pompidou persuaded him to dissolve parliament (in which the government had all but lost its majority in the March 1967 elections) and hold new elections instead. The June 1968 elections were a major success for the Gaullists and their allies; when shown the spectre of revolution or even civil war, the majority of the country rallied to him. His party won 358 of 487 seats. Pompidou was suddenly replaced by Maurice Couve de Murville in July.


1969 - Retirement

Charles de Gaulle resigned the presidency on 28 April 1969, following the defeat of his referendum to transform the Senate (upper house of the French parliament, wielding less power than the National Assembly) into an advisory body while giving extended powers to regional councils. Some said this referendum was a self-conscious political suicide committed by de Gaulle after the traumatizing events of May 1968. As in 1946, de Gaulle refused to stay in power without widespread popular support.


1970 - A humble death

He retired once again to Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, where he died suddenly in 1970, two weeks before his 80th birthday, in the middle of writing his memoirs. In robust health until then, it was reported that as he had finished watching the evening news on television and was sitting in his armchair he suddenly said "I feel a pain here", pointing to his neck, just seconds before he fell unconscious due to an aneurysmal rupture. Within minutes, he was dead.

His last wish was a final slap to the establishment and protocol. He specifically asked to be buried in Colombey, and that no presidents or ministers attend his funeral, only his Compagnons de la Libération. Heads of state had to content themselves with a simultaneous service at Notre-Dame Cathedral. He was carried to his grave on a tank, and as he was lowered into the ground the bells of all the churches in France tolled starting from Notre Dame and spreading out from there.

He specified that his tombstone bear the simple inscription of his name and his dates of birth and death, therefore it simply says: "Charles de Gaulle, 1890-1970".

Unlike many other politicians, he died nearly destitute, and his family had to sell the Boisserie residence. It was purchased by a foundation and is currently the Charles de Gaulle Museum.

Private life

Charles de Gaulle married Yvonne Vendroux ("Tante Yvonne") on 7 April 1921. They had 3 children: Philippe (born 1921), Elisabeth (1924), who married general Alain de Boissieu, and Anne (1928 - 1948). Anne had Down syndrome and died at 20.

One of Charles de Gaulle's grandsons, Charles de Gaulle, was a member of the European Parliament from 1994 to 2004, his last tenure being for the National Front.

Another grandson, Jean de Gaulle, is a member of the French Parliament.

Modern view

Though controversial throughout his political career, not least among ideological opponents on the left and among overseas strategic partners, de Gaulle continues to command enormous respect in France, where his presidency is seen as a return to political stability and to strength on the international stage. To his admirers, he was the epitome of a roi juste ("just king")—the embodiment of the qualities of a just and righteous ruler. De Gaulle's new constitution for the Fifth Republic satisfied a lingering feeling for a strong, central, singular political position, harking back to the monarchy, connected, however, to a democratic system.

De Gaulle's opponents saw his constitution as nothing but a recasting of the old—a caesaropapism, with the president wielding almost monarchical powers like those under the ancien regime. Nevertheless, the system of the Fifth Republic (une certaine idée de la France) has proven remarkably stable, compared to that of the previous, Fourth Republic, notwithstanding constitutional changes since its implementation.

Domestically, for all the flaws in de Gaulle's approach, he presided over a return to economic prosperity after an initially sluggish postwar performance, while maintaining much of the social contract evolved in previous decades between employers and labour. The associated dirigisme (state economic interventionism) of the Fifth Republic's early decades remains at odds with the current trend of western economic orthodoxy; yet those decades coincided with unprecedented growth and much-improved standards of living for the French population.

De Gaulle's presidential style of government was continued under his successors. Internationally, the emphasis on French independence which so characterised de Gaulle's policy remains a keystone of foreign policy, together with his alignment with former rival Germany, still seen in both countries as a foundation for European integration.

France's largest airport, in Roissy, outside Paris was named Charles de Gaulle International Airport in his honor. (See Things named after Charles de Gaulle.)


French editions

  • La Discorde Chez l'Ennemi (1924)
  • Histoire des Troupes du Levant (1931) Written by Major de Gaulle and Major Yvon, with Staff Colonel de Mierry collaborating in the preparation of the final text.
  • Le Fil de l'Epée (1932)
  • Vers l'Armée de Métier (1934)
  • La France et son Armée (1938)
  • Trois Etudes (1945) (Rôle Historique des Places Fortes; Mobilisation Economique à l'Etranger; Comment Faire une Armée de Métier) followed by the Memorandum of January 26, 1940.
  • Mémoires de Guerre
    • Volume I - L'Appel 1940-1942 (1954)
    • Volume II - L'Unité, 1942-1944 (1956)
    • Volume III - Le Salut, 1944-1946 (1959)
  • Mémoires d'Espoir
    • Volume I - Le Renouveau 1958-1962 (1970)
  • Discours et Messages
    • Volume I - Pendant la Guerre 1940-1946 (1970)
    • Volume II - Dans l'attente 1946-1958 (1970)
    • Volume III - Avec le Renouveau 1958-1962 (1970)
    • Volume IV - Pour l'Effort 1962-1965 (1970)
    • Volume V - Vers le Terme 1966-1969

English translations

  • The Edge of the Sword (Le Fil de l'Epée). Tr. by Gerard Hopkins. Faber, London, 1960 Criterion Books, New York, 1960
  • The Army of the Future. (Vers l'Armée de Métier). Hutchinson, London-Melbourne, 1940. Lippincott, New York, 1940
  • France and Her Army. (La France et son Armée). Tr. by F.L. Dash. Hutchinson London, 1945. Ryerson Press, Toronto, 1945
  • War Memoirs: Call to Honor, 1940-1942 (L'Appel). Tr. by Jonathan Griffin. Collins, London, 1955 (2 volumes). Viking Press, New York, 1955.
  • War Memoirs: Unity, 1942-1944. (L'Unité). Tr. by Richard Howard (narrative) and Joyce Murchie and Hamish Erskine (documents). Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1959 (2 volumes). Simon and Schuster, New York, 1959 (2 volumes).
  • War Memoirs: Salvation, 1944-1946. (Le Salut). Tr. by Richard Howard (narrative) and Joyce Murchie and Hamish Erskine (documents). Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1960 (2 volumes). Simon and Schuster, New York, 1960 (2 volumes).

De Gaulle's Second Government, 21 December 1945 - 26 January 1946

  • Charles de Gaulle - Chairman of the Provisional Government
  • Georges Bidault - Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Edmond Michelet - Minister of Armies
  • Charles Tillon - Minister of Armaments
  • Adrien Tixier - Minister of the Interior
  • René Pleven - Minister of Finance
  • François Billoux - Minister of National Economy
  • Marcel Paul - Minister of Industrial Production
  • Ambroise Croizat - Minister of Labour
  • Pierre-Henri Teitgen - Minister of Justice
  • Paul Giacobbi - Minister of National Education
  • Laurent Casanova - Minister of Veterans and War Victims
  • François Tanguy-Prigent - Minister of Agriculture and Supply
  • Jacques Soustelle - Minister of Colonies
  • Jules Moch - Minister of Public Works and Transport
  • Robert Prigent - Minister of Population
  • Raoul Dautry - Minister of Reconstruction and Town Planning
  • Eugène Thomas - Minister of Posts
  • André Malraux - Minister of Information
  • Vincent Auriol - Minister of State
  • Francisque Gay - Minister of State
  • Louis Jacquinot - Minister of State
  • Maurice Thorez - Minister of State

De Gaulle's Third Ministry, 9 June 1958 - 8 January 1959

  • Charles de Gaulle - President of the Council and Minister of National Defense
  • Maurice Couve de Murville - Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Émile Pelletier - Minister of the Interior
  • Antoine Pinay - Minister of Finance and interim Minister of Public Works, Transport, and Tourism
  • Édouard Ramonet - Minister of Industry
  • Paul Bacon - Minister of Labour
  • Edmond Michelet - Minister of Veterans and War Victims
  • Michel Debré - Minister of Justice
  • Jean Berthoin - Minister of National Education
  • Roger Houdet - Minister of Agriculture
  • Bernard Cornut-Gentille - Minister of Overseas France
  • Robert Buron - Minister of Public Works, Transport, and Tourism
  • Eugène Thomas - Minister of Posts
  • Édouard Ramonet - Minister of Commerce
  • Pierre Sudreau - Minister of Construction
  • Max Lejeune - Minister of Sahara
  • Guy Mollet - Minister of State
  • Pierre Pflimlin - Minister of State
  • Félix Houphouët-Boigny - Minister of State
  • Louis Jacquinot - Minister of State


  • 12 June 1958 - André Malraux enters the cabinet as Minister of Radio, Television, and Press
  • 14 June 1958 - Guy Mollet becomes Minister of General Civil Servants Status
  • 7 July 1958 - Bernard Chenot enters the cabinet as Minister of Public Health and Population. Jacques Soustelle succeeds Malraux as Minister of Information.
  • 23 July 1958 - Antoine Pinay becomes Minister of Economic Affairs, remaining also Minister of Finance.

Notes and references

  1. ^ As he commissioned the new constitution and was responsible for its overall framework, de Gaulle is sometimes described as the author of the constitution. De Gaulle's political ideas were written into a constitution by Michel Debré who then guided the text through the enactment process. Thus while the constitution reflects de Gaulle's ideas, Michel Debré was the actual author of the text.

See also

  • Names and terms of address used for Charles de Gaulle
  • Things named after Charles de Gaulle
  • Vive le Québec libre speech
Preceded by
Philippe Pétain
(Head of State)
Pierre Laval
 (Prime Minister) 
Chairman of the Provisional Government of France
1944 – 1946
Succeeded by
Félix Gouin
Preceded by
Henri Philippe Pétain and Ramon Iglesias i Navarri
Co-Prince of Andorra
First Reign
1944 - 1946
with Ramon Iglesias i Navarri
Succeeded by
Félix Gouin and Ramon Iglesias i Navarri
Preceded by
Pierre Pflimlin
Prime Minister of France
Succeeded by
Michel Debré
Preceded by
Pierre de Chevigné
Minister of National Defense
1958 – 1959
Succeeded by
Pierre Guillaumat
Preceded by
René Coty
President of France
1959 – 1969
Succeeded by
Alain Poher(Interim president)
Preceded by
René Coty and Ramon Iglesias i Navarri
Co-Prince of Andorra
Second Reign
1959 - 1969
with Ramon Iglesias i Navarri
Succeeded by
Georges Pompidou and Ramón Malla Call



This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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