The French Fourth Republic (french: Quatrième république française) was the republican government of France
between 1946 and 1958, governed by the fourth republican constitution. It was in many ways a revival of the Third Republic
that was in place from 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War
to 1940 during World War II
, and suffered many of the same problems. France adopted the constitution of the Fourth Republic on 13 October 1946.
Despite the political dysfunction, the Fourth Republic saw an era of great economic growth
in France and the rebuilding of the nation's social institution
s and industry
after World War II, through assistance from the United States
provided through the Marshall Plan
. It also saw the beginning of the rapprochement
with former longtime enemy Germany
, which in turn led to Franco-German co-operation and eventually to the development of the European Union
Some attempts were also made to strengthen the executive branch of government
to prevent the unstable situation that had existed before the war, but the instability remained and the Fourth Republic saw frequent changes in government – there were 21 administrations in its 12-year history. Moreover, the government proved unable to make effective decisions regarding decolonization
of the numerous remaining French colonies
. After a series of crises, most importantly the Algerian crisis of 1958
, the Fourth Republic collapsed
leader Charles de Gaulle
returned from retirement to preside over a transitional administration that was empowered to design a new French constitution
. The Fourth Republic was dissolved by a public referendum on 5 October 1958 which established the modern-day Fifth Republic
with a strengthened presidency
Founding of the Fourth Republic (1944–1954)
After the liberation of France
in 1944, the Vichy government
was dissolved and the Provisional Government of the French Republic
(french: Gouvernement provisoire de la République française, GPRF), also known as the French Committee of National Liberation
, was instituted after a unanimous request of the Provisional Consultative Assembly
to be properly represented. With most of the political class discredited and containing many members who had more or less collaborated with Nazi Germany, Gaullism
became the most popular political forces in France.
Charles de Gaulle
led the GPRF from 1944 to 1946. Meanwhile, negotiations took place over the proposed new constitution, which was to be put to a referendum. DeGaulle advocated a presidential system of government, and criticized the reinstatement of what he pejoratively called "the parties system". He resigned in January 1946 and was replaced by Felix Gouin
of the French Section of the Workers' International
(, SFIO). Ultimately only the French Communist Party
(, PCF) and the socialist SFIO supported the draft constitution, which envisaged a form of government based on unicameralism
; but this was rejected in the referendum of 5 May 1946
For the 1946 elections
, the Rally of Left Republicans
(, RGR), which encompassed the Radical-Socialist Party
, the Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance
and other conservative parties, unsuccessfully attempted to oppose the Christian democrat
and socialist MRP
–SFIO–PCF alliance. The new constituent assembly
included 166 MRP deputies, 153 PCF deputies and 128 SFIO deputies, giving the tripartite alliance an absolute majority. Georges Bidault
of the MRP replaced Felix Gouin as the head of government.
A new draft of the Constitution was written, which this time proposed the establishment of a bicameral
form of government. Leon Blum
of the SFIO headed the GPRF from 1946 to 1947. After a new legislative election in June 1946, the Christian democrat Georges Bidault assumed leadership of the Cabinet
. Despite DeGaulle's so-called discourse of Bayeux
of 16 June 1946 in which he denounced the new institutions, the new draft was approved by 53% of voters voting in favor (with an abstention rate of 31%) in the referendum held on 13 October 1946
and the Constitution of 27 October 1946
came into force two weeks later as the Fourth Republic, in an arrangement in which executive power essentially resided in the hands of the President of the Council
(the prime minister). The President of the Republic
was given a largely symbolic role, although he remained chief of the French Army
and as a last resort could be called upon to resolve conflicts.
After the expulsion of the Communists from the governing coalition, France joined the Cold War
against Stalin, as expressed by becoming a founding member of NATO
in April 1949. France now took a leadership position in unifying western Europe, working closely with Konrad Adenauer
of West Germany. Robert Schuman
, who was twice Prime Minister and at other times Minister of Finance and Foreign Minister, was instrumental in building post-war European and trans-Atlantic institutions. A devout Catholic and anti-Communist, he led France to be a member of the European Communities
, the Council of Europe
''Les Trente Glorieuses'' ('The Glorious Thirty') was the high prosperity in the 30 years from 1945 to 1975. In 1944, DeGaulle introduced a dirigiste
economic policy, which included substantial state-directed control over a capitalist economy, which was followed by 30 years of unprecedented growth.
The wartime damage was extensive and expectations of large reparations from defeated Germany did not happen. The United States helped revive the French economy with the Marshall Plan
(1948–1951), whereby it gave France $2.3 billion with no repayment. France was the second largest recipient after Britain. The total of all American grants and credits to France from 1946 to 1953 amounted to $4.9 billion. It provided urgently needed funding for modernizing the transport systems, electricity generation, and basic industries, especially cement, coal, and steel. It required a modernization of French industrial and managerial systems, free trade, and friendly economic relations with West Germany.
The French economy grew rapidly like economies of other developed countries within the framework of the Marshall Plan such as West Germany
, and Japan
. These decades of economic prosperity combined high productivity with high average wages and high consumption, and were also characterised by a highly developed system of social benefits. According to various studies, the real purchasing power of the average French worker's salary went up by 170% between 1950 and 1975, while overall private consumption increased by 174% in the period 1950-74. The French standard of living, which had been damaged by both World War
s, became one of the world's highest. The population also became far more urbanized; many rural départements
experienced a population decline while the larger metropolitan areas grew considerably, especially that of Paris
. Ownership of various household goods and amenities increased considerably,
while the wages of the French working class rose significantly as the economy became more prosperous. As noted by the historians Jean Blondel and Donald Geoffrey Charlton in 1974,
If it is still the case that France lags in the number of its telephones, working-class housing has improved beyond recognition and the various 'gadgets' of the consumer society–from television to motor cars–are now purchased by the working class on an even more avid basis than in other Western European countries.
The worldwide 1973 oil crisis
slowed down its explosive growth. Thus, the mid-1970s marked the end of the period. Thomas Piketty
describes the Trente Glorieuses as an exceptional "catch up" period following the world wars. He cites statistics showing that normal growth in wealthy countries is about 1.5–2%, whereas in Europe growth dropped to 0.5% between 1913 and 1950, and then "caught up" with a growth rate of 4% between 1950 and 1970, until settling back to 1.5–2% from 1970 onward.
Indochina and Tunisia
Public opinion polls showed that in February 1954, only 7% of the French people wanted to continue the fight in Indochina
against the Communists, led by Ho Chi Minh
and his Viet Minh
Pierre Mendes France
was a Radical Party
leader who was Prime Minister for eight months in 1954–55, working with the support of the Socialist and Communist parties. His top priority was ending the war in Indochina, which had already cost 92,000 dead, 114,000 wounded and 28,000 captured in the wake of the humiliating defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu
in early May 1954.
At the Geneva Conference (1954)
, he made a deal that gave the Viet Minh control of Vietnam north of the 17th parallel, and allowed him to pull out all French forces. That left South Vietnam
standing alone. However, the United States
moved in and provided large-scale financial, military and economic support for South Vietnam.
Mendes France next came to an agreement with Habib Bourguiba
, the nationalist leader in Tunisia, for the independence of that colony by 1956, and began discussions with the nationalist leaders in Morocco for a French withdrawal.
Failure of the new parliamentary system
The intention of the new Constitution's authors was to rationalize the parliamentary system
were accountable to the legislative body, the French National Assembly
, but some measures were introduced in order to protect the Cabinet and to reinforce the authority of the Prime Minister of France, who led the Cabinet. The goal of the new constitution was to reconcile parliamentary democracy
with ministerial stability.
For instance, under the new Constitution, the President of the Council was the leader of the executive branch (Prime Minister of France). The President of the French Republic, elected by the Parliament (the National Assembly and the Council of the Republic
), played a symbolic role. His main power was to propose a Prime Minister, who was subject to election by the National Assembly before forming a Cabinet. Only the Prime Minister could invoke a parliamentary vote on legitimacy of the Cabinet. The Prime Minister was also the only member of the executive able to demand a vote of confidence
from the National Assembly (in the Third Republic
any minister could call for a vote of confidence). The Cabinet could be dismissed if an absolute majority
of the National Assembly's members voted against the Cabinet. Finally, the National Assembly could be dissolved after two ministerial crises in the legislature
However, these constitutional measures did not work. In January 1947, after his election by the National Assembly and the nomination of his ministers, Prime Minister Paul Ramadier
called for a vote of confidence in order to verify that the Assembly approved the composition of his Cabinet. This initiated a custom of double election, a vote for the Prime Minister followed by a vote of confidence in the chosen Cabinet, that weakened the Prime Minister's authority over the Cabinet. Cabinets were dismissed with only a plurality
(not the absolute majority) of the National Assembly voting against the Cabinet. Consequently, these ministerial crises did not result in the dissolution of Parliament. Thus, as in the Third Republic, this regime was characterized by ministerial instability.
The Fourth Republic was also a victim of the political context. The split of the three-party
alliance in spring 1947, the departure of Communist ministers, Gaullist opposition
, and the new proportional representation
did not create conditions for ministerial stability. Governmental coalitions
were composed of an undisciplined patchwork of center-left
parties. Finally, the Fourth Republic was confronted with the collapse of the French colonial empire
The creation of the European Coal and Steel Community
(ECSC) was first proposed by French foreign minister Robert Schuman
and French economic theorist Jean Monnet
on 9 May 1950 as a way to prevent further war between France and Germany
. Though the United Kingdom
was invited, its Labour government
, then preparing for a re-election fight, did not join the initiative.
[Dell, Edmund (1995). ''The Schuman Plan and the British Abdication of Leadership in Europe''. Oxford: Clarendon Press. .]
It was formally established in 1951 by the Treaty of Paris
, signed by France, Italy
, West Germany
and the Netherlands
. Between these countries the ECSC would create a common market
for coal and steel. The ECSC was governed by a 'High Authority', checked by bodies representing governments, Members of Parliament
and an independent judiciary
The ECSC was superseded, on 25 March 1957, by the Treaty of Rome
, which established the European Economic Community
(which would, in 1993, become the European Union
through the Maastricht Treaty
Algeria and collapse
The trigger for the collapse of the Fourth Republic was the Algiers crisis of 1958
. France was still a colonial power, although conflict and revolt had begun the process of decolonization
. French West Africa
, French Indochina
, and French Algeria
still sent representatives to the French parliament under systems of limited suffrage in the French Union
. Algeria in particular, despite being the colony with the largest French population, saw rising pressure for separation from the . The situation was complicated by those in Algeria, such as the Pieds-Noirs
, who wanted to stay part of France, so the Algerian War
became not just a separatist
movement but had elements of a civil war
Further complications came when a section of the French Army rebelled and openly backed the ' movement to defeat separation. Revolts and riots broke out in 1958 against the French government in Algiers, but there were no adequate and competent political initiatives by the French government in support of military efforts to end the rebellion owing to party politics. The feeling was widespread that another debacle like that of Indochina in 1954 was in the offing and that the government would order another precipitous pullout and sacrifice French honor to political expediency. This prompted General Jacques Massu
to create a French settlers' committee
[Jacques Massu obituary](_blank)
/ref> to demand the formation of a new national government under General DeGaulle, who was a national hero and had advocated a strong military policy, nationalism and the retention of French control over Algeria. General Massu, who had gained prominence and authority when he ruthlessly suppressed Algerian militants, famously declared that unless General DeGaulle was returned to power, the French Army would openly revolt; General Massu and other senior generals covertly planned the takeover of Paris with 1,500 paratroopers preparing to take over airports with the support of French Air Force units.
Armored units from Rambouillet prepared to roll into Paris.
On 24 May, French paratroopers from the Algerian corps landed on Corsica, taking the French island in a bloodless action called . Operation Resurrection would be implemented if DeGaulle was not approved as leader by the French Parliament, if DeGaulle asked for military assistance to take power, or to thwart any organized attempt by the French Communist Party to seize power or stall DeGaulle's return.
DeGaulle, who had announced his retirement from politics a decade before, placed himself in the midst of the crisis, calling on the nation to suspend the government and create a new constitutional system. On 29 May 1958, French politicians agreed upon calling on DeGaulle to take over the government as prime minister. The French Army's willingness to support an overthrow of the constitutional government was a significant development in French politics. With Army support, DeGaulle's government terminated the Fourth Republic (the last parliament of the Fourth Republic voted for its dissolution) and drew up a new constitution proclaiming the French Fifth Republic in 1958.
* French Constitution of 27 October 1946
* Alexander, Martin, and Keiger, John F. V. "France and the Algerian War: strategy, operations and diplomacy." ''Journal of Strategic Studies'' 25.2 (2002): 1-32.
* Aron, Raymond. ''France Steadfast and Changing: The Fourth to the Fifth Republic'' (Harvard University Press, 1960)
* Bell, David, et al. ''A Biographical Dictionary of French Political Leaders since 1870'' (1990), 400 short articles by experts
* Brogi, Alessandro. ''A question of self-esteem: the United States and the Cold War choices in France and Italy, 1944–1958'' (Greenwood Press, 2002)
* Connelly, Matthew James. ''A diplomatic revolution: Algeria's fight for independence and the origins of the post-cold war era'' (Oxford University Press, 2002)
* Evans, Martin. ''Algeria: France's Undeclared War'' (2012), a scholarly history
* Fontanela, Jacques, and Hébert, Jean‐Paul. "The end of the "French grandeur policy"." ''Defence and Peace Economics'' 8.1 (1997): 37-55.
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* Gordon, Daniel A. "Full Speed Ahead? The Trente Glorieuses in a Rear View Mirror." ''Contemporary European History'' 26.1 (2017): 189-199 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0960777316000461
* Hitchcock, William I
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(University of North Carolina Press, 1998)
* Horne, Alistair. '' A savage war of peace: Algeria 1954-1962'' (1977), classic narrative
* Krasnoff, Lindsay. ''The Making of : Sport in France, 1958–2010'' (2013)
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* Marshall, D. Bruce. ''The French Colonial Myth and Constitution-Making in the Fourth Republic'' (1973),
* Nettelbeck, Colin W. "The Eldest Daughter and the Trente glorieuses: Catholicism and national identity in postwar France." ''Modern & Contemporary France'' 6.4 (1998): 445-462.
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* Williams, Philip Maynard
''Politics in Post-War France: Parties and the Constitution in the Fourth Republic''
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