Charles de Gaulle

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de Gaulle, Charles

de Gaulle, Charles (shärl də gōl), 1890–1970, French general and statesman, first president (1959–69) of the Fifth Republic.

The World Wars

During World War I de Gaulle served with distinction until his capture in 1916. In The Army of the Future (1934, tr. 1941) he foresaw and futilely advocated for France the mechanized warfare by which Germany was to conquer France in 1940. In World War II he was promoted to brigadier general (1940) and became undersecretary of war in the cabinet of Premier Paul Reynaud.

De Gaulle opposed the Franco-German armistice and fled (June, 1940) to London, where he organized the Free French forces and rallied several French colonies to his movement. He was sentenced to death in absentia by a French military court. The Free French forces were successful in Syria, Madagascar, and N Africa. In June, 1943, de Gaulle became copresident, with Gen. Henri Honoré Giraud, of the newly formed French Committee of National Liberation at Algiers. He succeeded in forcing Giraud out of the committee, and in June, 1944, it was proclaimed the provisional government of France.

The Postwar Period

De Gaulle's government returned to Paris on Aug. 26 and was recognized by the principal Allies. He was unanimously elected provisional president of France in Nov., 1945, but he resigned in Jan., 1946, when it became obvious that his views favoring a strong executive would not be incorporated into the new constitution. Many of the rightist elements had gathered under the Gaullist banner, and he became (1947) head of a new party—Rassemblement du Peuple Français [Rally of the French People]—which claimed to speak for all Frenchmen and to be above factional strife but which, nevertheless, took part in subsequent elections. The party had some temporary electoral success, but in 1953 de Gaulle dissolved it and went into retirement.

Algeria and Internal Affairs

In 1958, after the military and civilian revolt in Algeria had created a political crisis in France, he was considered the only leader of sufficient strength and stature to deal with the situation. He became premier with power to rule by decree for six months. During this time a new constitution, which strengthened the presidency, was drawn up (1958). The constitution also provided for the French Community, the first step toward resolving imperial problems. De Gaulle was inaugurated as president of the new Fifth Republic in Jan., 1959. He decided to allow Algeria self-determination. This decision led to several revolts in Algeria by French colonists who opposed independence. Finally in 1962 an agreement was reached that provided for Algerian independence.

In domestic affairs de Gaulle attempted to restore French national finances by devaluing the franc and creating a new franc worth 100 old francs. Much of de Gaulle's program consisted of an attempt to raise France to its former world stature. He argued for French parity with the United States in NATO decisions and promoted French development of atomic weapons. In 1966, he withdrew French troops from NATO and ordered the withdrawal of NATO military installations from France by Apr., 1967.

The Final Presidency

De Gaulle was reelected to a second seven-year term in 1965. Although he rejected limitations on French sovereignty, he supported participation in the Common Market but strongly opposed British membership in it. He fostered ties with West Germany and established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. In May, 1968, student demonstrations protesting French political and educational systems were followed by huge workers' strikes that nearly toppled the Gaullist government. Nevertheless, in elections held in June, the Gaullists were returned to power. In 1969, after being defeated in a referendum on constitutional reform, de Gaulle resigned as president.


See De Gaulle's War Memoirs (tr., 3 vol., 1955–60; repr. 1984) and Memoirs of Hope (tr. 1972); biographies by P. Masson (1971), B. Crozier (1973), D. Cook (1984), J. Lacouture (2 vol., 1990–92), C. Williams (1995), J. Fenby (2012), and J. Jackson (2018); A. Werth, The De Gaulle Revolution (1960), P. M. Williams and M. Harrison, De Gaulle's Republic (1960), R. Aron, An Explanation of De Gaulle (1965), J. Hess, The Case for De Gaulle (1968), A. Hartley, Gaullism (1971), P. Alexandre, The Duel: De Gaulle and Pompidou (1972).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

De Gaulle, Charles


Born Nov. 22, 1890, in Lille; died Nov. 9, 1970, in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises. French statesman and military and political figure. Son of a teacher.

De Gaulle studied at the Saint Cyr military school and later, at the Higher Military School in Paris. He fought in World War I (1914–18). Until 1937 he was engaged mainly in military-pedagogical and staff activity. In the years preceding World War II (1939–45), De Gaulle wrote a series of theoretical works on questions of military strategy and tactics, in which he proposed the creation of a professional mechanized army and the massive use of tanks in conjunction with aircraft and infantry in modern warfare. From the first days of the war De Gaulle, with the rank of colonel, commanded a brigade of tanks in the French Fifth Army, and in May 1940, during the battle on the Somme River, he led the Fourth Armored Division. De Gaulle displayed great personal courage and was promoted to brigadier general. On June 5, 1940, during a time that was critical for France, when a significant part of the French Army had already been defeated by fascist Germany, De Gaulle became deputy minister of national defense. After German troops entered Paris on June 14 and the capitulationist government of Pétain came to power on June 16, De Gaulle left for Great Britain. On June 18, 1940, he made a radio broadcast from Britain, calling on all Frenchmen to continue the struggle against fascist Germany. De Gaulle founded the Free French movement in London, which joined the anti-Hitlerite coalition, and on Sept. 24, 1941, he founded the French National Committee. On Sept. 26, 1941, the Soviet government recognized De Gaulle “as the leader of all free Frenchmen, wherever they may be.” In June 1943, De Gaulle became one of the two chairmen (after November 1943, the sole chairman) of the French Committee of National Liberation, created in Algiers and reorganized by De Gaulle in June 1944 into the Provisional Government of the French Republic. (De Gaulle’s government moved to liberated Paris in August 1944.) De Gaulle signed the treaty of alliance and mutual assistance between the USSR and France in Moscow, on Dec. 10, 1944. De Gaulle’s name is closely linked to the victory over the fascist aggressors in World War II.

Immediately after the end of the war, De Gaulle undertook a series of measures aimed at the establishment of a presidential-type regime in France. He resigned from his post as head of the government in January 1946, after he met with difficulties in carrying out his plans. In 1947, De Gaulle organized and led the political party Rally of the French People (RPF). In May 1953 he announced the disbanding of the RPF and temporarily left active political life.

In May 1958, in a period of acute political crisis caused by a military putsch in Algiers on May 13, the bourgeois majority in parliament voted to return De Gaulle to power. The National Assembly confirmed the composition of the government headed by De Gaulle on June I, 1958. In September 1958, on the instruction and with the participation of De Gaulle, a new constitution was prepared for the republic. This constitution narrowed the authority of parliament and significantly expanded the power of the president. De Gaulle was elected president of the French Republic on Dec. 21, 1958, and was reelected to the post of president for a new seven-year term on Dec. 19, 1965.

De Gaulle’s views on foreign policy were distinguished by a striving to secure independent decision-making for France on important questions of European and international policy. One of the most significant steps in this plan was France’s withdrawal from the NATO military organization in 1966. A realistic approach to a series of important international problems characterized De Gaulle’s course in foreign policy (for example, the 1959 declaration recognizing the final nature of the postwar boundaries of Germany, condemnation of aggression by the USA in Vietnam, and condemnation of Israel for attacking Arab states). At the same time, continuing to carry out plans for the creation of its own nuclear forces, France did not sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963) that banned nuclear tests in space, the atmosphere, and under water. France also did not sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (1968), declaring in the United Nations, however, that it would act on this question in the same way as those states that had signed the given treaty.

On Apr. 28, 1969, after the defeat of his proposals in the April 27 referendum (dealing with the reorganization of the Senate and the reform of the territorial-administrative organization of France), which reflected the discontent of a certain part of the population with government policy, De Gaulle resigned from the presidency.

Soviet-French relations developed to a significant degree during the years that De Gaulle occupied the presidency. In 1966 he made an official visit to the USSR. Negotiations and the signing of the Soviet-French declaration on June 30, 1966, resulted in the opening of an important stage in the history of Soviet-French relations.


Une mauvaise rencontre. Paris, 1916.
Histoire des troupes du Levant. Paris, 1921.
La Discorde chez l’ennemi, 2nd ed. Paris, 1944.
Le Fit de l’épée. Paris, 1946.
La France sera la France. Paris, 1952.
La France et son armée. Paris. 1965.
Discours et messages, vols. 1–5. Paris, 1970.
Mémoires de guerre[vols. 1–3]. Paris, 1968–69.
Mémoires d’espoir, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1970–71.
In Russian translation:
Professional’naia armiia
. Moscow, 1935.
Voennye memuary, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1957–60.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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