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Charles de Gaulle

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General Charles-André-Joseph-Marie de Gaulle (November 22, 1890 - November 9, 1970) was a French general and statesman. He was the author of the Constitution of the Fifth French Republic, and the Fifth Republic's first president from 1958 to 1969.

General Charles de Gaulle

Born in Lille, de Gaulle was the son of a teacher and was educated at the École Militaire de Saint-Cyr. He graduated in 1912 and joined the infantry. In World War I he was taken prisoner in March 1916 during the Battle of Verdun.

When the war ended, he remained in the military, he was part of the staff of Maxime Weygand and then Henri Philippe Pétain. He was a strong supporter of the new ideas of mechanized troops and specialized armoured divisions.

At the outbreak of World War II he was a colonel, by May 1940 he was a brigadier general and in command of the 4th Armored Division in Alsace. On June 6, 1940 Paul Reynaud[?] appointed him undersecretary of state for war. As a member of the cabinet he resisted the call to surrender and finally left France for England on June 15 when Marshal Pétain became premier (he disagreed with Pétain's stance on seeking an armistice with the Germans). From London he formed and led the Free French Forces movement.

On June 18, de Gaulle prepared to speak to the French people, via BBC radio, from London. The British Cabinet attempted to block the speech, but was over-ruled by Churchill. In France, de Gaulle's "Appeal of June 18" could be heard nationwide, at 7:00 p.m. To this day, it remains one of the most famous speeches in French history.

In France, de Gaulle was condemned to death for treason in July 1940. Working with the French resistance and active in the French colonial holdings in Africa, following the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa in November 1942 de Gaulle moved his headquarters to Algiers in May 1943. He established the Committee of National Liberation[?] and soon made himself the chairman.

After the war he served briefly as the President of the provisional government from October 1945 but resigned in January 1946, impatient with the speed of progress and disapproving of the constitution for the Fourth Republic[?]. In 1947 he made a renewed attempt at transforming the political scene, but with little success he withdrew again in 1953. That same year, Antoine Pinay (1891-1994) was elected as Premier of France Following the Fourth Republic's failures in Indochina and the constitution crisis over Algeria, on June 1, 1958 de Gaulle was made premier and given wide emergency powers. He used this opportuity to rewrite the constitution, in a referendum in September 83% of those who voted supported the new constitution and the creation of the Fifth Republic. In the November 1958 elections de Gaulle and his supporters won a comfortable majority, in December de Gaulle was elected President with 78% of the vote, he was inaugurated in January 1959.

He oversaw tough economic measures to revitalize the country, including the issuing of a new franc (worth 100 old francs). Internationally he rebuffed both the USA and the USSR, pushing for an independent France with its own nuclear weapons. As one of the founder members of the EEC he took the opportunity to deny the British entry. Over the war in Algeria de Gaulle quickly believed the conflict was unwinnable and argued for the country's independence, this stance created huge anger among certain French national groups, and de Gaulle was forced to suppress risings in Algeria by French nationals. He was also targetted by the terrorist Organisation de l'Armée Secrète (OAS). In 1962 de Gaulle arranged a cease-fire in Algeria and a referendum supported his grant of independence, finally done in April 1962.

In September 1962 he sought a constitutional amendment to allow the president to be directly elected by the people. Following a censure in the National Assembly, he dissolved that body and held new elections, the Gaullists won an increased majority. Although the Algerian issue was settled the prime minister, Michel Debre[?], still resigned over the final settlement and was replaced with Georges Pompidou.

In 1965 de Gaulle was returned as premier for a seven year term but only after a second round of voting. His strong nationalism and a certain level of economic weakness were used against him. Internationally de Gaulle continued to annoy everyone, he again rejected British entry into the EEC, he condemned the US over Vietnam and the Israelis over the Six Day War, he also withdrew France from NATO.

On an official State visit to Canada in 1967 to celebrate that country's 100 years of nationhood, President de Gaulle ignited a storm of controversy in the anglophone world when he stood before a crowd of 100,000 Quebecers in Montreal and uttered: Vive le Québec Libre! While this support for Quebec's liberation was a monumental diplomatic blunder and interference into another country's private affairs, it was one that inflamed the passion of some nationalist Quebecers and inspired members the emerging secession movement. Following de Gaulle's remark, the Prime Minister of Canada, Lester B. Pearson, cancelled plans for de Gaulle's visit to the capital of Ottawa, and asked the French President to leave the country. Criticized at home in France for the remarks, his opponents reminded the wartime general of the thousands of Canadian soldiers (see: Vimy Ridge) buried all over France who fought and died for France's freedom in both World Wars. Critics also drew the parallel for interference between Quebec independence and the Franco-German historic contestation of ownership of the German-speaking Alsace and Lorraine regions seized by France after the War.

The huge demonstrations and strikes in France in 1968 were another challenge, de Gaulle was willing 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 and hold new elections instead. The June 1968 elections were a major success for the Gaullists, offered the spectre of a Communist revolution the majority of the counry rallied to him. His party won 358 of 487 seats. Pompidou was suddenly replaced by Maurice Couve de Murville in July.

Charles de Gaulle resigned on April 28, 1969 following the defeat of his proposals to transform the Senate into an advisory body while giving extended powers to regional councils. He retired to Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises where he died.

Many streets and public buildings in France bear his name; in particular, in Paris the former Place de l'Etoile and one of the airports, Roissy - Charles de Gaulle.

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