De Gaulle and French Politics: What Role Did Charles de Gaulle Play in the Politics of the Fourth and Early Fifth Republics?

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  • Topic: Charles de Gaulle, France, Vichy France
  • Pages : 9 (3467 words )
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  • Published : October 12, 2012
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The Fourth Republic is remembered by the French population as an ambivalent period of time. On the one hand, France experienced an undeniable economic recovery thanks to the American assistance offered through the Marshal Plan, a worldwide economic growth, but also the reconstruction of a country devastated by four years of war. Consumption was rising, and households upgraded their appliances. Furthermore, European consolidation expanded with the Treaty of Rome in 1957 that led to the creation of a common European market. On the other side, political instability and decolonization hindered the functioning of the Fourth Republic, and led to its downfall. Therefore, in May 1958, the agonizing Fourth Republic died in general indifference and discredit, victim of a coup in Algiers, which was handled by Charles de Gaulle. In other words, 1958 symbolized the transition from the Fourth to the Fifth Republic, a transition made possible only by the appointment of Charles de Gaulle, the most influential politician in the twentieth-century French history, and a man responsible not only for solving the Algerian issue but also for establishing of a new constitution.

In order to understand what led to the collapse of the Fourth Republic, it is firstly necessary to look into its constitution, and highlight its weaknesses. Through the October 21, 1945 referendum, French citizens adopted a new constitution, promulgated on November 2nd 1945, which put an end to the Third Republic. Charles de Gaulle, chief of the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF) since 1944, wished for a stronger executive but he was challenged by conservatives of the Third Republic on the one hand, and communists on the other hand. Consequently, he stepped down from the GPRF on January 20th 1946, leaving three equally-powerful parties (the French Section of the Workers' International, the Communist Party and the Popular Republican Movement) to manage the country. Under the Fourth Republic, the President of the Council, chief of government, possessed the executive power, but was placed under close surveillance of the National Assembly that vested him power and could vote him out of office through a motion of censure. The President of the Republic was consigned to an honorary role of representation and influence. He had the power to dissolve the National Assembly but not without grand difficulty; therefore, the legislative power overshadowed the executive power and a system of proportional representation was adopted. Ministerial instability was bound to occur with the adoption of such an electoral system, majority being next to impossible to reach. As a matter of fact, twenty-two Presidents of the Council were elected from 1946 to 1958. Having stepped down from the government in January 1946, Charles de Gaulle invited French citizens, from all political parties, to join the Rally of the French People (RPF) in April 1947. However, Charles de Gaulle’s aimed to unite the French population into a single movement that he regarded as a new “Free France” turned out to be a failure. Nonetheless, 400,000 members join the RPF within a few weeks. Such a success could be explained by the General’s prestige, added to the presence of many former Resistants in the party’s organs. Following the RPF’s triumph in the October 1947’s municipal elections, De Gaulle invited the regime’s leaders to dissolve the National Assembly, but Paul Ramadier, President of the Council at the time, believed that further municipal elections would not challenge the 1946’s legislative elections. Therefore, the Rally of the French People was compelled to wait for the 1951 ballot. By then, the Fourth Republic had taken roots and the enthusiasm that had followed the creation of the RPF had vanished. Furthermore, the deputies of the RPF in charge of forming a war machine against the Fourth Republic were hastily won over and given ministerial duties as early as March 1952. Consequently, Charles...
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