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French Colonial Empire
Map of the first (light blue) and second (dark blue — plain and hachured) French colonial empires.

The French colonial empire is the set of territories outside Europe that were under French rule primarily from the 1600s to the late 1960s. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the colonial empire of France was the second largest in the world behind the British Empire. The French colonial empire extended over 12,347,000 km² (4,767,000 sq. miles) of land at its height in the 1920s and 1930s. Including metropolitan France, the total amount of land under French sovereignty reached 12,898,000 km² (4,980,000 sq. miles) at the time, which is 8.6% of the Earth's total land area. Its influence made French the fourth-most spoken colonial European language, behind English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

France began to establish colonies in North America, the Caribbean and India, following Spanish and Portuguese successes during the Age of Discovery, in rivalry with Britain for supremacy. A series of wars with Britain during the 1700s and early 1800s, which France lost, ended its colonial ambitions on these continents, and with it is what some historians term the "first" French colonial empire. In the 19th century, France established a new empire in Africa and South East Asia. Some of these colonies lasted beyond the invasion and occupation of France by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Following the war, anti-colonial movements began to challenge French authority. France unsuccessfully fought bitter wars from after the 1940s until the early 1960s in Vietnam and Algeria to keep its empire intact. By the end of the 1960s, most of France's colonies had gained independence, save for a series of islands and archipelagos which were integrated into France as overseas departments and territories. These total altogether 123,150 km² (47,548 sq. miles), which amounts to only 1% of the pre-1939 French colonial empire's area, with 2,624,505 people living in them in 2009. All of them enjoy full political representation at the national level, as well as varying degrees of legislative autonomy. (See Administrative divisions of France.)

Contents

First French colonial empire

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The Americas

The excursions of Giovanni da Verrazzano and Jacques Cartier in the early 16th century, as well as the frequent voyages of French boats and fishermen to the Grand Banks off Newfoundland throughout that century, were the precursors to the story of France's colonial expansion. But Spain's jealous protection of its foreign monopoly, and the further distractions caused in France itself in the later 16th century by the French Wars of Religion, prevented any constant efforts by France to settle colonies. Early French attempts to found colonies in 1612 at São Luís ("France Équinoxiale"), and in Brazil, in 1555 at Rio de Janeiro ("France Antarctique") and in Florida (including Fort Caroline in 1562) were not successful, due to a lack of official interest and to Portuguese and Spanish vigilance.

The story of France's colonial empire truly began on July 27, 1605, with the foundation of Port Royal in the colony of Acadia in North America, in what is now Nova Scotia, Canada. A few years later, in 1608, Samuel De Champlain founded Quebec, which was to become the capital of the enormous, but sparsely settled, fur-trading colony of New France (also called Canada).

New France had a rather small population, which resulted from more emphasis being placed on the fur trade rather than agricultural settlements. Due to this emphasis, the French relied heavily on creating friendly contacts with the local Indians. French relations with the Native peoples has been considered more humane than positions taken by their Spanish and English rivals. Without the insatiable appetite of New England for land, and relying solely on Indians to supply them with fur at the trading posts, the French composed a complex series of military, commercial, and diplomatic connections. These became the most enduring alliances between the French and the Indians. The French did not set out to take over all Indian land like England, nor did they want them to work like slaves as did the Spanish[citation needed]. The French were however under pressure from religious orders to convert the Indians to Catholicism. New France allowed a great degree of independence for the Natives, and did not try to suppress all traditional religious practices.

Although, through alliances with various Native American tribes, the French were able to exert a loose control over much of the North American continent, areas of French settlement were generally limited to the St. Lawrence River Valley. Prior to the establishment of the 1663 Sovereign Council, the territories of New France were developed as mercantile colonies. It is only after the arrival of intendant Jean Talon in 1665 that France gave its American colonies the proper means to develop population colonies comparable to that of the British. But there was relatively little interest in colonialism in France, which concentrated rather on dominance within Europe, and for most of its history, New France, was far behind the British North American colonies in both population and economic development. Acadia itself was lost to the British in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

In 1699, French territorial claims in North America expanded still further, with the foundation of Louisiana in the basin of the Mississippi River. The extensive trading network throughout the region connected to Canada through the Great Lakes, was maintained through a vast system of fortifications, many of them centred in the Illinois Country and in present-day Arkansas.

Québec was known as 'Nouvelle France' or New France

As the French empire in North America grew, the French also began to build a smaller but more profitable empire in the West Indies. Settlement along the South American coast in what is today French Guiana began in 1624, and a colony was founded on Saint Kitts in 1625 (the island had to be shared with the English until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, when it was ceded outright). The Compagnie des Îles de l'Amérique founded colonies in Guadeloupe and Martinique in 1635, and a colony was later founded on Saint Lucia by (1650). The food-producing plantations of these colonies were built and sustained through slavery, with the supply of slaves dependent on the African slave trade. Local resistance by the indigenous peoples resulted in the Carib Expulsion of 1660.

France's most important Caribbean colonial possession was established in 1664, when the colony of Saint-Domingue (today's Haiti) was founded on the western half of the Spanish island of Hispaniola. In the 18th century, Saint-Domingue grew to be the richest sugar colony in the Caribbean. The eastern half of Hispaniola (today's Dominican Republic) also came under French rule for a short period, after being given to France by Spain in 1795.

Africa and Asia

French colonial expansion was not limited to the New World, however. In Senegal in West Africa, the French began to establish trading posts along the coast in 1624. In 1664, the French East India Company was established to compete for trade in the east. Colonies were established in India in Chandernagore (1673) and Pondicherry in the Southeast (1674), and later at Yanam (1723), Mahe (1725), and Karikal (1739) (see French India). Colonies were also founded in the Indian Ocean, on the Île de Bourbon (Réunion, 1664), Île de France (Mauritius, 1718), and the Seychelles (1756).

Colonial conflict with Britain

Carte de L'Indoustan. Bellin, 1770

In the middle of the 18th century, a series of colonial conflicts began between France and Britain, which ultimately resulted in the destruction of most of the first French colonial empire. These wars were the War of the Austrian Succession (1744–1748), the Seven Years' War (1756–1763), the War of the American Revolution (1778–1783), the French Revolutionary Wars (1793–1802) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). It may even be seen further back in time to the first of the French and Indian Wars. This cyclic conflict is known as the Second Hundred Years' War.

Although the War of the Austrian Succession was indecisive — despite French successes in India under the French Governor-General Joseph François Dupleix and Europe under Marshal Saxe — the Seven Years' War, after early French successes in Minorca and North America, saw a French defeat, with the numerically superior British (over one million to about 50 thousand French settlers) conquering not only New France (excluding the small islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon), but also most of France's West Indian (Caribbean) colonies, and all of the French Indian outposts. While the peace treaty saw France's Indian outposts, and the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe restored to France, the competition for influence in India had been won by the British, and North America was entirely lost — most of New France was taken by Britain (also referred to as British North America, except Louisiana, which France ceded to Spain as payment for Spain's late entrance into the war (and as compensation for Britain's annexation of Spanish Florida). Also ceded to the British were Grenada and Saint Lucia in the West Indies. Although the loss of Canada would cause much regret in future generations, it excited little unhappiness at the time; colonialism was widely regarded as both unimportant to France, and immoral.

Ratification of the treaty of Paris, 1783. The British delegation refused to pose for the picture.

Some recovery of the French colonial empire was made during the French intervention in the American Revolution, with Saint Lucia being returned to France by the Treaty of Paris in 1783, but not nearly as much as had been hoped for at the time of French intervention. True disaster came to what remained of France's colonial empire in 1791 when Saint Domingue (the Western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola), France's richest and most important colony, was riven by a massive slave revolt, caused partly by the divisions among the island's elite, which had resulted from the French Revolution of 1789. The slaves, led eventually by Toussaint Louverture and then, following his capture by the French in 1801, by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, held their own against French, Spanish, and British opponents, and ultimately achieved independence as Haiti in 1804 (Haiti became the first black republic in the world, much earlier than any of the future African nations although it was not until the 1800s that Europeans began establishing colonies in Africa). In the meanwhile, the newly resumed war with Britain by the French, resulted in the British capture of practically all remaining French colonies. These were restored at the Peace of Amiens in 1802, but when war resumed in 1803, the British soon recaptured them. France's repurchase of Louisiana in 1800 came to nothing, as the final success of the Haitian revolt convinced Bonaparte that holding Louisiana would not be worth the cost, leading to its sale to the United States in 1803 (the Louisiana Purchase). Nor was the French attempt to establish a colony in Egypt in 1798–1801 successful.

Second French colonial empire

At the close of the Napoleonic Wars, most of France's colonies were restored to it by Britain, notably Guadeloupe and Martinique in the West Indies, French Guiana on the coast of South America, various trading posts in Senegal, the Île Bourbon (Réunion) in the Indian Ocean, and France's tiny Indian possessions. Britain finally annexed Saint Lucia, Tobago, the Seychelles, and the Île de France (Mauritius), however.

The true beginnings of the second French colonial empire, however, were laid in 1830 with the French invasion of Algeria, which was conquered over the next 17 years. During the Second Empire, headed by Napoleon III, an attempt was made to establish a colonial-type protectorate in Mexico, but this came to little, and the French were forced to abandon the experiment after the end of the American Civil War, when the American president, Andrew Johnson, invoked the Monroe Doctrine. This French intervention in Mexico lasted from 1861 to 1867. Napoleon III also established French control over Cochinchina (the southernmost part of modern Vietnam including Saigon) in 1867 and 1874, as well as a protectorate over Cambodia in 1863.

It was only after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 and the founding of the Third Republic (1871-1940) that most of France's later colonial possessions were acquired. From their base in Cochinchina, the French took over Tonkin (in modern northern Vietnam) and Annam (in modern central Vietnam) in 1884-1885. These, together with Cambodia and Cochinchina, formed French Indochina in 1887 (to which Laos was added in 1893, and Kwang-Chou-Wan [1] in 1900). In 1849, the French concession in Shanghai was established, lasting until 1946.

French colonies in 1891 (from Le Monde Illustré).
1. Panorama of Lac-Kaï, French outpost in China.
2. Yun-nan, in the quay of Hanoi.
3. Flooded street of Hanoi.
4. Landing stage of Hanoi

Influence was also expanded in North Africa, establishing a protectorate on Tunisia in 1881 (Bardo Treaty). Gradually, French control was established over much of Northern, Western, and Central Africa by the turn of the century (including the modern nations of Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo), and the east African coastal enclave of Djibouti (French Somaliland). The Voulet-Chanoine Mission, a military expedition, was sent out from Senegal in 1898 to conquer the Chad Basin and unify all French territories in West Africa. This expedition operated jointly with two other expeditions, the Foureau-Lamy and Gentil missions, which advanced from Algeria and Middle Congo respectively. With the death of the Muslim warlord Rabih az-Zubayr, the greatest ruler in the region, and the creation of the Military Territory of Chad in 1900, the Voulet-Chanoine Mission had accomplished all its goals. The ruthlessness of the mission provoked a scandal in Paris. As a part of the Scramble for Africa, France had the establishment of a continuous west-east axis of the continent as an objective, in contrast with the British north-south axis. This resulted in the Fashoda incident, where an expedition led by Jean-Baptiste Marchand was opposed by forces under Lord Kitchener's command. The resolution of the crisis had a part in the bringing forth of the Entente Cordiale. During the Agadir Crisis in 1911, Britain supported France and Morocco became a French protectorate.

At this time, the French also established colonies in the South Pacific, including New Caledonia, the various island groups which make up French Polynesia (including the Society Islands, the Marquesas, the Tuamotus), and established joint control of the New Hebrides with Britain.

The French made their last major colonial gains after the First World War, when they gained mandates over the former Turkish territories of the Ottoman Empire that make up what is now Syria and Lebanon, as well as most of the former German colonies of Togo and Cameroon. A hallmark of the French colonial project in the late 19th century and early 20th Century was the civilizing mission (mission civilisatrice), the principle that it was Europe's duty to bring civilization to benighted peoples. As such, colonial officials undertook a policy of Franco-Europeanization in French colonies, most notably French West Africa. Africans who adopted French culture, including fluent use of the French language and conversion to Christianity, were granted equal French citizenship, including suffrage. Later, residents of the "Four Communes" in Senegal were granted citizenship in a program led by the Afro-French politician Blaise Diagne.

Collapse of the empire

A poster symbolising the French colonial empire titled: "Three colors, one flag, one empire"

The French colonial empire began to fall apart during the Second World War, when various parts of their empire were occupied by foreign powers (Japan in Indochina, Britain in Syria, Lebanon, and Madagascar, the US and Britain in Morocco and Algeria, and Germany and Italy in Tunisia). However, control was gradually reestablished by Charles de Gaulle. The French Union, included in the 1946 Constitution, replaced the former colonial Empire.

However, France was immediately confronted with the beginnings of the decolonization movement. Paul Ramadier's (SFIO) cabinet repressed the Malagasy Uprising in 1947. In Asia, Ho Chi Minh's Vietminh declared Vietnam's independence, starting the Franco-Vietnamese War. In Cameroun, the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon's insurrection, started in 1955 and headed by Ruben Um Nyobé, was violently repressed.

When this ended with French defeat and withdrawal from Vietnam in 1954, the French almost immediately became involved in a new, and even harsher conflict in their oldest major colony, Algeria. Ferhat Abbas and Messali Hadj's movements had marked the period between the two wars, but both sides radicalized after the Second World War. In 1945, the Sétif massacre was carried out by the French army. The Algerian War started in 1954. Algeria was particularly problematic for the French, due to the large number of European settlers (or pieds-noirs) who had settled there in the 125 years of French rule. Charles de Gaulle's accession to power in 1958 in the middle of the crisis ultimately led to independence for Algeria with the 1962 Evian Accords. The Suez Canal incident in '56 also displayed the limitations of French power, as its attempt to retake the canal along with the British was stymied when the United States did not back the plan.

The French Union was replaced in the new 1958 Constitution by the French Community. Only Guinea refused by referendum to take part to the new colonial organization. However, the French Community dissolved itself in the midsts of the Algerian War; almost all of the other African colonies were granted independence in 1960, following local referendums. Some few colonies chose instead to remain part of France, under the statuses of overseas départements (territories). Critics of neocolonialism claimed that the Françafrique had replaced formal direct rule. They argued that while de Gaulle was granting independence on one hand, he was creating new ties through Jacques Foccart's help, his counsellor for African matters. Foccart supported in particular the Nigerian Civil War during the late 1960s.

French settlers

Unlike elsewhere in Europe, France experienced relatively low levels of emigration to the Americas, with the exception of the Huguenots. However, significant emigration of mainly Roman Catholic French populations led to the settlement of the provinces of Acadia, Canada and Louisiana, both (at the time) French possessions, as well as colonies in the West Indies, Mascarene islands and Africa.

On December 31, 1687 a community of French Huguenots settled in South Africa. Most of these originally settled in the Cape Colony, but have since been quickly absorbed into the Afrikaner population. After Champlain's founding of Quebec City in 1608, it became the capital of New France. Encouraging settlement was difficult, and while some immigration did occur, by 1763 New France only had a population of some 65,000.[2] From 1713 to 1787, 30,000 colonists immigrated from France to the St. Domingue. In 1805, when the French were forced out of St. Domingue (Haiti) 35,000 French settlers were given lands in Cuba.[3] Out of the 40,000 inhabitants on Guadeloupe, at the end of the 17th century, there were more than 26,000 blacks and 9,000 whites.[4]

French law made it easy for thousands of colons, ethnic or national French from former colonies of North and East Africa, India and Indochina to live in mainland France. It is estimated that 20,000 colons were living in Saigon in 1945. 1.6 million European pieds noirs migrated from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.[5] In just a few months in 1962, 900,000 French Algerians left Algeria in the most massive relocation of population in Europe since World War II. In the 1970s, over 30,000 French colons left Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime as the Pol Pot government confiscated their farms and land properties. In November 2004, several thousand of the estimated 14,000 French nationals in Ivory Coast left country after days of anti-white violence.[6]

Apart from French-Canadians, Québécois, Acadians, Cajuns, and Métis other populations of French ancestry outside metropolitan France include the Caldoches of New Caledonia and the so-called Zoreilles and Petits-blancs of various Indian Ocean islands.

See also

Footnotes

References

  • Andrew, C. M.; Kanya-Forstner, A. S. (1976), "French Business and the French Colonialists", The Historical Journal 19 (4): 981–1000, doi:10.1017/S0018246X00010803 .
  • Burrows, Mathew (1986), "'Mission civilisatrice': French Cultural Policy in the Middle East, 1860-1914", The Historical Journal 29 (1): 109–135, doi:10.1017/S0018246X00018641 .
  • Confer, Vincent (1964), "French Colonial Ideas before 1789", French Historical Studies 3 (3): 338–359, doi:10.2307/285947 .
  • Emerson, Rupert (1969), "Colonialism", Journal of Contemporary History 4 (1): 3–16, doi:10.1177/002200946900400101 .
  • Martin, Guy (1985), "The Historical, Economic, and Political Bases of France's African Policy", The Journal of Modern African Studies 23 (2): 189–208, doi:10.1017/S0022278X00000148 .
  • Newbury, C. W.; Kanya-Forstner, A. S. (1969), "French Policy and the Origins of the Scramble for West Africa", The Journal of African History 10 (2): 253–276, doi:10.2307/179514 .
  • Pakenham, Thomas (1991), The Scramble for Africa, 1876–1912, New York: Random House, ISBN 0394515765 .
  • Petringa, Maria (2006), Brazza, A Life for Africa, Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, ISBN 1425911986 .

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