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France in 1958

Much of what happened inside France in 1958 was spurred by events in its African colonies, especially Algeria.

On February 8, Algerian-based aircraft bombed and strafed the Tunisian village of Sakiet-Sadi-Youssef, killing 68 persons and wounding 100 others. France charged that Tunisia was a supply and operational base for Algerian rebels. Tunisia responded by protesting to U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, and by blockading French military bases maintained in Tunisia under the 1956 French-Tunisian Independence Accord. The bombing stirred much controversy in France, and on February 11 the National Assembly voted 335 to 179 to accept Premier Félix Gaillard's explanation of why the village was bombed, although many of the Deputies who approved the vote of confidence admitted that they did so solely in order to prevent a ministerial crisis.

On February 19, U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of State Robert D. Murphy, North African affairs specialist, was named to represent the United States in a joint Anglo-U.S. offer of good offices to mediate the French-Tunisian crisis.

Shipments of nuclear reactor fuel to France began on March 4.
nuclear reactor fuel

On March 13, after Paris police demonstrated in favor of an increase in wages, the Gaillard government came under attack from Socialists, Conservatives, and Popular Democrats. Nevertheless the government survived another vote of confidence on March 18, by a vote of 282 to 196. The National Assembly approved a draft reform of the Constitution on March 21 (by a vote of 308 to 206), after which it again began debating issues related to North Africa.

On April 17, following a speech by right-wing leader Jacques Soustelle against accepting results of the Anglo-U.S. mediation effort to settle the dispute between France and Tunisia, the National Assembly defeated the government of Premier Félix Gaillard by a vote of 321 to 225.

France remained without a Premier until May 14, when the National Assembly approved by a vote of 274 to 129 President René Coty's naming of Pierre Pfimlin as Premier.

While the National Assembly was voting on Pfimlin, French civilians and army officers, with encouragement from Soustelle, were revolting in Algeria. Pfimlin's first action as Premier was to order the French army to assume military and administrative control of Algeria. In the midst of this crisis, on May 19, General Charles de Gaulle offered to take the leadership of France. The insurrection spread to Corsica on May 25, and general disorder quickly spread throughout France and the French Community.

French paratroopers stand guard on a rooftop in Ajaccio, Corsica, after a group called the Committee of Public Safety, which pledged loyalty to General de Gaulle, upset the local government in May.
paratroopers in Corsica

Premier Pflimlin submitted his resignation to President René Coty on May 28.

Pierre Pflimlin speaks to reporters after announcing his resignation as Premier.
Pierre Pflimlin

In a statement issued on May 29, De Gaulle said that he would assume the premiership if "the government would receive for a fixed time the full powers necessary to act in the present ... grave situation" and if certain constitutional changes were made. De Gaulle was named Premier-designate by President Coty on May 31, and confirmed Premier by the National Assembly on June 1 by a vote of 329 to 224.

A war veteran marches in a Nazi prison coat at a demonstration in Paris by the Popular Front, a largely left-wing coalition opposed to de Gaulle.
war veteran protest

Demonstrators opposed to the premiereship of de Gaulle affix placards reading "Long Live the Republic" to lampposts outside a Paris Metro station (on June 2).
demonstration in Paris

A Corsican demonstrator cheers at a pro-de Gaulle rally after the General was named Premier of France.
Corsican supporter

De Gaulle's demand for full power to rule by decree for a six-month period was granted by the National Assembly by a vote of 350 to 163 on June 3; he was also authorized to revise the constitution.

Premier De Gaulle addresses the French Senate on June 3.
De Gaulle addresses the National Assembly

De Gaulle visited Algeria June 4-6, during which time he offered Moslems equality. The Algerian National Liberation Front rejected an appeal to end its rebellion, however.

De Gaulle's first Cabinet, which was completed on June 9, included three former Premiers -- Guy Mollet, Antoine Pinay, and Pierre Pfimlin -- as well as representatives of seven political parties and five non-political "technicians."

De Gaulle acknowledged the end of the Fourth Republic on June 13 and asked for support for a revision of the French Constitution. A consultative committee headed by former Premier Paul Reynard approved De Gaulle's new constitution on August 15, but with revisions, and De Gaulle's Cabinet approved the new draft constitution on August 20. Madagascar pledged its support for membership in De Gaulle's proposed federal community on August 21, and Ivory Coast followed suit on August 24.

De Gaulle addresses a crowd in the Place de la République, Paris, on September 3. He was speaking in behalf of his proposal for a new constitution.
De Gaulle addresses a crowd

A constitution establishing the Fifth Republic was approved in a referendum on September 28 by a 4-1 margin in France and overwhelmingly in Algeria and all other parts of the French Union except French Guinea. On September 29 the French government served notice on French Guinea that it was free from the French Union. The Fifth Republic formally came into existence on October 5. Decrees issued by De Gaulle on October 21 fixed the new French Senate at 301 members.

Gaullist and Conservative candidates overhwelmingly defeated Moderate, Leftist, and Communist opponents of Charles De Gaulle on November 23 in first-round elections for the Fifth Republic's first National Assembly. In the runoff elections held on November 30, the Gaullists and Independents won control of the Assembly.

On December 1 President Coty informed Premier De Gaulle that he would not seek re-election in the indirect presidential balloting scheduled for December 21. On December 8, French representatives walked out of the United Nations General Assembly Political Committee when it opened debate on the Algerian problem.

On December 21, Charles De Gaulle was elected President of the Fifth Republic.

Dag Hammarskjöld
Charles de Gaulle
Guy Mollet

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The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> France, Andorra, Monaco >> France >> 20th Century

This page was last updated on May 25, 2017.