French Union

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French Union
Union française


Flag Coat of arms
"Liberté, égalité, fraternité"
"Liberty, equality, brotherhood"
La Marseillaise
Territories of the French Union.
Capital Paris
Languages French
Political structure State union
Historical era Cold War
 •  Fourth Republic October 27, 1946
 •  Fifth Republic October 5, 1958
Currency French franc
CFA franc
CFP franc
French Indochinese piastre
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Provisional Government of the French Republic
French colonial empire
French Community
Kingdom of Laos
State of Vietnam
North Vietnam
Kingdom of Cambodia
French Guinea

The French Union (French: Union française) was a political entity created by the French Fourth Republic to replace the old French colonial system, the "French Empire" (Empire Français). It was the formal end of the "indigenous" (indigène) status of French subjects in colonial areas.


Frederick Cooper, historian of Africa and professor at New York University, writes that the French Union had six components:

  1. "European France, divided into departments;
  2. 'Old' colonies, notably those of the Caribbean that became departments in 1946, plus the enclaves of Senegal (the Quatre Communes), whose inhabitants were citizens;
  3. 'New' colonies, including most of French Africa, renamed overseas territories, whose inhabitants were mostly subjects;
  4. Algeria, whose territory was integral to the French Republic but whose people were divided into citizens, mostly of European origin, and subjects with diminished civil and political rights, the category into which most Muslim Algerians fell;
  5. Protectorates, which had come under French rule by treaty, which had their own nationalities, and whose rulers were considered sovereign, including Morocco, Tunisia, and most of Indochina;
  6. Mandates, such as Cameroon and Togo, which were inherited by the UN from the League of Nations, and which France ruled as a trustee, not a sovereign, and which could potentially acquire their own nationalities."[1]


The French Union was established by the French constitution of October 27, 1946 (Fourth Republic). Under it, it was said that there were no French colonies, but that metropolitan France, the overseas departments, and the overseas territories combined to create a single French Union, or just one France.[2]

The goal of this union was "assimilation of the overseas territories into a greater France, inhabited by French citizens, and blessed by French culture."[3] The British colonial system had local colonial government which would eventually evolve into separate government; France wanted to create a single government under a single France.[3]

This French Union had a President, a High Council and an Assembly. The President was the President of the Republic. The Assembly of the Union had membership from the Council of the Republic, from the National Assembly and from regional assemblies of the overseas territories and departments but ultimately had no power.[4] The High Council ultimately only met three times, first in 1951.[5] The Assembly was the only actual functioning institution, wholly to be able to manage the legislation within the overseas territories.[3]

In reality, the colonial areas had representation but all power remained in the French Parliament and thus was centralized.[3] The colonies had local assemblies but these had only limited local power.[3] Instead, various natives of the overseas territories in metropolitan France grew into a group of elites, known as evolués.[3]

On January 31, 1956, hoping to having peace in Algiers, the system changed, abandoning assimilation in favor of autonomy, allowing territories to develop their own local government and to eventually gain their independence.[6] This would not succeed however and in 1958 the French Union was replaced by the French Community by Charles de Gaulle's Fifth Republic wherein France was now a federation of states with their own self-government.[7]

Withdrawals from the French Union[edit]

  • Cambodia withdrew on 25 September 1955.[8]
  • South Vietnam withdrew on 9 December 1955.[9]
  • Morocco withdrew on 2 March 1956 on becoming independent.
  • Tunisia withdrew on 20 March 1956 on becoming independent.
  • Laos withdrew on 11 May 1957 by amending its constitution.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Alternatives to Nationalism in French West Africa, 1945-60." Pp. 110-37 in Marc Frey and Jost Dülferr, eds., Elites and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
  2. ^ Simpson, Alfred William Brian (2004). Human Rights and the End of Empire: Britain and the Genesis of the European Convention. Oxford University Press. p. 285. ISBN 0199267898. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Simpson, Human Rights (2004), p. 286
  4. ^ Simpson, Human Rights (2004), p. 285-286
  5. ^ Simpson, Human Rights (2004), p. 286 fn. 33
  6. ^ Simpson, Human Rights (2004), p. 286-287
  7. ^ Simpson, Human Rights (2004), p. 287
  8. ^ [ Displaying Abstract ] (2012-04-30). "CAMBODIA SEVERS TIES WITH FRANCE - Declares Her Independence - Prince Norodom Takes the Post of Premier - Article -". 
  9. ^ "Pentagon Papers Part IV A 3" (PDF). 1954–1960. 
  10. ^ "Laos". 

Further reading[edit]

  • Cooper, Frederick. "French Africa, 1947–48: Reform, Violence, and Uncertainty in a Colonial Situation." Critical Inquiry (2014) 40#4 pp: 466-478. in JSTOR
  • Simpson, Alfred William Brian. Human Rights and the End of Empire: Britain and the Genesis of the European Convention (Oxford University Press, 2004).
  • Smith, Tony. "A comparative study of French and British decolonization." Comparative Studies in Society and History (1978) 20#1 pp: 70-102. online
  • Smith, Tony. "The French Colonial Consensus and People's War, 1946-58." Journal of Contemporary History (1974): 217-247. in JSTOR