Charles de Gaulle

From New World Encyclopedia

Charles de Gaulle as President of France

Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle (November 22, 1890 – November 9,1970), in France commonly referred to as général de Gaulle, was a French military leader and statesman.

Prior to World War II he was mostly known as a tank tactician and an advocate of the concentrated use of armored and aviation forces. He was the leader of Free French government-in-exile and an anti-Nazi French Resistance guerrilla leader during World War II, and head of the provisional government during 1944 – 1946 following the liberation of France from German occupation.

Called by his countrymen to form a government in 1958, he inspired a new constitution and was the Fifth Republic's first president, serving from 1958 to 1969[1] His political ideology is known as Gaullism, and it has been a major influence in subsequent French politics. He had played a crucial role in stabilizing Western Europe after World War II especially in normalizing German-French relations and in establishing what is now the European Union. His strong advocacy of France's role in world affairs ensured her permanent seat on the Security Council, although France has fallen early to Hitler's Germany and had been excluded from initial talks about founding the United Nations. Under de Gaulle, France became the world's fourth nuclear power, perhaps earning its place in the Security Council. He strongly identified with his nation, so much so that for many he personified France. Relations between de Gaulle and Winston Churchill as well as Franklin Delano Roosevelt were famously strained. De Gaulle was sometimes impatient with the two leaders but they, unlike, him, were answerable to their respective legislatures and Roosevelt especially was reluctant to treat a self-appointed leader as an equal.[2] Roosevelt, early in the War, did not see him as a significant figure in French affairs. De Gaulle, though, admired Roosevelt.

France has continued to pursue a more independent foreign policy, sometimes at odds with that of the United States in large measure due to de Gaulle's legacy. His political philosophy had three main components, namely, that Government must be dominated by a powerful presidency, that the state should have a major role in the economy and that foreign policy must be independent.[3]

1890–1912: Formative years

Charles de Gaulle was the third child of a morally conservative but socially progressive Roman Catholic family. Born in Lille, de Gaulle grew up and was educated in Paris, at the College Stanislas.

His father's side of the family was a long line of aristocracy from Normandy and Burgundy which had been settled in Paris for about a century, whereas his mother's side was a family of rich entrepreneurs from the industrial region of Lille in French Flanders. The "de" in "de Gaulle" is not a nobiliary particle, although the de Gaulle family were an ancient family of ennobled knighthood. The earliest known de Gaulle ancestor was a squire of the twelfth century King Philip Augustus.

The name "de Gaulle" is thought to have evolved from a Germanic form, "De Walle," meaning "the wall." Most of the old French nobility descended from Germanic lineages and often bore Germanic names. Although not strictly a nobiliary particle, the "de" in "de Gaulle" has for centuries been written with a lower-case d.

De Gaulle's grandfather was a historian, his grandmother a writer, and his father a professor in private Catholic schools who founded his own private school. Political debates were frequent at home, and from an early age de Gaulle was introduced by his father to the important conservative authors. The family was very patriotic, and he was raised in the cult of the Nation (de Gaulle wrote in his memoirs that "my mother felt an uncompromising passion for the fatherland, equal to her religious piety").

Although traditionalist and monarchist, the family was legalist and respected the institutions of the French Republic. Their social ideas were also more liberal, influenced by socially conscious Roman Catholicism. During the Dreyfus Affair the family distanced itself from the more conservative nationalist circles and supported Alfred Dreyfus. His family was a generous and encouraging one and they helped Charles de Gaulle throughout his life.

1912–1940: Military career

Young Charles de Gaulle chose a military career and spent four years at École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr (the French equivalent of the United States' United States Military Academy at West Point and Britain's Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst). Graduating in 1912, he decided to join an infantry regiment rather than an elite corps.

During World War I, then-Captain de Gaulle was severely wounded in March 1916 at the gruesome Battle of Verdun and left for dead on the battlefield. He was, however, found and taken prisoner by the Germans. He made five unsuccessful escape attempts, and was put in solitary confinement at Ingolstadt fortress, a retaliation camp, where he encountered another incorrigible—Russian Lieutenant Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

When World War I ended, de Gaulle remained in the military, serving on the staffs successively of Generals Maxime Weygand and Philippe Pétain. During the Polish-Soviet war (1919-1920|21), he volunteered to be a member of the French Military Mission to Poland and was an infantry instructor with the Polish Army. He distinguished himself in operations near the River Zbrucz and won the highest Polish military decoration, the Virtuti Militari.

He was promoted to Major and offered a further career in Poland, but chose instead to return to France. He was heavily influenced by the Polish-Soviet War—by the use of tanks, rapid maneuvers and limited trench warfare. De Gaulle would also adopt some lessons, for his own military and political career, from Poland's Marshal Józef Piłsudski, who, decades before de Gaulle, sought to create a federation of European states (Międzymorze), retired from active military service and politics, only to return to public service at an hour of national crisis, and made no effort to enrich himself through his office.

De Gaulle, based partly on his observations during the war in Poland, so different from the experience of World War I, published books and articles on reorganization of the military, particularly his book, Vers l'Armée de Métier (published in English as The Army of the Future), in which he proposed the formation of a professional mechanized army with specialized armored divisions, in preference to the static theories exemplified by the Maginot Line.

While views similar to de Gaulle's were advanced by Britain's J.F.C. Fuller, Germany's Heinz Guderian, Russia's Mikhail Tukhachevsky, and Poland's General Władysław Sikorski, most of de Gaulle's theories were rejected by Pétain, and relations between them became strained. French politicians also dismissed de Gaulle's theories, questioning the political reliability of a professional army—with the notable exception of Paul Reynaud, who would play a major role in de Gaulle's career.

At the outbreak of World War II, de Gaulle was only a colonel, having encountered hostility from the leaders of the military through the 1920s and 1930s due to his bold views. After the German breakthrough at Sedan, on May 15, 1940, he was finally given command of the 4th Armoured Division.

On May 17, 1940, de Gaulle attacked the German tank forces at Montcornet. With only 200 French tanks and no air support, the offensive had little impact on the German advance. There was more success on May 28, when de Gaulle's tanks forced the German infantry to retreat at Caumont. This was one of the few significant tactical successes the French gained against the Germans during the campaign. Prime Minister Paul Reynaud promoted him provisional brigadier general (thus his title of général de Gaulle).

On June 6 Paul Reynaud appointed him undersecretary of state for national defense and war and put him in charge of coordination with the United Kingdom. As a junior member of the French government, he opposed unsuccessfully proposals to surrender. He served as a liaison with the British government, and with Churchill carved a project of political union between France and the United Kingdom on the morning of 16 June in London. The project would have resulted in effect in the merger of France and the United Kingdom into a single country, with a single government and a single army, for the duration of the war. This project was a desperate last minute effort to try to strengthen the resolve of those members of the French government who were in favor of continuing the war.

He took the plane back to Bordeaux (provisory seat of the French government) on that same afternoon, but when landing in Bordeaux in the evening he learned that Pétain had become premier with the intention of seeking an armistice with Germany.

That same day he made the most important decision in his life and in the modern history of France: he refused the humiliation of a French surrender and instead rebelled against the apparently legal (but illegitimate in his eyes) government of Pétain, returning to London and calling for the continuation of war. On the morning of June 17, with 100,000 gold francs from the secret funds given to him the previous night by Paul Reynaud, he fled Bordeaux by plane, narrowly escaped German aviation, and landed in London that same afternoon. De Gaulle decided to reject French capitulation and to set about building a movement which would appeal to overseas French, opponents of a separate arrangement with Germany.

1940–1945: The Free French Forces

On June 18, 1940 de Gaulle prepared to speak to the French people, via BBC radio, from London. The British Cabinet attempted to block the speech, but was overruled by Churchill. In France, de Gaulle's Appeal of 18 June could be heard nationwide in the evening. The phrase "France has lost a battle; she has not lost the war," which appeared on posters in Britain at the time, is often incorrectly associated with the BBC broadcast; nevertheless the words aptly capture the spirit of de Gaulle's position.

Only a few people actually heard the speech that night, because the BBC was seldom listened to on the continent, and millions of Frenchmen were refugees on the road. However, excerpts of the speech appeared in French newspapers the next day in the (unoccupied) southern part of France, the speech was repeated for several days on the BBC, and de Gaulle spoke again on subsequent nights.

De Gaulle's June 22 speech on the BBC can be heard here in its entirety. Audio excerpts of other speeches, the full texts of the speeches, and reproductions of posters from June 1940 can be found here.

Soon enough, among the chaos and bewilderment that was France in June 1940, the news that a French general was in London refusing to accept the tide of events and calling for the end of despair and the continuation of a winnable war was spread by word of mouth. To this day it remains one of the most famous speeches in French history.

From London, de Gaulle formed and led the Free French movement. Whereas the United States continued to recognize Vichy France, the British government of Winston Churchill supported de Gaulle, initially maintaining relations with the Vichy government but subsequently recognizing the Free French[4].

On July 4, 1940, a court-martial in Toulouse sentenced de Gaulle in absentia to four years in prison. At a second court-martial on August 2, 1940, de Gaulle was condemned to death for treason against the Vichy regime.

In his dealings with his British Allies and the United States, de Gaulle insisted at all times in retaining full freedom of action on behalf of France, even where this might embarrass or inconvenience his partners in the war. "France has no friends, only interests" is one of his best-remembered statements. Churchill is often misquoted as having commented, regarding working with de Gaulle, that: "Of all the crosses I have had to bear during this war, the heaviest has been the Cross of Lorraine (de Gaulle's symbol of Free France)." (The actual quote was by Churchill's envoy to France, Major-General Edward Spears[5][6]

Working with the French resistance and supporters in France's colonial possessions in Africa, after the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa in November 1942, de Gaulle moved his headquarters to Algiers in May 1943. He became first joint head (with the less resolutely independent Gen. Henri Giraud, the candidate preferred by the USA) and then sole chairman of the Committee of National Liberation[7].

At the liberation of France following Operation Overlord, in which Free French forces played a minor but symbolic role, he quickly established the authority of the Free French Forces in France, avoiding an Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories in France. He was flown into France from the French colony of Algeria a few hours before the liberation of Paris, and drove near the front of the column of liberating forces into the city alongside Allied officials. De Gaulle made a famous speech upon the liberation of Paris which caused raised eyebrows amongst the other western Allies.[8] After his return to Paris, he moved back into his office at the War Ministry, thus proclaiming continuity of the Third Republic and denying the legitimacy of Vichy France.

After the war he served as the President of the provisional government from September 1944 but resigned on January 20, 1946, complaining of conflict between the political parties, and disapproving of the draft constitution for the Fourth Republic which he believed placed too much power in the hands of parliament with its shifting party alliances.

1946–1958: The desert crossing

De Gaulle's opposition to the proposed constitution failed as the parties of the left supported a weak presidency to prevent any repetition of the Vichy regime. The second draft constitution narrowly approved at the referendum of October 1946 was even less to de Gaulle's liking than the first.

In April 1947 de Gaulle made a renewed attempt at transforming the political scene with the creation of the Rassemblement du Peuple Français (Rally of the French People, or RPF), but the movement lost impetus after initial success. In May 1953 he withdrew again from active politics, though the RPF lingered until September 1955.

He retired to Colombey-les-deux-Églises and wrote his war memoirs, Mémoires de guerre. During this period of formal retirement, de Gaulle however maintained regular contact with past political lieutenants from wartime and RPF days, including sympathisers involved in political developments in Algeria.

1958: The collapse of the Fourth Republic

The Fourth Republic was tainted by political instability, its failures in Indochina and its inability to resolve the Algerian question.

On May 13, 1958, the settlers seized the government buildings in Algiers, attacking what they saw as French government weakness in the face of demands among the Arab majority for Algerian independence. A "Committee of Civil and Army Public Security" was created under the presidency of General Jacques Massu, a Gaullist sympathizer. General Raoul Salan, Commander-in-Chief in Algeria, announced on radio that the Army had "provisionally taken over responsibility for the destiny of French Algeria."

Under the pressure of Massu, Salan declared "Vive de Gaulle!" from the balcony of the Algiers Government-General building on May 15. De Gaulle answered two days later that he was ready to "take on the powers of the Republic" (assumer les pouvoirs de la République). Many worried as they saw this answer as support to the army.

On May 19 de Gaulle asserted again (at a press conference) that he was at the disposal of the country. As a journalist expressed the concerns of some who feared that he would violate civil liberties, de Gaulle retorted vehemently: "Have I ever done that? Quite the opposite, I have reestablished them when they had disappeared. Who honestly believes that, at age 67, I would start a career as a dictator?" A republican by conviction, de Gaulle maintained throughout the crisis that he would accept power only from the lawfully constituted authorities of the state.

The crisis deepened as French paratroops from Algeria seized Corsica and a landing near Paris was discussed. Political leaders on all sides agreed to support the General's return to power, except François Mitterrand, and the Communist Party (which denounced de Gaulle as the agent of a fascist coup). Jean-Paul Sartre is quoted as saying "I would rather vote for God." On May 29 the French President, René Coty, appealed to the "most illustrious of Frenchmen" to become the last President of the Council (Prime Minister) of the Fourth Republic.

De Gaulle remained intent on replacing the constitution of the Fourth Republic, which he blamed for France's political weakness. He set as a condition for his return that he be given wide emergency powers for six months and that a new constitution1 be proposed to the French people. On June 1, 1958, de Gaulle became premier and was given emergency powers for six months by the National Assembly.

On September 28, 1958, a referendum took place and 79.2 percent of those who voted supported the new constitution and the creation of the Fifth Republic. The colonies (Algeria was officially a part of France, not a colony) were given the choice between immediate independence and the new constitution. All colonies voted for the new constitution except Guinea, which thus became the first French African colony to gain independence, at the cost of the immediate ending of all French assistance.

De Gaulle described the role he envisaged for the French president when he wrote the new French constitution. He said a Head of State should embody "the spirit of the nation" to the nation itself and to the world: une certaine idée de la France (a certain idea about France).

1958—1962: Founding of the Fifth Republic

In the November 1958 elections, de Gaulle and his supporters (initially organized in the Union pour la Nouvelle République-Union Démocratique du Travail, then the Union des Démocrates pour la Vème République, and later still the Union des Démocrates pour la République) won a comfortable majority. In December de Gaulle was elected President by the parliament with 78 percent of the vote, and was inaugurated in January 1959.

He oversaw tough economic measures to revitalise the country, including the issuing of a new franc (worth 100 old francs). Internationally he rebuffed both the United States and the Soviet Union, pushing for an independent France with its own nuclear weapons, and strongly encouraged a "Free Europe," believing that a confederation of all European nations would restore the past glories of the great European empires. He set about building Franco-German cooperation as the cornerstone of the European Economic Community (EEC, now the European Union (EU)), giving the first state visit to Germany by a French head of state since Napoleon. In 1963 Germany and France signed a treaty of friendship.

On November 23, 1959, in a speech in Strasbourg, de Gaulle announced his vision for Europe: Oui, c'est l'Europe, depuis l'Atlantique jusqu'à l'Oural, c'est tout l'Europe, qui décidera du destin du monde. ("Yes, it is Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, it is Europe, it is the whole of Europe, that will decide the destiny of the world.") His phrase, "Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals," has oft been cited throughout the history of European integration. It became a favorite political slogan of de Gaulle's for the next ten years, in fact. De Gaulle's vision stood in contrast to the Atlanticism of the United States, Britain, and NATO, preferring instead a Europe which acted as a third pole between the United States and Soviet Union. By including in his ideal of Europe all the territory extending to the Urals, de Gaulle was implicitly offering détente to the Soviets, while his phrase was also interpreted as excluding the United Kingdom from the future of Europe.

He also took the opportunity to deny the British entry to the EEC for the first time (in January 1963), citing his belief that the United Kingdom would not accept the rules of the Community, and would prefer its overseas alliances (the United States and the Commonwealth of Nations) to its European partners, French ties to its own former empire notwithstanding. Although his supporters would argue that British ambivalence toward the EEC justified his fears, many Britons took de Gaulle's "non" as an insult.

De Gaulle believed that while the war in Algeria was militarily winnable it was not defensible internationally, and he became reconciled to the former colony's eventual independence. This stance created huge anger among the French settlers and their metropolitan supporters, and de Gaulle was forced to suppress two uprisings in Algeria by French settlers and troops, in the second of which (in April 1961) France herself faced threatened invasion by rebel paratroops. De Gaulle's government covered up the Paris massacre of 1961. He was also targeted by the settler Organisation de l'Armée Secrète terrorist group and several assassination attempts were made on him; the most famous is that of August 22, 1962, when he and his wife narrowly escaped an assassination attempt when their Citroën DS was targeted by machine gun fire arranged by Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry at the Petit-Clamart. In March 1962 de Gaulle arranged a cease-fire in Algeria and a referendum supported independence, finally accomplished on July 3, 1962.

In September 1962 he sought a constitutional amendment to allow the president to be directly elected by the people. Following a defeat 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 Debré, still resigned over the final settlement and was replaced with Georges Pompidou.

1962–1968 Politics of Grandeur

With the Algerian conflict behind him, de Gaulle was able to achieve his two main objectives: To reform and develop the French economy, and to promote an independent foreign policy and a strong stance of France on the international stage. This was the so-called "politics of grandeur" (politique de grandeur).

"Thirty glorious years"

In the context of a population boom unseen in France since the eighteenth century, the government under prime minister Georges Pompidou oversaw a rapid transformation and expansion of the French economy. With dirigisme — a unique combination of capitalism and state-directed economy — the government intervened heavily in the economy, using indicative five-year plans as its main tool.

High profile projects, mostly but not always financially successful, were launched: the extension of Marseille harbor (soon becoming number three in Europe and number one on the Mediterranean Sea); the promotion of the Caravelle passenger jetliner (a predecessor of Airbus); the decision to start building the supersonic Franco-British Concorde airliner in Toulouse; the expansion of the French auto industry with state-owned Renault at its center; and the building of the first motorways between Paris and the provinces.

With these projects, the French economy recorded growth rates not seen since the nineteenth century. In 1963 de Gaulle vetoed Britain's entry into the EEC for the first of two times. In 1964, for the first time in 200 years, France's GDP overtook that of the United Kingdom of Great Britain's, a position it held until the UK's GDP again surpassed France's in the 1990s. This period is still remembered in France with some nostalgia as the peak of the Trente Glorieuses ("Thirty Glorious Years" of economic growth between 1945-1975).

The fourth nuclear power

This strong economic foundation enabled de Gaulle to implement his independent foreign policy. In 1960, France became the fourth state to acquire a nuclear arsenal, having successfully detonated an atomic bomb in the Algerian desert. In 1968, at the insistence of de Gaulle, French scientists finally succeeded in detonating a hydrogen bomb, without any American assistance. In what was regarded as a snub to Britain, de Gaulle declared France was the third big independent nuclear power, as Britain's nuclear force was closely coordinated with that of the United States (though critics countered that this "independence" was an illusory luxury France could afford only by being under the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella).

While grandeur was surely an essential motive in these nuclear developments, another was the concern that the U.S., involved in an unpopular and costly war in Vietnam, would hesitate to intervene in Europe should the Soviet Union decide to invade. An additional effect of the development was that the French military, which was demoralized close to the point of rebellion after the loss of the Algerian War of Independence, was kept busy. In 1965 France launched its first satellite into orbit, being the third country in the world to build a complete outer space delivery system, after the Soviet Union and the United States.


De Gaulle was convinced that a strong and independent France could act as a balancing force in the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, a policy seen as little more than posturing and opportunism by his critics, particularly in Britain and the United States, to which France was formally allied. In January 1964, he officially recognized the People's Republic of China, despite U.S. opposition. It should be noted that de Gaulle came to the same conclusion that would lead to the American President Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1972, eight years later. However Nixon's trip was timed to prevent a North Korean invasion of South Korea.

Richard Nixon's first foreign visit after his election was to visit France and de Gaulle in 1969. They both shared the same non-Wilsonian approach to world affairs, believing in nations and their relative strengths, rather than in ideologies, international organizations, or multilateral agreements. De Gaulle is famously quoted for nicknaming the United Nations le Machin ("the thing").

Second round

In December 1965, de Gaulle was returned as president for a second seven-year term, but for the first time had to go through a second round of voting in which he defeated François Mitterrand. In February 1966, France withdrew from the common NATO military command, but remained within the organization. De Gaulle, haunted by the memories of 1940, wanted France to remain the master of the decisions affecting it, unlike in the 1930s, when France had to follow in step with the British ally. Again, though, the move was seen as further evidence of de Gaulle's hypocrisy; critics charged he was content for France to be protected by NATO, while publicly snubbing the alliance.

In September 1966, in a famous speech in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, he expressed France's disapproval of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War; again, preceding Nixon by seven years, he called for a U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam as the only way to ensure peace. As the Vietnam War had its roots in French colonialism in southeast Asia, this speech did little to endear de Gaulle to the Americans, even if they later drew the same conclusion.

The Six Day War

Having vetoed Britain's entry into the European Economic Community a second time, in June 1967, he condemned the Israelis over their occupation of the West Bank and Gaza following the Six-Day War. This was a major change in French policy towards Israel. Until then, France had been a staunch ally of Israel, helping Israel militarily and jointly planning the Suez Campaign in 1956.

Under de Gaulle, following the independence of Algeria, France embarked on foreign policies more favorable to the Arab side, still a distinct aspect of French foreign policy today. Israel's leadership, stung by what it considered its capricious abandonment in the face of de Gaulle's desire to appease the Arabs, then turned towards the United States for military support.

Nigerian Civil War

During Nigeria's civil war of 1967-1970, de Gaulle's government supported the Republic of Biafra in its struggle to gain independence from Nigeria. Despite lack of official recognition, de Gaulle provided covert military assistance through France's former African colonies. The United Kingdom was in opposition to de Gaulle's stance but he viewed the political position of the Igbo in Nigeria as analogous to that of the French Québécois living in Canada.

Vive le Québec Libre!

Main article: Vive le Québec libre speech

In July 1967, de Gaulle visited Canada, which was celebrating its centennial with a world's fair, Expo '67. On July 24, speaking to a large crowd from a balcony on Montreal city hall, de Gaulle uttered Vive le Québec! (Long live Quebec!) then added, Vive le Québec libre! (Long live free Québec!). De Gaulle left Canada of his own accord the next day without proceeding to the capital city Ottawa as scheduled.

The speech caused outrage in Canada; it led to a serious diplomatic rift between the two countries. However, the event was seen as a watershed moment by the Quebec sovereignty movement.

In December 1967, claiming continental European solidarity, he again rejected British entry into the EEC.


Many have commented that the "policy of grandeur" was probably too ambitious and heavy for the shoulders of France. This policy, it is argued, was made possible by the exceptional historical figure of de Gaulle, but was not sustainable by post-imperial France in the long run. In any case, it is still remembered in France as a defining era of French modern foreign policy, and it still largely inspires French foreign policy today.

May 1968

De Gaulle's government, however, was criticized within France, particularly for its heavy-handed style. While the written press and elections were free, the state had a monopoly on television and radio broadcasts (though there were private stations broadcasting from abroad; and the executive occasionally told public broadcasters the bias that they desired on news. In many respects, society was traditionalistic and repressive, especially regarding the position of women. Many factors contributed to a general weariness of sections of the public, particularly the student youth, which led to the events of May 1968.

The huge demonstrations and strikes in France in May 1968 were a big challenge to de Gaulle's presidency. In the course of the May 1968 events he briefly fled to Baden-Baden and met Massu, now French commander in Germany (to discuss army intervention against the protesters, according to popular but unofficial accounts).

But de Gaulle offered 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 (in which the government had all but lost its majority in the March 1967 elections) and hold new elections instead. The June 1968 elections were a major success for the Gaullists and their allies: when offered the spectre of revolution or even civil war, the majority of the country rallied to him. His party won 358 of 487 seats, but Georges Pompidou was suddenly replaced by Maurice Couve de Murville in July.

1969 - Retirement

Charles de Gaulle resigned the presidency on April 28, 1969, following the defeat of his referendum to transform the Senate (upper house of the French parliament, wielding less power than the National Assembly) into an advisory body while giving extended powers to regional councils. Some said this referendum was a self-conscious political suicide committed by de Gaulle after the traumatizing events of May 1968. As proven before in 1946, de Gaulle refused to stay in power without widespread popular support.

1970 - A humble death

He retired once again to Colombey-les-deux-Églises, where he died suddenly in 1970, two weeks before his 80th birthday, in the middle of writing his memoirs. In perfect health until then, it was reported that as he had finished watching the evening news on television and was sitting in his armchair he suddenly said "I feel a pain here," pointing to his neck, just seconds before he fell unconscious due to an aneurysmal rupture. Within minutes he was dead.

His last wish was also a final slap to the establishment and protocol. He specifically asked to be buried in Colombey, and that no presidents or ministers attend his funeral, only his Compagnons de la Libération. Heads of State had to content themselves with a simultaneous service held at Notre-Dame Cathedral.

He also specified that his tombstone bear the simple inscription "Charles de Gaulle, 1890-1970."

Unlike many other politicians, he died nearly destitute, and his family had to sell the Boisserie residence. It was purchased by a foundation and is currently the Charles de Gaulle Museum.

Private life

Charles de Gaulle married on April 7, 1921, to Yvonne Vendroux ("Tante Yvonne"). They had three children: Philippe (1921), Elisabeth (1924) and Anne (1928 – 1948). Anne had Down syndrome and died at 20.

One of Charles de Gaulle's grandsons, Charles de Gaulle, was a member of the European Parliament from 1994 to 2004, his last tenure being for the National Front.

Another grandson, Jean de Gaulle, is a member of the French Parliament.


Though controversial throughout his political career, not least among ideological opponents on the left and among overseas strategic partners, de Gaulle continues to command enormous respect within France, where his presidency is seen as a return to political stability and strength on the international stage. Amongst his admirers, he was the epitome of a roi juste (translatable as "just king"), since he embodied qualities of a just and righteous ruler. De Gaulle's new constitution of the Fifth Republic was able to satiate a lingering feeling for a strong, central, singular political position, which harkens back to the days of the monarchy, connected however with a democratic system. His opponents however see his constitution nothing but a re-cast of the old, with accusation including "caesaropapism," with the president having almost monarchical powers similar to the ancien regime. Nevertheless in his defense, the system of the Fifth Republic (Une certaine idée de la France) has proven remarkably stable in contrast to the previous Fourth Republic, despite constitutional changes since its implementation.

On the domestic front, for all its flaws, he presided over a return to economic prosperity after an initially sluggish postwar performance, while maintaining much of the social contract evolved in previous decades between employers and labor. The associated dirigisme (state economic interventionism) of the Fifth Republic's early decades remains at odds with the current trend of western economic orthodoxy; yet, they resulted in unprecedented growth and much improved standards of living for the French population.

De Gaulle's presidential style of government was continued under his successors. Internationally, the emphasis on French independence which so characterized de Gaulle's policy remains a keynote of foreign policy, together with his alignment with the former rival Germany, still seen in both countries as a foundation for European integration.

France's largest airport in Roissy, France, outside of Paris was named Charles de Gaulle International Airport in de Gaulle's honor.


  1. As he commissioned the new constitution and was responsible for its overall framework, de Gaulle is sometimes described as the author of the constitution. De Gaulle's political ideas were written into a constitution by Michel Debré who then guided the text through the enactment process. Thus while the constitution reflects de Gaulle's ideas, Michel Debré was the actual author of the text.
  2. David Schoenbrun. America Inside Out. (NY: McGraw Hill, 1984 ISBN 0070554730), 57-60
  3. Hence his withdrawal from NATO in 1966.
  4. Roosevelt declared that the French people had not elected de Gaulle. If, after the war, they were to do so, then he 'would be happy to recognize de Gaulle', cited in Schoenbrun: 58
  5. (see The Churchill Center [1], Retrieved October 13, 2008.
  6. Philip Aspden, Two Wars at the Lion's Side, [2]).)The Churchill Center. Retrieved October 13, 2008.
  7. de Gaulle enjoyed the support of colonial French and also of the resistance movement, with 'only insignificant exceptions', Schoenbrun: 90. Once, partly in jest, de Gaulle compared himself with Joan of Arc, saying that 'no one ever elected' her but that at certain times in the history of nations, 'a leader emerges from the ranks and hold high the flag of the nation', Schoenbrun: 58
  8. Allan Little, 2004, Paris liberation 'myth' erases Allies BBC News Retrieved October 13, 2008.


French editions

  • de Gaulle, Charles. La Discorde Chez l'Ennemi. French & European Pubns, 1971. ISBN 078595242X
  • Histoire des Troupes du Levant (1931) Written by Major de Gaulle and Major Yvon, with Staff Colonel de Mierry collaborating in the preparation of the final text.
  • de Gaulle, Charles. Le Fil de l'Epée. French & European Pubns, 1971. ISBN 0785952403
  • de Gaulle, Charles. Vers l'Armée de Métier. Paris: Plon, 1971.
  • de Gaulle, Charles. La France et son Armée. French & European Pubns, 1969. ISBN 0785952411
  • de Gaulle, Charles. Trois Etudes. (Rôle Historique des Places Fortes; Mobilisation Economique à l'Etranger; Comment Faire une Armée de Métier) followed by the Memorandum of January 26, 1940. Paris: le Livre de poche, 1973.
  • de Gaulle, Charles. Mémoires d'Espoir, V. 1. : Le Renouveau 1958-1962. French & European Pubns, 1995. ISBN 0318520532
  • de Gaulle, Charles. Discours et Messages, V. 1. : Pendant la Guerre 1940-1946. French & European Pubns, 1970. ISBN 0785952454
  • de Gaulle, Charles. Discours et Messages, V. 2. : Dans l'attente 1946-1958. French & European Pubns, 1970. ISBN 0785952446
  • de Gaulle, Charles. Discours et Messages, V. 3. : Avec le Renouveau 1958-1962. French & European Pubns, 1970 ISBN 0785952462
  • de Gaulle, Charles. Discours et Messages, V. 4. : Pour l'Effort 1962-1965. French & European Pubns, 1970. ISBN 0785912177
  • de Gaulle, Charles. Discours et Messages, V. 5. : Vers le Terme 1966-1969. French & European Pubns, 1970.

English translations

  • de Gaulle, Charles. The Edge of the Sword (Le Fil de l'Epée). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1975, c1960 ISBN 0837183669, Translated from the French by Gerard Hopkins.
  • de Gaulle, Charles. The Army of the Future. (Vers l'Armée de Métier). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1976, c1969 ISBN 0837175259 Foreword by Walter Millis.
  • de Gaulle, Charles. France and Her Army. (La France et son Armée). London; New York: etc., Hutchinson & co., ltd., 1945, Translated by F.L. Dash.
  • de Gaulle, Charles. War Memoirs, V. 1. : Call to Honor, 1940-1942 (L'Appel). New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955-1960. Translated from the French by Jonathan Griffin. 5 volumes.
  • de Gaulle, Charles. War Memoirs, V. 2. : Unity, 1942-1944. (L'Unité). New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955-1960. Translated from the French by Richard Howard. 5 volumes.
  • deGaulle, Charles. War Memoirs, V. 3. : Salvation, 1944-1946. (Le Salut). New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955-1960. Translated from the French by Richard Howard. 5 volumes.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Jackson, Julian. De Gaule (Life and Times). London: Haus Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1904341446
  • Lacouture, Jean and Patrick O'Brian. De Gaulle: The Rebel 1890-1944. NY: W. W Norton, 1993. ISBN 0393309991
  • Lacouture, Jean and Alan Sheridan. De Gaulle: The Ruler, 1945-1970. NY: W. W norton, 1993. ISBN 0393310000
  • Schoenbrun, David. America Inside Out. NY: McGraw Hill, 1984. ISBN 0070554730
  • Williams, Charles. The Last Great Frenchman: A life of General De Gaulle. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 1993. ISBN 0471180718


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