Charles de Gaulle (shärl də gōl), 1890–1970, French general and statesman, first president (1959–69) of the Fifth Republic.
The World Wars
During World War I de Gaulle served with distinction until his capture in 1916. In The Army of the Future (1934, tr. 1941) he foresaw and futilely advocated for France the mechanized warfare by which Germany was to conquer France in 1940. In World War II he was promoted to brigadier general (1940) and became undersecretary of war in the cabinet of Premier Paul Reynaud.
De Gaulle opposed the Franco-German armistice and fled (June, 1940) to London, where he organized the Free French forces and rallied several French colonies to his movement. He was sentenced to death in absentia by a French military court. The Free French forces were successful in Syria, Madagascar, and N Africa. In June, 1943, de Gaulle became copresident, with Gen. Henri Honoré Giraud, of the newly formed French Committee of National Liberation at Algiers. He succeeded in forcing Giraud out of the committee, and in June, 1944, it was proclaimed the provisional government of France.
The Postwar Period
De Gaulle's government returned to Paris on Aug. 26 and was recognized by the principal Allies. He was unanimously elected provisional president of France in Nov., 1945, but he resigned in Jan., 1946, when it became obvious that his views favoring a strong executive would not be incorporated into the new constitution. Many of the rightist elements had gathered under the Gaullist banner, and he became (1947) head of a new party—Rassemblement du Peuple Français [Rally of the French People]—which claimed to speak for all Frenchmen and to be above factional strife but which, nevertheless, took part in subsequent elections. The party had some temporary electoral success, but in 1953 de Gaulle dissolved it and went into retirement.
Algeria and Internal Affairs
In 1958, after the military and civilian revolt in Algeria had created a political crisis in France, he was considered the only leader of sufficient strength and stature to deal with the situation. He became premier with power to rule by decree for six months. During this time a new constitution, which strengthened the presidency, was drawn up (1958). The constitution also provided for the French Community, the first step toward resolving imperial problems. De Gaulle was inaugurated as president of the new Fifth Republic in Jan., 1959. He decided to allow Algeria self-determination. This decision led to several revolts in Algeria by French colonists who opposed independence. Finally in 1962 an agreement was reached that provided for Algerian independence.
In domestic affairs de Gaulle attempted to restore French national finances by devaluing the franc and creating a new franc worth 100 old francs. Much of de Gaulle's program consisted of an attempt to raise France to its former world stature. He argued for French parity with the United States in NATO decisions and promoted French development of atomic weapons. In 1966, he withdrew French troops from NATO and ordered the withdrawal of NATO military installations from France by Apr., 1967.
The Final Presidency
De Gaulle was reelected to a second seven-year term in 1965. Although he rejected limitations on French sovereignty, he supported participation in the Common Market but strongly opposed British membership in it. He fostered ties with West Germany and established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. In May, 1968, student demonstrations protesting French political and educational systems were followed by huge workers' strikes that nearly toppled the Gaullist government. Nevertheless, in elections held in June, the Gaullists were returned to power. In 1969, after being defeated in a referendum on constitutional reform, de Gaulle resigned as president.
See De Gaulle's War Memoirs (tr., 3 vol., 1955–60; repr. 1984) and Memoirs of Hope (tr. 1972); biographies by P. Masson (1971), B. Crozier (1973), D. Cook (1984), J. Lacouture (2 vol., 1990–92), C. Williams (1995), and J. Fenby (2012); A. Werth, The De Gaulle Revolution (1960), P. M. Williams and M. Harrison, De Gaulle's Republic (1960), R. Aron, An Explanation of De Gaulle (1965), J. Hess, The Case for De Gaulle (1968), A. Hartley, Gaullism (1971), P. Alexandre, The Duel: De Gaulle and Pompidou (1972).