French Colonial Empire

Set of territories that were under French rule primarily from the 17th century to the late 1960s
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The French colonial empire constituted the overseas colonies, protectorates and mandate territories that came under French rule from the 16th century onward. A distinction is generally made between the "first colonial empire," that existed until 1814, by which time most of it had been lost, and the "second colonial empire", which began with the conquest of Algiers in 1830. The second colonial empire came to an end after the loss in later wars of Indochina (1954) and Algeria (1962), and relatively peaceful decolonizations elsewhere after 1960. The main competition included Spain, Portugal, the Dutch United Provinces and later Kingdom of Britain . France began to establish colonies in North America, the Caribbean and India in the 17th century. A series of wars with Britain and others resulted in France losing nearly all of its conquests by 1814. France rebuilt a new empire mostly after 1850, concentrating chiefly in Africa as well as Indochina and the South Pacific. Republicans, at first hostile to empire, only became supportive when Germany after 1880 started to build its own colonial empire. As it developed, the new French empire took on roles of trade with the motherland, supplying raw materials and purchasing manufactured items. Rebuilding an empire rebuilt French prestige, especially regarding international power and spreading the French language and the Catholic religion. It also provided manpower in the World Wars. A major goal was the Mission civilisatrice or "The Civilizing Mission". 'Civilizing' the populations of Africa through spreading language and religion, were used as justifications for many of the brutal practices that came with the French colonial project. In 1884, the leading proponent of colonialism, Jules Ferry, declared; "The higher races have a right over the lower races, they have a duty to civilize the inferior races." Full citizenship rights – assimilation – were offered, although in reality "assimilation was always receding [and] the colonial populations treated like subjects not citizens." France sent small numbers of settlers to its empire, with the notable exception of Algeria, where the French settlers took power while being a minority. At its apex, it was one of the largest empires in history. Including metropolitan France, the total amount of land under French sovereignty reached 11,500,000 km2 (4,400,000 sq mi) in 1920, with a population of 110 million people in 1939. In World War II, Charles de Gaulle and the Free French took control of the overseas colonies one-by-one and used them as bases from which they prepared to liberate France. Historian Tony Chafer argues: "In an effort to restore its world-power status after the humiliation of defeat and occupation, France was eager to maintain its overseas empire at the end of the Second World War." However, after 1945 anti-colonial movements began to challenge European authority. Major revolts in Vietnam and Algeria proved very expensive and France lost both. The French constitution of 27 October 1946 (Fourth Republic), established the French Union which endured until 1958. Newer remnants of the colonial empire were integrated into France as overseas departments and territories within the French Republic. These now total altogether 119,394 km² (46,098 sq. miles), with 2.7 million people in 2013. By the 1970s, says Robert Aldrich, the last "vestiges of empire held little interest for the French." He argues, "Except for the traumatic decolonization of Algeria, however, what is remarkable is how few long-lasting effects on France the giving up of empire entailed."
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