Fourth French Republic

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République française
French Republic
Flag of France.svg Armoiries république française.svg
flag coat of arms
Motto : Liberté, égalité, fraternité
( French for "freedom, equality, brotherhood")
Constitution The Constitution of the French Republic
Official language French
Capital Paris
Form of government Parliamentary republic
Form of government parliamentary democracy
Head of state Vincent Auriol (1947–1954)
René Coty (1954–1959)
Head of government see Prime Minister section
surface 674,843 km²
Residents 44,563,043 (1958)
Population density 66 inhabitants per km²
currency French Franc
Beginning 1946
The End 1958
National anthem Marseillaise
National holiday July 14th
Time zone UTC +1
License Plate F.
Telephone code +33
France after World War II

The Fourth French Republic ( French Quatrième République française ) was the form of government in France between October 27, 1946 and October 4, 1958 (the day on which the Constitution of the V Republic, drawn up on behalf of General Charles de Gaulle, came into force) . The fourth republic came into being after the end of the Second World War . The Vichy regime, which was dependent on National Socialist Germany, had become meaningless in 1944; de Gaulle had founded the Provisional Government of the French Republic on June 3, 1944 and was elected Prime Minister by the National Assembly on November 13, 1945.

Outstanding politicians of the IV Republic were - alongside the two presidents Vincent Auriol (1947–1954) and René Coty (1954–1959) - the Prime Ministers Pierre Mendès France (1907–1982), Henri Queuille (1884–1970), Antoine Pinay ( 1891–1994), Guy Mollet (1905–1975), René Pleven (1901–1993), Robert Schuman (1886–1963) and Georges Bidault (1899–1983). It was a parliamentary system of government with a dominant position of the legislature , which was characterized by extreme political instability as a result of the fragmentation of the parties: in eleven years there were 25 governments. Although quite successful in the economic field, the fourth republic ultimately failed because of the loss-making conflicts in decolonization in Indochina and North Africa . The Algerian war and an impending military coup sealed their fate and enabled de Gaulle to return to power.


In the course of the liberation of France from German occupation, a provisional government under General Charles de Gaulle, with the support of the Allies, took over power until a democratically legitimized political order was restored after the end of the Second World War. In fact, this government (Gouvernement provisoire) drew its legitimacy from the inclusion of all political forces not compromised by the collaboration who had fought in exile or in the Resistance against the occupation and the collaborative Vichy regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain . In a plebiscite on May 5, 1946, the majority of the French voting against the restoration of the institutions of the Third Republic (1870-1940) decided. General de Gaulle, who was unable to enforce his ideas regarding the restructuring of the state, resigned as provisional head of state and government in 1946 and declared war on "party rule". The new constitution - a first draft was rejected in a referendum, the second only approved with a narrow majority - was based on a compromise between the three strongest parties, communists ( PCF ), socialists ( SFIO ) and Christian-democratic MRP ( Mouvement républicain populaire ) . Power was concentrated in parliament or its first chamber, the National Assembly ( Assemblée nationale ). The changing alliances made the formation of effective governments difficult. After being ousted from the government because of the Cold War in 1947, the communists found themselves in "quarantine"; the opposition Gaullists and the right-wing populist Poujadists fought against the institutional structure as such from the start. General de Gaulle advocated a strengthening of executive power under a head of state endowed with extensive powers, as was later realized in the Fifth Republic.

The decision for a new constitution

Results of the referendum on October 21, 1945
Eligible voters 25,717,551
Abstentions 4,968,578 20.1% of voters
1 question
Votes cast 19,283,882 74.97% of eligible voters
Yes 18,584,746 96.37% of the votes cast
No 699.136 3.63% of the votes cast
2nd question
Votes cast 19,244,419 74.82% of eligible voters
Yes 12,795,213 66.48% of the votes cast
No 6,449,206 33.52% of the votes cast

Together with the first parliamentary elections after the end of the Second World War, a referendum on the future political order was held for the first time since the plebiscites of the Second Empire . Two questions were put to the electorate - including women for the first time - firstly, whether the elected assembly should draft a new constitution, and secondly, whether the mandate of this assembly was limited to seven months, which were deemed necessary to draft a constitution should be.

With the exception of the leadership of the Radical Party , all political forces were in favor of a new constitution; The result of the vote clearly shows how strong the electorate's desire for a reorganization of the political institutions was. This also meant a clear rejection of a return to the constitution of the III. Republic , which, incidentally, was also shared by a majority of the radical electorate.

The first national constituent assembly and the first draft constitution

Results of the election to the National Constituent Assembly on October 21, 1945
be right in % Mandates
Eligible voters 24,680,981
Abstentions 4,965,256 20.1%
PCF and allies 5,024,174 26.12% 159
SFIO and allies 4,491,152 23.35% 146
Radicals and UDSR 2,018,665 10.49% Rad .: 29
UDSR: 31
MRP 4,580,222 23.81% 150
(moderate rights)
3,001,063 15.60% 64
Others 41,352 n / A. 7th
  1. a b just Métropole
  2. 586 in total, including 64 MPs from the overseas territories
  3. in percent of eligible voters
  4. non-attached MPs

In the National Assembly elected on October 21, 1945, which was a constituent assembly according to the outcome of the referendum, communists (PCF) and socialists (SFIO) had a majority. The assembly unanimously confirmed General de Gaulle's Provisional Government in office.

The major parties and Charles de Gaulle played a decisive role in the discussion on the constitution of the IV Republic. The parties agreed on a parliamentary system of government. However, communists and socialists advocated a unicameral parliament on which all other institutions should depend, while the MRP preferred a bicameral parliament and a stronger executive .

The decision in favor of a parliamentary system of government (and thus against a presidential system of government ), which is emerging on the basis of the consistent positions of the PCF, SFIO and MRP, is one of the reasons for de Gaulle's resignation from the office of President of the Provisional Government on January 20, 1946.

The first draft constitution, which was passed by the constituent national assembly on April 19, 1946 with the votes of the communist-socialist majority, provided for a de facto unicameral parliament, which was to elect the government and the president. In addition, a Conseil de l'Union française with an exclusively advisory function should be set up to represent the overseas territories. The provisions on the institutions were preceded by a catalog of basic rights with 39 articles, which covered civil, political, economic and social rights.

This draft constitution was put to the vote in a referendum on May 5, 1946. While the communists in particular and (much more cautiously) the socialists campaigned for approval, the MRP spoke out against the draft due to the overly strong position of the National Assembly and the lack of institutional counterweights. De Gaulle, whose rejection was known, did not comment publicly.

53 percent of the electorate rejected the draft (with a turnout of 80.7 percent), so that a second constituent national assembly was elected, which was again given the task of drafting a constitution within seven months, which should again be put to the vote. This also led to the extension of the provisional political order of the Provisional Government.

The Second National Constituent Assembly and the 1946 Constitution

Results of the election for the National Constituent Assembly on June 2, 1946
be right in % Mandates
Eligible voters 24,696,949
Abstentions 4,481,749 18.1%
Empty and invalid 409,870 1.6%
PCF and allies 5,145,325 25.9% 153
SFIO and allies 4,187,747 21.1% 128
RGR 2,299,963 11.6% 52
MRP and allies 5,589,213 28.2% 166
(moderate rights)
2,538,167 12.8% 67
UDMA n / A. n / A. 11
Others 44,915 0.1% 7th
  1. a b just Métropole
  2. 586, including 64 delegates from the overseas territories
  3. a b in percent of eligible voters
  4. RGR (Rassemblement des gauches républicaines) = radicals and UDSR
  5. UDMA (Union démocratique du manifest algérien) was a grouping to Ferhat Abbas , working for the independence of Algeria began
  6. non-attached MPs

On June 2, 1946, a new constituent national assembly was elected, in which the majority shifted in favor of the MRP. The Provisional Government continued to be supported by the MRP, PCF and SFIO, but under the leadership of Georges Bidault (MRP).

On June 16, 1946 de Gaulle held in Bayeux on the occasion of the second anniversary of their liberation (the first city in France) a famous speech in which he his ideas of a future political system of France pointed out, he in 1958 in the Constitution of the Republic V. realize should. This was a presidential system in which the political power of the government was to be withdrawn from the parties as far as possible.

Despite the slight change in the majority structure and the violent public criticism of de Gaulle, the second draft constitution, which the Constituent National Assembly adopted on September 29, 1946, provided for a parliamentary system of government in which the national assembly clearly took precedence over the second chamber, the Conseil de la République received. However, the election of the president was made jointly by both chambers.

What both drafts had in common was the weak position of the executive: the national assembly elected the prime minister at the suggestion of the state president, who then had to face another vote of confidence with his cabinet and a government program. This double investiture was abolished in 1954 by a constitutional amendment after multiple prime ministers-designate had already failed in the second vote of confidence.

Instead of a comprehensive catalog of fundamental rights in the form of binding constitutional articles, the second draft constitution only provided for a preamble in which the declaration of human and civil rights of 1789 was confirmed and supplemented by equality for women , the right of asylum and economic and social rights. However, this preamble of 1946 was reinforced by the preamble to the Constitution of the Fifth Republic ; as a result of the case law of the Conseil constitutionnel , it constitutes constitutional law in force today.

With the introduction of a second chamber, the constitution represented a compromise between PCF, SFIO and MRP. While the leadership of the major parties campaigned for approval of the constitution, Charles de Gaulle spoke out clearly against it ("Franchement non!") Because she gave France neither a president nor a government worthy of the name. The main point of de Gaulle's criticism was the executive's lack of capacity to act in foreign and defense policy.

The Constitution of the Fourth Republic was adopted in a referendum on October 13, 1946 with 53.5% of the votes cast. However, 31.2% of the electorate stayed away from the vote, so that de Gaulle's assessment is almost correct that a third of the French have rejected the constitution, a third abstained and only a third agreed.

The constitution came into force on October 27, 1946. Elections to the National Assembly took place on November 10 ; in this again the French Communist Party received the most votes. The members of the Conseil de la République were elected on December 8th. Both chambers met on January 16, 1947 in Versailles to elect the socialist Vincent Auriol as the first President of the IV Republic. Only then could the process of forming a government be completed because the President had to formally propose the Prime Minister.

For this reason there was a last Provisional Government in office from December 16, 1946 to January 16, 1947, a purely socialist minority cabinet under Léon Blum .

The newly elected president proposed as Prime Minister Paul Ramadier (SFIO), who was elected on January 21, 1947 and formed an (almost) all-party government made up of SFIO, PCF, MRP, radicals, UDSR and moderate right wing. This came up on January 28, 1947 with the success of the vote of confidence in the National Assembly; the institutional structure of the Fourth Republic was thus completed.

Political system

Similar to III. Republic , whose constitutional successor the IV Republic can be considered, the power of the parliament, on whose support the government depended, was very strong. The president was elected by parliament in a joint session of both chambers for a seven-year term. In contrast to III. Republic, however, the first chamber of parliament, the National Assembly , had a clear primacy over the second chamber, the Conseil de la République . In the legislative process, the latter only had an advisory role; the National Assembly was not bound by its vote.

Crises of the fourth republic

Due to a broad political spectrum and deep ideological boundaries, it was difficult to find stable government majorities, especially considering the current proportional representation system . The governments of the Fourth Republic usually relied on coalitions of several parties. However, from 1947, the strongest party in all elections, the PCF, was no longer involved in any government. Under these circumstances it was easy to find majorities in favor of overthrowing a government, but it was all the more difficult to form a government.

Indeed, the Fourth Republic was marked by a large number of changes of government. The average term of office was only around six months.

Crises that highlighted the weakness of political institutions were, in addition to the frequent government crises, in particular:

  • the controversy over the European Defense Community , which dominated the political debate from 1952–1954 and led to the breakup of several governments;
  • the election of President René Coty , which required 13 votes in December 1953;
  • the military challenges first in the Indochina War , which ended in 1954 with the defeat of France and independence from Vietnam (then North and South Vietnam ), Laos and Cambodia , then in the Algerian War , which ultimately led to the failure of the Fourth Republic.

The end of the fourth republic

In view of the multitude of lines of conflict and the insolubility of the Algerian crisis , it was no longer possible to form stable governments in 1957/58. The successive governments of Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury and Félix Gaillard also increasingly lost control of the army . An attack by the army on Tunisia , which had been independent since 1956 , led to the overthrow of the Gaillard government on April 15, 1958, for which a successor could not be found for a month. While the election of the Christian Democrat Pierre Pflimlin as prime minister was being discussed on May 13, 1958 , a "welfare committee" of the military under the leadership of General Jacques Massu took over power in Algiers . Under the influence of the Putsch d'Alger (1958) and the Opération Résurrection , a new government was set up in Paris; however, the political situation remained unstable.

On May 15, 1958, Charles de Gaulle, who had withdrawn from political life to his country estate in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises several years earlier after the defeat and dissolution of his party RPF ( Rassemblement du Peuple francais ) , announced he in view of the state crisis is "ready to take power in the republic". In a message to the National Assembly, President Coty announced that he would turn to de Gaulle and ask him to form a new government. Coty also threatened to resign if Parliament overturned this plan. De Gaulle was elected Prime Minister on June 1, 1958, of a government made up of all parties except the Communists. Three ex-heads of government - Pinay, Mollet and Pflimlin - belonged to the cabinet. On June 2, a constitutional law gave him extraordinary powers in the executive and legislative branches, including the mandate to draft a new constitution within six months. The National Assembly then adjourned indefinitely.

The new constitution was drawn up according to de Gaulle's ideas with the participation of an advisory constitutional committee under the leadership of de Gaulle confidante Michel Debré and adopted on September 28, 1958 by 79.25% of the electorate (with a turnout of 83.3%). This officially ended the 4th Republic and founded the 5th Republic .


president Term of office
Vincent Auriol 1947-1954
René Coty 1954-1959

Prime Minister

Prime Minister Assumption of office Political party
Paul Ramadier January 22, 1947 SFIO
Robert Schuman November 24, 1947 MRP
André Marie July 26, 1948 Radicaux
Robert Schuman September 5, 1948 MRP
Henri Queuille September 11, 1948 Radicaux
Georges Bidault October 28, 1949 MRP
Henri Queuille 2nd July 1950 Radicaux
René Pleven July 12, 1950 UDSR
Henri Queuille March 10, 1951 Radicaux
René Pleven August 11, 1951 UDSR
Edgar Faure January 20, 1952 Radicaux
Antoine Pinay March 8, 1952 CNIP
René Mayer January 8, 1953 Radicaux
Joseph Laniel June 27, 1953 CNIP
Pierre Mendès France June 18, 1954 Radicaux
Edgar Faure February 23, 1955 Radicaux
Guy Mollet January 31, 1956 SFIO
Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury June 12, 1957 Radicaux
Félix Gaillard November 6, 1957 Radicaux
Pierre Pflimlin May 13, 1958 MRP
Charles de Gaulle June 1, 1958 UNR
January 8, 1959

See also


Web links

Commons : Fourth French Republic  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Becker: Histoire politique de la France depuis 1945. 1996, p. 14.
  2. Becker: Histoire politique de la France depuis 1945. 1996, p. 25 f.