French colonial empire is the set of territories
outside Europe that were under French rule primarily from the 1600s
to the late 1960s (some see the French control of places such as
Caledonia as a
continuation of that colonial empire).
In the 19th and 20th
centuries, the colonial empire of France was the second largest in
the world behind the British Empire
The French colonial empire extended over 12,347,000 km²
(4,767,000 sq. miles) of land at its height in the 1920s and 1930s.
Including metropolitan France, the total amount of land under
French sovereignty reached 12,898,000 km² (4,980,000 sq.
miles) at the time, which is 8.6% of the Earth's total land area.
Its influence made French the fourth-most spoken colonial European
language, behind English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
began to establish colonies in North America, the Caribbean and India, following Spanish and Portuguese successes during the Age of Discovery, in rivalry with Britain
A series of wars with Britain during the
1700s and early 1800s, which France lost, ended its colonial
ambitions on these continents, and with it is what some historians
term the "first" French colonial empire. In the 19th century,
France established a new empire in Africa and South East Asia
. Some of these colonies
lasted beyond the invasion and occupation of France by Nazi Germany
during World War II
Following the war, anti-colonial movements began to challenge
French authority. France unsuccessfully fought bitter wars in
the 1950s and early 1960s in Vietnam and Algeria to keep its
By the end of the 1960s, most of France's
colonies had gained independence, save for a series of islands and
archipelagos which were integrated into France as overseas
departments and territories
. These total altogether
123,150 km² (47,548 sq. miles), which amounts to only 1% of
the pre-1939 French colonial empire's area, with 2,624,505 people
living in them in 2009. All of them enjoy full political
representation at the national level, as well as varying degrees of
. (See Administrative divisions of
First French colonial empire
excursions of Giovanni da
Verrazzano and Jacques Cartier
in the early 1500s, as well as the frequent voyages of French boats
and fishermen to the Grand
Banks off Newfoundland throughout that century, were the precursors to the
story of France's colonial expansion.
Map of the first (light blue) and
second (dark blue — plain and hachured) French colonial
But Spain's jealous
protection of its foreign monopoly, and the further distractions
caused in France itself in the later 16th century by the French Wars of Religion
any constant efforts by France to settle colonies. Early French attempts
to found colonies in 1612 at São Luís ("France
Équinoxiale"), and in Brazil, in 1555 at
Antarctique") and in Florida (including
Caroline in 1562)
were not successful, due to a lack of official interest and to
Portuguese and Spanish vigilance.
of France's colonial empire truly began on July 27, 1605, with the
foundation of Port Royal in the colony of Acadia in
North America, in what is now Nova Scotia, Canada. A few years later, in 1608, Samuel De Champlain founded Quebec, which was to become the capital of the enormous,
but sparsely settled, fur-trading colony of New France (also called Canada).
New France had a rather small population, which resulted from more
emphasis being placed on the fur trade rather than agricultural
settlements. Due to this emphasis, the French relied heavily on
creating friendly contacts with the local Indians. French relations
with the Native peoples has been considered more humane than
positions taken by their Spanish and English rivals. Without the
insatiable appetite of New England for land, and relying solely on
Indians to supply them with fur at the trading posts, the French
composed a complex series of military, commercial, and diplomatic
connections. These became the most enduring alliances between the
French and the Indians. The French did not set out to take over all
Indian land like England, nor did they want them to work like
slaves as did the Spanish. The French were however under pressure
from religious orders to convert the Indians to Catholicism. New
France allowed a great degree of independence for the Natives, and
did not try to suppress all traditional religious practices.
through alliances with various Native American
tribes, the French were able to exert a loose control over much of
the North American continent, areas of French settlement were
generally limited to the St. Lawrence River Valley.
Prior to the establishment of the
, the territories of New France were developed as
mercantile colonies. It is only after the arrival of intendant
in 1665 that France gave its
American colonies the proper means to develop population colonies
comparable to that of the British. But there was relatively little
interest in colonialism in France, which concentrated rather on
dominance within Europe, and for most of its history, New France,
was far behind the British North
colonies in both population and economic development.
Acadia itself was lost to the British in the Treaty of Utrecht
In 1699, French territorial claims in North America expanded still
further, with the foundation of Louisiana
in the basin of the
. The extensive trading
network throughout the region connected to Canada through the
Lakes, was maintained through a vast system of
fortifications, many of them centred in the Illinois Country and in present-day
French empire in North America grew, the French also began to build
a smaller but more profitable empire in the West Indies. Settlement along the South American coast in
what is today French
Guiana began in 1624, and a colony was founded on Saint Kitts in 1625 (the island had to be shared with the
English until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, when it was ceded
outright). The Compagnie des Îles de
l'Amérique founded colonies in Guadeloupe and Martinique in 1635, and a colony was later founded on Saint Lucia by (1650).
Québec was known as 'Nouvelle France'
or New France
The food-producing plantations of
these colonies were built and sustained through slavery
, with the supply of slaves dependent on the
African slave trade
resistance by the indigenous peoples
resulted in the Carib Expulsion
important Caribbean colonial possession did not come until 1664,
when the colony of Saint-Domingue
(today's Haiti) was founded
on the western half of the Spanish island of Hispaniola.
In the 18th century, Saint-Domingue grew to
be the richest sugar
colony in the Caribbean.
eastern half of Hispaniola (today's Dominican Republic) also came under French rule for a short period,
after being given to France by Spain in 1795.
French colonial expansion was not limited to the New World
, however. In Senegal in West Africa, the
French began to establish trading posts along the coast in
In 1664, the French East India Company
established to compete for trade in the east
. Colonies were established in India in
Chandernagore (1673) and Pondicherry in the Southeast (1674), and later at Yanam (1723), Mahe (1725), and
Karikal (1739) (see French
India). Colonies were also founded in the Indian
Ocean, on the Île de Bourbon (Réunion, 1664), Île de France (Mauritius, 1718), and the Seychelles (1756).
Colonial conflict with Britain
middle of the 18th century, a series of colonial conflicts began
between France and Britain, which ultimately resulted in the destruction of
most of the first French colonial empire.
These wars were
the War of the Austrian
(1744–1748), the Seven
(1756–1763), the War of the American Revolution
French Revolutionary Wars
(1793–1802) and the Napoleonic Wars
(1803-1815). It may even be seen further back in time to the first
of the French and Indian
. This cyclic conflict is known as the Second Hundred Years' War
the War of the Austrian Succession was indecisive — despite French
successes in India under the French Governor-General Joseph François Dupleix and
Europe under Marshal Saxe — the Seven
Years' War, after early French successes in Minorca and North America, saw a French defeat, with the
numerically superior British (over one million to about 50 thousand
French settlers) conquering not only New
France (excluding the small islands of Saint-Pierre
and Miquelon), but also most of France's West Indian (Caribbean)
colonies, and all of the French Indian
Carte de L'Indoustan.
While the peace treaty saw France's Indian
outposts, and the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe
restored to France, the competition for influence in India had been
won by the British, and North America was entirely lost — most of
was taken by Britain (also
referred to as British North
, except Louisiana, which France ceded to Spain as
payment for Spain's late entrance into the war (and as compensation
for Britain's annexation of Spanish Florida). Also ceded to the
British were Grenada and Saint
Lucia in the West Indies.
Although the loss of
Canada would cause much regret in future generations, it excited
little unhappiness at the time; colonialism was widely regarded as
both unimportant to France, and immoral.
Some recovery of the French colonial empire was made during the
intervention in the American Revolution
, with Saint Lucia being
returned to France by the Treaty
in 1783, but not nearly as much as had been hoped for
at the time of French intervention. True disaster came to what remained of
France's colonial empire in 1791 when Saint Domingue (the Western
third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola), France's richest and most important colony, was
riven by a massive slave revolt, caused partly by the divisions
among the island's elite, which had resulted from the French Revolution of 1789.
slaves, led eventually by Toussaint
Louverture and then, following his capture by the French in
1801, by Jean-Jacques
Dessalines, held their own against French, Spanish, and British
opponents, and ultimately achieved independence as Haiti in 1804
(Haiti became the first black republic in the world, much earlier
than any of the future African nations).
In the meanwhile,
the newly resumed war with Britain by the French, resulted in the
British capture of practically all remaining French colonies. These
were restored at the Peace of Amiens
in 1802, but when war resumed in 1803, the British soon recaptured
them. France's repurchase of Louisiana in 1800 came to nothing, as
the final success of the Haitian revolt convinced Bonaparte
that holding Louisiana would
not be worth the cost, leading to its sale to the United States in
1803 (the Louisiana Purchase
the French attempt to establish a colony in Egypt in
Second French colonial empire
close of the Napoleonic Wars, most
of France's colonies were restored to it by Britain, notably Guadeloupe and Martinique in the West Indies, French Guiana on the coast of South America, various trading
posts in Senegal, the Île Bourbon (Réunion) in the Indian Ocean, and France's tiny Indian
possessions. Britain finally annexed Saint Lucia, Tobago, the
Seychelles, and the
Île de France (Mauritius), however.
The true beginnings of the second French colonial empire, however,
were laid in 1830 with the French
invasion of Algeria
, which was conquered over the next 17
years. During the Second
, headed by Napoleon III
attempt was made to establish a colonial-type protectorate
in Mexico, but this came to
little, and the French were forced to abandon the experiment after
the end of the American Civil
, when the American president, Andrew Johnson
, invoked the Monroe Doctrine
. This French intervention in Mexico
lasted from 1861 to 1867. Napoleon III also established French control
over Cochinchina (the southernmost part of modern Vietnam including
Saigon) in 1867
and 1874, as well as a protectorate over Cambodia in 1863.
It was only after the Franco-Prussian War
of 1870–1871 and the
founding of the Third Republic
(1871-1940) that most of France's later colonial possessions were
acquired. From their base in Cochinchina, the French took over
(in modern northern Vietnam
) and Annam
(in modern central Vietnam
) in 1884-1885. These, together with
Cambodia and Cochinchina, formed French
Indochina in 1887 (to which Laos was
added in 1893, and
Kwang-Chou-Wan in 1900).
1849, the French
lasting until 1946.
[[Image:Colonies of the second French colonial
empire.jpg|right|thumb|275px|French colonies in 1891 (from
1. Panorama of Lac-Kaï
, French outpost in China.
2. Yun-nan, in the quay of Hanoi.
3. Flooded street of Hanoi.
4. Landing stage of Hanoi]]
was also expanded in North Africa,
establishing a protectorate on Tunisia in 1881 (Bardo Treaty). Gradually, French
control was established over much of Northern, Western, and
Central Africa by the turn of the
century (including the modern nations of Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Côte
d'Ivoire, Benin, Niger, Chad, Central
African Republic, Republic of Congo), and the east African coastal enclave of Djibouti (French Somaliland).
The Voulet-Chanoine Mission
, a military
expedition, was sent out from Senegal in 1898 to conquer the Chad
Basin and unify all French territories in West Africa. This
expedition operated jointly with two other expeditions, the
Foureau-Lamy and Gentil missions, which advanced from Algeria and
Middle Congo respectively. With the death of the Muslim warlord
, the greatest ruler
in the region, and the creation of the Military Territory of Chad
in 1900, the Voulet-Chanoine Mission had accomplished all its
goals. The ruthlessness of the mission provoked a scandal in Paris.
As a part of the Scramble for
, France had the establishment of a continuous west-east
axis of the continent as an objective, in contrast with the British north-south axis
. This resulted in the
incident, where an expedition led by Jean-Baptiste Marchand was opposed by
forces under Lord Kitchener's
The resolution of the crisis had a part in the
bringing forth of the Entente
. During the Agadir
Crisis in 1911, Britain supported France and Morocco became a French protectorate.
time, the French also established colonies in the South Pacific, including New Caledonia, the various island groups which make up French
Polynesia (including the Society Islands, the Marquesas, the Tuamotus), and established joint control of the New Hebrides with Britain.
French made their last major colonial gains after the First World War, when they gained mandates over
the former Turkish territories of the Ottoman Empire that make up what is now
Syria and Lebanon, as well as most of the former German colonies of
Togo and Cameroon.
A hallmark of the French colonial project
in the late 19th century and early 20th Century was the civilizing mission
), the principle that it was Europe's duty to
bring civilization to benighted peoples. As such, colonial
officials undertook a policy of Franco-Europeanization in French
colonies, most notably French West
. Africans who adopted French culture, including fluent
use of the French language
conversion to Christianity, were granted equal French citizenship,
including suffrage. Later, residents of the "Four Communes
" in Senegal were granted
citizenship in a program led by the Afro-French politician Blaise Diagne
Collapse of the empire
French colonial empire began to fall apart during the Second World War, when various parts of
their empire were occupied by foreign powers (Japan in Indochina,
Britain in Syria, Lebanon, and Madagascar, the US and Britain in Morocco and Algeria, and Germany
and Italy in Tunisia).
A poster symbolising the French
colonial empire titled: "Three colors, one flag, one empire"
However, control was gradually
reestablished by Charles de
. The French Union
in the 1946 Constitution
replaced the former colonial Empire.
However, France was immediately confronted with the beginnings of
movement. Paul Ramadier
repressed the Malagasy Uprising
Asia, Ho Chi Minh's Vietminh declared Vietnam's
independence, starting the Franco-Vietnamese War.
, the Union of the Peoples of
's insurrection, started in 1955 and headed by Ruben Um Nyobé
, was violently
When this ended with French defeat and withdrawal from Vietnam in
1954, the French almost immediately became involved in a new, and
even harsher conflict in their oldest major colony, Algeria
. Ferhat Abbas
and Messali Hadj
's movements had marked the period
between the two wars, but both sides radicalized after the Second
World War. In 1945, the Sétif
was carried out by the French army. The Algerian War
started in 1954.
Algeria was particularly problematic for the French, due to the
large number of European settlers (or pieds-noirs
) who had settled there in the
125 years of French rule. Charles de
Gaulle's accession to power in 1958 in the middle of the crisis
ultimately led to independence for Algeria with the
1962 Evian Accords.
Canal incident in '54 also displayed the limitations of French
power, as its attempt to retake the canal along with the British
was stymied when the United States did not back the plan.
The French Union
was replaced in the
new 1958 Constitution
. Only Guinea refused by
referendum to take part to the new colonial organization.
However, the French Community dissolved itself in the midsts of the
Algerian War; almost all of the other African colonies were granted
independence in 1960, following local referendums
. Some few colonies chose instead to
remain part of France, under the statuses of overseas
. Critics of neocolonialism
claimed that the Françafrique
had replaced formal
direct rule. They argued that while de Gaulle was granting
independence on one hand, he was creating new ties through Jacques Foccart
's help, his counsellor for
African matters. Foccart supported in particular the Nigerian Civil War
during the late
Unlike elsewhere in Europe, France experienced relatively low
levels of emigration to the Americas
the exception of the Huguenots
significant emigration of mainly Roman
Catholic French populations led to the settlement of the
provinces of Acadia, Canada and Louisiana, both (at the time) French possessions, as well as
colonies in the West
Indies, Mascarene islands and Africa.
On December 31, 1687 a community of French Huguenots
settled in South Africa.
Most of these originally settled in the Cape
, but have since been quickly absorbed into the Afrikaner
population. After Champlain's founding
of Quebec City in 1608, it became the capital of New France
. Encouraging settlement was difficult,
and while some immigration did occur, by 1763 New France only had a
population of some 65,000. From 1713 to 1787, 30,000 colonists
immigrated from France to the St.
. In 1805, when the French were forced out of
St. Domingue (Haiti) 35,000
French settlers were given lands in Cuba.
the 40,000 inhabitants on Guadeloupe, at the end of the 17th century, there were more
than 26,000 blacks and 9,000 whites.
French law made it easy for thousands of colons
, ethnic or
national French from former colonies of North and East Africa,
India and Indochina
to live in mainland
France. It is estimated that 20,000 colons
were living in Saigon in
1945. 1.6 million European pieds noirs migrated from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. In just a few months in 1962, 900,000
French Algerians left Algeria in the most
massive relocation of population in Europe since World War II. In the 1970s, over
30,000 French colons left Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge
regime as the Pol Pot government confiscated
their farms and land properties. In November 2004,
several thousand of the estimated 14,000 French nationals in
Coast left country after days of anti-white
from French-Canadians, Québécois, Acadians, Cajuns, and
Métis other populations of
French ancestry outside metropolitan
France include the Caldoches of
Caledonia and the
so-called Zoreilles and Petits-blancs of various
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