|French colonial empire|
|Empire colonial français|
Left: Royal Standard of France (before French Revolution)
All territories that were ever part of the French colonial empire
|Political structure||Colonial empire|
|•||Cartier claimed Gaspé Bay||1534|
|•||Sale of Louisiana||1803|
|•||Conquest of Algeria||1830–1852|
|•||Independence of Vanuatu||1980|
|•||1670 (first colonial empire peak)||3,400,000 km2 (1,300,000 sq mi)|
|•||1920 (second colonial empire peak)||11,500,000 km2 (4,400,000 sq mi)|
|Currency||Franc and various other currencies|
|Warning: Value not specified for "continent"|
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 empire came to an end after the loss of bitter wars in Vietnam (1954) and Algeria (1962), and relatively peaceful decolonizations elsewhere after 1960.
Competing with Spain, Portugal, the Dutch United Provinces and later England, France began to establish colonies in North America, the Caribbean and India in the 17th century. A series of wars with Great Britain and other European major powers during the 18th century and early 19th century resulted in France losing nearly all of its conquests. 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 started to build her own colonial empire. As it developed, the new empire took on roles of trade with France, especially supplying raw materials and purchasing manufactured items as well as lending prestige to the motherland and spreading French civilization and language and the Catholic religion. It also provided manpower in the World Wars.
It became a moral mission to lift the world up to French standards by bringing Christianity and French culture. 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, contrary to Great Britain and previously Spain and Portugal, with the only notable exception of Algeria, where the French settlers nonetheless always remained a small 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 used the overseas colonies as bases from which they fought 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. The French constitution of October 27, 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), which amounts to only 1% of the pre-1939 French colonial empire's area, with 2.7 million people living in them 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."
First French colonial empire
See also: New France
During the 16th century, the French colonization of the Americas began. Excursions of Giovanni da Verrazzano and Jacques Cartier in the early 16th century, 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. 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, prevented any constant efforts by France to settle colonies. Early French attempts to found colonies in Brazil, in 1555 at Rio de Janeiro ("France Antarctique") and in Florida (including Fort Caroline in 1562), and in 1612 at São Luís ("France Équinoxiale"), were not successful, due to a lack of official interest and to Portuguese and Spanish vigilance.
The story of France's colonial empire truly began on 27 July 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 First Nations community. Without the appetite of New England for land, and by relying solely on Aboriginals 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 First Nation community. The French were, however, under pressure from religious orders to convert them to Catholicism.
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 1663 Sovereign Council, the territories of New France were developed as mercantile colonies. It is only after the arrival of intendant Jean Talon in 1665 that France gave its American colonies the proper means to develop population colonies comparable to that of the British. Acadia itself was lost to the British in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Back in France there was relatively little interest in colonialism, which concentrated rather on dominance within Europe, and for most of its history, New France was far behind the British North American colonies in both population and economic development.
In 1699, French territorial claims in North America expanded still further, with the foundation of Louisiana in the basin of the Mississippi River. The extensive trading network throughout the region connected to Canada through the Great Lakes, was maintained through a vast system of fortifications, many of them centred in the Illinois Country and in present-day Arkansas.
As the 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). The food-producing plantations of these colonies were built and sustained through slavery, with the supply of slaves dependent on the African slave trade. Local resistance by the indigenous peoples resulted in the Carib Expulsion of 1660. France's most important Caribbean colonial possession was established in 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. The 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 1695.
Africa and Asia
See also: Category:French colonisation in Africa.
See also: Françafrique
French colonial expansion was not limited to the New World. In Senegal in West Africa, the French began to establish trading posts along the coast in 1624. In 1664, the French East India Company was established to compete for trade in the east. With the decay of the Ottoman Empire, in 1830 the French seized Algiers, thus beginning the colonization of French North Africa.
During the First World War, after France had suffered heavy casualties on the Western Front, they began to recruit soldiers from their African empire. By 1917, France had recruited 270,000 African soldiers. Their most decorated regiments came from Morocco, but due to the ongoing Zaian War they were only able to recruit 23,000 Moroccans. African soldiers had success in the Battle of Verdun and failure in the Nivelle Offensive, but in general regardless of their usefulness, French generals did not think highly of their African troops.
After the First World War, France's African war aims were not being decided by her cabinet or the official mind of the colonial ministry, but rather the leaders of the colonial movement in French Africa. The first occasion of this was in 1915–1916, when Francois Georges-Picot (both a diplomat and part of a colonial dynasty) met with the British to discuss the division of Cameroon. Picot proceeded with negotiations with neither the oversight of the French president nor the cabinet. What resulted was Britain giving nine tenths of Cameroon to the French. Picot emphasized the demands of the French colonists over the French cabinet. This policy of French colonial leaders determining France's African war aims can be seen throughout much of France's empire.
Colonies were established in India in Chandernagore (1673) and Pondichéry in the south east (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), Isle de France (Mauritius, 1718), and the Seychelles (1756).
Colonial conflict with Britain
Further information: France in the Seven Years' War and France in the American Revolutionary War
In the 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 and the near complete expulsion of France from the Americas. These wars were the War of the Austrian Succession (1744–1748), the Seven Years' War (1756–1763), the American Revolution (1765–1783), the 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 Wars. This cyclic conflict is known as the Second Hundred Years' War.
Although 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 Menorca 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 outposts.
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 New France was taken by Britain (also referred to as British North America), 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 French intervention in the American Revolution, with Saint Lucia being returned to France by the Treaty of Paris 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.
The slaves, led eventually by Toussaint L'Ouverture 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 Empire of Haiti in 1804 (Haiti became the first black republic in the world, followed by Liberia in 1847).
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 Treaty 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 success of the Haitian Revolution convinced Napoleon that holding Louisiana would not be worth the cost, leading to its sale to the United States in 1803. The French attempt to establish a colony in Egypt in 1798–1801 was not successful.
Second French colonial empire (after 1830)
At the 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; however, Britain finally annexed Saint Lucia, Tobago, the Seychelles, and the Isle de France (now Mauritius).
In 1825 Charles X sent an expedition to Haïti, resulting in the Haiti indemnity controversy.
The beginnings of the second French colonial empire were laid in 1830 with the French invasion of Algeria, which was conquered over the next 17 years.
Napoleon III: 1852–70
Napoleon III doubled the area of the French overseas Empire; he established French rule in New Caledonia, and Cochinchina, established a protectorate in Cambodia (1863); and colonized parts of Africa. He joined Britain sending an army to China during Second Opium War and the Taiping Rebellion (1860), but French ventures to establish influence in Japan (1867) and Korea (1866) were less successful. His attempt to impose a European monarch, Maximilian I of Mexico on the Mexicans ended in a spectacular failure in 1867.
To carry out his new overseas projects, Napoleon III created a new Ministry of the Navy and the Colonies, and appointed an energetic minister, Prosper, Marquis of Chasseloup-Laubat, to head it. A key part of the enterprise was the modernization of the French Navy; he began the construction of fifteen powerful new battle cruisers powered by steam and driven by propellers; and a fleet of steam powered troop transports. The French Navy became the second most powerful in the world, after Britain's. He also created a new force of colonial troops, including elite units of naval infantry, Zouaves, the Chasseurs d'Afrique, and Algerian sharpshooters, and he expanded the Foreign Legion, which had been founded in 1831 and won fame in the Crimea, Italy and Mexico. By the end of Napoleon III's reign the French overseas territories had tripled in area; in 1870 they covered a million square kilometers, with more than five million inhabitants.
New Caledonia becomes a French possession (1853–54)
On 24 September 1853, Admiral Febvrier Despointes took formal possession of New Caledonia and Port-de-France (Nouméa) was founded 25 June 1854. A few dozen free settlers settled on the west coast in the following years, but New Caledonia became a penal colony and, from the 1860s until the end of the transportations in 1897, about 22,000 criminals and political prisoners were sent to New Caledonia to be killed.
Colonization of Senegal (1854–65)
Main article: French Senegal
At the beginning of Napoleon III's reign, the presence of France in Senegal was limited to a trading post on the island of Goree, a narrow strip on the coast, the town of Saint-Louis, and a handful of trading posts in the interior. The economy had largely been based on the slave trade, carried out by the rulers of the small kingdoms of the interior, until France abolished slavery in its colonies in 1848. In 1854, Napoleon III named an enterprising French officer, Louis Faidherbe, to govern and expand the colony, and to give it the beginning of a modern economy. Faidherbe built a series of forts along the Senegal River, formed alliances with leaders in the interior, and sent expeditions against those who resisted French rule. He built a new port at Dakar, established and protected telegraph lines and roads, followed these with a rail line between Dakar and Saint-Louis and another into the interior. He built schools, bridges, and systems to supply fresh water to the towns. He also introduced the large-scale cultivation of Bambara groundnuts and peanuts as a commercial crop. Reaching into the Niger valley, Senegal became the primary French base in West Africa and a model colony. Dakar became one of the most important cities of the French Empire and of Africa.
Intervention in China (1858–60)
In 1857, after the murder of a French priest and the arrest by the Chinese police of the crew of a British merchant ship, Napoleon III joined together with Great Britain to form a military expedition to punish the Chinese government. The object of his policy was not to take territory, but to assure that the vast and lucrative Chinese market was open to French commerce, and not the exclusive trading partner of Britain. In January 1858 a combined British and French fleet bombarded and occupied Canton, and landed troops at the mouth of the Hai River in northern China. In June 1858 the Chinese government in Peking was forced to sign the Treaty of Tientsin with Britain, France, Russia and the United States. This treaty opened six additional Chinese ports to European merchant ships, allowed Christian missionary activity, and legalized the import of opium into China.
The Chinese government was reluctant to observe the treaty, so Napoleon III and the British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston decided to take more forceful action, in what became known in history as the second phase of the Second Opium War. A joint French-British expeditionary force of 8,000 men was created under a French general, Charles Cousin-Montauban, who had commanded French forces in Algeria. At the beginning of 1860 the French-British fleet sailed from Europe, and in the spring of 1860 landed the army in China. The Anglo-French army force, led by Cousin-Montauban, captured Tientsin, and then marched on the capital. On 21 September 1860 it defeated the army of the Chinese emperor at the Battle of Palikao and seized the capital Beijing. At the orders of the British commander Lord Elgin, the British and French forces burned and pillaged the Old Summer Palace of the Chinese Emperor. On 25 October 1860, the Chinese Emperor was obliged to accept a second treaty of Tientsin, opening an additional eleven new ports to European trade, making westerners immune to prosecution by Chinese courts, and establishing western diplomatic missions in Beijing. Some of the art objects taken from the looted Summer Palace were carried to France, where the Empress used them to decorate a Chinese-themed salon at the Palace of Fontainebleau, where they can be seen today.
France in Korea and Japan (1866–68)
Main article: French campaign against Korea (1866)
In 1866, French diplomats in China learned that French priests had been arrested and executed in Korea, a country which had had no diplomatic or commercial contact with Europe or America. Twelve Catholic priests at the time were living in Korea, with an estimated 23,000 Korean converts, belonging to churches founded by French missionaries in the 18th century. In January 1866, King Gojong and his father, the regent, ordered the execution of most of the French priests, and ten thousand converts. A squadron of French ships, carrying eight hundred naval infantry, attempted retaliation but made little headway.
In Japan the Meiji Emperor, and his enemies, the Tokugawa shogunate, both sought French military training and technology in their battle for power, known as the Boshin War. In 1867, a military mission to Japan played a key role in modernizing the troops of the shōgunTokugawa Yoshinobu, and even participated on his side against Imperial troops during the Boshin war. The European representative of the Shogunate, Shibata Takenaka, approached both Britain and France, asking assistance to build a modern shipyard and to train the Shogunate army in modern western warfare. The shipyard, which became the naval base of Yokosuka, was designed by the French engineer Leonce Verny. The British, who supported the imperial faction, declined to provide trainers, but Napoleon III agreed, and in 1867 dispatched a delegation of nineteen French military experts in the fields of infantry, cavalry and artillery to Japan. They trained an elite corps, called the Denshutai, to fight on the side of the shōgun.
On the other side, the Emperor purchased from the United States a French-built ironclad warship, renamed the Kotetsu (literally "ironclad"). It played an important role in the first modern naval battle fought in Japan. By 1868, the Imperial forces had won a decisive victory. French influence in the Japanese navy remained strong.
France in Indochina and the Pacific (1858–70)
Napoleon III also acted to increase the French presence in Indochina. An important factor in his decision was the belief that France risked becoming a second-rate power by not expanding its influence in East Asia. Deeper down was the sense that France owed the world a civilizing mission.
French missionaries had been active in Vietnam since the 17th century, when the Jesuit priest Alexandre de Rhodes opened a mission there. In 1858 the Vietnamese emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty felt threatened by the French influence and tried to expel the missionaries. Napoleon III sent a naval force of fourteen gunships, carrying three thousand French and three thousand Filipino troops provided by Spain, under Charles Rigault de Genouilly, to compel the government to accept the missionaries and to stop the persecution of Catholics. In September 1858 the expeditionary force captured and occupied the port of Da Nang, and then in February 1859 moved south and captured Saigon. The Vietnamese ruler was compelled to cede three provinces to France, and to offer protection to the Catholics. The French troops departed for a time to take part in the expedition to China, but in 1862, when the agreements were not fully followed by the Vietnamese emperor, they returned. The Emperor was forced to open treaty ports in Annam and Tonkin, and all of Cochinchina became a French territory in 1864.
In 1863, the ruler of Cambodia, King Norodom, who had been placed in power by the government of Thailand, rebelled against his sponsors and sought the protection of France. The Thai Emperor granted authority over Cambodia to France, in exchange for two provinces of Laos, which were ceded by Cambodia to Thailand. In 1867, Cambodia formally became a protectorate of France.
Intervention in Syria and Lebanon (1860–61)
In the spring of 1860, a war broke out in Lebanon, then part of the Ottoman Empire, between the quasi-Muslim Druze population and the Maronite Christians. The Ottoman authorities in Lebanon could not stop the violence, and it spread into neighboring Syria, with the massacre of many Christians. In Damascus, the Emir Abd-el-Kadr protected the Christians there against the Muslim rioters. Napoleon III felt obliged to intervene on behalf of the Christians, despite the opposition of London, which feared it would lead to a wider French presence in the Middle East. After long and difficult negotiations to obtain the approval of the British government, Napoleon III sent a French contingent of seven thousand men for a period of six months. The troops arrived in Beirut in August 1860, and took positions in the mountains between the Christian and Muslim communities. Napoleon III organized an international conference in Paris, where the country was placed under the rule of a Christian governor named by the Ottoman Sultan, which restored a fragile peace. The French troops departed in June 1861, after just under one year. The French intervention alarmed the British, but was highly popular with the powerful Catholic political faction in France, which had been alarmed by Napoleon's dispute with the Pope over his territories in Italy.
Algeria had been formally under French rule since 1830, but only in 1852 was the country entirely conquered. There were about a hundred thousand European settlers in the country, at that time, about half of them French. Under the Second Republic the country was ruled by a civilian government, but Louis Napoleon re-established a military government, much to the annoyance of the colonists. By 1857 the army had conquered Kabyle Province, and pacified the country. By 1860 the European population had grown to two hundred thousand, and the land of the Algerians was being rapidly bought and farmed by the new arrivals.
In the first eight years of his rule Napoleon III paid little attention to Algeria. In September 1860, however, he and the Empress Eugénie visited Algeria, and the trip made a deep impression upon them. Eugénie was invited to attend a traditional Arab wedding, and the Emperor met many of the local leaders. The Emperor gradually conceived the idea that Algeria should be governed differently from other colonies. in February 1863, he wrote a public letter to Pelissier, the Military Governor, saying: "Algeria is not a colony in the traditional sense, but an Arab kingdom; the local people have, like the colonists, a legal right to my protection. I am just as much the Emperor of the Arabs of Algeria as I am of the French." He intended to rule Algeria through a government of Arab aristocrats. Toward this end he invited the chiefs of main Algerian tribal groups to his chateau at Compiegne for hunting and festivities.
Compared to previous administrations, Napoleon III was far more sympathetic to the native Algerians. He halted European migration inland, restricting them to the coastal zone. He also freed the Algerian rebel leader Abd al Qadir (who had been promised freedom on surrender but was imprisoned by the previous administration) and gave him a stipend of 150,000 francs. He allowed Muslims to serve in the military and civil service on theoretically equal terms and allowed them to migrate to France. In addition, he gave the option of citizenship; however, for Muslims to take this option they had to accept all of the French civil code, including parts governing inheritance and marriage which conflicted with Muslim laws, and they had to reject the competence of religious Sharia courts. This was interpreted by some Muslims as requiring them to give up parts of their religion to obtain citizenship and was resented.
More importantly, Napoleon III changed the system of land tenure. While ostensibly well-intentioned, in effect this move destroyed the traditional system of land management and deprived many Algerians of land. While Napoleon did renounce state claims to tribal lands, he also began a process of dismantling tribal land ownership in favour of individual land ownership. This process was corrupted by French officials sympathetic to the French in Algeria who took much of the land they surveyed into public domain. In addition, many tribal leaders, chosen for loyalty to the French rather than influence in their tribe, immediately sold communal land for cash.
His attempted reforms were interrupted in 1864 by an Arab insurrection, which required more than a year and an army of 85,000 soldiers to suppress. Nonetheless, he did not give up his idea of making Algeria a model where French colonists and Arabs could live and work together as equals. He traveled to Algiers for a second time on 3 May 1865, and this time he remained for a month, meeting with tribal leaders and local officials. He offered a wide amnesty to participants of the insurrection, and promised to name Arabs to high positions in his government. He also promised a large public works program of new ports, railroads, and roads. However, once again his plans met a major natural obstacle' in 1866 and 1867, Algeria was struck by an epidemic of cholera, clouds of locusts, draught and famine, and his reforms were hindered by the French colonists, who voted massively against him in the plebiscites of his late reign.
French Intervention in Mexico (1862–67)
Main articles: French intervention in Mexico and Second Mexican Empire
In December 1862, the conservative Mexican government was overthrown by Benito Juarez, who established a secular state and refused to pay the internal and external debts of the old government. France was the largest owner of the debt, owed 135 million gold francs of the 260 million francs total. The rest of the debt was owed to Britain (85 million francs) and Spain (40 million). Under an 1861 agreement, France, Britain and Spain organized a joint military force to compel the Mexican government to pay. A British-French flotilla of ships arrived at VeraCruz in December 1861 and landed 7500 French soldiers and 700 British soldiers, joined later by 6000 Spanish soldiers from Cuba.
Juarez opened negotiations with the international force, but it soon became evident that the French expedition had a more ambitious objective than debt repayment. Napoleon III and the Empress had been intensively lobbied by Mexican émigrés in Europe, who proposed that France establish a new conservative and Catholic government in Mexico, under a European monarch. Napoleon III was told that the new monarch would be welcomed by the entire Mexican population. He consented to launch the operation if the new monarch would be approved by a national plebiscite, as he had been. The monarch selected for this task was the Archduke Maximilian, the brother of the Austrian Emperor Franz-Joseph II, and husband of Charlotte, daughter of the King of Belgium.
When the British and Spanish realized the French goals, they withdrew from the expedition, but the French marched on Mexico City. The first attempt by General Lorencez was repulsed by the forces of General Ignacio Zaragoza at Puebla on 5 May 1862, the first defeat of a French Army since Waterloo. Napoleon III appointed a new commander, General Forey, one of the victors of Solferino, and sent 23,000 fresh soldiers. Napoleon III believed that the Mexican people would embrace the new government. He also knew that the government of the United States would be unable to prevent it, even though it was in contravention of the Monroe Doctrine, because of the American Civil War then underway, and the implicit support provided by the neighboring Confederate States of America.
The reinforced French army under Forey launched a new offensive from March to June 1863. After bitter resistance, the defenders of Mexico City surrendered on 7 June 1863. Forey, disregarding Napoleon III's instructions not to install a monarch without a popular plebiscite, organized an assembly of Mexican notables who proclaimed the Mexican Empire and invited Maximilian I of Mexico to rule. Ruling President Benito Juárez and his Republican forces retreated to the countryside and fought against the French troops and the Mexican monarchists.
Maximilian was a reluctant Emperor, not arriving in Mexico until June 1864. One of his first acts was to sign an agreement that Mexico would repay France the entire cost of the war. The combined Mexican monarchist and French forces won victories up until 1865, but then the tide began to turn against them, in part because the American Civil War had ended. The U.S. government demanded that France withdraw its soldiers from Mexico. Facing a guerilla war and a financial catastrophe, the Emperor Maximilian became more and more depressed, leaving the capital for long periods and allowing the Empress Carlotta to reign. Not willing to have a war with the United States, Napoleon III decided at the beginning of 1866 to withdraw French troops from Mexico. In 1863 Maximilian had sent Carlotta to Europe to appeal for funds and support. She appealed to Napoleon III, but he refused to provide more troops or money. During her tour of European courts, she lost and never regained her sanity. Maximilian refused pleas that he depart, and fought against the growing partisan army of Juarez. He was captured, judged, and shot on 19 June 1867.
The misadventure in Mexico cost the lives of six thousand French soldiers and 336 million francs, in a campaign originally designed to collect 60 million francs. It also aroused the hostility of both the United States and Austria, which had lost a member of its royal family. It was also a distraction to Napoleon III, on the eve of his coming confrontation with Prussia.
The execution of Maximilian I on 19 June 1867, as painted by Edouard Manet. The intervention in Mexico was a disaster for French foreign policy.
Despite the signing of the 1860 Cobden–Chevalier Treaty, a historic free trade agreement between Britain and France, and the joint operations conducted by France and Britain in the Crimea, China and Mexico, diplomatic relations between Britain and France never became close. Lord Palmerston, the British foreign minister from 1846 to 1851 and prime minister from 1855 to 1865, sought to maintain the balance of power in Europe; this rarely involved an alignment with France. In 1859 there were even briefly fears that France might try to invade Britain. Palmerston was suspicious of France's interventions in Lebanon, Southeast Asia and Mexico. Palmerston was also concerned that France might intervene in the American Civil War (1861–65) on the side of the South. The British also felt threatened by the construction of the Suez Canal (1859–1869) by Ferdinand de Lesseps in Egypt. They tried to oppose its completion by diplomatic pressures and by promoting revolts among workers.
The Suez Canal was successfully built by the French, but became a joint British-French project in 1875. Both nations saw it as vital to maintaining their influence and empires in Asia. In 1882, ongoing civil disturbances in Egypt prompted Britain to intervene, extending a hand to France. France's leading expansionist Jules Ferry was out of office, and Paris allowed London to take effective control of Egypt.
Main article: France in the American Civil War
During 1861 to 1862, at the beginning of the American Civil War, Napoleon III considered recognizing the Confederacy in order to protect his operations in Mexico. Washington repeatedly warned that this meant war but the emperor kept this option open, hoping to get Britain as an ally. The Union blockade of southern ports stopped the supply of cotton to textile mills in France, and caused unemployment. The Confederacy had put their faith in "King Cotton" diplomacy, expecting that the cutoff of cotton supplies would cause Britain and France to declare war to reopen the trade. Through 1862, Napoleon III met unofficially with Confederate diplomats, raising their hopes that he would unilaterally recognize the Confederacy. France was too weak to act without collaboration with the British, who after much wavering finally rejected intervention as not worth the heavy risk of losing American food exports. Napoleon realized that a war with the U.S. without allies "would spell disaster" for France. In 1863 the Confederacy realized there was no longer any chance of intervention, and expelled the French and British consuls, who were advising their citizens not to enlist in the Confederate Army. In 1865, the United States stationed a large combat Army near the Mexican border as a warning sign. Napoleon III pulled the French troops out, and the "emperor" he had imposed on Mexico was captured and shot.
Most Frenchmen ignored foreign affairs and colonial issues. In 1914 the chief pressure group was the Parti colonial, a coalition of 50 organizations with a combined total of 5000 members.
It was only after its defeat in 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 Tonkin (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 Guangzhouwan in 1900). In 1849, the French concession in Shanghai was established, lasting until 1946. The French also had concessions in Guangzhou and Hankou (now part of Wuhan).
France also extended its influence in North Africa after 1870, establishing a protectorate in Tunisia in 1881 with the Bardo Treaty. Gradually, French control crystallised over much of North, West, and Central Africa by around the start of the 20th century (including the modern states of Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast, Benin, Niger,
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
Inset of map showing the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France to carve up the Middle East. Geoffrey Gaudreault, NPR hide caption» View Enlargement
Inset of map showing the French and British mandates for the Middle East after World War I. Geoffrey Gaudreault, NPR hide caption» View Enlargement
From left, British Prime Minister Lloyd George, Italy's Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, France's Georges Clemenceau and President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris peace conference in 1919 at the end of World War I. National Archives hide caption
World War I transformed the Middle East in ways it had not seen for centuries. The Europeans, who had colonized much of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, completed the takeover with the territories of Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.
The modern boundaries of the Middle East emerged from the war. So did modern Arab nationalist movements and embryonic Islamic movements. NPR's Mike Shuster reports on World War I and its aftermath as he continues his series on the history of Western involvement in the Middle East.
With the onset of WWI, the French and the British sent armies and agents into the Middle East, to foment revolts in the Arabian Peninsula and to seize Iraq, Syria and Palestine. In 1916, French and British diplomats secretly reached the Sykes-Picot agreement, carving up the Middle East into spheres of influence for their respective countries. That agreement was superceded by another which established a mandate system of French and British control, sanctioned by the new League of Nations.
Under the mandate system, Syria and Lebanon went to the French. The British took over Palestine and three Ottoman provinces of Mesopotamia and created modern-day Iraq.
"Everyone understood at the time that this was a thinly disguised new form of colonialism...," says Zachary Lockman, professor of Middle East history at New York University. "The British and French had no thought of going anywhere anytime soon, and fully intended to remain in control of these territories for the indefinite future."
But almost immediately after the war, Arab resistance movements emerged to challenge European dominance.