French colonization

The French colonial empire constituted the overseas colonies, protectorates and mandate territories that came under French rule from the 17th 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 and came for the most part to an end with the granting of independence to Algeria in 1962 (the last territory to reach independence was Vanuatu in 1980). In the 19th and 20th centuries, it was the second-largest colonial empire in the world behind the British Empire, extending 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) between the two world wars, that is nearly 1/10th of the Earth’s land area, with a population of 110 million people on the eve of World War II (5% of the world’s population at the time). Competing with Spain, Portugal, the 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 during the 18th century and early 19th century resulted in both countries losing most of their colonial empires: France lost New France and most of French India, while Great Britain lost its Thirteen American colonies which became the United States. France took control of Algeria in 1830 but began in earnest to rebuild its worldwide empire after 1850, concentrating chiefly in North and West Africa, as well as South-East Asia, with other conquests in Central and East Africa, as well as 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 exponent 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. In World War II, Charles de Gaulle and the Free French used the overseas colonies as bases from which they fought to liberate France. However after 1945 anti-colonial movements began to challenge European authority. France fought and lost bitter wars in Vietnam and Algeria in the 1950s and 60s. Its settlers and many local supporters relocated to France. Nearly all of France’s colonies gained independence by 1960, but France retained great financial and diplomatic influence. The remnants of the colonial empire (mostly smaller islands) were integrated into France as overseas departments and territories. 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. Their locations in all oceans of the world, however, give France the second-largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the world after that of the United States.