France had two colonial empires. The first one during the XVIth-XVIIIth Centuries was built by large Royal Trading Companies (such as Compagnie des Indes Occidentales). This empire included most of Northern America, some of the richest Caribbean Islands and a large part of India. Much of this empire was transferred to England as a result of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, and much of what remained fell away at the time of the Napoleonic Wars.
The second colonial empire, constructed in the late 19th Century, began in earnest after the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. This empire rivalled the British empire, and lasted until the 1960s. This colonial empire included Northern Africa, a large part of Western and Central Africa, Indochina and islands all over the world. These two colonial empires should not be confused with the First Empire and Second Empire, which were domestic political institutions that flourished in the period between the two overseas colonial empires.
Bismarck described the colonial positions of the three great Powers in the epigram, "England has colonies and colonists; Germany has colonists but no colonies; France has colonies but no colonists." This last clause accurately represented the case of France. The French colonies formed the happy hunting grounds of political partisans who successfully competed for the administrative posts in the faroff regions.
Many colonial administrator professed a fierce commitment to republicanism and to reshaping the lives of their colonial subjects consistent with the French republican vision. These administrators saw themselves as children of the Enlightenment, embarked upon a crusade to improve the lives the backward and oppressed peoples of Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. They were on a mission civilisatrice, a mission to "civilize" their colonial subjects.
After the Great War the colonial domain of France, including colonies, protectorates, and countries for which France has a mandate, covered an area of 10,426,000 sq. km., an area nearly 20 times greater than that of France. The pop. numbers 55,000,000, nearly one and a half times that of France. The general trade of this colonial empire amounted in 1919 to over 7,000 million francs. In 1918 the figure was about 5,000 million francs. In 1913, the last normal year before war, it only amounted to 3,250 million francs. Exports and imports practically balanced each other.
Although these figures appear small when compared with those of the British Empire, the French colonial empire is the second largest in the world, and its building-up was one of the notablet achievements of the Third Republic. The chief characteristic of these possessions is their variety. It is true that these colonies he almost entirely in temperate or hot countries. Islands as well as vast continental stretches go to form this empire, which includes one of the greatest deserts of the world, the Sahara, as well as some of the greatest rivers, the Congo, the Niger and the Mekong. There are towering mountains, immense forests, and extremely fertile plantations. The produce of these colonies is also varied. It includes rice, sugar, wood, cotton, phosphates, cereals in great abundance, coal (but only in Indo-China), and metals of every kind.
From the ethnical point of view its races include such different types as the Arab and the Berber, the Annamite, and the Congolese and Sudanese. Although dotted over four continents, Africa, Asia, America and Oceania, it consists mainly of two big groups, one in Asia and the other in Africa. It is this latter portion of French colonial possessions which is by far the most important and the most full of promise. The French African empire, leaving Madagascar out of account, stretches in one unbroken sweep from Algiers to Brazzaville, and from Dakar to Abesher. It is formed by three great geographical unities: northern Africa, western and equatorial Africa, which encircles the Sahara and join at the central point of Lake Chad, with coast-line on the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. The great advantage of these possessions is their territorial continuity, and that some day a trans-Saharan railway will be able to run from Algiers to Brazzaville without leaving French territory.
The gem of all the French colonies was N. Africa - Algiers, Tunis and Morocco. There three great advantages exist; the climate is temperate, the country is suitable for colonization by the French and all the other Mediterranean peoples, who acclimatize themselves as if they were in their mother-country, and, above all, these colonies were close to France. This situation is unique, and renders the colonies ten times more valuable. Such are the general characteristics of the French colonial empire. It was only during the war that France realized how valuable it was to her. The colonies were drawn on for material resources, and in particular for troops. Soldiers came into field against Germany in hundreds of thousands from the French colonies. Soon after the War, Hitler wrote that for Germany, the ".... idea of bringing black troops into a European battlefield, quite aside from its practical impossibility in the World War, never existed even as a design to be realized under more favorable circumstances, while, on the contrary, it was always regarded and felt by the French as the basic reason for their colonial activity....
"Not only that she complements her army to an ever-increasing degree from her enormous empire's reservoir of colored humanity, but racially as well, she is making such great progress in negrification that we can actually speak of an African state arising on European soil. The colonial policy of present-day France cannot be compared with that of Germany in the past. If the development of France in the present style were to be continued for three hundred years, the last remnants of Frankish blood would be submerged in the developing European-African mulatto state. An immense self-contained area of settlement from the Rhine to the Congo, filled with a lower race gradually produced from continuous bastardization...."
All that could be obtained from these dominions had not yet been so drawn. French colonial policy was open to many reproaches, especially from an economic point of view. The exploitation of these countries had not been pushed forward with enough energy, nor, more important still, with the necessary method. It has been carried on without a general programme, without stability of purpose, by improvisations, by little jerks, a system which has led to failures and, which is worse, to delays.
|Burkina Faso||French Upper Volta||1896||1960|
|Central African Republic||Oubangui-Chari||1894||1960|
|Congo Republic||French Congo||1875||1960|
|Ivory Coast||Côte d'Ivoire||1843||1960|
|Mauritius||Ile de France||1715||1810|
|Mexico||Empire of Maximillian||1861||1867|
|St Kitts & Nevis||Saint Christophe||1628||1783|
|Syria||Sanjak of Alexandretta||1920||1943|
|Bassas da India||1897||xxxx|
|French West Indies||Guadeloupe||1635||xxxx|
|Juan de Nova Island||1897||xxxx|
|Saint Pierre and Miquelon||1604||xxxx|
|Wallis and Futuna||1887||xxxx|
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