Famous French Presidents

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

After the French Revolution in 1792, France went through a series of changes, including the installation of a presidential figure. In this lesson we will look at a few of France's most influential presidents.

The French Government

At some point in your education you probably had the opportunity to journal about what it would be like to be president for the day. And more than likely your answer included something about year-long summer, ice cream for dinner, and no homework. But in reality, being president is stressful, exhausting and about making some pretty big decisions for a whole bunch of people (probably more than just what kind of ice cream to eat for dinner). Let's take a look at the history of presidents in the Republic of France.

Prior to 1792, the French were ruled by a monarchy, or rule led by a dynastic family not voted on or chosen by the people. The French believed in divine right, which meant that the monarchy was chosen by God, and could not be contradicted or overthrown. This sort of rule made it hard for the average French men and women to have any say in their government, and meant the monarchy took advantage of their power over the people. Long story short it did not end well for the monarchy and in 1792 the monarchy was overthrown and the Republic of France was born. While it took many years to bring peace to France, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte became the first French President in 1848.

France Map

Second French Republic 1848-1852

Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte

Charles Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew to the great Napoleon, was the first elected president of the French Republic in 1848. The constitution only allowed him to serve one term as president, so on December 2, 1851 he seized power in a coup d'etat, or forceful overthrow. He declared himself Emperor Napoleon III.

Under his presidency and rule a new banking system was created, Paris underwent construction and new public works were developed. He ruled as president until 1852 and emperor until 1871.

Fifth French Republic 1958-present

Charles de Gaulle

Unlike Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles de Gaulle relied solely on his military expertise and not his family name to become president. He was president during the tragedies of Nazi Germany, and his refusal to sign an agreement with Germany during this time also made him very popular with the French. Although he was elected to the presidency in 1945, he resigned quickly because he did not like how the rest of the French government worked. However, in 1958 de Gaulle became president a second time. During his presidency he helped Algeria become a free state and helped the nation find peace.

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