Alternate History

French Constitution of 1916 (Vive l'Emperor)

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The constitution came into effect on August 15th 1916 and called for:

  • The abolition of the senate
  • The abolition of regional parliaments
  • Centralised control of all foreign and domestic affairs
  • The setting up of an Imperial Council of 15 - 30 members, including senior army and Navy Commanders, civil servants and peers.
  • The appointment of a supreme military commander to manage the war efforts
  • The reduction in role for the prime minister, who was to head a much smaller government with control over only domestic civilian affairs

The constitution was hastily prepared following the French defeat at Mulhouse and impending siege of Strasbourg. The emperor lost faith in his government, and although he liked to think of himself as a liberal, he personally edited the new, reactionary constitution in an attempt to unite the country under strong leadership.

The imperial council was to have five permanent members:

  • The supreme military commander.
  • The chief of staff of the French army.
  • The commander of the French navy.
  • The aide de camp of the Emperor.
  • The military governor of Paris.

The council was designed to allow the army to run the war without government interference and gave the army power second only to the emperor.

Raymond Poincare remained prime minister. However, with his role significantly reduced and his cabinet cut down by two thirds he was unable to continue to run the country effectively. The line between the responsibilities of the Imperial Council, Assembly, Government and Peers became very blurred and the new constitution caused yet more confusion.

The effects of the constitution lasted long after the collapse of the empire. Following France's military defeat military commanders like Foch and Petain were able to make amendments to the constitution, abolishing the house of peers and dissolving the assembly temporarily. The Imperial council (renamed the state council) was to dominate French politics for the next 50 years.

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