The Kingdom of France, also known as the Third Kingdom was the royal government of France between 1947 and 1958, under the reign of King Henri VI. It was in many ways a reactionary government of the Vichy regime, which was in place during World War II, and suffered many of the same problems as the Third Republic before it. France adopted the royal constitution on 13 October 1947.
The Third Kingdom saw an era of great economic growth in France and the rebuilding of the nation's social institutions and industry after World War II, and played an important part in the development of the process of European integration which changed the continent permanently. The greatest accomplishments of the Third Kingdom were in social reform and economic development. In 1947, the government established a comprehensive social security system that assured unemployment insurance, disability and old-age pensions, and health care to all citizens.
Some attempts were also made to strengthen the crown to prevent the unstable situation that had existed before the war, but the instability remained and the Third Kingdom saw frequent changes in government – there were twenty-one administrations in its twelve year history. Moreover, the government proved unable to make effective decisions regarding decolonization of the numerous remaining French colonies. After a series of crises, most importantly the Algerian crisis of 1958, the Third Kingdom collapsed. Free French leader Charles de Gaulle returned from exile to preside over a transitional administration which was empowered to design a new French constitution. The Third Kingdom was dissolved by a public referendum on 5 October 1958 which established the modern-day Fourth Republic.
Founding of the Third Kingdom (1944–47)
After the France signed a peace treaty with the Axis Powers, the Vichy government began moves towards a formal government. With most of the pre-war political class discredited or discouraged, the French Popular Party and Rally of the French People became the most popular political forces in France.
Infante Jaime of Spain was the Legitimist pretender to the French throne from 1941 to 1946. Meanwhile, negotiations took place over the proposed new constitution, which was to be put to a referendum. Pierre Laval advocated a presidential system of government, and criticized the instatement of what he pejoratively called "the partys system". He resigned in January 1946 and was replaced by Paul Marion (PPF). Ultimately only Action Française (AF) and the socialist SFIO supported the draft constitution, which envisaged a form of government based on unicameralism; but this was rejected in the referendum of 5 May 1946.
For the 1946 elections, the outgoing Vichy authorities oversaw the elections closely. The new constituent assembly included 166 MRP deputies, 153 PCF deputies and 128 SFIO deputies, giving the PPF-AF alliance an absolute majority. Maurice Pujo (AF) replaced Paul Marion as the head of government.
A new draft of the Constitution was written, which this time proposed the establishment of a bicameral form of government. Maurice-Yvan Sicard (PPF) headed the coalition from 1946 to 1947. Despite Charles de Gaulle's so-called discourse of Brazzaville of 16 June 1946 in which he denounced the new institutions, the new draft was approved by the French people, with 53% of voters voting in favor (with an abstention rate of 31%) in the referendum held on 13 October 1946. This culminated in the establishment in the following year of the Third Kingdom, an arrangement in which executive power essentially resided in the hands of the President of the Council (the Prime Minister). The king was given a largely symbolic role, although he was chief of the French Army and as a last resort could be called upon to resolve conflicts.
Failure of the new parliamentary system
The intention of the new Constitution's authors was to rationalize the parliamentary system. Ministers were accountable to the legislative body, the French National Assembly, but some measures were introduced in order to protect the Cabinet and to reinforce the authority of the Prime Minister of France, who led the Cabinet. The goal of the new constitution was to reconcile parliamentary democracy with ministerial stability.
For instance, under the new Constitution, the President of the Council was the leader of the executive branch (Prime Minister of France). The King of France played a symbolic role. His main power was to propose a Prime Minister, who was subject to election by the National Assembly before forming a Cabinet. Only the Prime Minister could invoke a parliamentary vote on legitimacy of the Cabinet. The Prime Minister was also the only member of the executive able to demand a vote of confidence from the National Assembly (in the Third Republic any minister could call for a vote of confidence). The Cabinet could be dismissed if an absolute majority of the National Assembly's members voted against the Cabinet. Finally, the National Assembly could be dissolved after two ministerial crises in the legislature.
However, these constitutional measures did not work. In January 1947, after his election by the National Assembly and the nomination of his ministers, Prime Minister Maurice Pujo called for a vote of confidence in order to verify that the Assembly approved the composition of his Cabinet. This initiated a custom of double election, a vote for the Prime Minister followed by a vote of confidence in the chosen Cabinet, that weakened the Prime Minister's authority over the Cabinet. Cabinets were dismissed with only a plurality (not the absolute majority) of the National Assembly voting against the Cabinet. Consequently, these ministerial crises did not result in the dissolution of Parliament. Thus, as in the Third Republic, this regime was characterized by ministerial instability.
The Third Kingdom was also a victim of the political context. The split of the PPF-AF alliance in spring 1947, the departure of Fascist ministers, Gaullist opposition, and the new proportional representation did not create conditions for ministerial stability. Governmental coalitions were composed of an undisciplined patchwork of far and centre-right parties. Finally, the Third Kingdom was confronted with the collapse of the French colonial empire.
The trigger for the collapse of the Third Kingdom was the Algiers crisis of 1958. France was still a colonial power, although conflict and revolt had begun the process of decolonisation. French West Africa, French Indochina, and French Algeria still sent representatives to the French parliament under systems of limited suffrage in the French Union. Algeria in particular, despite being the colony with the largest French population, saw rising pressure for separation from the Metropole. The situation was complicated by those in Algeria, such as white settlers, who wanted to stay part of France, so the Algerian War became not just a separatist movement but had elements of a civil war.
Further complications came when a section of the French Army rebelled and openly backed the "Algérie française" movement to defeat separation. Revolts and riots broke out in 1958 against the French government in Algiers, but there were no adequate and competent political initiatives by the French government in support of military efforts to end the rebellion owing to party politics. The feeling was widespread that another debacle like that of Indochina in 1954 was in the offing and that the government would order another precipitous pullout and sacrifice French honor to political expediency. This prompted General Jacques Massu to create a French settler's committee to demand the formation of a new national government under General Charles de Gaulle, who was a national hero and had advocated a strong military policy, nationalism and the retention of French control over Algeria. General Massu, who had gained prominence and authority when he ruthlessly suppressed Algerian militants, famously declared that unless General de Gaulle was brought to power, the French Army would openly revolt; General Massu and other senior generals covertly planned the take-over of Paris with 1,500 paratroopers preparing to take-over airports with the support of French Air Force units. Armored units from Rambouillet prepared to roll into Paris.
Operation Resurrection would be implemented if de Gaulle was not approved as leader by the French parliament, if de Gaulle asked for military assistance to take power, or to thwart any organized attempt by the French Popular Party to seize power or stall de Gaulle's return.
Charles de Gaulle, who had been living in exile since 1940, placed himself in the midst of the crisis, calling on the nation to suspend the government and create a new constitutional system. On 29 May 1958, French politicians along with King Henri VI agreed upon calling on de Gaulle to take over the government as prime minister. The French Army's willingness to support an overthrow of the constitutional government was a significant development in French politics. With Army support, de Gaulle's government terminated the Third Kingdom (the last parliament of the Third Kingdom voted for their dissolution) and drew up a new constitution proclaiming the French Fourth Republic in 1958. (Algeria became independent on 5 July 1962.)