The French Republic (République française), is a unitary sovereign state and transcontinental country consisting of territory in western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The European, or metropolitan, area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. Overseas France includes French Guiana on the South American continent and several island territories in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. France spans 248,573 square miles (643,801 square kilometers) and has a total population of 66.7 million. It is a semi-presidential republic with the capital in Paris, the country’s largest city and main cultural and commercial center. Other major urban centers include Marseille, Lyon, Lille, Nice, Toulouse and Bordeaux.
The name “France” comes from the Latin Francia, or “country of the Franks”. Modern France is still named today Francia in Italian and Spanish, Frankreich in German and Frankrijk in Dutch, all of which have the same historical meaning. There are various theories as to the origin of the name Frank. Following the precedents of Edward Gibbon and Jacob Grimm, the name of the Franks has been linked with the word frank (free) in English. It has been suggested that the meaning of “free” was adopted because, after the conquest of Gaul, only Franks were free of taxation. Another theory is that it is derived from the Proto-Germanic word frankon, which translates as javelin or lance as the throwing axe of the Franks was known as a francisca. However, it has been determined that these weapons were named because of their use by the Franks, not the other way around.
The oldest traces of human life in what is now France date from approximately 1.8 million years ago. Humans were then confronted by a harsh and variable climate, marked by several glacial eras. Early homonids led a nomadic hunter-gatherer life. France has a large number of decorated caves from the upper Palaeolithic era, including one of the most famous and best preserved: Lascaux (approximately 18,000 BC).
At the end of the last glacial period (10,000 BC), the climate became milder; from approximately 7,000 BC, this part of Western Europe entered the Neolithic era and its inhabitants became sedentary. After strong demographic and agricultural development between the fourth and third millennia, metallurgy appeared at the end of the third millennium, initially working gold, copper and bronze, and later iron. France has numerous megalithic sites from the Neolithic period, including the exceptionally dense Carnac stones site (approximately 3,300 BC).
In 600 BC, Ionian Greeks, originating from Phocaea, founded the colony of Massalia (present-day Marseille), on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. This makes it France’s oldest city. At the same time, some Gallic Celtic tribes penetrated parts of the current territory of France, and this occupation spread to the rest of France between the fifth and third century BC. The concept of Gaul emerged at that time; it corresponds to the territories of Celtic settlement ranging between the Rhine, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean. The borders of modern France are roughly the same as those of ancient Gaul, which was inhabited by Celtic Gauls. Gaul was then a prosperous country, of which the southernmost part was heavily subject to Greek and Roman cultural and economic influences.
Around 390 BC, the Gallic chieftain Brennus and his troops made their way to Italy through the Alps, defeated the Romans in the Battle of the Allia, and besieged and ransomed Rome. The Gallic invasion left Rome weakened, and the Gauls continued to harass the region until 345 BC when they entered into a formal peace treaty with Rome. But the Romans and the Gauls would remain adversaries for the next several centuries, and the Gauls would continue to be a threat in Italia.
Around 125 BC, the south of Gaul was conquered by the Romans, who called this region Provincia Nostra (“Our Province”), which over time evolved into the name Provence in French. Julius Caesar conquered the remainder of Gaul and overcame a revolt carried out by the Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix in 52 BC. Gaul was divided by Augustus into Roman provinces. Many cities were founded during the Gallo-Roman period, including Lugdunum (present-day Lyon), which is considered the capital of the Gauls. These cities were built in traditional Roman style, with a forum, a theatre, a circus, an amphitheatre and thermal baths. The Gauls mixed with Roman settlers and eventually adopted Roman culture and Roman speech (Latin, from which the French language evolved). The Roman polytheism merged with the Gallic paganism into the same syncretism.
From the 250s to the 280s AD, Roman Gaul suffered a serious crisis with its fortified borders being attacked on several occasions by barbarians. Nevertheless, the situation improved in the first half of the fourth century, which was a period of revival and prosperity for Roman Gaul. In 312, the emperor Constantin I converted to Christianity. Subsequently, Christians, who had been persecuted until then, increased rapidly across the entire Roman Empire. From the beginning of the fifth century the Barbarian Invasions resumed and Germanic tribes such as the Vandals, Suebi and Alans crossed the Rhine and settled in Gaul, Spain and other parts of the collapsing Roman Empire.
At the end of the Antiquity period, ancient Gaul was divided into several Germanic kingdoms and a remaining Gallo-Roman territory, known as the Kingdom of Syagrius. Simultaneously, Celtic Britons, fleeing the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, settled the western part of Armorica. As a result, the Armorican peninsula was renamed Brittany, Celtic culture was revived and independent petty kingdoms arose in this region.
The pagan Franks, from whom the ancient name of “Francie” was derived, originally settled the north part of Gaul, but under Clovis I conquered most of the other kingdoms in northern and central Gaul. In 498, Clovis I was the first Germanic conqueror after the fall of the Roman Empire to convert to Catholic Christianity, rather than Arianism; thus France was given the title “Eldest daughter of the Church” (La fille aînée de l’Église) by the papacy and French kings would be called “the Most Christian Kings of France” (Rex Christianissimus).
The Franks embraced the Christian Gallo-Roman culture and ancient Gaul was eventually renamed Francia (“Land of the Franks”). The Germanic Franks adopted Romanic languages, except in northern Gaul where Roman settlements were less dense and where Germanic languages emerged. Clovis made Paris his capital and established the Merovingian dynasty, but his kingdom would not survive his death. The Franks treated land purely as a private possession and divided it among their heirs, so four kingdoms emerged from Clovis’s: Paris, Orléans, Soissons, and Rheims. The last Merovingian kings lost power to their mayors of the palace (head of household). One mayor of the palace, Charles Martel, defeated an Islamic invasion of Gaul at the Battle of Tours (732) and earned respect and power within the Frankish kingdoms. His son, Pepin the Short, seized the crown of Francia from the weakened Merovingians and founded the Carolingian dynasty. Pepin’s son, Charlemagne, reunited the Frankish kingdoms and built a vast empire across Western and Central Europe.
Proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III and thus establishing in earnest the French government’s longtime historical association with the Catholic Church, Charlemagne tried to revive the Western Roman Empire and its cultural grandeur. Charlemagne’s son, Louis I (emperor 814–840), kept the empire united; however, this Carolingian Empire would not survive his death. In 843, under the Treaty of Verdun, the empire was divided between Louis’ three sons, with East Francia going to Louis the German, Middle Francia to Lothair I, and West Francia to Charles the Bald. West Francia approximated the area occupied by, and was the precursor, to modern France.
During the ninth and tenth centuries, continually threatened by Viking invasions, France became a very decentralized state: the nobility’s titles and lands became hereditary, and the authority of the king became more religious than secular and thus was less effective and constantly challenged by powerful noblemen. Thus was established feudalism in France. Over time, some of the king’s vassals would grow so powerful that they often posed a threat to the king. For example, after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror added “King of England” to his titles, becoming both the vassal to (as Duke of Normandy) and the equal of (as king of England) the king of France, creating recurring tensions.
The Carolingian dynasty ruled France until 987, when Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crowned King of the Franks. His descendants — the Capetians, the House of Valois, and the House of Bourbon — progressively unified the country through wars and dynastic inheritance into the Kingdom of France, which was fully declared in 1190 by Philip II Augustus. The French nobility played a prominent role in most Crusades in order to restore Christian access to the Holy Land. French knights made up the bulk of the steady flow of reinforcements throughout the two-hundred-year span of the Crusades, in such a fashion that the Arabs uniformly referred to the crusaders as Franj caring little whether they really came from France. The French Crusaders also imported the French language into the Levant, making French the base of the lingua franca (“Frankish language”) of the Crusader states. French knights also comprised the majority in both the Hospital and the Temple orders. The latter, in particular, held numerous properties throughout France and by the thirteenth century were the principal bankers for the French crown, until Philip IV annihilated the order in 1307.
The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209 to eliminate the heretical Cathars in the southwestern area of modern-day France. In the end, the Cathars were exterminated and the autonomous County of Toulouse was annexed into the kingdom of France. Later kings expanded their domain to cover over half of modern continental France, including most of the north, center and west of France. Meanwhile, the royal authority became more and more assertive, centered on a hierarchically conceived society distinguishing nobility, clergy, and commoners.
Charles IV the Fair died without an heir in 1328. Under the rules of the Salic law the crown of France could not pass to a woman nor could the line of kingship pass through the female line. Accordingly, the crown passed to Philip of Valois, a cousin of Charles, rather than through the female line to Charles’ nephew, Edward, who would soon become Edward III of England. During the reign of Philip of Valois, the French monarchy reached the height of its medieval power. Philip’s seat on the throne was contested by Edward III of England and in 1337, on the eve of the first wave of the Black Death, England and France went to war in what would become known as the Hundred Years’ War. The exact boundaries changed greatly with time, but French landholdings of the English Kings remained extensive for decades. With charismatic leaders, such as Joan of Arc and La Hire, strong French counterattacks won back English continental territories. Like the rest of Europe, France was struck by the Black Death; half of the 17 million population of France died.
The French Renaissance saw a spectacular cultural development and the first standardization of the French language, which would become the official language of France and the language of Europe’s aristocracy. It also saw a long set of wars, known as the Italian Wars, between the Kingdom of France and the powerful Holy Roman Empire. French explorers, such as Jacques Cartier or Samuel de Champlain, claimed lands in the Americas for France, paving the way for the expansion of the First French colonial empire. The rise of Protestantism in Europe led France to a civil war known as the French Wars of Religion, where, in the most notorious incident, thousands of Huguenots were murdered in the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572. The Wars of Religion were ended by Henry IV’s Edict of Nantes, which granted some freedom of religion to the Huguenots.
The first mail service was set up on June 19, 1464, by decree of Louis XI but it only operated for the king and the royal court. The first international couriers were established by the Count of Thurn and Taxis in 1490. Over the years the mail service developed, and in 1576 a tax was established for sending letter under the control of the French government, the first such charge for a post which was not directly for the court. At the direction of Fouquet de Varennes the organization became more precise and was made available to the public in 1603. However, it was a regulation of Pierre d’Almeras, General of Posts, on October 16, 1627, approved by letters patent of the king on May 12, 1628, which established the first postal tariff for the public. The first service was from Paris to Dijon or Macon (2 sous), Lyons, Bordeaux or Toulouse (3 sous). These tariffs were changed in April 1644 and by then the services had extended very considerably. The 2-sou rate disappeared, but 41 places were listed with rates between 3 and 5 sous. In May 1644 the rates for letters to overseas destinations were approved. The rate to England was 10 sous and to other adjacent territories from 9 to 16 sous. Letters were marked in manuscript. Further development of the service began in 1630 under the Marquis de Louvois, who was Superintendent of Posts until 1668.
In 1673, the mail tariffs were altered so that they were in direct relation to the distance carried. There were four zones: up to 25 leagues, 25-60 leagues, 60-80, and over 80 leagues. The rates for a letter ranged from 2 to 5 sous. In 1676, the rate was again revised but on this occasion to allow for the use of an envelope. In England the policy was that a letter should be a folded sheet and an envelope was considered to be a second sheet and the charge was doubled. However, in France the charge for an envelope was set at only 1 sou and this allowed the manufacture of envelopes to develop while in England no such industry existed until the 1820s.
Under Louis XIII, the energetic Cardinal Richelieu reinforced the centralization of the state, royal power and French dominance in Europe, foreshadowing the reign of Louis XIV. During Louis XIV’s minority and the regency of Queen Anne and Cardinal Mazarin, a period of trouble known as the Fronde occurred in France, which was at that time at war with Spain. This rebellion was driven by the great feudal lords and sovereign courts as a reaction to the rise of royal power in France.
The monarchy reached its peak during the seventeenth century and the reign of Louis XIV. By turning powerful feudal lords into courtiers at the Palace of Versailles, Louis XIV’s personal power became unchallenged. Remembered for his numerous wars, he made France the leading European power. France became the most populous country in Europe and had tremendous influence over European politics, economy, and culture. French became the most-used language in diplomacy, science, literature and international affairs, and remained so until the twentieth century. France obtained many overseas possessions in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Louis XIV also revoked the Edict of Nantes, forcing thousands of Huguenots into exile.
Letters were endorsed in manuscript until the start of the eighteenth century, when the larger offices adopted straight-line marks. The markings of the French postal service can be classified in three different types: those using the word ‘De’, which were the cachets de depart; ‘Port Paye‘ which were the prepaid markings; and ‘Deb’, which were arrival marks (Debourse). These words appear beside the name of the town. By 1789, a complete network of postal services had been extended to cover the whole country. Established relationships with neighboring countries were continued and access was given to the entry of French mail into the imperial service operated by the Counts of Thurn and Taxis.
Under Louis XV, Louis XIV’s grandson, France lost New France and most of its Indian possessions after its defeat in the Seven Years’ War, which ended in 1763. Its European territory kept growing, however, with notable acquisitions such as Lorraine (1766) and Corsica (1770). An unpopular king, Louis XV’s weak rule, his ill-advised financial, political and military decisions — as well as the debauchery of his court — discredited the monarchy, which arguably paved the way for the French Revolution 15 years after his death.
Louis XVI, Louis XV’s grandson, actively supported the Americans, who were seeking their independence from Great Britain (realized in the Treaty of Paris (1783)). The financial crisis that followed France’s involvement in the American Revolutionary War was one of many contributing factors to the French Revolution. Much of the Enlightenment occurred in French intellectual circles, and major scientific breakthroughs and inventions, such as the discovery of oxygen (1778) and the first hot air balloon carrying passengers (1783), were achieved by French scientists. French explorers, such as Bougainville and Lapérouse, took part in the voyages of scientific exploration through maritime expeditions around the globe. The Enlightenment philosophy, in which reason is advocated as the primary source for legitimacy and authority, undermined the power of and support for the monarchy and helped pave the way for the French Revolution.
Facing financial troubles, Louis XVI summoned the Estates-General (gathering the three Estates of the realm) in May 1789 to propose solutions to his government. As it came to an impasse, the representatives of the Third Estate formed into a National Assembly, signaling the outbreak of the French Revolution. Fearing that the king would suppress the newly created National Assembly, insurgents stormed the Bastille on July 14, 1789, a date which would become France’s National Day.
The absolute monarchy was subsequently replaced by a constitutional monarchy. Through the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, France established fundamental rights for men. The Declaration affirms “the natural and imprescriptible rights of man” to “liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression”. Freedom of speech and press were declared, and arbitrary arrests outlawed. It called for the destruction of aristocratic privileges and proclaimed freedom and equal rights for all men, as well as access to public office based on talent rather than birth. While Louis XVI, as a constitutional king, enjoyed popularity among the population, his disastrous flight to Varennes seemed to justify rumors he had tied his hopes of political salvation to the prospects of foreign invasion. His credibility was so deeply undermined that the abolition of the monarchy and establishment of a republic became an increasing possibility.
European monarchies gathered against the new régime, to restore the French absolute monarchy. The foreign threat exacerbated France’s political turmoil and deepened the sense of urgency among the various factions and war was declared against Austria on April 20, 1792. Mob violence occurred during the insurrection of August 10, 1792, and the following month. As a result of this violence and the political instability of the constitutional monarchy, the Republic was proclaimed on September 22, 1792.
Louis XVI was convicted of treason and guillotined in 1793. Facing increasing pressure from European monarchies, internal guerrilla wars and counterrevolutions (such as the War in the Vendée or the Chouannerie), the young Republic fell into the Reign of Terror. Between 1793 and 1794, between 16,000 and 40,000 people were executed. In Western France, the civil war between the Bleus (“Blues”, supporters of the Revolution) and the Blancs (“Whites”, supporters of the Monarchy) lasted from 1793 to 1796 and led to the loss of between 200,000 and 450,000 lives. Both foreign armies and French counter-revolutionaries were crushed and the French Republic survived. Furthermore, it extended greatly its boundaries and established “Sister Republics” in the surrounding countries. As the threat of a foreign invasion receded and France became mostly pacified, the Thermidorian Reaction put an end to Robespierre’s rule and to the Terror. The abolition of slavery and male universal suffrage, enacted during this radical phase of the revolution, were canceled by subsequent governments.
After a short-lived governmental scheme, Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of the Republic in 1799 becoming First Consul and later Emperor of the French Empire (1804–1814/1815). As a continuation of the wars sparked by the European monarchies against the French Republic, changing sets of European Coalitions declared wars on Napoleon’s Empire. His armies conquered most of continental Europe with swift victories such as the battles of Jena-Auerstadt or Austerlitz. He redrew the European political map, while members of the Bonaparte family were appointed as monarchs in some of the newly established kingdoms. These victories led to the worldwide expansion of French revolutionary ideals and reforms, such as the Metric system, the Napoleonic Code and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. After the catastrophic Russian campaign, and the ensuing uprising of European monarchies against his rule, Napoleon was defeated and the Bourbon monarchy restored. About a million Frenchmen died during the Napoleonic Wars.
The reorganization of France under the Code Napoleon led to many changes in the postal services. Changes in the method of payment had begun under the Directory and in 1795, after many alterations in the system of weights and distances, a new series of rates was issued. These increased all stages by 1 sou, so that the rates for distance ranged from 6 to 18 sous and the rate for the same departement became 5 sous. In December the same year, changes were again made. The costs were greatly increased and the number of stages for distance was reduced. The minimum cost was now 50 sous, but this was reduced to 6 sous in July 1796. Obviously these fluctuations could not be allowed to continue, and in 1800 a revised series of charges was introduced, which with minor changes remained in force until 1815. Initially a letter up to 7 grams (¼ oz) was 2 decimes for 100 kilometers. This related to a previous rate of about 4 sous for 20 leagues. An interesting factor is that the maximum distance was increased from 180 leagues 850 kilometers (530 miles) to 1000 kilometers (620 miles) — a measure of the advances which the French had already made. Postal markings continued to show the different types of markings for arrival and dispatch and the military service continued to develop mainly in connection with France’s colonial expansion.
During the wars France occupied and absorbed into French territory Belgium and Holland, Germany to the Rhine, Savoy, Piedmont and Tuscany. Satellite regimes were established with the Helvetic Confederation (1803), the Kingdom of Italy and the Kingdom of Naples (1805), the Confederation of the Rhine (1806), the Grand Duchy of Warsaw (1807) and Spain (1808). Under the Napoleonic reorganization all the departements were given numbers which were included in the post-marks. Numbers were also given to the occupied territories (some of these are listed under individual territories) which took the numbers of departements from 84 to 129.
Dated postmarks were introduced in France from the early years of the century and there were many marks issued to the Grande Armee for use by the French armies in the field. Marks of entry into France and the route by which they had arrived were also indicated on the postmarks at this time.
After his brief return from exile, Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, the monarchy was re-established (1815–1830), with new constitutional limitations. The discredited Bourbon dynasty was overthrown by the July Revolution of 1830, which established the constitutional July Monarchy, which lasted until 1848, when the French Second Republic was proclaimed, in the wake of the European Revolutions of 1848. The abolition of slavery and male universal suffrage, both briefly enacted during the French Revolution were re-enacted in 1848.
The first postage stamp series of France, issued on January 1, 1849, bore the effigy of Ceres, goddess of growing plants in Roman mythology. She wore a garland of wheat and a bunch of grapes in her hair and were inscribed REPUB. FRANC. The design, which avoided any specifically republican or Revolutionary connotations, was drawn by Jacques-Jean Barre, general engraver at the Paris Mint, under the supervision of Anatole Hulot, a civil servant who obtained the right to print the stamps at the Mint until 1876.
The issue marked the application of a postal reform similar to the one in the United Kingdom of May 1840: to simplify the nationwide postal rates between Metropolitan France, Corsica and French Algeria and to encourage the payment by the sender through the use of postage stamps. The first two denominations were a 20 centimes black stamp and a 1 franc red. As the postal reform was extended to other rates (local, rural and newspapers), new denominations were issued.
Because the black cancellations could be masked and the 20 centimes black stamp easily reused, the issue of the 40 centimes blue in January was aborted and switched to orange. While the 20 centimes blue was first printed in Spring 1849, it never replaced its black counterpart because of a change of rates in July 1850. In December 1849, part of the much paler red of the 1 franc stamps were recalled by the postal administration because their tint was too close to the 40 centimes orange to be issued in February 1850. The lighter stamps were named “vermilion” by philatelists. Two half-stamps of each tint were stuck on the official order to retrieve the vermilion.
A series of new marks was introduced to obliterate the new stamps. Initially these were in various forms of diamonds or circles with parallel lines or bars. Between 1853 and 1876, a series of new cancellations, consisting of a diamond of dots containing a number, was used by French post offices. Two series were produced with small and large numerals — each one indicating the offices of dispatch. These cancellations were also used in post offices abroad.
After the coup in December 1851, Prince-President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte decided to have his effigy on French stamps. The first denominations were issued progressively from September 1852 and throughout the Second Empire. A poor imitation of the French stamps was used by the Corrientes Province local post in Argentina between 1856 and 1880.
In 1852, the president of the French Republic, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, Napoleon I’s nephew, was proclaimed emperor of the second Empire, as Napoleon III. He multiplied French interventions abroad, especially in Crimea, in Mexico and Italy which resulted in the annexation of the duchy of Savoy and the county of Nice, then part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Napoleon III was unseated following defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and his regime was replaced by the Third Republic.
France had colonial possessions, in various forms, since the beginning of the seventeenth century, but in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, its global overseas colonial empire extended greatly and became the second largest in the world behind the British Empire. Including metropolitan France, the total area of land under French sovereignty almost reached 13 million square kilometers in the 1920s and 1930s, 8.6% of the world’s land. Known as the Belle Époque, the turn of the century was a period characterized by optimism, regional peace, economic prosperity and technological, scientific and cultural innovations. In 1905, state secularism was officially established.
France was a member of the Triple Entente when World War I broke out. A small part of Northern France was occupied, but France and its allies emerged victorious against the Central Powers at a tremendous human and material cost. World War I left 1.4 million French soldiers dead, 4% of its population. Between 27 and 30% of soldiers conscripted from 1912–1915 were killed. The interbellum years were marked by intense international tensions and a variety of social reforms introduced by the Popular Front government (annual leave, eight-hour workdays, women in government, etc…).
In 1940, France was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany. Metropolitan France was divided into a German occupation zone in the north and Vichy France, a newly established authoritarian regime collaborating with Germany, in the south, while Free France, the government-in-exile led by Charles de Gaulle, was set up in London. From 1942 to 1944, about 160,000 French citizens, including around 75,000 Jews, were deported to death camps and concentration camps in Germany and Poland. On June 6, 1944, the Allies invaded Normandy and in August they invaded Provence. Over the following year the Allies and the French Resistance emerged victorious over the Axis powers and French sovereignty was restored with the establishment of the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF). This interim government, established by de Gaulle, aimed to continue to wage war against Germany and to purge collaborators from office. It also made several important reforms (suffrage extended to women, creation of a social security system).
The GPRF laid the groundwork for a new constitutional order that resulted in the Fourth Republic, which saw spectacular economic growth (les Trente Glorieuses). France was one of the founding members of NATO (1949). France attempted to regain control of French Indochina but was defeated by the Viet Minh in 1954 at the climactic Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Only months later, France faced another anti-colonialist conflict in Algeria. Torture and illegal executions were perpetrated by both sides and the debate over whether or not to keep control of Algeria, then home to over one million European settlers, wracked the country and nearly led to a coup and civil war.
In 1958, the weak and unstable Fourth Republic gave way to the Fifth Republic, which included a strengthened Presidency. In the latter role, Charles de Gaulle managed to keep the country together while taking steps to end the war. The Algerian War was concluded with the Évian Accords in 1962 that led to Algerian independence. A vestige of the colonial empire are the French overseas departments and territories.
In the context of the Cold War, de Gaulle pursued a policy of “national independence” towards the Western and Eastern blocs. To this end, he withdrew from NATO’s military integrated command, he launched a nuclear development program and made France the fourth nuclear power. He restored cordial Franco-German relations in order to create a European counterweight between the American and Soviet spheres of influence. However, he opposed any development of a supranational Europe, favoring a Europe of sovereign Nations. In the wake of the series of worldwide protests of 1968, the revolt of May 1968 had an enormous social impact. In France, it is considered to be the watershed moment when a conservative moral ideal (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) shifted towards a more liberal moral ideal (secularism, individualism, sexual revolution). Although the revolt was a political failure (as the Gaullist party emerged even stronger than before) it announced a split between the French people and de Gaulle who resigned shortly after.
In the post-Gaullist era, France remained one of the most developed economies in the World, but faced several economic crises that resulted in high unemployment rates and increasing public debt. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries France has been at the forefront of the development of a supranational European Union, notably by signing the Maastricht Treaty (which created the European Union) in 1992, establishing the Eurozone in 1999, and signing the Lisbon Treaty in 2007. France has also gradually but fully reintegrated into NATO and has since participated in most NATO sponsored wars.
Since the nineteenth century France has received many immigrants. These have been mostly male foreign workers from European Catholic countries who generally returned home when not employed. During the 1970s, France faced economic crisis and allowed new immigrants (mostly from the Maghreb) to permanently settle in France with their families and to acquire French citizenship. It resulted in hundreds of thousands of Muslims (especially in the larger cities) living in subsidized public housing and suffering from very high unemployment rates. Simultaneously, France renounced the assimilation of immigrants, where they were expected to adhere to French traditional values and cultural norms. They were encouraged to retain their distinctive cultures and traditions and required merely to integrate.
Since the 1995 Paris Métro and RER bombings, France has been sporadically targeted by Islamist organizations, notably the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015 which provoked the largest public rallies in French history, gathering 4.4 million people, the November 2015 Paris attacks which resulted in 130 deaths, the deadliest attack on French soil since World War II, and the deadliest in the European Union since the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and the 2016 Nice attack which caused 87 deaths during Bastille Day celebrations.
Scott #300 was released in April 1930, a 1.50 franc dark blue stamp marking the maiden voyage of the French Line’s new ocean liner, S.S. Normandie. The stamp was designed by Albert Decaris, steel engraved and perforated 13, printed on unwatermarked paper. Built in Saint-Nazaire, France, for the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (CGT), the Normandie entered service on May 29, 1935, as the largest and fastest passenger ship afloat; she is still the most powerful steam turbo-electric-propelled passenger ship ever built. Early in my stamp collecting days, around the age of ten or eleven, I was almost as interested in the classic age of ocean liners as I was in stamps spurred in part by a family vacation to the RMS Queen Mary docked in Long Beach, California. I was particularly taken with the Normandie as I felt she had a more beautiful profile than fellow three-stacker Queen Mary. I recall France #300 being the very first foreign stamp that I’d specifically sought out at the local stamp dealer’s shop — the first acquisition in a topical interest that continues to this day.
The Normandie‘s novel design and lavish interiors led many to consider her the greatest of ocean liners. Despite this, she was not a commercial success and relied partly on government subsidy to operate. During service as the flagship of the CGT, she made 139 westbound transatlantic crossings from her home port of Le Havre to New York. Normandie held the Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing at several points during her service career, during which the Queen Mary was her main rival.
During World War II, Normandie was seized by U.S. authorities at New York and renamed USS Lafayette. On February 9, 1942, the liner caught fire while being converted to a troopship, capsized onto her port side and came to rest on the mud of the Hudson River at Pier 88, the site of the current New York Passenger Ship Terminal. Although salvaged at great expense, restoration was deemed too costly and she was scrapped in October 1946.