4 September 1958 - Address by Premier Charles de Gaulle
It was at a time when it had to reform or be shattered that our people first had recourse to the Republic. Until then, down the centuries, the ancien régime had achieved the unity and maintained the integrity of France. But, while a great tidal wave was forming in the depths, it showed itself incapable of adapting to a new world. It was then - in the midst of national turmoil and of foreign war - that the Republic appeared. It was the sovereignty of the people, the call of liberty, the hope of justice. That is what it was to remain through all the restless vicissitudes of its history. Today, as much as ever, that is what we want it to remain.
Of course, the Republic has assumed various forms during the successive periods when it has held sway. In 1792, we saw it - revolutionary and warlike - overthrow thrones and privileges only to succumb, eight years later, in the midst of abuses and disturbances that it had not been able to master. In 1848, we saw it rise above the barricades, set its face against anarchy, prove itself socially minded within and fraternal without, but soon fade away once more through its failure to reconcile order with the enthusiasm for renewal. On September 4, 1870, the day after Sedan, we saw it offer its services to the country to redeem the disaster.
In fact, the Republic succeeded in putting France back on her feet again, reconstituting her armies, recreating a vast empire, renewing firm alliances, framing good social laws and developing an educational system. So well did it do all this that, during the first World War, it had the glory of ensuring our safety and our victory. On November 11, when the people gather and the flags are dipped in commemoration, the tribute that the nation pays to those who have served it well is paid also to the Republic.
Nevertheless, the regime contained functional defects which might have seemed tolerable in a more or less stable era, but which were no longer compatible with the social transformations, the economic changes and the external perils that preceded the second World War. Had not this situation been remedied, the terrible events of 1940 would have swept everything away. But when, on June 18, the struggle for the liberation of France began, it was immediately proclaimed that the Republic to be rebuilt would be a new Republic. The whole Resistance Movement constantly affirmed this.
We know, we know only too well what became of these hopes... We know, we know only too well that once the danger had passed, everything was turned over to the discretion of the parties. We know, we know only too well, what were the consequences of this. By reason of inconsistency and instability and - whatever may have been the intentions and, often, the ability of the men in office - the regime found itself deprived of authority in internal affairs and assurance in external affairs, without which it could not act. It was inevitable that the paralysis of the State should bring on a grave national crisis and that, immediately, the Republic should be threatened with collapse.
The necessary steps were taken to prevent the irreparable at the very moment that it was about to occur. The disruption of the State was, by a narrow margin, prevented. They managed to save the last chance of the Republic. It was by legal means that I and my Government assumed the unusual mandate of drafting a new Constitution and of submitting it to the decision of the people.
We have done this on the basis of the principles laid down at the time of our investiture. We have done this with the collaboration of the Consultative Committee instituted by law. We have done this, taking into account the solemn opinion of the Council of State. We have done this after very frank and very thorough discussion with our own Councils of Ministers. These Councils were formed of men as diversified as possible as to origin and inclination, but resolutely united. We have done this without meanwhile doing violence to any right of the people or any public liberty. The nation, which alone is the judge, will approve or reject our work. But it is in good conscience that we propose this Constitution to them.
Henceforth what is primordial for the public powers is their effectiveness and their continuity. We are living at a time when titanic forces are engaged in transforming the world. Lest we become a people out of date and scorned, we must evolve rapidly in the scientific, economic and social spheres. Moreover, the taste for progress and the passion for technical achievements that are becoming evident among the French, and especially among our young people, are equal to this imperative need. These are all facts that dominate our national existence and that, consequently, must order our institutions.
The necessity of renovating agriculture and industry ; of procuring - for our rejuvenated population - the means of livelihood, of work, of education, of housing ; and of associating workers in the functioning of enterprises : the necessity to do all this compels us to be dynamic and expeditious in public affairs. The duty of restoring peace in Algeria, next of developing it, and finally of settling the question of its status and its place in our great whole, impels us to arduous and prolonged efforts. The prospects offered us by the resources of the Sahara are magnificent indeed, but complex. The relations between Metropolitan France and the Overseas Territories require profound adjustment. The world is crossed by currents that threaten the very future of the human race and prompt France to protect herself while playing the role of moderation, peace and fraternity dictated by her mission. In short, the French nation will flourish again or will perish according to whether the State does or does not have enough strength, constancy and prestige to lead her along the path she must follow.
Therefore, it is for the people we are, for the century and the world in which we live, that the proposed Constitution was drafted. The country effectively governed by those to whom it gives the mandate and to whom it grants the confidence that makes for lawfulness. A national arbiter - far removed from political bickering - elected by the citizens who hold a public mandate, charged with the task of ensuring the normal functioning of the institutions, possessing the right to resort to the judgment of the sovereign people, accountable, in the case of extreme danger, for the independence, the honor and integrity of France and for the safety of the Republic. A Government made to govern, which is granted the necessary time and opportunity, which does not turn to anything other than its task and which thereby deserves the country's support. A Parliament intended to represent the political will of the nation, to enact laws and to control the executive, without venturing to overstep its role. A Government and Parliament that work together but remain separate as to their responsibilities, with no member of one being at the same time a member of the other. Such is the balanced structure that power must assume. The rest will depend upon men.
A Social and Economic Council, appointed outside politics by the business, professional and labor organizations of France and the Overseas Territories, that gives advice to Parliament and to the Government. A Constitutional Committee, free of any attachment, empowered to judge whether the laws that have been passed are constitutional and whether the various elections have been properly held. A judicial authority assured of its independence which remains the guardian of individual liberty. Thus will the competence, the dignity, the impartiality of the State be better guaranteed.
A Community formed between the French nation and those of the Overseas Territories that so desire, within which each Territory will become a State that governs itself, while foreign policy, defense, the currency, economic and financial policies, use of raw materials, the control of justice, higher education, long-distance communications will constitute a common domain over which the organs of the Community - the President, Executive Council, Senate and Court of Arbitration - will have jurisdiction. Thus, this vast organization will renovate the human complexgrouped around France. This will be effected by virtue of the free determination of all. In fact, every Territory will have an opportunity, through its vote in the referendum, either to accept France's proposal or to refuse it and, by so doing, to break every tie with her. Once a member of the Community, it can in the future, after coming to an agreement with the common organs, assume its own destiny independently of the others.
Finally, during the four months following the referendum, the Government will be responsible for the country's affairs and, in particular, will establish the system of elections. In this way, through a mandate from the people, the necessary measures may be taken for the setting up of the new institutions.
Here, women and men of France, is what inspires and what makes up the Constitution which, on September 28, will be submitted to your vote. With all my heart, in the name of France, I ask you to answer "Yes."
If you do not vote thus, we shall return, that very day, to the bad old ways with which you are familiar. But if you do, the result will be to make the Republic strong and effective, provided that those in positions of responsibility know, hereafter, the meaning of determination. But there will also be, in this positive display of the national will, the proof that our country is regaining its unity and, by the same token, its opportunity for grandeur. The world, which understands full well what importance our decision will have for it, will draw the inevitable conclusion. Perhaps it is already drawing the conclusion.
A great hope will arise over France. I think it has already arisen.
Vive la République ! Vive la France !