It was on this day, 21 December, in 1958, that Charles de Gaulle was elected the first president of the Fifth Republic by a sweeping majority of French voters.
During the next decade, President de Gaulle granted independence to Algeria and attempted to restore France to its former international stature by withdrawing from the U.S.-dominated NATO alliance. De Gaulle openly criticized the U.S. intervention in Vietnam and supported an independent Quebec.
De Gaulle was born in 1890, in the industrial region of Lille in the Nord departement, the third of five children. His father, Henri de Gaulle, was a professor of history and literature at a Jesuit college. In 1911 he was commissioned in the French army. At the outbreak of World War II, de Gaulle was still a Colonel. Premier Paul Reynaud appointed him Under Secretary of State for National Defense and War and put him in charge of coordination with the British forces. Refusing to accept his government’s armistice with Nazi Germany in 1940, de Gaulle led a government in exile and the Free French Forces against the Axis. He became Head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic in June 1944, the interim government of France following its Liberation. He retired in the early 1950s and wrote his War Memoirs, which quickly became a classic of modern French literature.
Urged out of retirement in 1958 he would remain in office until 1969, dying one year later.