France Conquers Algeria Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

France took the first step in its annexation of northwest Africa when it conquered Algeria. In the process, it forced a complete restructuring of Algerian society.

Summary of Event

From 1579 until the early nineteenth century, France’s relations with Algiers were strained. However, its conquest of the city and the surrounding countryside in the summer of 1830 was its first decisive military incursion into the western portion of North Africa. This step was to lead eventually to its control of a broad strip of territory stretching from Tunisia to the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Algeria;and France[France] French Empire;and Algeria[Algeria] Charles X [p]Charles X[Charles 10];and Algeria[Algeria] Hussein ben Hassan [kw]France Conquers Algeria (June 14-July 5, 1830) [kw]Conquers Algeria, France (June 14-July 5, 1830) [kw]Algeria, France Conquers (June 14-July 5, 1830) Algeria;and France[France] French Empire;and Algeria[Algeria] Charles X [p]Charles X[Charles 10];and Algeria[Algeria] Hussein ben Hassan [g]Africa;June 14-July 5, 1830: France Conquers Algeria[1580] [g]Algeria;June 14-July 5, 1830: France Conquers Algeria[1580] [g]Mediterranean;June 14-July 5, 1830: France Conquers Algeria[1580] [g]France;June 14-July 5, 1830: France Conquers Algeria[1580] [c]Colonization;June 14-July 5, 1830: France Conquers Algeria[1580] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;June 14-July 5, 1830: France Conquers Algeria[1580] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;June 14-July 5, 1830: France Conquers Algeria[1580] Abdelkader Bourmont, Louis-Auguste-Victor de Clauzel, Bertrand Collet, Joseph Louis-Philippe [p]Louis-Philippe[Louis Philippe];and Algeria[Algeria] Mahmud II [p]Mahmud II[Mahmud 02];and Algeria[Algeria]

French bombardment of Algiers.

The immediate pretext for France’s attack came on April 30, 1827, when the dey (governor) of Algiers, Hussein ben Hassan, either tapped or struck (depending on conflicting accounts) visiting French consul Pierre Deval Deval, Pierre with a fly whisk. Fly-whisk incident[Fly whisk incident] The incident may simply have been intended to indicate by the dey that their interview was at an end, or it may have constituted, as the French chose to interpret it, a “horrible and scandalous outrage.” Behind this seemingly trivial event lay another, equally trivial but long-standing disagreement over a minor debt.

The incident found both countries in politically weakened condition. Hussein ben Hassan controlled only the city of Algiers and the nearby countryside directly. The remainder of the northern region of what is today Algeria was divided into three provinces; each was ruled by an official who was appointed by the dey but who was otherwise autonomous and whose authority seldom extended beyond the populated areas. Although the provinces were nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, in practice they did little but forward taxes to the Ottoman capital of Constantinople.

King Charles X of France was anxious to deflect attention from domestic problems, and so seized upon the fly-whisk incident. Announcing publicly that he was eradicating Algerian privateering, Charles quickly dispatched a naval squadron under the command of Rear Admiral Joseph Collet Collet, Joseph . Collet reached the port of Algiers on June 11. After taking the consul and other French citizens on board, he set up a naval blockade.

Through the next three years, Sultan Mahmud II Mahmud II [p]Mahmud II[Mahmud 02];and Algeria[Algeria] of the Ottoman Empire tried in vain to persuade Dey Hussein ben Hassan to come to terms with the French. He was supported in these efforts by the British, who were anxious to maintain a balance of power in the Mediterranean and to protect their own interests. In March of 1830, Mahmud sent an emissary, a former grand mufti (judicial official) of Algiers who had since retired to Turkey, to insist that Hussein ben Hassan make peace. By that time the French government, in ever-increasing need of a distraction from its internal affairs, had decided to launch a direct invasion. The emissary’s ship was intercepted and turned back before it reached Algiers. On May 11, a fleet of six hundred French ships set sail from the Mediterranean port of Toulon and, delayed by a storm, reached the African coast on June 12 some distance from Algiers.

Earlier, under orders from Napoleon Napoleon I [p]Napoleon I[Napoleon 01];and Algeria[Algeria] Bonaparte, an engineer named Boutin had surreptitiously visited Algeria in 1808 to prepare detailed plans for a projected French invasion. Although that invasion never took place, the plans were preserved, and it was in large part thanks to these plans that the French force of 34,000 troops commanded by General Louis-Auguste-Victor de Bourmont Bourmont, Louis-Auguste-Victor de triumphed in 1830. Hussein ben Hassan had assembled a larger force of 43,000 soldiers, including a number called in from the neighboring provinces at the last minute, but he proved unable to match the superior organization and firearms of the French.

Bourmont landed his first troops on June 14 on the peninsula of Sidi Fredj west of Algiers, defeated the Algerians in decisive battles on June 19 and June 24-25, and by June 29 had reached the city. French artillery began heavy bombardment on July 4, and Algiers surrendered the next day. Hussein ben Hassan was allowed to depart into exile with his entourage and a fraction of his fortune. All the while patriotic French civilians watched the military action from pleasure boats anchored offshore.

After winning the war, France proved unable to establish a satisfactory peace, either at home or abroad. Within weeks of the victory in Algiers, the so-called July Revolution toppled the government of Charles X, and the king was replaced by his cousin Louis-Philippe Louis-Philippe [p]Louis-Philippe[Louis Philippe];and Algeria[Algeria] as a constitutional monarch. Like his former enemy Hussein ben Hassan, Charles slipped into exile. The new government consisted of opponents of the Algerian expedition who now, ironically, found themselves unable to act on their convictions. Doubts about the Algerian invasion had been based on the belief that France should expend its energy and money in Europe, not abroad. In fact an official commission later concluded that the French effort had been a mistake, but that to withdraw would be an unacceptable blow to national pride.

General Bourmont had expected all the Ottoman provinces of Algeria to surrender in a matter of weeks, but early French behavior in Algiers enraged the population. The victorious Christian soldiers pillaged the Muslim city, desecrating many of its holy places and cemeteries. The treasury was looted, ostensibly to cover the cost of the expedition.

Upon learning of the July Revolution, General Bourmont Bourmont, Louis-Auguste-Victor de made plans to return to France to fight for the restoration of Charles, but when his troops refused to follow him, he fled into exile in Spain. Replacing him was Bertrand Clauzel, Clauzel, Bertrand who took advantage of the new French government’s ambivalence by pursuing further military campaigns and by initiating the wholesale seizure of Algerian land and property. So unpopular did these measures prove that Clauzel himself was soon replaced.

Significance

In all, eight military commanders or governors were to administer French Algeria during its first decade of existence, one of whom was responsible for massacring an entire tribe, including women and children. The 1834 report of the African Commission of the French Chamber of Deputies acknowledged that the country had “outdone in barbarity the barbarians” it had set out to civilize. Nevertheless, that same year the French made official their conquest and vowed to continue their colonization.

In the aftermath of the French invasion, Algerian resistance came to center on a powerful and charismatic figure. Abdelkader Abdelkader became chief of a confederation of tribes in western Algeria in 1832, and soon assumed leadership of the entire Algerian resistance movement. By 1840, he controlled two-thirds of Algeria and was able to attack, but not reconquer, Algiers itself. French citizens disillusioned with their country’s record in Algeria championed his cause, and he enjoyed at least the unofficial support of Great Britain. His surrender in 1847 marked the end of any significant threat to French rule for a century.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abun-Nasr, Jamil M. “The Emergence of French Algeria.” In A History of the Maghrib. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1971. A detailed survey of the early years of French occupation and resulting Algerian resistance. The “Maghrib” of the title refers to Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Adamson, Kay. Political and Economic Thought and Practice in Nineteenth-Century France and the Colonization of Algeria. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2002. A historical study of the significance of the colonization of Algeria on its colonizers: the French. Focuses on the political-economic aspects of French colonization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clancy-Smith, Julia A. Rebel and Saint: Muslim Notables, Populist Protest, Colonial Encounters (Algeria and Tunisia, 1800-1904). Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Abdelkader is included in this examination of the religious beliefs and political actions of prominent Muslims and their followers. Analyzes Algerian resistance to, and accommodation with, French colonists.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Danziger, Raphael. Abd al-Qadir and the Algerians: Resistance to the French and Internal Consolidation. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1977. Discusses organized resistance to French conquest and the role of an early “rebel” leader and national hero. Still the best modern treatment in English.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">King, John. “Arms and the Man: Abd el-Kader.” History Today 40 (August, 1990): 22-28. Profiles Abdelkader and examines evidence that this key figure was covertly armed by the British.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Laurie, G. B. The French Conquest of Algeria. London: Hugh Rees, 1909. A seriously dated work in its outlook, but still the most complete account in English of French military action in Algeria through 1857.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morsy, Magali. “The French Conquest of Algeria.” In North Africa, 1800-1900: A Survey from the Nile Valley to the Atlantic. London: Longman, 1984. An examination of French military action and policy from 1830 through 1847. A subsequent chapter, “Algeria in an Imperial Design,” extends the examination into the late nineteenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Naylor, Phillip Chiviges, and Alf Andrew Heggoy. Historical Dictionary of Algeria. 2d ed. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994. A lengthy introduction surveys key aspects of Algerian history, and individual entries profile most of the important individuals and events involved in the French period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Singer, Barnett, and John Langdon. Cultured Force: Makers and Defenders of the French Colonial Empire. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004. The authors reassess the nature of French imperialism by focusing on the lives and careers of French leaders in African and Asian colonies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Spencer, William. “The French Conquest.” In Algiers in the Age of the Corsairs. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976. A survey of French relations with Algeria, concluding with an account of the blockade and the invasion. Earlier chapters of Spencer’s history emphasize the predominant role of privateering in the city’s history.

Exploration of West Africa

Exploration of North Africa

Turko-Egyptian Wars

Abdelkader Leads Algeria Against France

Exploration of East Africa

Dahomey-French Wars

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