President of the Fifth RepublicThe French government, known as the Fourth Republic, began to crumble in the late 1950s, and de Gaulle once again returned to public service to help his country. He helped form the country's next government, becoming its president in January 1959. Establishing France's Fifth Republic, de Gaulle dedicated himself to improving the country's economic situation and maintaining its independence. He sought to keep France separate from the two superpowers—the United States and the Soviet Union. To show France's military relevance, de Gaulle successfully campaigned for the country to press on with its nuclear weapons program.
De Gaulle was not afraid to make controversial decisions. After coping with uprisings in Algeria for years, he helped the French colony achieve independence in 1962. This move was not widely popular at the time. De Gaulle supported the idea of a united Europe, but he wanted Europe to be free from the superpowers' influences. He fought to keep Britain out of the European Economic Community because of its close ties to the United States. In 1966, de Gaulle also pulled his country's forces out of the North American Treaty Organization, acting again on his concerns with the United States. To some, de Gaulle came off as anti-American. Though he may have been, to some extent, his actions seemed to truly reflected his deep nationalistic views.
Sometimes inflexible and intractable, de Gaulle nearly saw his government toppled by student and worker protests in 1968. He managed to restore order to the country, but left power soon after, following a battle over political and economic reforms. In April 1969, de Gaulle resigned from the presidency.
Death and LegacyAfter his resignation, de Gaulle retired to his home in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises. He had little time to enjoy the quiet life of this village, as he died of a heart attack on November 9, 1970. French President George Pompidou, who had worked closely with de Gaulle before succeeding him, delivered the terrible news to the public, saying "General de Gaulle is dead.
France is a widow." France mourned the loss of its famous statesman and military leader; the country had lost one of its greatest heroes—a hero who had seen his people through war,
and proved to be instrumental in his country's recovery.
Other world leaders offered up words of praise for de Gaulle. Queen Elizabeth II said that his "courage and tenacity in the allied cause during the dark years of the Second World War will never be forgotten." Two American presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson and Harry S. Truman, sent their condolences to the people of France, as well as to Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin. President Richard Nixon was among the foreign dignitaries who attended a special service for de Gaulle, held shortly after his death, at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.