History of the French Foreign Legion

The French Foreign Legion was created by a royal ordinance issued by King Louis Philippe, at the suggestion of Minister of War Nicolas Jean-de-Dieu Soult, on March 9, 1831. Nine days later on March 18, 1831, an additional directive was issued restricting membership in the newly formed Legion to foreigners. The latter directive reflected the initial purpose of the Foreign Legion as a mechanism to lessen the potential disruption to the provisional French government and the newly enthroned House of Orléans posed by the large influx of foreigners following the collapse of the Bourbon Restoration in the previous year's July Revolution. Some of these foreigners in France were the remnants of regiments formed during the campaigns of Napoleon of Germans, Swedes, Poles, Hungarians, and others. These foreign veterans had been left with little means and professional military training which proved to be of concern the French government. Many had flocked to France following the July Revolution or came to France following failures of the revolutionary or independence movements throughout Europe; in addition to an influx of idealistic revolutionaries and nationalist, France also became home to large numbers of immigrants who had removed from their countries of origin for economic or personal reasons. This influx of foreigners had become a significant burden for the newly established French government's administrative capabilities; for example during March 1831 a depot established in Langres, France to accommodate these recent immigrants had been inundated to point of overstretch. Furthermore French military operations in Algeria, which had commenced under Charles X, had proven unpopular with portions of the French populace as the campaign, despite its initial success, had become bogged down in the occupation of that country. The formation of the Foreign Legion would help address the domestic threat of dissidents fomenting political instability while contributing to government's colonial endeavors in Algeria.

As part of the Provisional Government's policy of removing potential dissidents from France, upon enlistment recruits guaranteed anonymity as a condition of their service and information provided to the legion was accepted on face value. This was the beginning of what would become the tradition of enlisting volunteers under the anonymat . Officially enlistment of French nationals in the Legion was forbidden, many French criminals enlisted during this time claiming that they were French-speaking Swiss or Walloons. Such enlistments were not within the proposed scope of the Foreign Legion, however the Provisional Government proved not terribly distressed by the voluntary removal of members of a troublesome social element a time when its control of the nation was less than concrete.

 

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