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Symbols of the French Republic

Symbols of the French Republic

Published on April 26, 2012

Le drapeau tricolore

Le drapeau tricolore is the French national flag, comprised of three vertical bands of blue, white, and red. Le drapeau tricolore is a modification of la cocarde tricolore. Although the flag has been altered many times throughout the past 200 years of French history, the current drapeau tricolore was established as the official flag of the Republic of France under the constitutions of 1946 and 1958.
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Liberté, égalité, fraternité

The national motto of France is liberté, egalité, fraternité. The origin of the phrase is ambiguous and heavily disputed, but it is believed to have surfaced during the French Revolution as an amalgamation of slogans used at the time. It was officially institutionalized under the Third Republic at the end of the 19th century, and could be seen inscribed on buildings in France as early as the 1880s. The phrase was enshrined in the 1946 constitution and in Article 2 of the 1958 constitution, where it remains today. The phrase is displayed on the current logo of the French Republic under a tricolor profile of the Marianne, as well as on some French stamps and euro coins. The official slogan of France, like the French flag and the national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” is protected under the French Constitution.
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La Marseillaise

La Marseillaise is the national anthem of France. Written and composed by Claude Joseph Rouget de Isle in 1792, it was originally a rallying cry during the French Revolution. It is entitled La Marseillaise due to its original adoption as the marching song for the National Guard of Marseille. In 1795 it was adopted as the first national anthem of France, and was subsequently banned by both Louis XVIII and Napoleon III. It was not until 1879 that the work was reinstated as the official national anthem.
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La Marianne

The profile of the Marianne appears on the official seal of the country, is engraved on coins, and drawn on stamps and banknotes. The symbol’s roots can be traced back to 1792, when a popular song in the south of France used "Marianne" as a metaphor for the French Republic. The Marianne rose in status during France’s Second Empire under Napoleon III, and gradually evolved into an official symbol of France under the Third Republic (1870-1940). In 1999, a law was passed in France requiring that a new government logo, which incorporates the Marianne, be stamped on every official document produced by the French authorities. The Marianne serves to both unify government public relations and present a modern image of the state.

Le bonnet phrygien

Le bonnet phrygien (the Phrygian cap) is a vestige of Roman times. In ancient Rome recently freed slaves that became Roman citizens had to wear a conical red headpiece, which was then adopted in 1792 during the French Revolution by revolutionary soldiers who wore it as part of their uniform. In 1793 the cap actually became mandatory in the Assemblies in Paris. Since then, it is mainly seen atop the head of the Marianne.

La cocarde tricolore

La cocarde tricolore is cockade, or circular insignia, composed of the three colors of the French flag: a blue dot in the center, a white middle circle, then red circle on the outside. It was designed by Jacque-Louis David in 1794 and originally worn by soldiers under the reign of Louis XIV. During the storming of the Bastille it was worn by the Paris militia to combine the colors of Paris, red and blue, with the color of the Bourbons, white, out of respect for the monarchy. After the fall of Bastille, Louis XIV proclaimed his approval for the new mayor of Paris and the new head of the National Guard by placing la cocarde on his hat. This became the new symbol of the National Guard, which succeeded the militia.

Le coq

Le coq is one of the most identifiable symbols of France. Inspired by a play on words between the Latin word for rooster, “Gaullus,” and France, “Gaul,” le coq has now become an unofficial national symbol and mascot of France. It has been used intermittently since medieval times on France engravings and coins. Le coq saw its popularity rise during the French Revolution as a sign of France’s identity, and today is one of the most widely recognized symbols, especially in the realm of sports. It is also used by French companies such as Le Coq Sportif and Pathé in their logos.
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Le faisceau de licteur

Another symbol of Roman times, le faisceau de licteur is bundle of wooden sticks with an axe in the center that were carried by lictors, or guards, tasked with protecting the magistrates of the Republic. The French variation is gilded with branches of oak that symbolize justice, olive trees that symbolize peace, and a shield with the initial of the Republic of France (RF) engraved upon it. It is meant to represent the unity of France as “one and indivisible” after the fall of the monarchy, and the strength of French citizens gathered to defend liberty and freedom. In 1913, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs adopted the bundle as part of its emblem, and since then it has also come to symbolize the French Republic.
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La gerbe

La gerbe de blé is a wreath of wheat symbolizing harvest and abundance, with its tied, knotted stems symbolizing convergence. The symbol harks back to the famine and starvation of the revolutionary years. In 1848, some representations of Marianne carried this symbol instead of le bonnet phrygien.

La Semeuse

La semeuse (the Sower) is the image of a young woman standing with her hair shaped in the style of the Phyrgian cap, holding a bag of grain in her left hand and scattering wheat. She was created in 1897 by Oscar Roty as a symbol of the energy and vigor of the French people. She is now represented on euro cent coins and stamps.


A variety of official French and American sources were used in the production of the Electoral Papers series. For more information on the political process in France, the following may be consulted:

French sources:
The Constitutional Council
The Embassy of France in the United States

U.S. sources:
The Law Library at the U.S. Library of Congress
The U.S. Federal Election Commission

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