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(Ger. Elsass), a former province of France, divided after the Revolution into the departments of Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin, and incorporated since the war of 1870 with the German empire (see Alsace-Lorraine). It is bounded on the north by the Rhenish Palatinate, on the east by the Rhine, on the south by Switzerland and on the west by the Vosges Mountains; and it comprises an area of 3344 English sq. m. The district possesses many natural attractions, and is one of the most fertile in central Europe. There are several ranges of hills, but no point within the province attains a great elevation. The only river of importance is the Ill, which falls into the Rhine after a course of more than 100 m., and is navigable below Colmar. The hills are generally richly wooded, chiefly with fir, beech and oak. The agricultural products are corn, flax, tobacco, grapes and various other fruits. The country has a great wealth of minerals, silver having been found, and copper, lead, iron, coal and rock-salt being wrought with profit. There are considerable manufactures; chiefly of cotton and linen. The chief towns are Miilhausen and Colmar in the upper district and Strassburg in the lower. The province is traversed from east to west by the railway from Strassburg to Nancy, and the main line north and south runs between Basel and Strassburg.


From a very early period Alsace has been a disputed territory, and has suffered in the contentions of rival races. Inhabited by the Rauraci and the Sequani, it formed part of ancient Gaul, and was therefore included in the Roman empire in the provinces of Germania Superior and Maxima Sequanorum. The Romans held it nearly five hundred years, and on the dissolution of their power it passed under the sway of the Franks. In the Merovingian period it formed a duchy attached to the kingdom of Austrasia, and was governed by the descendants of duke Eticho, one of whom was St Odilia. After the death of Charlemagne, Alsace, like the rest of the empire, was divided into countships. But the duchy was re-established after the death of the German king Henry I., and became hereditary in the Hohenstaufen family, and then in the house of Austria, which succeeded in 1273 to the imperial dignity. In the beginning of the 12th century the country was divided between the two landgraviates of Upper and Lower Alsace, but to counteract the power of the nobles the emperors established in Alsace a great number of free towns. This state of things continued until 1648, when a large part of Alsace, comprising the two landgraviates of Upper and Lower Alsace and the prefecture of the ten free imperial towns, was ceded to France by the treaty of Westphalia. In the war which preceded this peace (generally known as the Thirty Years' War) Alsace had been so terribly devastated by the Swedes and the French that the German emperor found himself unable to hold it. The population was greatly reduced in numbers, and much of the land was left uncultivated. In the war between France and the Empire, arising out of the attempt of Louis XIV. to seize Holland, that part of Alsace which remained to Germany was again overrun by the French. Although this war was terminated in 1678 by the treaty of Nijmwegen, the French monarch was desirous of incorporating a still larger amount of Rhine territory; and accordingly in 1680 he laid claim to a number of territories, belonging to princes of the Empire, which he alleged had been dismembered from Alsace. It was ordered that these territories should be at once restored to that province under the crown of France, and several independent sovereigns were cited to appear before two chambers of inquiry, called chambres de reunion, which Louis had established at Brisach and Metz. The princes appealed to the emperor and to the diet; but the previous wars had so exhausted the power of the former that nothing could be done to resist the aggression. In 168r the French troops under Louvois seized Strassburg, aided by the treachery of the bishop and other great men of the city. A further war broke out, but by the treaty of Ratisbon (Regensburg) in 1684, Strassburg was secured to France. The war was renewed in 1688 and continued until 1697, when the peace of Ryswick confirmed definitively the annexation of Strassburg to France. Some remaining territories of small extent were acquired by the French after the revolution of 1789, including Miilhausen, which had been a republic allied to Switzerland.

Originally Celtic, the population was modified during the Roman period by the arrival of a Germanic people, the Triboci. In the 5th century came other German tribes, the Alamanni, and then the Franks, who drove the Alamanni into the south. Since that period the population has in the main been Teutonic; and the French conquests of the 17th century, while modifying this element, still left it predominant. The people continued to use a German dialect as their native tongue, though the educated classes also spoke French. Protestantism was professed by a large number of the inhabitants; and in many respects their characteristics identified them rather with the race to the east than that to the west of the Rhine. In process of time, however, they considered themselves French, and lost all desire for reannexation to any of the German states.

Alsace suffered a good deal in the war of 1870-71. The earlier battles of the campaign were fought there; Strassburg and other of its fortified towns were besieged and taken; and its people were compelled to submit to very severe exactions. The civil and military government of the province, as well as that of Lorraine, was assumed by the Germans as soon as they obtained possession of those parts of France, which was very shortly after the commencement of the war. The Alsatian railways were reorganized and provided with a staff of German officials. German stamps were introduced from Berlin; the occupied towns were garrisoned by the Landwehr; and requisitions on a large scale were demanded, and paid for in cheques which, at the close of the war, were to be honoured by whichever side should stand in the unpleasant position of the conquered. The people, notwithstanding their German origin, showed a very strong feeling against the invaders, and in no part of France was the enemy resisted with greater stubbornness. It was evident from an early period of the war, however, that Prussia was resolved to reannex Alsace to German territory. When the preliminaries of peace came to be discussed at Versailles in February 1871, the cession of Alsace, together with what is called German Lorraine, was one of the earliest conditions laid down by Bismarck and accepted by Thiers. This sacrifice of territory was afterwards ratified by the National Assembly at Bordeaux, though not without a protest from the representatives of the departments about to be given up; and thus Alsace once more became German. By the bill for the incorporation of Alsace and German Lorraine, introduced into the German parliament in May 1871, it was provided that the sole and supreme control of the two provinces should be vested in the German emperor and the federal council until the 1st of January 1874, when the constitution of the German empire was established. Bismarck admitted the aversion of the population to Prussian rule, but said that everything would be done to conciliate the people. This policy appears really to have been carried out, and it was not long in bearing fruit. Many of the inhabitants of the conquered districts, however, still clung to the old connexion, and on the 30th of September 1872 - the day by which the people were required to determine whether they would consider themselves German subjects and remain, or French subjects and transfer their domicile to France-45,000 elected to be still French, and sorrowfully took their departure. The German system of compulsory education of every child above the age of six was introduced directly after the annexation.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Alsace'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica.​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​a/alsace.html. 1910.