History of the Territoire de Belfort
Direct negotiations between A. Thiers and Bismarck, prior to signing the peace treaty on 10 May 1871, lead the Germans not to annex the entire Upper Rhine. Belfort and 105 municipalities remain French. Charles Lebleu is appointed provisional administrator of the detached French zone of the Upper Rhine, pending reintegration into the Alsace.
This zone of 106 municipalities struggled to find a name and a real administrative structure. In the beginning there was no General Council but an administrative commission, the deputies and senators elected in Belfort from 1871 onwards were the elected representatives of the Upper Rhine territoire de Belfort. The majority of the State services depended on the heads of services installed in Vesoul, such as the Assize Court. All of this remained provisional pending the reconquest of the annexed Alsace.
During the Great War, the future of Belfort and its territory was from time to time the subject of local political debate. But the victory of 11 November precipitated the need to find a solution to the administrative ambiguity.
On 19 November, an editorial in the “L’Alsace” mentioned the future of the Territoire as the government had just appointed three prefects in the former annexed departments: it seems that, in these conditions, the Territoire de Belfort would no longer have to exist as an administrative unit, and that it would have to take its place in the department of the Upper Rhine. This text is signed by J.M. (in all likelihood general councillor Jean Maître, Viellard’s son-in-law), it develops a position which is that of Louis Viellard and will remain that of the newspaper throughout the 1920s in the debate which opposes advocates and opponents of the creation of a department of the Territoire de Belfort.
On 23 November, at the municipal Council, the question of the administrative regime reserved for the Territoire de Belfort is debated. M. Houbre, acting as mayor, proposed the division of the Alsace (1,318,000 inhabitants) into three departments: the Upper Rhine with Belfort as its capital and the districts of Altkirch, Mulhouse and Thann; the Rhine with Colmar, Guebwiller and Sélestat; the Lower Rhine with Strasbourg, Saverne, Wissembourg and Haguenau.
On 19 December, in a long article, Frédéric Beucler, editor-in-chief of “La Frontière”, states that when the transitional administrative period in the Alsace will have allowed a complete fusion of economic, social and political laws, then the Territoire will be reunited with its former province and its former department as before 1870. According to him, the important thing is not to linger on building castles in Spain, but the municipality and the General Council must continue their efforts to make the city even more attractive, comfortable and modern for trade and industry.
In Belfort, some people still wanted to believe that the return to the administrative integrity of the Upper Rhine was possible and the great victory celebrations that took place on 15, 16 and 17 August 1919 were called the Victory and Reunification of the Upper Rhine Celebration.
But on 19 October 1919, the reintegration law was passed, which allowed the former territories annexed to the German Reich to continue to be administered provisionally according to the texts in force at the time, until French laws were introduced. This special status made it even more difficult for the Territoire to be attached to the Upper Rhine.
Another project emerged early 1920 on the initiative of the Chamber of Commerce, the rapprochement with Franche-Comté with the creation of a department enlarged by the cantons of Héricourt and Champagney and the adjacent part of the district of Montbéliard, which led to protest both in Vesoul and Besançon.
For his part, Louis Viellard continued to push for the pure and simple attachment to the Upper Rhine.
In January 1921, Edmond Miellet, deputy of Belfort, addressed his colleagues in the Assembly during a debate on the budget to defend the creation of a department of Belfort. He relied on :
- the demographic argument: the Territoire is as populated as the Hautes Alpes
- the economic argument: the Territoire is self-sufficient in terms of taxation
- the administrative argument: promotion for the administrators
- the patriotic argument: the Territoire deserved this recognition from the Nation
The bill was passed by Parliament in the finance law of December 1921. .
In the official gazette of 18 February 1922, an implementing decree raised the number of 3rd class prefectures to 43 instead of 42. Belfort is this 43rd prefecture.
On 11 March 1922, another decree stipulated that Mr Maisonobe, the provisional administrator acting as prefect of the Territoire de Belfort, was appointed 3rd class Prefect of Belfort.
The department had just been officially created.