Canton in France

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This article is part
of the series:
Subdivisions of France
Regional level
(incl. Overseas régions)
Departmental level
(incl. Overseas départements)
Arrondissement level
Cantonal level
Intercommunal level
Communautés urbaines
Communautés d'agglomération
Communautés de communes
Syndicats d'agglomération nouvelle
Communal level
Municipal arrondissements
Collectivités d'outre-mer
Collectivité sui generis
Pays d'outre-mer
Territoire d'outre-mer
Scattered Islands
Clipperton Island

The canton is an administrative division of France.

They are subdivisions of arrondissements and départements of France, grouping several municipalities (communes).

Cantons number 4,054, including 175 overseas (figure including the 19 newly created cantons of Mayotte).


Role and Administration

The role of the canton is essentially to provide an electoral grid. Each canton elects a person to represent them at the conseil général du département — or President of the general council for the département. This differs with the council of Paris which is elected differently. However, statistically it makes sense to view each of the 20 arrondissements of Paris as individual cantons. In urban areas one commune can generally cover multiple cantons. Conversely in rural areas a canton can be made of several small communes. Often administrative services (gendarmerie squad, etc.) located in the central town (specifically called chef-lieu) of the canton.

Cantons also form a legal district as a seat of Court of First Instance. Historically the cantons are called justices de paix — or "district courts".


The cantons were created in 1790 at the same time as the départements by the Committee for the Division of territory (Comité de division). It was originally regrouped into districts but after the suppressions in 1800 it was changed to arrondissements.

At the time of creation in 1790 the cantons were more numerous than today (between 40 and 60 depending on which département). Their number was drastically reduced (between 30 and 50) by the loi du 8 pluviôse an IX (28 January 1801) called, "law for the reduction of the number of district courts", or loi portant réduction du nombre de justices de paix in French. The first prefects named by the government were summoned to establish in their département the redistribution of communes according each newly established canton. The departmental lists, once approved by the government, were published in the Bulletin des Lois during 1801 through 1802 and constitute the base of the administrative division of France which are still in place today.

Since 1800, cantons with small populations have been eliminated and new ones were created in regions of strong demographic growth. On the whole the number has increased.


The number of cantons varies from département to département; the Territoire de Belfort has 15 while Nord has 79. In total there are 4,039 cantons in France in 2004 with 156 in the Département d'outre-mer.

The island of Mayotte, which has a representative territorial administration, is divided into 19 cantons.

See also

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