Chronology of Major Political Events in French History, 1815 - 2002
June/July, 1789 Onset of the "Great" French Revolution
August/September 1792 Overthrow of the Bourbon Monarch (Louis XVI);
establishment of the "First Republic"
September 1793 - July 1794: "Revolutionary Government" by Jacobins ("The Terror")
November 9 [18th of Brumaire] 1799: Coup d'état by Napoleon Bonaparte
December 2, 1804: Napoleon declares himself Emperor of France
April-May 1814: Napoleon abdicates; Bourbon monarchy restored (Louis XVIII)
March - July 1815: "100 Days" (brief return of Napoleon to power)
1815 - 1830: Restoration (Bourbon monarchy)
1824: Charles X succeeds Louis XVIII; Charles X institutes "ultra" policies
(towards return to absolutism and Old Regime social hierarchy)
July 28 - 30, 1830: "Les trois glorieuses": Bourbon monarchy overthrown in "July Revolution"; Orléans family takes throne (King Louis-Philippe)
1830 - 1848: July Monarchy (or "Bourgeois" Monarchy), with liberal Guizot as prime minister
February 1848: Orléans monarchy overthrown in "February Revolution";
Second Republic proclaimed
1848 - 1852: Second Republic
June 1848: "June Days": liberal republican forces suppress workers' demonstrations for "right to work," described by Marx as "Class Struggles in France"
December 1848: Election of Louis Bonaparte as President of 2nd Republic
December 2, 1851: Louis Bonaparte's coup d'état against republic, described by Marx as "18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon"
December 2, 1851: Louis Bonaparte proclaims himself Emperor Napoleon III
1851 - 1870: Second Empire
July-September 1870: France defeated by Prussia, Napoleon III abdicates
September 4, 1870: While still at war with Prussia, and Paris under siege,
French republicans proclaim "Third Republic"
1870 - 1940: Third Republic
May 1871: Paris Commune, described by Marx in "Civil War in France"
May 16, 1877: Failed monarchist coup against republic. Beginning of gradual consolidation of control by pro-republican parties.
January - August 1898: Successful mobilization of pro-republican forces in "Dreyfus Affair"
May 1899: Radical Party wins elections, Waldeck-Rousseau becomes prime minister. Definitive control by pro-republican parties, eventually form "Union of the Left."
1914 - 1918: The Great War, fought primarily on French soil.
December 1920: Congress of Tours. 2/3 of Socialists form French Communist Party.
February 1933: Failed right-wing coup, leads to "unity" of Left-Wing Parties: Radicals, Socialists, Communists.
June 1936: Victory of "Popular Front." Socialist Party takes power for 1st time.
June 1938: Blum resigns as Prime Minister, ending the Popular Front.
June 1940: France overrun by Nazi Germany and surrenders. Northern third of France "occupied" by Germans. Government relocates to Vichy and, under WW1 heroes Marshall Pétain and Laval, establishes a new government that will "collaborate" with Germany. De Gaulle flees to London and begins organizing Free French Forces.
1940 - 1944: French State, known as "Vichy." Germany directly administers "occupied" sector. Pockets of "Resistence" spread across France.
August 1944: "Liberation" of Paris, by Allies, including Free French. Provisional Government established, headed by De Gaulle.
October 1946: Republican constitution approved in referendum.
1946 - 1958: Fourth Republic
January 1954: French defeated at Diem Bien Phu.
October 1954: Algerian Revolution begins. The bloody conflict will split France, bringing down the (until now) popular government led by the socialist Pierre Mendes-France.
April 1958: Revolt by French military in Algeria against French government. De Gaulle named Premier.
June 1 1958: Constitution revised to create powerful President, as head of state. De Gaulle elected President in last official act of National Assembly.
September 1958: New constitution approved in referendum. 5th Republic proclaimed.
1958 - Present: Fifth Republic
March 1962: Full independence for Algeria.
May 1965: De Gaulle re-elected President by direct election.
May-June 1968: Student and workers' demonstrations threaten the government.
April 1969: De Gaulle resigns. His long-time Prime Minister, Georges Pompidou, is elected President.
May 1974: Giscard d'Estaing elected President. Giscard promises to "reform" the country, which he says has been stagnating under De Gaulle and Pompidou.
1971 - 19744: François Mitterand unifies all the centrist and leftist parties (except the Communists) into the Socialist Party. He agrees to a "common program" with the Communists.
May 1976: Giscard's prime minister, Jacques Chirac, resigns after failing to "modernize" the French economy and society. He blames his failure on Giscard and splits off to create his own right-wing party.
1977-1978: Unity on the left and division on the right results in a sweep of municipal elections by the left. The left narrowly loses the legislative elections of 1978.
May 1981: François Mitterand, of Socialist Party, elected President. In September, Socialists sweep legislative elections. New government includes Communist ministers. The new government begins broad program of reforms and nationalization of key industries and banks.
July 1984: After prolonged economic stagnation and proposed school reform fails, Prime Minister Mauroy resigns and left-win government collapses. Mitterand reorients his policies towards the center.
March 1986: Right-wing victory in legislative elections makes Jacques Chirac Prime Minister while Mitterand continues on as President. This "cohabitation" (executive from one political party; legislature controlled by another) is the first in French history. Extreme right, anti-immigrant "National Front" party wins 10% of the vote and gains seats in National Assembly for the first time.
May - June 1988: Campaigning as a centrist, Mitterand re-elected as President and Socialists regain majority in the National Assembly.
June 1993: Economic recession, successive scandals and division on the left lead to right-wing landslide legislative elections. Edouard Balladur becomes Prime Minister, creating the second cohabitation of the Mitterand presidency.
May 1995: Jacques Chirac elected President. He replaces the popular Balladur with the little-known Alain Juppé.
May-June 1997: Chirac dissolves the Assembly, despite the large right-wing majority. The Socialists, in coalition with the Communists and Greens, win a surprise victory. Lionel Jospin becomes Prime Minister, creating another cohabitation and succeeds in passing a series of economic, social and political reforms.
April 2002: In the first round of the Presidential election, the far-right National Front candidate, Jean-Marie LePen, unexpectedly finishes narrowly ahead of Prime Minister Jospin and advances to a run-off with incumbent President Chirac. This unexpected result shocks France, raising the prospect of a President openly ohstile to the institutions of the Fifth Republic. The Left, with no candidate in the final round of the Presidential election, mobilizes massively in support of its great rival, Chirac, holding on the national holiday of May 1 the largest peace-time rallies in French history. In the second round, Chirac though highly unpopular is re-elected with 82% of the vote over LePen. In the ensuing legislative elections in June, Chirac consolidates his control by transforming the RPR (the party he had founded in 1976) into a broad, center-right party; this "Union for a Presidential Majority" wins a large majority, and little-known center-right figure, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, becomes Prime Minister.