(Originally posted on Monday, July 13, 2009)
“Justice has its anger, my lord Bishop, and the wrath of justice is an element of progress. Whatever else may be said of it, the French Revolution was the greatest step forward by mankind since the coming of Christ. It was unfinished, I agree, but still it was sublime. It released the untapped springs of society; it softened hearts, appeased, tranquilized, enlightened, and set flowing through the world the tides of civilization. It was good. The French Revolution was the anointing of humanity.”
— Victor Hugo
At the beginning of the French Revolution, the situation in Paris, as in the rest of the country, was unsettled. King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, had retreated to their palace of Versailles and were protected by the elite palace guard. The National Assembly had replaced the Estates-General to discuss the country’s economic and social ills; fearing their being locked out of their meeting hall, the Assembly removed itself to a public tennis court where each delegate was forced to swear the ‘Tennis Court Oath’ to the cause of the republic. The people, the Third Estate, feared an attack by the King’s guard to enforce his absolute control of the country. One of the hero’s of the American Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette (de la Fayette), was in charge of the Paris National Guard. The situation was critical and ready for an explosion.
In the center of Paris stood a fourteenth century fortified garrison, the Bastille. The Bastille was symbolic of the oppression of the absolute monarchy; the people of Paris hated this prison and keep, which in the middle of July of 1789 held seven prisoners and a large supply of gunpowder. This gunpowder was wanted by the people for their defense against the Kings soldiers. On the 14th of July, the people stormed the Bastille, this hated symbol of oppression. After a standoff for most of the day, the commander lowered the bridges and the people took the garrison captive; they were paraded through the streets of Paris. The seven prisoners were released and the stores of gunpowder were taken. Without a shot, the French Revolution was underway.
The fall of the Bastille was commemorated on July 14th in 1790 as ‘la Fête de la Revolution’ (‘The Celebration of the Revolution’) throughout France. It is often celebrated with parades in most French cities and magnificent displays of fireworks. Unlike our 4th of July celebrations, which honor the start of the American Revolution, the 14th of July in France is a celebration of the unity of the French people of all three estates (the clergy, the nobility, and the common people) throughout the country under the French Republic. Therefore, ‘le quatorze juillet’ became an annual event celebrated this day throughout the Francophone world.
May the world celebrate with the French their day of unity and creation of the French Republic out of oppressive, absolute monarchy. May we all celebrate the ‘Tricolor’ (the three color French Flag) and remember their motto:
“Freedom! Equality! Brotherhood!”
— Motto, French Revolution on Freedom
Next Time: We will start our exploration of the roots and events of the French Revolution. This will take us through the six years of upheaval that included the dreaded period called the ‘Reign of Terror.’ Join us in this adventure…