Wednesday, July 14

Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite

Today is Bastille Day. Its the French national holiday that commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789. The Bastille had been a fortress in Paris that had been a place political dissidents were sometimes held for arbitrary offenses at the command of the King. But on this day in 1789, the fortress-prison housed only seven prisoners and none of them were actually political dissidents. Still, for the French people, the Bastille had become a symbol of the royal tyranny they needed to overthrow.

Revolutionaries had gathered at the base of the fortress in the morning and, just after lunchtime they attacked. After hours of bloody skirmishes 98 of the revolutionary attackers had died and just one of the fort's guards had been killed. But the French government's commander, fearing an all-out massacre, had surrendered. The revolutionary forces stabbed him, decapitated him, and put his head on a pike to carry around in victory.

It was a catalyst for other events of the Revolution: Soon feudalism was abolished, then the "Declaration of Rights and Men and the Citizen" was proclaimed. One year after the storming of the Bastille, the French established the holiday, "Fete de la Federation", or Feast of the Federation, to celebrate the successful end of the French Revolution and the constitutional monarchy they had established. But France was still a long way from a modern democratic republic. A few years later came the Regine of Terror, and the French citizens executed King Louis the XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette and other fellow French citizens. And then in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte seized control and declared himself emperor.

Many would also note that the French Revolution took a decidedly atheistic tone. To put this phenomenon in proper perspective one should also note that the Catholic Church in France was the government. During the middle ages, the Western Church became synonymous with the authority of corrupt monarchs. The Church had become nothing more than a prominent political player and oppressor. Therefore one could not dismantle a King ostensibly anointed by God without also dismantling that god in the process.

Fun fact: Today is also the anniversary of the 14th of July Revolution in Iraq. On this day in 1958 the Iraqi military staged a revolution, executed the British-allied King Faisal II and his family and called for democratic elections of a president. Two weeks later the constitution for the new Republic of Iraq was written.
It might also be fun to note that the Cubans revolted in their quest for equality, and overthrew the repressive dictator Fulgencio Batista on July 26, 1953.
Do you think its the heat of July adds the much needed fire to social unrest?


The Bug said...

I think the heat could very well be a factor!

Here is an email that I sent to select friends today:

Subject: Blonde Moment of the Day

Message: I was just looking on the internet at the things that happened on this date in history. I noticed that in 1789 Parisians stormed the Bastille. And I thought, “What a coincidence – it’s Bastille Day – I wonder if they knew that when they stormed it?”

Oh my word I’m an idiot.

Katy said...

Okay, that's just awesome. Thanks for the laugh.

Jo said...

Loved Dana's comment... What a hoot!

And what an interesting post. I have always been fascinated by how the American Revolution influenced the French Revolution.