July 14, 1789: First Bastille Day

 

Thomas Jefferson remained enamored of the French Revolution long after most of the Founding Fathers, sickened by the atrocities of the Revolution, became critics of it.  Jefferson was the American Minister to France at the start of the Revolution, and here is his account of the storming of the Bastille:

 

On the 14th, they send one of their members (Monsieur de Corny, whom we knew in America) to the Hotel des Invalides to ask arms for their Garde Bourgeoise. He was followed by, or he found there, a great mob. The Governor of the Invalids came out and represented the impossibility of his delivering arms without the orders of those from whom he received them.
De Corney advised the people then to retire, retired himself, and the people took possession of the arms. It was remarkable that not only the Invalids themselves made no opposition, but that a body of 5000 foreign troops, encamped within 400 yards, never stirred.
Monsieur de Corny and five others were then sent to ask arms of Monsieur de Launai, Governor of the Bastille. They found a great collection of people already before the place, and they immediately planted a flag of truce, which was answered by a like flag hoisted on the parapet. The deputation prevailed on the people to fall back a little, advanced themselves to make their demand of the Governor, and in that instant a discharge from the Bastille killed 4. people of those nearest to the deputies. The deputies retired, the people rushed against the place, and almost in an instant were in possession of a fortification, defended by 100 men, of infinite strength, which in other times had stood several regular sieges and had never been taken. How they got in, has as yet been impossible to discover. Those, who pretend to have been of the party tell so many different stories as to destroy the credit of them all.
They took all the arms, discharged the prisoners and such of the garrison as were not killed in the first moment of fury, carried the Governor and Lieutenant governor to the Greve (the place of public execution) cut off their heads, and set them through the city in triumph to the Palais royal. (more…)

Published in: on July 14, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on July 14, 1789: First Bastille Day  
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Bastille Day and the Transformative Power of History

(I originally posted this at The American Catholic on July 14, 2012, and I suspected that the history mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy reading it.)

 

The La Marseillaise scene from Casablanca.  Today is Bastille Day, the great national holiday in France, the equivalent our Independence Day.  In France it is known as La Fête Nationale, the National Celebration, or Le quatorze juillet, the fourteenth of July, rather like Independence Day is often known here as the fourth of July.  There the similarities end.  Although almost all Americans look back at the American Revolution with pride, many of us dedicated to the great truths embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the French Revolution is looked upon much more ambiguously in France.

Bastille Day recalls an event July 14, 1789 in which the mob of Paris, joined by mutinous French troops, stormed the Bastille, a fortress-prison in Paris which had in the past held political prisoners.  The Bastille fell to the mob after a fight in which some ninety-eight attackers and one defender were killed.  After the fighting, in an ominous sign of what was to come in the French Revolution, the mob massacred the governor of the prison and seven of the defenders.  The Bastille held a grand total of seven inmates at the time of its fall, none of political significance.

So began the Revolution which promised Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in theory and delivered in practice, Tyranny, Wars and Death, with France embarked on a witches’ dance of folly which would end at Waterloo, after almost a quarter of a century of war which would leave Europe drenched in blood.  Edmund Burke at the beginning of this madness, in 1790, saw clearly where all this would lead:

Published in: on July 19, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (6)  
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Citizen Genet: The Undiplomatic Diplomat

The French Revolution was an early foreign policy crisis for the Washington administration.  Jefferson and his followers were enthralled by the French Revolution, viewing it as the culmination of what they had started in the American Revolution.  Federalists, including Washington, were appalled by the atrocities committed by the French revolutionaries.  More than that, Washington feared that America, due to the enthusiasm of many Americans for the French Revolution, was at risk of being drawn into a war against Great Britain on the side of France.

In the Spring of 1793 Edmond-Charles Genet arrived in America.  The ambassador of the French revolutionary regime, he insisted on being known as Citizen Genet rather than Ambassador Genet.  Genet’s mission to America was to enlist American privateers to wage war upon the British.  President Washington quickly told him that this was in violation of American neutrality and denounced all attempts by Genet to drag America into the war between Britain and France.  Genet’s attempts to ignore Washington alarmed Jefferson, who, as Secretary of State, had a meeting with Genet that degenerated into a screaming match.  Washington was furious at the behavior of Genet.

The American government formally requested his recall.  Genet received a letter of rebuke from his government:

“Dazzled by a false popularity you have estranged the only man who should be the spokesman for you of the American people. It is not through the effervescence of an indiscreet zeal that one may succeed with a cold and calculating people.” (more…)

Published in: on April 21, 2010 at 5:25 am  Comments (3)  
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