Bastille Day is the common name given in English-speaking countries/lands to the French National Day, which is celebrated on the 14th of July each year. In France, it is formally called la Fête nationale (French pronunciation: [la fɛt nasjɔnal]; The National Celebration) and commonly and legally le 14 juillet (French pronunciation: [lə katɔʁz(ə) ʒɥijɛ]; the 14th of July).
The French National Day commemorates the first anniversary of Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a turning point of the French Revolution, as well as the Fête de la Fédération which celebrated the unity of the French people on 14 July 1790. Celebrations are held throughout France. The oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe is held on the morning of 14 July, on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in front of the President of the Republic, along with other French officials and foreign guests.
|Also called||French National Day
The Fourteenth of July
|Significance||Commemorates the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, and the unity of the French people at the Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790|
|Celebrations||Military parades, fireworks, concerts, balls|
|Next time||14 July 2018|
On 19 May 1789, Louis XVI invited the Estates-General (les États-généraux) to air their grievances. Of the three estates in France, the deputies of the Third Estate (le Tiers État), representing the common people, decided to break away from the two others - the Catholic clergy (clergé, Roman Catholicism being the state religion at that time) and the nobility (noblesse). The Third Estate took the Tennis Court Oath (le serment du Jeu de paume, 20 June 1789), swearing not to separate until a constitution had been established. They were gradually joined by sympathising delegates of the other estates; Louis XVI started to recognise the validity of their concerns on 27 June. The assembly renamed itself the National Constituent Assembly (Assemblée nationale constituante) on 9 July.
Jacques Necker, the finance minister, who was sympathetic to the Third Estate, was dismissed on 11 July. The people of Paris then stormed the Bastille, fearful that they and their representatives would be attacked by the royal army or by foreign regiments of mercenaries in the king's service, and seeking to gain ammunition and gunpowder for the general populace. The Bastille was a fortress-prison in Paris which had often held people jailed on the basis of lettres de cachet (literally "signet letters"), arbitrary royal indictments that could not be appealed and did not indicate the reason for the imprisonment. The Bastille held a large cache of ammunition and gunpowder, and was also known for holding political prisoners whose writings had displeased the royal government, and was thus a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy. As it happened, at the time of the attack in July 1789 there were only seven inmates, none of great political significance.
The crowd was eventually reinforced by mutinous Gardes Françaises ("French Guards"), whose usual role was to protect public buildings. They proved a fair match for the fort's defenders, and Governor de Launay, the commander of the Bastille, capitulated and opened the gates to avoid a mutual massacre. However, possibly because of a misunderstanding, fighting resumed. According to the official documents, about 200 attackers and just one defender died in the initial fighting, but in the aftermath, de Launay and seven other defenders were killed, as was Jacques de Flesselles, the prévôt des marchands ("provost of the merchants"), the elected head of the city's guilds, who under the feudal monarchy also had the competences of a present-day mayor.
Shortly after the storming of the Bastille, late in the evening of 4 August, after a very stormy session of the Assemblée Constituante, feudalism was abolished. On 26 August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen) was proclaimed (Homme with an uppercase h meaning “human”, while homme with a lowercase h means “man”).
The Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790 was a celebration of the unity of the French nation during the French Revolution. The aim of this celebration, one year after the Storming of the Bastille, was to symbolise peace. The event took place on the Champ de Mars, which was at the time far outside Paris. The place had been transformed on a voluntary basis by the population of Paris, in what was recalled as the Journée des brouettes ("Wheelbarrow Day").
A mass was celebrated by Talleyrand, bishop of Autun. The popular General Lafayette, as captain of the National Guard of Paris and a confidant of the king, took his oath to the constitution, followed by King Louis XVI. After the end of the official celebration, the day ended in a huge four-day popular feast and people celebrated with fireworks, as well as fine wine and running nude through the streets in order to display their great freedom.
On 30 June 1878, a feast was officially arranged in Paris to honour the French Republic (the event was commemorated in a painting by Claude Monet). On 14 July 1879, there was another feast, with a semi-official aspect. The day's events included a reception in the Chamber of Deputies, organised and presided over by Léon Gambetta, a military review at Longchamp, and a Republican Feast in the Pré Catelan. All through France, Le Figaro wrote, "people feasted much to honour the storming of the Bastille".
On 21 May 1880, Benjamin Raspail proposed a law to have "the Republic choose the 14 July as a yearly national holiday". The Assembly voted in favour of the proposal on 21 May and 8 June. The Senate approved it on 27 and 29 June, favouring 14 July against 4 August (which would have commemorated the end of the feudal system on 4 August 1789). The law was made official on 6 July 1880, and the Ministry of the Interior recommended to Prefects that the day should be "celebrated with all the brilliance that the local resources allow". Indeed, the celebrations of the new holiday in 1880 were particularly magnificent.
In the debate leading up to the adoption of the holiday, Henri Martin, chairman of the French Senate, addressed that chamber on 29 June 1880:
Do not forget that behind this 14 July, where victory of the new era over the ancien régime was bought by fighting, do not forget that after the day of 14 July 1789, there was the day of 14 July 1790 ... This [latter] day cannot be blamed for having shed a drop of blood, for having divided the country. It was the consecration of the unity of France ... If some of you might have scruples against the first 14 July, they certainly hold none against the second. Whatever difference which might part us, something hovers over them, it is the great images of national unity, which we all desire, for which we would all stand, willing to die if necessary.
The Bastille Day Military Parade is the French military parade that has been held on the morning of 14 July each year in Paris since 1880. While previously held elsewhere within or near the capital city, since 1918 it has been held on the Champs-Élysées, with the participation of the Allies as represented in the Versailles Peace Conference, and with the exception of the period of German occupation from 1940 to 1944 (when the ceremony took place in London under the command of General Charles de Gaulle). The parade passes down the Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, where the President of the French Republic, his government and foreign ambassadors to France stand. This is a popular event in France, broadcast on French TV, and is the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe. In some years, invited detachments of foreign troops take part in the parade and foreign statesmen attend as guests.
A national celebration, a re-enactment of the storming of the Bastille [...] Commemorating the storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789, Bastille Day takes place on the same date each year. The main event is a grand military parade along the Champs-Élysées, attended by the President of the Republic and other political leaders. It is accompanied by fireworks and public dances in towns throughout the whole of France.
Thomas Jefferson was America's minister to France in 1789. As tensions grew and violence erupted, Jefferson traveled to Versailles and Paris to observe events first-hand. He reported his experience in a series of letters to America's Secretary of State, John Jay. We join Jefferson's story as tensions escalate to violence on July 12:
In the afternoon a body of about 100 German cavalry were advanced and drawn up in the Palace Louis XV. and about 300 Swiss posted at a little distance in their rear. This drew people to that spot, who naturally formed themselves in front of the troops, at first merely to look at them. But as their numbers increased their indignation arose: they retired a few steps, posted themselves on and behind large piles of loose stone collected in that Place for a bridge adjacent to it, and attacked the horse with stones. The horse charged, but the advantageous position of the people, and the showers of stones obliged them to retire, and even to quit the field altogether, leaving one of their number on the ground. The Swiss in their rear were observed never to stir. This was the signal for universal insurrection, and this body of cavalry, to avoid being massacred, retired towards Versailles.
The people now armed themselves with such weapons as they could find in Armourer's shops and private houses, and with bludgeons, and were roaming all night through all parts of the city without any decided and practicable object.
[...]A Committee of magistrates and electors of the city are appointed, by their bodies, to take upon them its government.
The mob, now openly joined by the French guards, force the prisons of St. Lazare, release all the prisoners, and take a great store of corn, which they carry to the corn market. Here they get some arms, and the French guards begin to form and train them. The City committee determines to raise 48,000 Bourgeois, or rather to restrain their numbers to 48,000.'
On a beaucoup banqueté avant-hier, en mémoire de la prise de la Bastille, et comme tout banquet suppose un ou plusieurs discours, on a aussi beaucoup parlé.