"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity."
On July 14, 1789, the people of Paris, enduring terrible deprivations and
angry at the inability or unwillingness of their King to bring relief, rose up. The Bastille was a state prison that not only
held many political prisoners, but a symbol of the cruel, absolute despotism of aristocratic regime. The people formed a mob
that no army or guards could withstand, and stormed the prison, liberating all inside.
"Within two days the Revolution could not be reversed. For all citizens
of France, the storming of the Bastille came to symbolize liberty, democracy in the struggle against oppression."
Many think that, with the storming of the Bastille, the French Revolution
proceeded quickly onward, but this is far from the truth. Negotiation with Louis the XVI, the aristocrats, and other established
powers continued for some time as the idea of government by the people continued to take shape. These ideas were implemented
very slowly: because most the landed gentry of France were essentially Royalists, despite what the people in Paris felt; because
of the Paris Revolutionaries' fear of completely destabilizing the economy and making things worse; and because the rest of
Europe was standing eagerly by, ready to move in and take France over by force.
Louis the XVI continued to sit in government for some time after Bastille
Day. He, his Queen, the Austrian-born Marie Antoinette, and the young dauphin were finally arrested on August 10, 1792, when
the people rose up again and attacked them where they were being guarded in the Tuilleries palace. Their Swiss Guard was hacked
to pieces by the crowds. Yet, they were still allowed to live, though others of the French court, those who had not been able
to flee the country to safety, continued to be executed or murdered by mobs.
Finally, despite an outcry all over Europe that war on France would follow,
Louis the XVI was executed by guillotine on January 21, 1793, basically for the crime of being a monarch. From then on, France
fell under the absolutism of the Reign of Terror, an actual political decree of September 5th by the Convention. The queen's
date with the guillotine was on October 16, 1793; their child survived them, but died in captivity. As well as the aristocracy,
religion fell under attack; military leaders were recalled from the field of battle to be tried and executed; and finally,
the revolutionary factions turned on each other with trials where the defendants were allowed no defense, no witnesses. Many
of the original revolutionaries were executed, some were assassinated.
Meanwhile, an insignificant soldier named Napoleon Bonaparte began distinguishing
himself on the battlefields, fighting the Austrians and other Europeans who were itching to take over. By 1799, the revolutionary
government was so weakened -- and so little had been improved for the French people in terms of food and general living conditions
-- that it was a "piece of cake" for Napoleon to take over incrementally, crowning himself Emperor in 1804. The French Revolution
was dead, and France was again ruled by a monarch. The French flag testifies to this: the red and the blue are the colors
adopted by the city of Paris; the white symbolizes the monarchy.
"The storming of the Bastille set off a chain of events. It deserves celebration
in remembrance of all that occurred. It is not just a symbol of freedom, but a warning about the dangers of revolution."
Resources: Bastille Day; A Place of Greater Safety, by Hilary Mantel; The France of Victor Hugo; Marie Antoinette