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July 6, 2004 > Bastille Day - A Triumph for the People of France

Bastille Day - A Triumph for the People of France

by Jeremy Inman

Often referred to as the French Independence Day, Bastille Day is not a celebration of liberation from a foreign ruler. It commemorates the end of an absolute monarchy in France, and the beginning of rule by the common people. In the 1780s, the population of France was higher than it had ever been. Food was scarce and living conditions, especially for the poor lower classes, was increasingly difficult. A growing middle class, known as the bourgeoisie, began to express rising outrage in the face of a government that paid no attention to their complaints, and the country was close to bankruptcy. Growing suspicious of the king's "Divine Right to Rule," the French people began to stir, and thoughts of rebellion against King Louis XVI were growing.

The Bastille, a French prison in Paris, held prisoners at the wish of the king for reasons that were often unknown - to even the prisoner. Erected in 1382 to protect the eastern wall of Paris from hostile forces, the fortress had been rumored to be one the country's most secure strongholds. It soon became a symbol of the domination and corruption of the French government.

Emotions erupted on July 14, 1789 when a group of nearly 1,000 outraged Parisians rallied forces, joined by 300 French soldiers who deserted their posts to support the cause, stormed the Bastille. Many historians mark this uprising as the beginning of the French revolution and the demise of absolute monarchy using a doctrine of divine right.

In 1880, Bastille Day was proclaimed a French National Holiday. Celebration of the event often includes parades, fireworks, and festivals. Much like the U.S. celebrates July 4 as the birth of its new form of government, France celebrates July 14 as the birth of its new republic. The storming and subsequent destruction of the Bastille will forever symbolize a France ruled by the people, and governed by the motto, "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity."

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