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BASTILLE DAY, JULY 14th

Bastille Day is the French national holiday, celebrated on 14 July each year.  In France, it is called Fête Nationale ("National Celebration") in official parlance, or more commonly le quatorze juillet ("14 July").  It commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789; the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille fortress-prison was seen as a symbol of the uprising of the modern nation, and of the reconciliation of all the French inside the constitutional monarchy which preceded the First Republic, during the French Revolution.  Festivities are held on the morning of 14 July, on the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris in front of the President of the Republic.

 The storming of the Bastille
      
On 5 May 1789, Louis XVI convened the Estates-General to hear their grievances.  The deputies of the Third Estate representing the common people (the two others were the church and nobility) decided to break away and form a National Assembly.  On 20 June the deputies of the Third Estate took the Tennis Court Oath, swearing not to separate until a constitution had been established.  They were gradually joined by delegates of the other estates; Louis started to recognize their validity on 27 June.  The assembly re-named itself the National Constituent Assembly on 9 July, and began to function as a legislature and to draft a constitution.

In the wake of the 11 July dismissal of Jacques Necker, the people of Paris, fearful that they and their representatives would be attacked by the royal military, and seeking to gain ammunition and gunpowder for the general populace, stormed the Bastille, a fortress-prison in Paris which had often held people jailed on the basis of lettres de cachet, arbitrary royal indictments that could not be appealed.  Besides holding a large cache of ammunition and gunpowder, the Bastille had been 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 siege in July 1789 there were only seven inmates, none of great political significance.

When the crowd — eventually reinforced by mutinous gardes françaises — proved a fair match for the fort's defenders, 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.  Ninety-eight attackers and just one defender died in the actual fighting, but in the aftermath, de Launay and seven other defenders were killed, as was the 'prévôt des marchands' (roughly, mayor) Jacques de Flesselles.

The storming of the Bastille was more important as a rallying point and symbolic act of rebellion than a practical act of defiance.  Shortly after the storming of the Bastille, on 4 August feudalism was abolished and on 26 August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen proclaimed.

 The Fête de la Fédération
 
    The Fête de la Fédération of the 14 July 1790 was a huge feast and official event to celebrate the uprising of the short-lived constitutional monarchy in France and what people considered the happy conclusion of the French Revolution.  The event took place on the Champ de Mars, at the time outside of Paris but now the site of the Eiffel Tower.  The place had been transformed voluntarily 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 confidant of the king, took his oath to the constitution, followed by the 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 naked through the streets in order to display their great freedom.

 

 

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