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Bastille Day, on the Fourteenth of July

“Bastille Day, on the Fourteenth of July, is the French symbol of the end of the Monarchy and the beginning of the French Revolution” (www. hightowertrail. com). It is very much like Independence Day in the United States because it is a celebration of the beginning of a new form of government. There are several factors that led to the Revolution. King Louis XV and King Louis XVI both led extremely extravagant lives. They spent a lot of the government’s money on luxuries even while the government had some financial problems.

One of the government’s main jobs back then was to protect their country from, and manage wars. In the Seven Years War against England, France spent large sums of money on the war effort but they still lost the war and had to give up their colonies in North America. Many French citizens regarded this loss as a major humiliation. The population was divided into three estates. The Third Estate, also known as the commoners was made up of the bourgeoisie, wage earners and the peasantry. They were the majority of the population. The Second Estate was for the nobility.

The First Estate was composed of the clergy. The Upper Clergy were very wealthy and powerful and therefore they related to the First Estate. The Lower Clergy related more to the Lower Estates. “The first two states enjoyed privileges over the Third Estate. Although they were the richest, they were exempt from taxes. They were also the only members in society who could hold positions of importance such as Officers in the army” (www. members. aol. com). This caused great discontent within the Third Estate. In 18th Century the peasant population increased dramatically.

This growth in population increased the demand for more land. Land was being divided into smaller and smaller sections to cope with this problem. Eventually some sections of land were not even enough for a peasant to support his own family. The wars in America left France in huge debt. To try and pay this debt the nobility increased taxes on the peasants, which further increased their resentment towards the nobility. Poor harvests in 1787 and 1788 led to a food shortage. The peasants could barely feed themselves let alone pay taxes. The peasants started to threaten violence if their situation wasn’t improved.

There was an increased competition from British textile manufacturers. This left many people without jobs, and a huge increase in unemployment. Also, many of the Bourgeoisies grew quite wealthy and started to resent all of the economic, social and political restrictions that were placed upon them from the monarchy. International trade expanded, which made merchants detest the trade restrictions. Most of the bourgeoisie resented not being able to move up in their social status even though some of them were wealthier than some of the nobles.

Especially the upper Bourgeoisie was angered that the government didn’t recognize their importance. The Enlightenment was a period when new ideas spread throughout the country, many of which were against the government. “Revolutionary thinkers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, the Encyclopedists combined with economic theorists combined with new theories. They presented an idea of a liberal society that flourished with free commerce” (www. members. aol. com). Many of the Bourgeois criticized absolute government and the injustices of society. The philosophers’ books were widely read by the educated class.

The ideas in these books were very popular and many people agreed with the philosophers. The improvements in communications made the spread of ideas much quicker and easier. Finally, the ideas of the American constitution were published in France and were widely discussed by the people. Many regarded America as a “perfect” society. French soldiers who fought in America returned with new views and ideas. The French involvement in the war led to a financial crisis. France borrowed heavily to finance the war but didn’t get many benefits from it.

By the late1780s the people of France were fed up and began speaking out against the monarchy. Assemblies were held and people demanded a constitution. Inefficient methods of government led to major financial difficulties. The French government had to borrow heavily which increased the debt. The government continued to spend more than it received in taxes. Eventually the government went bankrupt. “This was made worse by the Nobles non-cooperation when it came to Taxation. The nobles were determined not to give up their tax concessions” (www. members. aol. com).

When King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, tried to quiet the unrest the people rebelled. On July 14, 1789 the people banned together and stormed the Bastille prison, a symbol of the corrupt political system, beginning the Revolution. “For the peasant class, the Bastille stood as a symbol of the hypocrisy and corruption of the aristocratic government – controlled mostly by nobility and clergy. ” (infoplease. com) The act was proof that power no longer resided in the King, but in the people. At the same time, serious riots spread throughout the countryside.

There were rumors that soldiers were sent to attack the poor. Crowds of angry peasants attacked the homes of the nobility. They destroyed their property and burned records of feudal obligations. The violence continued to increase. Many nobles escaped into other countries because they feared for their lives. The National Assembly abolished all feudal courts and all feudal obligations. This meant that there were no more privileged classes. This action ended the great fear. The Assembly issued the declaration of the rights of man, which stated three basic rules of new government.

These were personal freedom, equality before the law and popular sovereignty. This declaration began by saying that all men are born free and with equal and natural rights. “Also, according to the Declaration all citizens had the right to decide what taxes should be levied and how public revenue should be spent. Other fundamental human rights included freedom of speech, freedom of the press, religious liberty and freedom from unlawful arrest or imprisonment” (www. members. aol. com). It also stated that all people had the right to take part or be represented in government.

This declaration was very worrying for all other European countries because it expressed Revolutionary ideas, which might encourage rebellion in their countries. To solve the government’s financial crisis the assembly sold all of the church lands in France. The Catholic Church came under the control of the State. The Pope could no longer appoint French Bishops; they were now elected by the people. The Clergy were forced to take an oath to fully support the constitution, which created anger among Catholic leaders all over Europe.

The Assembly desired a limited monarchy. When the constitution was finished France became a constitutional monarchy. This government followed the principle of separation of powers. The government was divided into three branches: the legislative, the executive and the judicial. The upper-middle class controlled the new government. The following year on July 14th delegates from all regions of France gathered in Paris to celebrate the Fete de la Federation and proclaim their allegiance to one national community.

This made France a model for the rest of Europe and established them a nation of liberty. The First Republic was established in 1792. This period is known as the Reign of Terror. The leaders rejected the idea of federalism and enforced their own ideas upon the people. They held mass executions by guillotine, closed churches, and repressed religious freedoms among other things. They claimed their acts were justified because of the European monarchy allegiances just outside of France and the growing number of uprisings within the borders.

In the end, in an ironic twist of fate the leaders of The First Republic found themselves under the blade of the guillotine. The Revolution lead to the tricolor flag of blue, red, and white. Blue and red are the colors of Paris and white is the color of royalty. Bastille Day was proclaimed a national holiday in 1880 and in 1848 the motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” was reinstated. Today, the day is the “Fete Nationale” and is not only a national holiday, but a day of community celebration. In nearly every town there are parades and fireworks.

In Paris, the traditional military parade follows the Champs Elysee from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde Lasting a little over an hour, France’s heads of government sweep by in limousines; the military puts on a spectacular display of troops and, overhead, jets fly with the tricolors streaming behind them” (http://gofrance. about. com). Bastille Day is one of the largest celebrations in France, and the whole day is like one big party to celebrate the beginning of the French Revolution, and the end of royalty in France.

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