The ambiguous anniversary of July 14: storming of the Bastille or feast of the Federation?

In 1880, a century after the storming of the Bastille in 1789, the Republic sought a date for the national holiday: it adopted July 14. However, in the text of the law, the date of July 14 is not attached to any particular year.

"The Republic adopts the date of July 14 as the annual national holiday" (sole article of the law of July 6, 1880).

Qhat then do we celebrate on this day? The storming of the Bastille and / or the feast of the Federation? To answer this question, we must understand what happened on these two July 14th (1789 and 1790) and why the legislator chose this date, the result of long parliamentary debates and a political consensus.

The storming of the Bastille: July 14, 1789

In 1789, the bad harvests aggravated the economic crisis. The taxes are heavy and unemployment is increasing in Paris. Against the backdrop of social conflicts, a political standoff is engaged in Versailles. King Louis XVI convenes the States General of the Kingdom, which meet from May 5 in three orders: nobles, clergy and third estate. On June 17, deputies from the Third Estate formed an Assembly and therefore seized de facto of legislative power. In their Oath of the Tennis Court, on June 20, they undertake not to separate before having given a Constitution to France.

But the situation escalates. Various regiments of foreigners in the service of the king - Swiss, Prussians, Austrians - marched on Paris. Thus to the garrison of the Bastille, a troop of Swiss guards is added.

Jacques Necker, Minister of Finance, reformer and popular, was dismissed by the king on July 11. Terrible signal! Has the hour of the Revolution arrived? In the gardens of the royal palace in Paris, journalist Camille Desmoulins calls to arms. A demonstration falls on a foreign regiment which charges on order. In Paris, the inhabitants are scandalized and some French soldiers are embarrassed by the presence of foreign guards. On July 12, the news of a mutiny by the French guards spreads, strengthening the determination of the rioters. The people began to search for weapons and attack the rifle depots.

From the top of the walls of the Bastille, a former military fortress transformed into a state prison, the governor of Launay observes the faubourg Saint-Antoine in turmoil. In the night of July 12 to 13, of the 54 granting barriers that surround Paris, 40 were set on fire. Anger is expressed against visible symbols. Versailles is far away; in the suburb of Saint-Antoine, it is the Bastille. The governor, fearing an attack, moves the barrels of powder to a safer hiding place.

To avoid overflows, the former voters of Paris at the States General have decided to create a standing committee sitting at the Hôtel de Ville, a form of municipal executive. In Versailles, the hard fringe of the court refused the existence of this committee and urged the king to use his strength. The court is worried about the political turn of events, while the bourgeoisie, between the court and the rioters, fear disorder.

However, the attackers need rifles and there are 30 of them at the Invalides. The powder, for its part, is ... in the Bastille!

On July 14, at 10 a.m., the crowd armed with rifles headed for the Bastille. In the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the inhabitants are on their guard.

To minimize the risk of violence, the standing committee begins negotiations with the governor of the Bastille. The latter agrees to withdraw the cannons. But locals believe the soldiers are pulling out the cannons to reload them. Misunderstandings accumulate ... At 15 pm, Pierre Augustin Hulin takes the head of a garrison of insurgent soldiers. With cannons, he arrives at the Bastille. The governor gives neither the order to shoot, nor the one not to shoot.

At 17 p.m., the Bastille garrison surrendered, on the promise of the besiegers that no execution would take place in the event of surrender. The garrison of the Bastille, prisoner, is taken to the town hall to be judged. Along the way, the governor of the Bastille is severely beaten, slaughtered with saber blows and beheaded with a knife.

The Bastille, symbol of despotism, fell, claiming nearly a hundred victims. The Revolution will find its myth there.

We thought the Bastille was full, but the invaders found only seven prisoners there: two lunatics, four forgers and a son of a family locked up for a matter of "honor". For lack of a great prisoner to show the people, we invent the Count of Lorges :

“An unfortunate old man who was found laden with chains, half naked, with the hair and beard of a river divinity, at the bottom of a dungeon where light did not penetrate and whose walls oozed humidity […]. The miserable old man, who had been lying there for years and years, was as if just carried in triumph by the friends of liberty to the acclamations of a delirious people. "

The release of the Count of Lorges.
Storming of the Bastille, H. Jannin, Museum of the French Revolution - Vizille

The history of the Bastille is written on the spot. From the outset, we get a double legend, black for the Bastille itself, and heroic, for those who took it. What does it matter if it was found almost empty, what does it matter that Louis XVI intended to destroy it and create on this site a vast place that would have borne his name, regardless of whether the garrison refrained from using its cannons against the besiegers, the construction of national history does not care about these details.

Following the storming of the Bastille, Louis XVI refused to adopt the hard line wanted by part of his entourage. The July 15 speech is clear on this subject: he even uses the term “National Assembly”. Then, he accepts the Constitution of 1789 which establishes in France a system of constitutional monarchy. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen serves as its preamble. Politically, we cannot sum up July 14 to a "bloody day". The storming of the Bastille becomes a historical symbol and a strong political impetus, as explained Michelet.

The feast of the Federation: July 14, 1790

When a year later, in 1790, it was a question of celebrating the unity rediscovered in what would be called the Fête de la Fédération, they chose to do so on July 14, but without mentioning the Bastille. The first commemoration of July 14, 1789 will thus have been the feast of reconciliation and the unity of all French people. Delegates from the 83 departments of the time come to take the oath to the nation, to the Constitution, and to the king. July 14 is celebrated, but another July 14.

During this July 14, 100 federates parade with their drums and their flags. The participation of the crowd is huge, very enthusiastic, despite the bad weather. It is Talleyrand, bishop of Autun, who celebrates mass.

First, La Fayette, commander of the National Guard, make an oath the first, in the name of the federated national guards:

"We swear to remain forever faithful to the nation, to the law and to the king, to maintain with all our power the Constitution decreed by the National Assembly and accepted by the king and to protect in accordance with the laws the safety of persons and properties, the circulation of grains and subsistence in the interior of the kingdom, the prescription of public contributions in whatever form it exists, and to remain united to all the French by the indissoluble bonds of fraternity. "

Then, the President of the Assembly takes the oath on behalf of the deputies and the voters. Finally, the king make an oath of fidelity to the new laws:

“I, King of the French, I swear to use the power delegated to me by the constitutional law of the State, to maintain the Constitution decreed by the National Assembly and accepted by me and to have the laws executed. "

Unexpectedly, the queen rises, holding the Dolphin in her arms, and says :

“Here is my son, he unites, like me, with the same feelings. "

A movement welcomed by a thousand cries of « Long live the king, long live the queen, long live Monsieur the Dauphin! ».

The multitude takes an oath and sings the Catholic hymn " Te Deum », Then separates amid hugs and cries in honor of Louis XVI. The Marquis de Ferrières explains :

“It was a spectacle worthy of the philosopher observer, that this crowd of men from the most opposite parts of France, carried along by the impulse of national character, banishing any memory of the past, any idea of ​​the present, any fear of the future, indulging in a delicious recklessness. "

It is true that the event did not have a great historical impact, since the reconciliation (or the compromise of La Fayette) lasted less than a year, because the royal family, trying to flee, was caught up in Varennes on June 21, 1791. The second attempt at federation, in 1792, was not followed up and during the Hundred Days (1815), it was in vain that attempts were made to renew the old federations in Paris and Brittany. But when under IIIe Republic, the National Assembly adopts July 14 as a national holiday, the law avoids mentioning a date or an event and the speeches of the rapporteurs as well as the parliamentary debates rule on a consensual ambiguity.

The establishment of the national holiday in 1880: what July 14?

On July 6, 1880, July 14 officially becomes French National Day. Neither the year 1789 (taking of the Bastille dear to the Republicans), nor the year 1790 (feast of the Federation dear to the conservatives) is mentioned in the law in order to satisfy the two currents of the time.

In fact, a debate was held between the deputies to choose the day of the national holiday. Several dates have been considered, without success. The revolution of 1830, the revolution of 1848, the birth of the Republic in 1870, the year 1792 with the victory of Valmy immediately followed by the proclamation of the First Republic, etc. : all these proposals would offer both potentialities and interesting disagreements.

In the absence of agreement on the aforementioned dates, the deputy Benjamin Raspail deposited on May 21, 1880 a bill to adopt July 14 as the annual national holiday. If the text of the law does not mention any date, the parliamentary debates, which lead to the adoption of the text, converge on July 14: a date "with two meanings". The Senate report, prior to the adoption of the bill, makes the same reference:

“Let us recall that on July 14, 1789, this July 14 which saw the Bastille being taken, was followed by another July 14, that of 1790, which consecrated the first by the adhesion of the whole of France […]. This second day of July 14, which cost neither a drop of blood nor a tear, this day of the Great Federation, we hope that none of you will refuse to join us in renewing and perpetuating it, as the symbol of the fraternal union of all parts of France and of all French citizens in freedom and equality. […] Federation, that day, meant voluntary unity. "

If the date of July 14 is ultimately adopted in 1880, it is because of its double symbol. So much so that the law does not specify the year. July 14 is a must, because it speaks to everyone. Whether the citizens of the time overlap or do not distinguish between the two July 14th, basically that does not change anything for the law.

Even today, we can see the two July 14th on the official websites, and theElysium, and government :

“The mayors of the communes of France and the French commemorate the two July 14th. The storming of the Bastille and the popular uprising of July 14, 1789 […]. But also the first feast of the Federation, national and consensual, July 14, 1790: last major manifestation of national unity. "

That is why, by celebrating July 14, we are celebrating an ambiguous date in our history. Today the feast of the Federation is out of popular memory. The taking of the Bastille is, in the collective unconscious, the founding act of the Revolution. In the United States, moreover, we speak of " bastille-day ". It is the moment when France switches from a monarchy of divine right to a constitutional monarchy.

So, this Saturday, when you celebrate July 14, you may think of the popular demonstrators marching on the Bastille or La Fayette reconciling the nation. Our national holiday has a plural meaning like the antagonisms that have made the history of France.The Conversation

Georges El Haddad, PhD student in Economics at BETA and Teaching and Research Attaché (ATER) at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Management of Nancy. Member of the Scientific Council, University of Lorraine et William Bagard, Contractual doctoral student in the history of law, lecturer, University of Lorraine

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image Credit: Alexandre G. ROSA / Shutterstock.com

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