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Bastille Day and The Fourth of July

By Edie Cay
July 14, 2020

HAPPY BASTILLE DAY!

 

            Funny how the French holiday and our Fourth of July are so similar. How our countries, separated by an ocean, intertwined their collective fates in the eighteenth century.

Portrait of General George Washington in 1776. Apocryphal story: Washington’s likeness was hung in English toilets—because he scared the poop out of the British.

            But let’s go back to the 1700s, where America was a British colony, and France was a hereditary monarchy.

            As Americans know, the birth of our country was a fraught beginning. If one goes back to those moments of history, the rebellion of the colonists against the largest power in the world—The British Empire—seems doomed to fail. What then, caused us to succeed?

            France!

            France won the war for us. King Louis XVI gave us troops, and more importantly, gave us technology. Cannons, to be exact. At the time, France and Britain had been at odds in serial conflicts, some on their continent, some on ours. But let’s face it, they’d been rivals for centuries.

            Just like the worst love triangles, King Louis XVI helped General George Washington to spite King George III. First secretly, then openly. But the rebels got their country out of the deal, so maybe it wasn’t all bad.

King Louis XVI in a young, flattering portrait

            Take this triumphant moment, as French warriors return home after helping rebels throw off the monarchical yoke. King Louis XVI bankrupted his country in this effort to show Britain that they aren’t the hot commodity they had supposed. Then comes bad weather, destroying grain harvests, causing bread shortages.

King George III, the English King that the American colonists rebelled against

            The people are not happy, and turn to King Louis XVI for help, but he gives them nothing. Hence the apocryphal Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake.” While popularized in the press, she probably didn’t say something quite so callous. (The idea that if peasants couldn’t eat bread, as there was a massive shortage, they could eat cake—also made from grains, but also other fine ingredients—something that on the best days, a peasant wouldn’t be able to afford.)

            Political dissent was rampant, and the King reacted as he had time and time again—throw the dissidents in the Bastille and let them rot. There was no habeas corpus—a right that the newfound United States of America had insisted upon—so political prisoners could be rounded up for no reason and held indefinitely.

            The King did recognize that tides were changing, and attempted to give what was then termed the Third Estate (the First Estate being the clergy, the Second Estate being the nobility, and the Third Estate being the peasants) some leeway. It didn’t work.

            On July 11, 1789, the King dismissed an official who was sympathetic to the Third Estate, leading the people to storm the Bastille, in order to gain weapons and ammunition. The people feared that the King would sick his guards at the general populace. But instead of hindering the public, the French Guards, who would normally protect buildings, aided the public in gaining access. It was clear that the King no longer had the unilateral support of his military.

            Like our own Fourth of July celebration, the exact history is bloody and convoluted, far more than a single blog post can explore. But shortly after the storming of the Bastille, feudalism was abolished (rendering the “Estate” system obsolete), and The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was published. Some of the same men who helped the American rebels helped the French citizenry.

            France and the United States were bound in blood and ideals.

            Happy Bastille Day!

Edie Cay
Written by Edie Cay

Edie Cay writes award-winning feminist Regency Romance about women’s boxing and relatable misfits. She is a member of the Regency Fiction Writers, the Historical Novel Society, ALLi, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can drop her a line on Facebook and Instagram @authorediecay or find her on her website, www.ediecay.com

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