Joyeux Bastille Day!!!

by Ryan on July 14, 2007

in Anything Else,Europe

France used to be cool.  But then Charles de Gaulle ruined international French influence into its current joke-like status after snubbing the USA, NATO and American interests whenever he could after World War II and during the Cold War. Quite ungrateful in my opinion.  This French nationalist poisoned relations between the US and France to the point where anti-American French leaders, like Jacques Chirac, are known as “de Gaullists” nowadays.  France got the bomb and the European Union moving under de Gaulle, but he dropped out of NATO twice, had to flee his nation for safety during the 1968 riots, fomented real strife in Algeria, and protested American involvement in the Vietnam War (France did such a bang-up job there themselves!).

But before him, France helped us win our independence, was an ally throughout much of the 1800s, essentially provided us with the Statue of Liberty, and fought side-by-side with us in World War I and II.  And it all goes back to Bastille Day, kind of like France’s version of the Fourth of July here.

Here’s the story:  On July 14, 1789 the mother of all European revolutions began in earnest because of a confrontation around the Parisian armory, prison and notorious symbol of royal oppression called the Bastille.  The mob took it by force, symbolizing that the French King’s power was not absolute.  A month earlier, the Third Estate (just about everyone in France outside the ruling class) took the Tennis Court Oath which created a National Assembly to address the needs of the masses.  This Oath and Assembly put the people in a foul mood towards an apathetic King Louis XVI that led to the storming of the Bastille. 

What’s neat about the French Revolution was that it was highly influenced by our own American Revolution.  Self-rule was deemed possible without a King in the way.  Many French intellectuals and soldiers who fought with America in our Revolutionary War thought France could do it too.  Thomas Jefferson believed in spreading the Revolution outside American borders and was seeing his dream fulfilled overseas in America’s most important ally of the period, France.  The French attempt at self-rule without a King influenced such revolutions all across Europe at regular intervals throughout the 1800s, making “democracy” an ideal that Europeans could embrace too.  For that, the French Revolution is a watershed period in European history.

Jefferson was newly appointed Secretary of State and was 100% behind the French effort until things took a turn for the worse.  As usual, the French messed it up.  The French Revolution was not like ours: after King Louis and his family were executed, the horrid “Reign of Terror”, controlled by the “Committee of Public Safety” (sounds like a bunch of over zealous liberals if you ask me!), turned France to an ostensible bloody dictatorship.  After the Committee was disbanded, an interim Directory tried to maintain order until a coup propelled Napoleon Bonaparte to Emperor.  At that point Jefferson was President of the United States and bought Louisiana from Napoleon, essentially normalizing relations.  In the meantime we had a Quasi-War with France that led former President John Adams to sign the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts which hurt immigrants and tried to criminalize Republican politics (Adams was a Federalist!).  Napoleon spread French revolutionary ideals all over Europe as the last great moment of French influence and power took form.  They’ve been trying to get back there ever since, but often look quite pitiful for trying too hard. 

Pic from Mal Langston, Corbis/Reuters.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Chris July 14, 2007 at 12:07 pm

Let’s hope that Sarkozy can help to turn things around…by the looks of this article, he has as much of a following on the left as Bush does…and that’s a good thing!

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