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View Full Version : Why is July 14, 1792 celebrated as the French "Independence Day"


slu
01-18-2005, 01:52 PM
I watched the "French Revolution" on the History Channel last night, so I know that Bastille Day is the day that the masses of Paris stormed the Bastille and destroyed it brick by brick, but this show rasied some questions:

1. Why is this day so celebrated? I understand the initial ideals of the French Revolution were centered around equality and the Rights of Man, but this show made it seem like it did not come off that way. Robspierre seemed like a brutal dictator to me (I don't care how many people were on the Comittee of Public Safety) who ruled via terror and fear and made no bones about it. Before the revolution he spoke of a free press, universal suffrage, and equality, but apparently he didn't implement any of these things (or he did and they were subsequently taken away). Disagreement with the revolution (or even the means of the revolution) meant a trip to the guillotine.

2. How is Robspierre viewed today by the French? Is he loathed as a mass murderer or looked at as a "founding father" or somewhere in between?

3. The show didn't go into the post-Robspierre France to much, but his Reign of Terror seemed to lead directly to Napolean. Didn't he crown himself King and Holy Roman Emperor? And wasn't another king re-instated after Napoleon? How is that different then before the revolution?

4. Who changed all of the crazy laws that Robspierre put in place (new calander, chaging all the street names, etc.)?

5. When did France really get democracy? When did they establish a real constituition and have real elections? This seems like a more appropriate "Independence Day" to me.

6. Can anyone recommend a good book about the French Revolution or French Modern History? I want an interesting book that is not extremely long. And I don't want to read several books as I am just doing this for fun.

Thanks all and forgive me if I misspelled any of the French names, etc.

spingears
01-18-2005, 02:19 PM
What a laundry list. History test homework? Preparation for a quiz?
The Philly public library has one or more good encyclopaedias!
I'm sure you can look it just as easily as anyone else and save them the time and trouble of typing it all out in detail.
Of course if there are some dtails you can't find come back with a FEW specific questions for answers.
6. Can anyone recommend a good book about the French Revolution or French Modern History? I want an interesting book that is not extremely long. Perhaps the refrence desk librarian will drop by and make a sugestion or you can consult with her in person at the library.

And I don't want to read several books as I am just doing this for fun.
You are doing this just for fun and you want SDMB'ers to do for you that which you can and should do for yoursef?

Brutus
01-18-2005, 02:22 PM
What a laundry list. History test homework? Preparation for a quiz?


Back off, sparky. I watched the History Channel 'The French Revolution' special last night, and those are questions I would like seeing answered. Good show, but didn't go into great amounts of detail.

slu
01-18-2005, 02:32 PM
What a laundry list. History test homework? Preparation for a quiz?
The Philly public library has one or more good encyclopaedias!
I'm sure you can look it just as easily as anyone else and save them the time and trouble of typing it all out in detail.
Of course if there are some dtails you can't find come back with a FEW specific questions for answers.
Perhaps the refrence desk librarian will drop by and make a sugestion or you can consult with her in person at the library.


You are doing this just for fun and you want SDMB'ers to do for you that which you can and should do for yoursef?

Why did you waste your time and post this? It really bothers me when people other than the mods think they are the thread police. If people weren't allowed to post questions that they could go the library and look up, then GQ would have about 5 threads and they would all say "Help me fix my computer!".

I certainly can read the encycolpeida, but I was hoping for some of the members answers to this. Nobody has to go in detail. And I am out of school, so there is no other motive here, just general interest. And is the reference desk going to answer how the French perceive Robspierre today?

AND, I did ask if anyone knows of a good book that would go into DETAIL about this sort of thing.

Roches
01-18-2005, 02:33 PM
Are you sure you mean July 14, 1792 and not July 14, 1789, the day the Bastille was stormed? This was the first clearly revolutionary act of the French Revolution; everything before it was a prelude (from the convening of the Estates-General to the Tennis Court Oath to Louis XVI's dismissal of Necker just before the Bastille was stormed). There are a lot of dates you could choose after the storming of the Bastille to celebrate French independence, such as June 21, 1791 (when Louis XVI was arrested at Varennes), the acceptance of the first constitution, or the execution of Louis XVI on January 21, 1793. These dates occur later in the revolution, and some of them were not of lasting significance (the early constitutions did not last, for example, and the monarchy was even restored). The storming of the Bastille is an early date, a clear date and an event that is not reversible or capable of being superseded. Moreover, people celebrated that date from the beginning; there were anniversary celebrations around July 14, 1790. So, even though the Revolution was stretched out over a very long period of time, July 14th came to be the traditional date for celebrating the chain of events that led to the (temporary) downfall of the French monarchy.

slu
01-18-2005, 02:58 PM
D'oh, I did mean 1789! I guess I should have paid a little closer attention to the program!

DeVena
01-18-2005, 03:12 PM
It's Robespierre. And here is an wikipedia link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robespierre).

silenus
01-18-2005, 03:14 PM
In answer to #6...just looking acroos the classroom, I can see the following on my shelves:

The Days of the French Revolution - Christopher Hibbert

The French Revolution - J. M. Thompson

The French Revolution - Nesta Webster

The French Revolution and Napoleon - Charles Hazen

Citizens - Simon Schama

and that's only on one shelf.

As for #1 - Why is any day celebrated? The French needed a day to celebrate the overthrow of the monarchy, and Bastille Day seemed jsut as good as any. Why do we celebrate July 4th? The declaration was presented on the 2nd, the war would take years. Why the 4th?

#2 - Dunno. Ask a Frenchman.

#3 - Actually, the Reign of Terror led to the Thermidorean Reaction and the Directory, which then led to Napoleon. As for the rest of it....well, that takes me about a week to cover in my AP Euro class. :D

#4 - Most of these were dumped either by the Directory or Napoleon. All except that silly "metric" system.

#5 - That would be the establishment of the Third Republic. But really, the US didn't have a constitution until 1789, so why did we celebrate our bicentennial in 1976? You go with the earliest date that resonates with people. Celebration is about emotion, not facts.

slu
01-18-2005, 03:24 PM
As for #1 - Why is any day celebrated? The French needed a day to celebrate the overthrow of the monarchy, and Bastille Day seemed jsut as good as any. Why do we celebrate July 4th? The declaration was presented on the 2nd, the war would take years. Why the 4th?


#5 - That would be the establishment of the Third Republic. But really, the US didn't have a constitution until 1789, so why did we celebrate our bicentennial in 1976? You go with the earliest date that resonates with people. Celebration is about emotion, not facts.

Thanks, these are both valid and completely on point. I always assumed is was July 4th because that is the date on the Declaration of Independence, but it could just as reasonably be the date war ended, etc.

Captain Amazing
01-18-2005, 03:33 PM
Even though France had monarchies and empires after the French Revolution, any post-revolution monarch was limited by the revolution. You need to remember that before the Revolution, (starting from Louis XIII or Louis XIV, maybe), the King's power was more or less absolute. He was seen as ruling with a divine mandate, and he basically could do whatever he wanted, without regard to the population. The nobles, too, could treat the peasants as badly as they wanted, more or less.

Then the Revolution happened and all that changed. The King was killed, most of the nobles were killed, and liberal ideas, of the universal rights of man, liberty, equality, fraternity, etc., became part of the French mindset. So even though there were post Revolution monarchies, they were, because they had to be, liberal monarchies, just because the people, especially in Paris, were at that point, ready to riot if they thought their rights were being violated. Paris revolted in 1832 (the revolt in Les Miserables), and then more notably in 1848, and in 1870 (the Paris Commune).

So the Revoulution was important not because it ended the monarchy, but because it said that the state has to be subordinate to individual rights.

Freddy the Pig
01-18-2005, 03:44 PM
3. The show didn't go into the post-Robspierre France to much, but his Reign of Terror seemed to lead directly to Napolean. Didn't he crown himself King and Holy Roman Emperor? And wasn't another king re-instated after Napoleon? How is that different then before the revolution?The same National Convention that allowed the Reign of Terror to take place eventually settled down and drafted a new constitution which set up a form of government called the "Directory". It didn't work very well; power was fragmented and the directors were corrupt. (Americans remember the Directors primarily because of their humiliating demand for a bribe during the "XYZ Affair".) Napoleon eventually overthrew the Directory in a military coup.

Napoleon had himself crowned Emperor, not King and not Holy Roman Emperor! In fact, the existing Holy Roman Emperor abolished the office in 1806 partly out of fear that Napoleon would try to annex the title.

After the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), France did reinstall the Bourbon monarchy, with the kings subject to a Parliament. When King Charles X attempted to ignore Parliament and govern as an old-fashioned autocrat in 1830, he was overthrown.

5. When did France really get democracy? When did they establish a real constituition and have real elections?In 1791 . . . and again in 1795 . . and again in 1848 . . . and again in 1871 . . . and again after World War II. Still, the key turning point was in 1789. From that date forward, it was clear that the ancien regime of hereditary nobles, a wealthy and powerful Catholic Church, and an autocratic Bourbon King was on life support, and one way or another the people would be heard.

silenus
01-18-2005, 03:47 PM
Paris revolted in 1832 (the revolt in Les Miserables), and then more notably in 1848, and in 1870 (the Paris Commune).


Psst. 1830. :D

Asteroide
01-18-2005, 05:02 PM
You're right that Robespierre is a somewhat controversial figure for the French - not that people spend their time discussing him or anything, but you'll find that there aren't too many statues of him around, and not a whole lot of streets named for him etc. There is a Métro station (and a street) called Robespierre in Montreuil, Paris though, so he hasn't been entirely forgotten.

An example from a few years back : Will Robespierre be banned from Marseille ? (http://www.humanite.presse.fr/journal/1999-09-24/1999-09-24-296539)

GorillaMan
01-18-2005, 05:16 PM
It should be noted that 14th July isn't an "independence day" - it's Bastille Day. It'd be hard to celebrate that on any other date...

JRDelirious
01-18-2005, 06:43 PM
It should be noted that 14th July isn't an "independence day" - it's Bastille Day. It'd be hard to celebrate that on any other date...
Good point. Nothing requires the "National Holiday" to be the anniversary of the founding of the body politic of the nation. Just a date that is held dear by the People (or the State) as representing something of extreme historic import.

Captain Amazing
01-18-2005, 06:54 PM
Psst. 1830. :D

Nope. The Les Mis riot was the riot that happened at the funeral of Lamarque in 1832. The July Revolution of 1830 had already happened by the time Les Mis took place.


From Book X, Chapter III

In the spring of 1832, although the cholera had been chilling all
minds for the last three months and had cast over their agitation
an indescribable and gloomy pacification, Paris had already long
been ripe for commotion. As we have said, the great city resembles
a piece of artillery; when it is loaded, it suffices for a spark
to fall, and the shot is discharged. In June, 1832, the spark
was the death of General Lamarque.

Captain Amazing
01-18-2005, 06:57 PM
Although you're right, I should have mentioned 1830 in my post, as well.

silenus
01-18-2005, 07:25 PM
My bad. You are right...I am not that familiar with Les Miz.

Captain Amazing
01-18-2005, 07:44 PM
You should read it. It's a good book, apart from the plot.

hammerbach
01-19-2005, 12:23 AM
...
6. Can anyone recommend a good book about the French Revolution or French Modern History? I want an interesting book that is not extremely long. And I don't want to read several books as I am just doing this for fun.
...


If you can find a copy of it (out of print but probably in a library you can get it from somewhere) and definitely available used,
The real Figaro; the extraordinary career of Caron de Beaumarchais (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00005XS26/qid=1106115681/sr=1-3/ref=sr_1_3/104-8723527-8525569?v=glance&s=books) by Cynthia Cox was one I really enjoyed. Beaumarchais was a man who was a major player in aiding the American revolution, a teacher to the daughters of Louis and Marie, the writer of the plays which Mozart and Rossini made into thier great operas, (The Marriage of Figaro and The Barber of Seville, respectively), and a man who had just built a great mansion right next to the Bastille just at the time it was stormed. His survival of the revolution by the use of his pen amazes me.
The story of the man is indeed the story of his times. I think you might find a book such as this to be an easier read than a book on the French Revolution, as it explores so many facets of the era.

Nava
01-19-2005, 12:51 AM
It should be noted that 14th July isn't an "independence day" - it's Bastille Day. It'd be hard to celebrate that on any other date...

Thank you. I was searching the thread to see if anybody had pointed this out.

OK, US citizens...
* most European countries do not have an Independence Day; no Western European country does. The Roman Empire kind'a fell apart on its own and nobody was tracking when was the last time the tax collector came by :)
* countries in the Commonwealth do not have an Independence Day. Elizabeth II is the queen of Canada. And of Australia. And of New Zealand.
* Several Latin American countries call Independence Day a day when they rebelled against the French who had invaded Spain - not against the Spaniards. For example, Mexico's March 5. Which is a Mexican holiday, don't congratulate any other Hispanic on it or he'll have serious problems keeping a straight face. "Dia de la Hispanidad" or "Dia del Descubrimiento" is October 12.
Remember those tidbits and you'll be able to avoid one of the most horrid pitfalls you guys have when meeting foreigners: asking "oh, is it Independence Day?" during the Easter religious parades :smack:

Thank you again, GorillaMan.

Cunctator
01-19-2005, 01:04 AM
* countries in the Commonwealth do not have an Independence Day. Elizabeth II is the queen of Canada. And of Australia. And of New Zealand.

Australia has a national day rather than an independence day. It's known as Australia Day (surprise, surprise). It's next Wednesday on 26 January. It commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney on 26 January 1788. The day when we might celebrate independence would arguably be 1 January, since the Commonwealth of Australia came into existence on 1 January 1901. But that's already a holiday for New Year's Day anyway.

GorillaMan
01-19-2005, 01:53 AM
* countries in the Commonwealth do not have an Independence Day.
..apart from Jamaica, India, Kenya, .....

Crandolph
01-19-2005, 02:04 AM
The Philly public library has one or more good encyclopaedias!

The odds favor them either having been sold off or either available every other Thursday between 2:15 and 2:30. :eek:

It's sad/funny 'cause it's true...

clairobscur
01-19-2005, 02:17 AM
Very briefly :



1. Why is this day so celebrated? I understand the initial ideals of the French Revolution were centered around equality and the Rights of Man, but this show made it seem like it did not come off that way.


This day was celebrated from the beginning (the following year), though it became only much later a national day. Only for its symbolic value, I assume (the people storming aking's fortress and prison).




Robspierre seemed like a brutal dictator to me (I don't care how many people were on the Comittee of Public Safety) who ruled via terror and fear and made no bones about it. Before the revolution he spoke of a free press, universal suffrage, and equality, but apparently he didn't implement any of these things (or he did and they were subsequently taken away). Disagreement with the revolution (or even the means of the revolution) meant a trip to the guillotine.

The rule of the comitee of public safety (hence of Robespierre) was rather short. Before it, there was a constitutional monarchy (the king retaining rights comparable to those of the US president), then after the king's arrest, the convention, and after it the Directorate. Robespierre wasn't the main figure of the revolution from day one. He's certainly very well known, but so are others like Mirabeau or Danton.

I would add that the terror was deemend necessary since the Republic was about to crumble (Spain and England and attacked in the south and and west, several provinces were in a state of open revolt, the austrians had occupied the east and north of the country and so on...



2. How is Robspierre viewed today by the French? Is he loathed as a mass murderer or looked at as a "founding father" or somewhere in between?

There's no equivalent to the american founding fathers in France. From my french point of view, these men seem to be revered in the US like unafaillible apostoles who brought the sacred scriptures (the US constitution), sort of.

Robespierre is generally viewed negatively as the "bad guy", Danton (one of the main republican leaders, excuted under the Comitee of Public Safety rule) being generally perceived, in a simplistic way, as the "good guy" in the strugle.

However, amongst scholars, there has been a long-standing debate about Robespierre ("Was what he did necessary to save the republic?", and "was he more of a republican than his colleagues, at least in intent?" very, very roughly).

I would note by the way (refering to another post) that Montreuil, near Paris, has been a traditionnal stronghold of the communist party, and that communist intelectuals generally had a favorable view of Robespierre. hence the existence of a "Robespierre" station in this town. Also, the paper quoted in the same post (l'humanite) is the daily of the french communist party.


3. The show didn't go into the post-Robspierre France to much, but his Reign of Terror seemed to lead directly to Napolean. Didn't he crown himself King and Holy Roman Emperor? And wasn't another king re-instated after Napoleon? How is that different then before the revolution?


Napoleon, who was one of the "20 yo generals" of the republic (young men who, following their successes on the battlefield rose in rank at lightspeed due to the lack of officers in the republican army), ovethrew the republican directorate in a military coup. He first proclaimed himself first consul of the republic (keeping for himself essentially all powers) and later became emperor. But he was emperor in France, and this title had nothing to do with the (german) Holy Roman Emperor.


The rule of Napoleon was different from the old regime because, despite ruling as a dictator, he kept several important advances of the republic (like the abolition of priviledges, the equality of citizens before law, a constitutionnal system, etc...). Not that the rights of citizens were fully respected under his reign, but it was a significant improvment over the monarchy.

Also, he completely reorganized the country, the court system, the education system, the administrative system, published the Napoleonic code, and so on. Here too there was a very significant improvment, and a large part of his reforms still hold on today.


When the monarchy was restored with Louis XVIII, there was a significant, but not complete, turn back. For instance, the king "granted" a "charter" (instead of accepting a constitution). It was clear, even at this time, that a complete return to the former's monarchy's ways wasn't anymore possible in France.





Once again, it wasn't specifically Robespierre's job. He was just one of the most extremist republican leaders. These decisions were taken by various elected assemblies. The republican calendar was suppressed by Napoleon. The change of street names (or even towns names) was reverted after the restoration of the monarchy, or never at all.

Actually, there has been few actually crazy laws. Some might seem weird now (like thinking that members of the clergy should be elected), but made sense at the time. Some aren't surprising at all (how many Saddam Hussein streets are there now in Baghdad? Same with "Louis XIV square" during the revolution), most were very sensible.



5. When did France really get democracy? When did they establish a real constituition and have real elections? This seems like a more appropriate "Independence Day" to me. [/quote]

Shortly : in 1815, the monarchy was restored. In 1830, following a revolution, the king was replaced and a constitutionnal monarchy established, limiting severely the king's power. In 1848; a new revolution overthrew the last french king, Louis-Philippe, and the second republic was proclaimed. Unfortunately, the popular nephew of Napoleon was elected president, and restored the empire some years later. After his defeat against Prussia in 1870, the third republic was proclaimed, and, excepting the for the Vichy episode during WWII, France stayed a republic from then on.

As you can see, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what would be the most appropriate day for celebration. The 1789 revolution is still at the origin of all the subsequent events, so it certainly makes sense to celebrate it. Personnaly, I would have chosen August 4th, when the "declaration of humans and citizens rights" (abolishing priviledges, granting the equality to all citizens, stating that all accused are presumed innocents, and so on), that still has constitutionnal value in France, was voted by the assembly over the storming of a nearly empty prison by a parisian crowd. But I've not been asked.

July 14th was established as a national day by the third republic, long after the revolution. However, it had been celebrated for much longer than that, as already mentionned.

Finally, I would add not only that July 14th isn't "Independance day", as mentionned by several previous posters, but also that it isn't "Bastille day", either. This name is used only in english-speaking countries. In France, it's called, roughly, "National Day".

clairobscur
01-19-2005, 02:31 AM
Just to add that the August 4th I mentionned before was also August 4th 1789, three weeks after the storming of the Bastille.

Also, it came to my mind that you could compare picking July 14th to the USA deciding that Independance day would be celebrated on the day of the Boston tea party. A similarily well remembered and symbolic event.

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