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7/14/13

France - Bastille Day: How peace and revolution got mixed up - by Hugh Schofield

Bastille Day
Without realizing it, what the French may technically be celebrating is not the storming of the Bastille but an event that took exactly one year later, on 14 July 1790: the Fete de la Federation.

It is easy to forget that for the first century after 1789, France lived mainly under the kind of monarchical regimes the revolution was supposed to have done away with.

There was Napoleon; then the restored Bourbons after Waterloo; then King Louis-Philippe; a brief republican interlude starting in 1848; and then the second empire under Napoleon III.
Not until 1870, after defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, did France establish a lasting republican system.

A year after the fall of the Bastille, Paris had been a city of hope. King Louis XVI was still on his throne, but his powers were being circumscribed by a constituent assembly. The privileges of the aristocracy had been abolished.

It was what historians have dubbed the "optimistic phase" of the revolution.
And to mark it, the authorities organized an extraordinary outdoor event on the Champs de Mars - where the Eiffel Tower now stands.

For the Senator Henri Martin - who drew up the National Day law - "14 July 1790 is the most beautiful day in the history of France, possibly in the history of mankind. It was on that day that national unity was finally accomplished."

Passed in 1880, the law was deliberately ambiguous. It did not say which 14 July was being celebrated.
And today, of course, everyone thinks of it as Bastille Day.
But spare a thought for that other Quatorze Juillet - when France seemed on the verge of more peaceful, gradual change. It is part of the story too.

Read more: BBC News - Bastille Day: How peace and revolution got mixed up

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