As an enthusiast of French history, I like to encourage all people to celebrate today, Bastille Day. On July 14, 1789, Parisian revolutionaries stormed the Bastille, a prison that symbolized the power of the corrupt King, Louis XVI. The people of Paris captured the Bastille with the intention of showing that the power of the King was no longer absolute. The goals of these revolutionaries were similar to those of the American revolutionaries, who had just achieved liberty across the sea. The French people wanted a government whose power came from the people and worked towards the wants and needs of those people.
Prior to attacking the prison, the people of France realized how terrible their lot in life was. Unless you belonged to the clergy or the nobility, you were considered a member of the third estate. As Frenchman Abbe de Sieyes writes in his political pamphlet What is the Third Estate?, “What is the Third Estate? Everything… What has the Third Estate been until now? Nothing… What does it ask? To be something.” The inequality between these three estates and the unfair treatment of the Third Estate eventually led to the storming of the Bastille and the start of the French Revolution.
Despite the fact that the Bastille only held seven prisoners at the time of the storming, the symbolism of freeing the people of France from the rule of the King, the nobility, and the clergy was clearly conveyed. While in America, we celebrate July 4th as our national day of independence, in France, July 14th is the national day of freedom from tyranny and oppression. The French did achieve their Liberty, Equality, Fraternity in 1792 and became a republic (until Napoleon decided to take over, but that’s a story for another day).