14th July - The History of Bastille Day
The French national holiday commemorates the storming of the Bastille, which took place on 14 July 1789 and marked the beginning of the French Revolution.
Several factors led to the Revolution. France had the largest population in Europe and not nearly enough food to feed it. The wealthy and growing bourgeoisie (the middle-class, merchants and businessmen) were allowed no political input or power. The poor were in a bad situation and it was getting worse. The country was nearing bankruptcy. By the late 1780s the people of France were fed up and began speaking out. Assemblies were held and demands of a constitution were made. When King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, tried to quiet the unrest, but the people rebelled.
The Bastille was a prison and a symbol of the absolute and arbitrary power of Louis the 16th's Ancient Regime. On July 14, 1789 the masses banded together and stormed the Bastille prison, a symbol of the corrupt political system. This began the Revolution and by capturing this symbol, the people signaled that the king's power was no longer absolute. Although the Bastille only held seven prisoners at the time of its capture, the storming of the prison was a symbol of liberty and the fight against oppression for all French citizens; like the Tricolore flag, it symbolized the Republic's three ideals: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity for all French citizens. The following year on July 14th delegates from all regions of the France gathered in Paris to celebrate the Fête de la Fédération and proclaim their allegiance to one national community.
This made France a paragon for the rest of Europe and established them as a nation of liberty - the first time in history that a people had claimed their right to self-determination. Thus the storming of the Bastille marked the end of absolute monarchy, the birth of the sovereign Nation, and, eventually, the creation of the (First) Republic, in 1792.
Bastille Day was declared the French national holiday on 6 July 1880, on Benjamin Raspail's recommendation, when the new Republic was firmly entrenched. Bastille Day has such a strong significance for the French because the holiday symbolizes the birth of the Republic. As in the US, where the signing of the Declaration of Independence signaled the start of the American Revolution, in France the storming of the Bastille began the Great Revolution. In both countries, the national holiday symbolizes the beginning of a new form of government.