Saturday, July 14, 2007

Bastille Day

July 14 celebrates the begining of the French Revolution and freedom from tyranny for the French people.
In 1789 the French government consisted of three houses or Estates: one for the royalty, one for the clergy, and one for the peasantry. People were beginning to feel it was unfair that the peasants, who made up 98% of the population, only got one third of the votes and would invariably be voted down by the other two Estates.
There were several attempts to reach a compromise, but in time King Louis XVI and his wife, the hated Queen Marie Antoinette, simply stopped listening to the Third Estate altogether. Then on July 14, the people decided they'd waited long enough and stormed the Bastille, a prison in Paris which housed many of the nation's political prisoners as well as the army's guns and ammo.
Most historians consider the French Revolution something of a mixed blessing: it eliminated rule by king and church, giving all citizens voting rights and a voice in the new democratic republic. However, the zeal to stamp out the monarchy got a little out of control, symbolized by the guillotine. Reason was replacing the religion and dogma of the Middle Ages, but as crowds lined up to be decapitated for "treason", Europe began to realize that Reason could also have a dark side.
Chaos followed, interrupted by the brutal regime of Napoleon, France's most famous ruler who wasn't even French! If you're interested in learning about the French Revolution there's an awesome book called Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama.
Naturally the people won in the long run. Happy Bastille Day to the wonderful people of France, and a terrific summer to the rest of you.

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