July 14, 1789 is considered the beginning of the French Revolution. While civil unrest had been building since earlier in the year, the Fall of the Bastille on July 14 was the first victory of the French people over the monarchy. In 1880, the day was declared a national holiday and has been celebrated ever since.
The French Revolution was a class war. The Bourbon monarchy, who had ruled France since the 16th century, was being led in 1789 by King Louis XVI. His government spent money excessively, leading to economic recession. The average person in France couldn’t afford to feed their family while the bourgeoisie dripped with extravagant wealth. While the common people made up 98% of the country’s population, they had only a minority representation in the government, leaving them unable to make any changes.
The French people became more and more outraged at their position until, on July 14, a mob moved toward the Bastille, a prison that held political dissidents. It was known that a stash of weapons and gunpowder was stored in the prison, and the mob determined to gain possession of it. The attackers fought off the guards and occupied the prison, releasing anyone who was held there. The French people eventually took the Bastille down to the ground, crushing what was seen as a symbol of the bourgeoisie’s oppression.
Today, the 14th of July is la fête nationale and is celebrated much like the US’s 4th of July. There are parades, fireworks, and festivals throughout the country as the people of France celebrate their historic fight for liberté, égalité, and fraternité.
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