AFCDC | NC Chapter | The Storming of the Bastille Part 2
American Friends of the Château de Compiégne, North Carolina Chapter
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The Storming of the Bastille Part 2

On August 26th, 1789, France’s National Assembly voted in the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen”, an unprecedented document written by prominent revolutionaries Robespierre, Mirabeau, Lafayette and Sieyes, which outlined the collective and individual rights of all the people.  Louis XVI was forced to sign the declaration, opening the door to reforms that would negatively impact his powers.  But despite his having signed the Declaration, frustration continued among the revolutionaries, and on October 5th, 1789, the King was forced by a large mob to vacate Versailles, taken to Paris, and held under guard at the Tuileries.  Enraged at being held prisoner by his own people, the King attempted to flee to Austria, his wife’s native country.  On June 21st, 1791, he, Marie Antoinette and their children, disguised as bakers, attempted their escape.  However, they were soon captured near the town of Varennes, close to the German border, and unceremoniously returned to Paris.

Revolutionaries Danton and Marat wanted to eliminate the Constitutional Monarchy, believing that ending Louis XVI’s reign would start a new political era where all power would reside with the Assembly.  On July 17th, 1791, Danton’s supporters gathered at the Tuileries in a show of force, but the Assembly – Robespierre in particular – feared this move could imperil the revolution, and would not support it.  Hundreds were killed when The Marquis de La Fayette and his National Guard troops opened fire on the crowd. This was the first major discordance amongst the revolutionaries, with La Fayette accusing Robespierre of inciting the riot, which of course was untrue.  Robespierre resigned from the Assembly, and a short time later, presented a petition demanding that La Fayette be dismissed and declared a traitor.  La Fayette subsequently began an exile in Eastern Europe.

In April 1792, France entered into a brutal war with Austria.  A notable aside in French history occurred during this time, when Army officer Joseph Rouget de Lisle attempted to provide encouragement and solace to the French troops during the intense hostilities by singing a song he had written.  Its original title was “The War Song of the Soldiers of the Rhine.” The stirring song, later named “La Marseillaise, of course became, and remains, France’s National Anthem.

As the war roiled on, the impact of deep military losses led to further antagonism toward Louis XVI when it was revealed he had offered to help his brother-in-law, the King of Germany, defeat the French.  On August 10th, 1792, the “Sans-Culotte”, a large group of Parisian rioters, stormed the Tuileries, capturing the King.  After 800 years of reign, in a bloodbath, this major insurrection led to the end of the Capetian Monarchy.  Just three days later, Louis XVI, accused of high treason, arrested and imprisoned, was tried and sentenced to be executed at the Guillotine in January of 1793.

On September 21st, 1792, the Convention seceded to the Assembly, and France became a Republic.  Four months later, on January 21st, 1793, Louis XVI met his end by Guillotine, his people saluting his death as the beginning of what they believed would be a better era.

Yet political and social unrest continued.  Still at war with Austria, France needed men to fight the enemy.  The Convention, led by Danton, attempted to recruit 300,000 men for the French Army, but the public resisted with uprisings across the country.  Some pressed for the reestablishment of the Monarchy.  From March through September 1793, more than 100,000 people died as a result of this de facto civil war.

A movement of rage and civil unrest erupted, known as the “Reign of Terror”, across the country.  The new Constitution was suspended, and anti-revolutionaries were arrested and executed without trial.  In the midst of the carnage, Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI, was executed by Guillotine in October 1793, serving as a perfect illustration of the fear and violence of the time.

As the terror continued, Robespierre began showing despotic tendencies, believing anything was justified when it came to the revolution.  Previously opposed to the death penalty, he now felt it was justified against his enemies.  Censorship in the press was reinstalled, now labeled the voice of the secular state.  On February 15th, 1794, the Blue, White and Red French Flag was created.  Reflecting violence and social upheaval, Blue represented the Parisian bourgeoisie; White the color of the military; and Red the symbol of the blood spilled during the revolution and the wars.  Danton himself became a victim of the Terror – considered too moderate, he was arrested and executed on April 5th, 1794.  Robespierre launched “missions” against the counter-revolutionaries and the Church.  Thousands were executed, and a campaign of “de-Christianization” began.

On May 8th, 1794, the Assembly (through Robespierre) introduced the “Culte de l’Être Supreme” (The Cult of the Supreme Being), and Robespierre participated in the “Fête de l’Être Supreme” (Supreme Being Celebration) in Paris, emphasizing his belief in his own divinity.  The celebration, seen as ridiculous by the people, led to the loss of his remaining remnants of credibility.  In July 1794, stripped of his powers, accused of dictatorship and tyranny, he was sentenced to execution without a trial.  The following day, he was beheaded amid a wild ovation by the people of Paris.  His death symbolized the Reign of Terror’s end and the end, for now, of the movement toward Democracy.