Most national days celebrate about what you would expect a national day to celebrate. Some, like the national days of the United States, Albania, and Haiti mark the signing of a declaration of independence from a colonial power. Other countries, like much of Africa, choose to remember the day the colonial power actually left. Countries like Germany and Italy celebrate unification. Others are a little quirkier, like Austria which celebrates its declaration of neutrality and Luxembourg which honors the Grand Duke’s birthday. A handful of countries such as the United Kingdom and Denmark have no national holiday. But few countries can top France for the sheer coolness of their national day which commemorates the day an angry mob stormed a prison.
A crowd of Parisians stormed the Bastille, which was not only a prison holding political prisoners but also a fortress and armory, hoping to take its cache of gunpowder, ammunition, and weapons on July 14, 1789. The following year, the Fête de la Fédération was held in Paris and across the nation by a populace that largely believed the French Revolution was over. As it turned out, they were mistaken and by 1791 there was little in the way of national unity to celebrate. The holiday wasn’t picked up again until 1878 when it was a one-time official feast to honor the French Republic, which was followed by an unofficial, popular celebration of the day in 1879, which in turn led to a call to make it an official holiday in 1880 complete with a military parade which has been an annual fixture ever since, even during the German occupation in the 1940s when German troops paraded on the date.
If July 14 has turned your mind to French Revolutionary topics like it has mine, be sure to check out our offerings on the subject.
Offerings on the French Revolution and the Revolutionary Era from Berghahn Books
Austria in the Age of the French Revolution, 1789-1815- Explores the Revolution’s impact on Austrian art, literature, music, drama, and journalism.
The Bourgeois Revolution in France- A lively defense of the view that the French Revolution was a capitalist and bourgeois revolution.
Jacobin Clubs in the French Revolution, 1793-1795- A study of the role of Jacobin Clubs in the Reign of Terror and their subsequent decline, based on 30 years of archival research in Paris and seventy departments throughout France.
Human Nature and the French Revolution: From Enlightenment to the Napoleonic Code- Examines the often divergent views of human nature in the Revolutionary era and the implications of these view on the Revolution and the legal system that grew out of it.
France and America in the Revolutionary Era: The Life of Jacques-Donatien Leray de Chaumont, 1725-1803- An account of the life and career of the French businessman Jacques-Donatien Leray de Chaumont who supported the American Revolution and hosted Benjamin Franklin during his stay in France, but later opposed the French Revolution.
Articles from Berghahn Journals on the French Revolution
“History Written with a Little Spite”: Palmer, Brinton, and an American Debate on the French Revolution, Historical Reflections, Volume 37, Number 3
Use and Role of the Concepts of Tyrrany and Tyrannicide During the French Revolution, Contributions to the History of Concepts, Volume 2, Number 1
“La Politique Spectacle”: A Legacy of the French Revolution?, French Politics, Culture & Society, Volume 27, Number 3
“Red of Tooth and Claw” The French Revolution and the Political Process—Then and Now, French Politics, Culture & Society, Volume 29, Number 1
Discourse and Diffusion, Contributions to the History of Concepts, Volume 1, Number 1
In the Shadow of the Guillotine: The Question of Collective Memory in Post-Revolutionary France, Journal of Romance Studies, Volume 3, Number 1
Image: Claude Monet, Rue Montorgueil, Paris, Festival of June 30, 1878.
1878. Oil on canvas. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.