Bastille Day (la Fête nationale or le 14 julliet) is the French national day. It commemorates the storming of the Bastille fortress-prison on July 14, 1789. That started the French Revolution (1789-1799).
Bastille Day in New York City
The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) hosts an annual Bastille Day street party on 60th Street between Fifth Avenue and Lexington.
Bastille Day NYC 2019 is Sunday, July 14, 2019.
Bastille Day NYC 2018 is Sunday, July 15, 2018 from 12 noon – 5 pm.
Bastille Day NYC 2017 is Sunday, July 9 from 12 noon – 5pm.
For information, visit www.bastilledayny.org
Bastille Day is Relevant to Us All
Obviously, Bastille Day is important if you are French. But the French Revolution that it celebrates is relevant to all of us.
At least since the Industrial Revolution increased material wealth (roughly 1760-1840) , human history has been a struggle for power and wealth between ruling elites and the people they govern.
Medieval power structures were based on a triad of church, nobility, and common people. You can visualize it as an agricultural estate with the people of the house, their church allies, and the people who work the land.
In Europe, the ideas of the Enlightenment (roughly 1715 – 1789) inspired a change from absolute monarchies and an absolute church, to republics with various forms of representative government and more religious tolerance.
Our American Revolution was one of the first attempts to give common people more control over their own lives and tried to separate religion from matters of state. We are still figuring this out, but the American experiment inspired many who followed.
The French Revolution was a popular uprising that overthrew governing elites and unleashed a variety of social forces. It was messy and violent, but the attempt by common people to govern themselves also inspired others around the world.
The French Revolution led to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte whose dynasty toppled the Spanish monarchy. That led to the independence movements in Latin America.
The struggle for power between ruling elites and individuals is still playing out around the world, but the ideas that inspire it go back to the French and American Revolutions.
When ruling elites govern well, everyone prospers. When governing elites fail, people are forced to band together to survive.
Bastille Day was an important moment in the broad shift from absolute strongman authority to individual responsibility.
What Happened on Bastille Day
A financial crisis caused by too many wars started to destabilize France.
King Louis XIV called a meeting of clergy, nobility, and commoners to try and work things out. The commoners created a National Assembly and invited the clergy and nobility to join.
When a finance minister who was sympathetic to the commoners was dismissed, the people of Paris feared an armed assault. They stormed the Bastille, a fortress-prison to get ammunition and gunpowder for the people. The French Revolution was on.
So Bastille Day celebrates the unity of the French people at that important moment in history. It gives us all something to think about.