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Fall Of The Bastille

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Ce n'est pas une revolte, c'est une revolution!

"Your Majesty! They have stormed the Bastille!" exclaimed King Louis XVI's aide.

"Is this a revolt?" asked the king.

"No, sire, it's a revolution."

On July 14, 1789, a huge, angry mob marched to the Bastille, a high security prison that symbolized royal tyranny, searching for gun powder and prisoners that had been taken by the unpopular and detested King, Louis XVI (Time Life 1999). The flying rumors of attacks from the government and the biting truth of starvation were just too much for the fuming crowds. The Bastille had been prepared for over a week, anticipating about a hundred angry subjects. But nothing could have prepared the defenders for what they met that now famous day. Along the thick rock walls of the gargantuan fortress and between the towers were twelve more guns that were capable of launching 24-ounce case shots at any who dared to attack. However, the enraged middle class population of Paris was too defiant and too livid to submit to the starvation and seeming injustice of their government (Time Life, 1999). It was the first time in European history that a group of commoners had overpowered the nobility. The storming of the Bastille on July 14th, 1789, has inspired other peoples to fight tyranny and gain independence from their oppressors. Given that the masses in other lands and at other times shared many of the problems that the French revolutionaries faced explains the widespread influence and symbolism of the Fall of the Bastille.

The main cause of the French Revolution involved the differences between the three different social classes in France (Soboul, 1977). This class structure left over from the ancien regime, the Middle Ages, consisted of three orders known as estates. The First Estate, the clergy, made up less than 1 percent of the population but owned about 20 percent of the land. The Second Estate, the nobles occupied about 4 percent of the population and also owned 20 percent of the land. The Third Estate, the working middle class, made up 95 percent of the population and paid all the taxes needed to pay off the debts that Louis XIV had left behind because he had spent his countryÐ''s money to aid the American revolution as to embarrass the British. It is important to note that the First and Second Estates did not pay any taxes. The Third Estate was overwhelmed with these taxes and demanded reform from the government. Louis XVI had attempted to enact a law decreeing that the First and Second Estates pay taxes as well but this law was not approved at the Estates-General meeting on May 5, 1789. The Estates-General was the legislative body equivalent to a parliament and representative of the three classes, and was mainly made up of the First and Second Estates (Kagan, Ozment & Turner, 1998). On June 17, 1789, the Third Estate collaborated with some of the nobles and lower clergy to form a new legislative body: the National Assembly (Soboul, 1977). Three days later, on June 20, the National Assembly found themselves locked out of their usual meeting place so they held their meeting in a tennis court where they swore not to leave until they had given France a new constitution. This oath was the famous Tennis Court Oath. Of course, Louis XVI was starting to become worried about his future as an absolute monarch so following the advice of his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, he dismissed his minister of finance, Jacques Necker. This angered the people because they thought that he could have ameliorated France's economic problems (Kagan, Ozment et al., 1998). The French suffered from several bread riots and some were even organizing a citizen militia and collecting arms. On July 14, they marched to the Bastille.

The Bastille was governed by an aristocrat named De Launay. Following his orders, the prison's guards fired at the crowd killing over 200 people, which caused further mutiny. De Launay was forced to surrender and soon found his head on a spike parading around Paris to signify the victory of the populace (Time Life, 1999).

According to Dr. Ussama Makdisi, who teaches history at Rice University, the French revolution was important for three major reasons. First, it changed in a profound way the relationship between subjects and governments. In the old regime, rights were



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