Storming of the Bastille, July 14, 1789

Today marks the anniversary of the day the Bastille was overtaken. A day that marks the beginning of what we know as the French Revolution. The French were in an economic crisis and fully half of the King’s money was being spent on the interest to pay back loans. The French Revolution is commonly reviled among conservatives, the most famous rebuke coming from Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. However, the French Revolution is often mistakenly viewed as a peasant revolution, where the poor rose up to overthrow the corrupt, and incompetent, King Louis XVI. While that was certainly a part of the revolution, and would grow in influence later, I am reminded of an excerpt I read characterizing the beginning of the French Revolution. From Charles Breunig’s The Age of Revolution”:

One of the great ironies of the French Revolution is that it was most directly provoked by the class whose privileges it did much to destroy- the nobility. By their refusal to submit to new taxation, the nobles finally forced the king to adopt their own proposal, that is to summon the Estates General, the only body they regarded as competent to levy new taxes. The nobles were convinced that they would be able to dominate this assembly and use it as an instrument for strengthening their own position at the expense of the monarchy. But the outcome was not what they had anticipated. For the election and convocation of the Estates-General in 1789 provided representatives of the Third Estate with an opportunity to assert their claim to equal status with those of the other two orders, and ultimately, when this was denied, to proclaim themselves the true representatives of the “nations”.

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