Saturday, July 14, 2012
BASTILLE DAY: POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Could Louis and the Second Estate have avoided the inevitable? Possibly. He did, during the Estates-General meeting, to institute taxes upon the Second Estate, an act never before attempted. His efforts failed epically; his nobility turned their back on him. Louis XVI was, at heart, a weak leader, an insipid person, who had neither the courage nor the inclination to fight the nobility or undo what had been done by the many Louis’ that had come before him. Though inevitably, it was this laissez-faire attitude which sealed his fate. Before he could lose all power, Louis canceled the assembly. He could not have instigated more acrimony with one act had he intended to do so.
The Bastille, once a fortress, for centuries a dark, imposing structure that symbolized in its guise as a prison, for all that was injustice in France. It was at the base of this fortress that on the morning of July 14 a group of craftsmen and merchants stool 28,000 rifles, but there was no powder to be found. The guards—no more than 30 in all, comprised of veterans and Swiss grenadiers—were unimpressed. Their leader, one Marquis de Launay, hoping to hold off the revolutionaries until the expected rescue team could arrive, invited representatives of the gathering in to the Bastille. Negotiations ended as members of the mob charged the prison. The meager group of guards fired, killing hundreds. Yet how very disappointed the Marquis must have been when the rescue team arrived…only to stand with the revolutionaries. With their numbers, their power, and their canons, it was but a matter of hours before they asserted victory over the guards.
When, years later, King Louis XVI’s diary was found by historians, his only notation for the day read, ‘nothing,’ in reference to his success at the day’s hunt.
“Is this a revolt?” Louis asked the Duc de Liancourt when the noble informed the king of the day’s events at the Bastille.
“No, Majesty,” the Duc replied. “It is a revolution.”