Frequently Americans conflate Bastille Day and the Fourth of July; both are a celebration of liberty in their countries, both holidays are ten days apart, and the colors of our flag are the same. While these two celebrations may appear similar, at their core, they are celebrating two very different events.
American Move Toward Independence
While both France and the United States were fighting for freedom, each situation was vastly different. The thirteen colonies were under British rule and were fighting against the mistreatment they had endured. The British treatment of the colonies was tyrannical by an absent king. The colonies eventually became fed up with being ignored. On June 7th of 1776, the Continental Congress meeting in what we now know as Independence Hall and created a team of delegates to draft a formal document announcing the break to England. Thomas Jefferson, along with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston, wrote the Declaration of Independence. On July 2nd of 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of the Colonies’ independence from Britain in a near-unanimous vote. Although the independence vote was taken on July 2nd, the actual document was adopted on July 4th, which is why we celebrate on the fourth.
French Move Toward Independence
On the other hand, the French were fighting against a monarch in their own country. King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette lived a life of luxury, exemplified in their residence, the Palace of Versailles. While King George III was thousands of miles away, the French monarchy was right in front of the rebellion. The French also became fed up with their mistreatment, but we see a different response to the tyranny, which eventually results in the storming of the Bastille. Bastille Day marks a bloody and gruesome battle, which you can read about in my first blog. In contrast, July 4th marks the peaceful attempt to part the two countries.
Road Through Revolution
The two countries also revolted for two different reasons. In America, the colonies wanted their daily life to stay the same for the most part. They were fighting for lower taxation and the ability to govern themselves. The French, however, wanted to uproot society and change everything. This need for radical change may also explain the difference in the struggle for freedom began, storming the Bastille versus the Declaration of Independence. In the end, the French Revolution became much more gruesome than the American Revolution. The United States lost 6,800 soldiers in battle during the Revolution. The conflict in France was different, more similar to a civil war, due to the need for radical social change. The difference is reflected in the Reign of Terror when 300,000 civilians were arrested, and 17,000 executed, usually with the guillotined.
Although their histories are quite different, the festivities today are somewhat similar. Both France and America are covered with fireworks, the national anthem can be heard throughout the streets, and everyone is covered head to toe in red, white, and blue. There is a great sense of patriotism and appreciation of freedom coming with each country’s national holiday. It is important while considering the differences that separate the two holidays to remember that freedom has a cost as we wrap up this month of independence festivities.