IS BASTILLE DAY LIKE THE 4TH OF JULY?
August 1, 2023 | View PDF
Last month's column, "Declaration of Independence: Rebellion, or Interposition?" asked whether the Declaration of Independence and the War for Independence that followed were consistent with the Bible's admonition that we are to obey the civil authorities (Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13).
We saw that civil disobedience is sometimes justified (Exodus 1; Daniel 3, 6; Acts 5:29); but further, we saw that the American War for Independence was neither rebellion nor civil disobedience; it was lawful interposition in which lesser magistrates "interpose" or place themselves between the people they represent and the higher magistrate who has become a tyrant. Interposition is consistent with II Chronicles 10 and the English Magna Charta of 1215. And on 4 July we celebrate Independence Day.
But France celebrates in July for another reason: 14 July is Bastille Day, the day in 1789 when, as some tell it, freedom-seeking French peasants stormed that notorious prison known as the Bastille to free the political prisoners and establish "liberty, equality, fraternity." (The original slogan was "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death!") And some think the French revolutionaries and the American patriots were fighting for the same cause.
But were they? Let's look at history and decide.
The French Revolution was not at all a spontaneous uprising. As Lord Acton observed, "The appalling thing in the French Revolution is not the tumult, but the design. Through all the fire and smoke we perceive the evidence of calculating organization. The managers remain studiously concealed and masked; but there is no doubt about their presence from the first."
[Note to readers: Does that bear any resemblance to events of today?]
In the late 1700s France was suffering from moral decay. As historian Otto Scott wrote in Robespeirre -- Inside the French Revolution (New York 1974),
"French intellectuals, middle and upper classes had grown ashamed of their country, history and institutions. Such a phenomenon had never before arisen in any nation or race throughout the long history of mankind. A great loosening began; the country slowly came apart. For the first time since the decadent days of Rome, pornography emerged from its caves and circulated openly in a civilized nation. The Catholic Church in France was intellectually gutted; the priests lost their faith along with the congregations. Strange cults appeared; sex rituals, black magic, satanism. Perversion became not only acceptable, but fashionable. ... The air grew thick with plans to restructure and reconstruct all traditional French society and institutions."
As France plummeted into economic collapse, agitators dispersed into the countryside to destroy grain stores and terrorize peasants, while hired mobs staged "spontaneous" riots in Paris. On July 14, 1789 a mob stormed the Bastille to free the "political" prisoners. Ignoring a white flag of truce, they massacred the warden and his soldiers, carrying their heads on spikes through the streets. As it turned out, there were a total of seven prisoners in the Bastille, none of whom were political. (The last arguably "political" prisoner, the Marquis de Sade, had been transferred ten days earlier.) King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were beheaded, and in June 1792 a mob seized the National Assembly and made Danton dictator of France.
The National Assembly was increasingly radicalized under the leadership of Georges Jacques Danton and Maximilien Robespierre, and during this time the terms "left wing" and "right wing" were first coined. Led by Robespierre, the radical Jacobins sat on the left side, but they also used the term "left" in defiance of Christian tradition which portrayed believers at the right hand of God and unbelievers at His left hand.
In 1790 the National Assembly nationalized the Roman Catholic Church, made priests government employees, and created a French church under the control of the government. Priests who obeyed the Pope and refused to submit to the Assembly were evicted from their pulpits. An openly-atheistic national religion was created, the "Cult of Reason," and an actress was enthroned in the Notre Dame Cathedral as the "goddess of reason." Over 2,000 churches were seized, renamed Temples of Reason, and used to promote this cult.
The Reign of Terror was in full swing as mobs roamed the streets looking for anyone who might not be fully committed to the Revolution. Mere accusations were tantamount to convictions, and no real opportunity was given to present a defense. 40,000 people were dragged to the guillotine (exact figures vary), two-thirds of whom were peasants. 300,000 were executed by firing squads and other means, both in Paris an throughout the countryside.
Evil usually destroys itself, and the revolutionaries turned on each other. Danton decided Robespierre was too bloodthirsty and urged restraint; on 5 April 1994 Robespierre had him guillotined on charges of corruption. Before his execution Danton declared, "Robespierre will follow me." And sure enough, less than three months later the mob turned on Robespierre and guillotined him 27 July 1794.
By this time the people of France had had enough, and they established a five-member committee called The Directory to restore order. But the Directory was unable to govern effectively, facing uprisings by royalists on the Right and Jacobins on the Left, and was overthrown by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799. Liberty, equality, and fraternity gave way to dictatorship, and millions died in the Napoleonic wars that followed.
So should we celebrate Bastille Day and the French Revolution? Did they fight for the same ideals as American patriots? Observe the differences:
1. The American War for Independence was an act of interposition waged by the duly-constituted governments of the 13 colonies and their Continental Congress, not seeking to overthrow King George III but only seeking independence. The French Revolutionaries were a mob of self-appointed thugs who represented nobody but themselves.
2. The American War for Independence was, as Samuel Eliot Morison of Harvard called it, "The Conservative American Revolution." It left property, laws, and local governments in place, and only changed the seat of the national government. The French Revolution became a Reign of Terror, confiscating and redistributing property, abolishing national and local governments, and dragging untold thousands to their deaths. There was no guillotine on the streets of Philadelphia.
3. The Declaration of Independence is based on the "Laws of nature and of nature's God," recognizes our creation by God as the only basis for true equality and our God-given rights as the only basis for calling rights unalienable, appealed the "Supreme Judge of the world" for the rectitude of our intentions, " and affirmed its "firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence." Many American churches and clergy supported the movement for independence, although some opposed it. In stark contrast, the French Revolution embraced atheism and engaged in open warfare against Christianity.
4. The Declaration of Independence, the War for Independence, and the Constitution of 1787 established the United States as a free nation and served as model for freedom-loving peoples throughout the world. The French Revolution became the model for socialist and Communist movements everywhere.
What do Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Fidel Castro, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, and other tyrants have in common? They look to Robespierre as their inspiration.
[Readers, please consider: Do the orchestrated Antifa-led riots of 2020 and beyond derive their inspiration from the French Revolution?
Are they leading us toward another Reign of Terror?]