What Do We Celebrate on Bastille Day?

The French do not celebrate the Fourth of July, America’s Independence Day; they may not even know what it means. Americans, on the other hand, are familiar with what they call Bastille Day, an expression that, strangely, does not exist in French.

This enthusiasm for the Storming of the Bastille is not shared by all French people — the Revolution, which was also a civil war, is not solely associated with good memories. The American sensibility goes back to the very origins of the joint history of our two peoples. When news of the French Revolution reached Philadelphia, with the six weeks’ delay usual in those days, the Founding Fathers and guiding spirits of the new American nation interpreted it as a response to America’s new freedom.

It is true that the same principles animated the revolutionary champions of liberty on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as the same authors: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu, and John Locke. According to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, there was no doubt in 1789 that the spirit of Enlightenment was winning


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