Fête de la Fédération

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The Fête de la Fédération as seen from behind the King's tent

The Fête de la Fédération was a massive holiday festival held throughout France in honor of the French Revolution. First celebrated in 1790, it commemorated the events of 1789 which had culminated in a new form of national government, a constitutional monarchy led by a representative Assembly.

The inaugural fête of 1790 was set for 14 July, the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. At this relatively calm stage, many people considered the country's period of revolutionary struggle to be over. This thinking was encouraged by counter-revolutionary monarchiens, and the first fête was designed with a role for King Louis XVI that would respect and maintain his royal status. The occasion passed peacefully and provided a powerful, but illusory, image of national unity after the divisive events of 1789–1790.

Background[edit]

After the initial revolutionary events of 1789, France's ancien régime had shifted into a new paradigm of constitutional monarchy. By the end of that year, towns and villages throughout the country had begun to join together as fédérations, fraternal associations which commemorated and promoted the new political structure.[1] A common theme among them was a wish for a nationwide expression of unity, a fête to honor the Revolution. Plans were set for simultaneous celebrations in July 1790 all over the nation, but the fête in Paris would be the most prominent by far. It would feature the King, the royal family, and all the deputies of the National Constituent Assembly, with thousands of other citizens predicted to arrive from all corners of France.

Preparation[edit]

The triumphal arch of the Fête de la Fédération, by Hubert Robert.

The event took place on the Champ de Mars, which was at the time far outside Paris. The vast stadium had been financed by the National Assembly, and completed in time only with the help of thousands of volunteer laborers from the Paris region. During these "Wheelbarrow Days"(journée des brouettes), the festival workers popularized a new song that would become an enduring anthem of France, Ah! ça ira.[2]

Enormous earthen stands for spectators were built on each side of the field, with a seating capacity estimated at 100,000.[3] The Seine was crossed by a bridge of boats leading to an altar where oaths were to be sworn. The new military school was used to harbour members of the National Assembly and their families. At one end of the field, a huge tent was the king's step, and at the other end, a triumphal arch was built. At the centre of the field was an altar for the mass.

Official celebration[edit]

The feast began as early as four in the morning, under a strong rain which would last the whole day (the Journal de Paris had predicted "frequent downpours").

Fourteen thousand fédérés came from the province, every single National Guard unit having sent two men out of every hundred. They were ranged under eighty-three banners, according to their département. They were brought to the place where the Bastille once stood, and went through Saint-Antoine, Saint-Denis and Saint-Honoré streets before crossing the temporary bridge and arriving at the Champ de Mars.

Lafayette leading the oath (18th c. oil painting, Musée Carnavalet)

A mass was celebrated by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, bishop of Autun under the ancien régime. At this time, the French Constitution of 1791 was not yet completed, and it would not be officially ratified until September. But the gist of it was understood by everyone, and no one was willing to wait. Lafayette led the President of the National Assembly and all the deputies in a solemn oath to the coming Constitution:

Afterwards, Louis XVI took a similar vow: "I, King of the French, swear to use the power given to me by the constitutional act of the State, to maintain the Constitution as decreed by the National Assembly and accepted by myself."[5] The title "King of the French", used here for the first time instead of "King of France (and Navarre)", was an innovation intended to inaugurate a popular monarchy which linked the monarch's title to the people rather than the territory of France. a: The Queen Marie Antoinette then rose and showed the Dauphin, future Louis XVII, saying: "This is my son, who, like me, joins in the same sentiments."[6]

The festival organizers welcomed delegations from countries around the world, including the recently established United States. John Paul Jones, Thomas Paine and other Americans unfurled their Stars and Stripes at the Champ de Mars, the first instance ever of the flag being flown outside of the United States.[7]

Popular feast[edit]

After the end of the official celebration, the day ended in a huge popular feast. It was also a symbol of the reunification of the Three Estates, after the heated Estates-General of 1789, with the Bishop (First Estate) and the King (Second Estate) blessing the people (Third Estate). In the gardens of the Château de La Muette, a meal was offered to more than 20,000 participants, followed by much singing, dancing, and drinking. The feast ended on the 18 July.

Trivia[edit]

  • The Chant du 14 juillet, written by Marie-Joseph Chénier and François Gossec, was sung in the Écoles Normales until the Second World War
  • Jean Claude Jacob, a serf from the Jura Mountains, supposedly 120 years old, was brought from his native place to figure as "Dean of the Human Race."

Notes[edit]

  • ^ a: Indicative of a constitutional monarchy rather than an absolute one, the style "King of the French" was in effect 1791–1792 and was revived after the July Revolution in 1830.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hibbert, p. 112.
  2. ^ Hanson, p. 53.
  3. ^ "La fête nationale du 14 juillet". Elysee.fr (in French). Office of the President of the French Republic. 2015. Retrieved 6 February 2016. 
  4. ^ Mignet, p. 158: "Nous jurons d'être à jamais fidèles à la nation, à la loi et au roi, de maintenir de tout notre pouvoir la Constitution décrétée par l'Assemblée nationale et acceptée par le roi et de demeurer unis à tous les Français par les liens indissolubles de la fraternité."
  5. ^ Mignet, p. 158: "Moi, roi des Français, je jure d'employer tout le pouvoir qui m'est délégué par l'acte constitutionnel de l'état, à maintenir la constitution décrétée par l'Assemblée nationale et acceptée par moi."
  6. ^ Bonifacio and Maréchal, p. 96: "Voilà mon fils, il s'unit, ainsi que moi, aux mêmes sentiments."
  7. ^ Unger, p. 266.

Bibliography[edit]

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