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14 July 2012

On this day in history: Paris celebrated la Fête de la Fédération, 1790

In June 1790, the French National Assembly approved the Paris Commune's proposition that a celebration be held to mark the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. The centrepiece of these festivities involved a display of national unity on the Champs de Mars, the mustering fields that were then some way outside Paris. Volunteers from the city and beyond, drawn from all walks of life, rushed to prepare the site for the gathering in what became known as the journée des brouettes ('day of the wheelbarrows').

Despite the haste of preparations the central altar, triumphal arches, royal tent, and two earthwork terraces built for the 400,000 spectators were in place for la Fête de la Fédération on 14th July 1790. The day began with a procession to the Champs de Mars, led by artistic emblems extolling freedom and marking the defeat of tyranny, followed by representatives of the sixty districts of Paris, each also carrying a suitable emblem. When the vainqueurs de la Bastille (those involved in the storming of the prison) marched into the arena they were greeted by a roar from the throng as was Marquis de Lafayette, commander in chief of the National Guard, each unit of which had sent two men out of every hundred.

At around half an hour past midday, King Louis XVI arrived with his wife and were escorted to their tent. Once the king was settled, the members of the National Assembly, all dressed in black, approached the altar took a civic oath, each member being permitted to chose their own wording. For the President of the National Assembly it took the form:

I swear forever to be faithful to the Nation, to the Law and to the King, to maintain with all my powers the Constitution as decreed by the National Assembly and accepted by the King.
Louis then approached the alter and proclaimed:
I, King of the French, swear to the nation to use the power given to me by the constitutional law of the State, to maintain the Constitution as decided by the National Assembly and accepted by myself, and to enforce the execution of the laws.

A message of unity of king and nation witnessed by not only the French people, but also guest dignitaries from abroad.

The storming of the Bastille was also marked with official ceremonies in other towns and cities across the nation, which also saw many unofficial celebrations and feasts that lasted for four days. Nevertheless, in spite of the coming together of monarch and people in public display the French Revolution was far from completed and the harmony was soon to evaporate.

Related posts
Meeting of the French Estates-General: 5th May 1789
The Tennis Court Oath: 20th July 1789
Feudalism abolished in France: 4th August 1789
Parisian women bring Louis XVI back to Paris: 6th October 1789
France reorganised into 83 départements: 4th March 1790
Guillotine used for first time: 25th April 1792
September Massacres begin: 2nd September 1792
Louis XVI executed: 21st January 1793

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