July 14, 2014
The French Revolution began this day two hundred twenty-five years ago, July 14, 1789. Then, a mob in Paris stormed the grim royal fortress of the Bastille. When one of King Louis XVI’s counselors came to him at Versailles with the news of the bloody attack on this prison, the king asked: “Is it a revolt?” His aide answered: “No, Sire, it is a revolution.”
I had occasion to reflect on the French Revolution and on our own during a walking tour with three French students in my hometown of Annapolis this past weekend. We had started at the Alumni House of the Naval Academy Alumni Association. It turned out that this particular building had hosted a reception in 1824 for General Lafayette. The aged Marquis was on an extensive tour of the U.S. then, one where he was met with wild enthusiasm in all the 26 states he visited. This French nobleman was a hero of our American Revolution. In 1824, he was the last surviving general of our Continental Army (it helps when you get your commission at age 21!) We then proceeded to the grounds of St. John’s College, there we visited the Monument to the French Soldiers and Sailors buried there. They died fighting for our freedom.
There are many French connections to Annapolis. When Congress met in Annapolis in 1783-84, the Treaty of Paris was presented to our elected representatives for ratification. This treaty officially recognized American Independence and concluded our own Revolution. It was from the Old State House that Congress in 1784 dispatched Thomas Jefferson as our second minister to France. Upon arrival there, young Jefferson was asked if he had come to replace Benjamin Franklin. “I am Dr. Franklin’s successor,” Mr. Jefferson replied with becoming modesty, “no one can replace him.” Jefferson remained in Paris until 1789, leaving shortly after the Storming of the Bastille. He would long defend the French Revolution and his pro-French tilt would affect the destiny of our own republic. It would be Jefferson who, as president in 1803, would double the size of the U.S by his Louisiana Purchase—from France.
Taking my friends around the Naval Academy, they instantly recognized the French architecture. Ernest Flagg had been educated at France’s Beaux Arts school, and the USNA Chapel is a replica of France’s famous Hotel des Invalides. Below the Chapel is the Crypt of John Paul Jones. My guests also saw the obvious link to the Tomb of Napoleon, beneath the Invalides.
The Continental Navy’s Captain Jones, our first naval hero, sailed the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard into battle against Britain’s HMS Serapis. As his ship’s name (“Poor Richard”) indicates, Jones’s warship was a gift of the French. John Paul Jones died in France in 1792 and his body lay in a Paris cemetery for a century before being exhumed and returned to the U.S. for burial here. As a tribute, the entire French navy escorted John Paul Jones’s remains across the Atlantic in 1904.
Don’t forget the bone ships! [You can see a video here at minute 2:14.] The bone ships are an amazing collection at the USNA Museum. There, in subdued lighting, you can see highly detailed models of British and American fighting ships, all fashioned from beef bones, mutton bones, and even an occasional human bone. These precious works of art are two hundred years old and were crafted by French prisoners of war. They had been captured by the British during the wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, taken prisoner over a period between 1793 and 1815. These ship models almost seem to have been crafted of ivory they are so beautiful. And they speak volumes to us today about the souls of these tough French sailors who wanted to leave a legacy. We don’t know their names but we see the work of their hands and it tells us about their hearts.
As I guided my French friends around my town, pointing out the French connections to them, they were teaching me about the latest developments in France. They spoke of their immigration issues, their clashes on church and state matters, and, of course, of their fight to defend true marriage.
The French have been turning out hundreds of thousands of protesters in the Manif pour Tous (The Manifestation—we would say demonstration—for all.) The Manif grassroots supporters have come to Paris repeatedly, but they have even greater strength in the provinces. That great part of France, that enduring part of France, outside of Paris, is sometimes called la France profonde, the deeper France. Here, the resistance to the Socialist schemes of President Francois Hollande is rising.
One of my student visitors tells of the Vendee, his home region. During the French Revolution, that portion of Northwestern France rebelled against the bloody excesses of the Jacobins and their supporters in the Paris mobs. From 1793-1799 the revolutionary republican government put down their peasants’ revolt with extreme violence, with an estimated 200,000 victims. Documented stories of mass guillotining and drownings—even of children—shock us to this day.
The French are teaching us that abolishing marriage is only a part of the Left’s agenda. They speak of Le theorie du genre (Gender Theory) that will be incorporated into all school curricula.
We Americans should especially heed this danger. If we think counterfeit marriages can be limited to adults, limited to the few who would claim those privileges, we should think again.
Radicals are demanding the end of marriage. They say so on their website [www.beyondmarriage.org.] We know from past experience they will soon be demanding the right to teach all children they can marry persons of the same sex. After this will come, inevitably, the indoctrination of children into the false idea they can change their sex.
One reason the radicals want Common Core and are so intent on nationalizing all school curricula is so they can conscript all pre-school children into what President Obama calls “universal pre-K.” This is so he can bring about that “fundamental transformation of this country” that he promised in his 2008 campaign.
The French Revolution began this day in 1789 with great hopes:
“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven.” So wrote the English
poet William Wordsworth. Soon, however, as the radicals leading the French Revolution began to crush religious freedom, to stamp out local governments, and sever the connections between generations, many Frenchmen, Englishmen, and even Americans had second thoughts. It was then that people said the Revolution was consuming its young. It’s time for us to remember the famous words of John Paul Jones: “I have not yet begun to fight!”