July 14, 1789: A Paris mob storms the Bastille.
The storming of the Bastille, a fortress-prison in Paris, was one of the key events and iconic moments of the early years of the French Revolution. When King Louis XVI ascended the throne of France in 1774, the government was deeply in debt as a result of colonial wars, and this debt worsened as France threw its support - and money - behind the American rebels in their war against the British crown. Famine was widespread, as was a general malaise, leading to the summoning of the Estates General to discuss the status of the nation. Disgruntled members of the Third Estate formed the National Assembly in June of 1789 and signed the Tennis Court Oath on June 20. When Jacques Necker, the king’s finance minister with some desire to appease the commoners with reform, was dismissed, mobs in Paris began to riot, believing that the king and royal forces meant to shut down the newly-formed National Constituent Assembly.
They soon directed their anger at the relatively lightly guarded medieval fortress of Bastille, both a symbol of monarchical despotism and power in addition to a storage place for tens of thousands of pounds of gunpowder, which the revolutionaries intended to seize. By the early hours of July 14, a large armed mob had gathered outside the prison and prepared to storm the building. By the early afternoon, the Bastille’s military governor had surrendered the building, arms, and ammunition; he, along with other defenders of the prison, were beaten and killed by the mob, their heads raised above the crowd and paraded through the streets.
Ninety-nine people died during the attack itself. The King, meanwhile, had been away at hunt; when he exclaimed that there had been a revolt upon learning of the fall of the Bastille, he was met with a reply from one member of the Estates-General and a social reformer: “Non, sire, c’est une révolution”. On August 26, 1789, the National Constituent Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.