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Bastiat, the 1830 Revolution, and the Spilling of Wine not Blood (1830)

The young Frédéric Bastiat helped tip the balance in the garrison of the city of Bayonne during the 1830 Revolution. With a combination of his wit and charm, copious servings of the local red wine, and the singing of political songs by the liberal poet Béranger, he was able to persuade the officers of the garrison to support Louis Philippe and the constitutional monarchists:

The 5th (August) at midnight

I was expecting blood but it was only wine that was spilt. The citadel has displayed the tricolor flag. The military containment of the Midi and Toulouse has decided that of Bayonne; the regiments down there have displayed the flag. The traitor J—— thus saw that the plan had failed, especially as the troops were defecting on all sides; he then decided to hand over the orders he had had in his pocket for three days. Thus, it is all over. I plan to leave immediately. I will embrace you tomorrow.

This evening we fraternized with the garrison officers. Punch, wine, liqueurs, and above all, Béranger contributed largely to the festivities. Perfect cordiality reigned in this truly patriotic gathering. The officers were warmer than we were, in the same way as horses which have escaped are more joyful than those that are free.

  1. Letter to Félix Coudroy, Bayonne 5 August 1830

    Other people had had the same idea as I, and by dint of shouting and repetition it became general. But what could we do when we were unable to deliberate and agree, nor make ourselves heard? I withdrew to reflect and conceived several projects.

    The first, which was already that of the entire population of Bayonne, was to display the flag and endeavor, through this movement, to win over the garrison of the chateau and the citadel. This was done yesterday at two o’clock in the afternoon, but by old people who did not attach the same significance to it as Soustra, I, and a lot of others, with the result that this coup failed.

    I then took my papers of authorization to go to the army encampment to look for General Lamarque. I was relying on his reputation, his rank, his character as a deputy and his eloquence to win over the two colonels and, if need be, on his vigor to hold them up for two hours and present himself at the citadel in full military dress, followed by the National Guard with the flag at their head. I was on the point of mounting my horse when I received word that the general had left for Paris, and this caused the project, which was undoubtedly the surest and least dangerous, to fail…

    The citadel must be in our hands this evening or civil war will break out. We will act with vigor if necessary, but I, who am carried along by enthusiasm without being blind to the facts, can see that it will be impossible to succeed if the garrison, which is said to be imbued with a good spirit, does not abandon the government. We will perhaps have a few wins but no success. But we should not become discouraged for all that, as we must do everything to avoid civil war. I am resolved to leave straight away after the action, if it fails, to try to raise the Chalosse. I will suggest to others that they do likewise in the Landes, the Béarn, and the Basque country; and through famine, wiles, or force we will win over the garrison.

    I will keep the paper remaining to me to let you know how this ends.

    The 5th at midnight

    I was expecting blood but it was only wine that was spilt. The citadel has displayed the tricolor flag. The military containment of the Midi and Toulouse has decided that of Bayonne; the regiments down there have displayed the flag. The traitor J—— thus saw that the plan had failed, especially as the troops were defecting on all sides; he then decided to hand over the orders he had had in his pocket for three days. Thus, it is all over. I plan to leave immediately. I will embrace you tomorrow.

    This evening we fraternized with the garrison officers. Punch, wine, liqueurs, and above all, Béranger contributed largely to the festivities. Perfect cordiality reigned in this truly patriotic gathering. The officers were warmer than we were, in the same way as horses which have escaped are more joyful than those that are free.

About this Quotation:

Bastiat participated directly in two revolutions during his lifetime: the first one when he was 29 during the three “Glorious Days” in July 1830 which overthrew the repressive monarchy of Charles X and installed Louis Philippe as a constitutional monarch, and the second in February 1848 when the July Monarchy was in turn overthrown and the Second Republic founded. This letter to his friend Félix describes the role Bastiat had in winning over the officers of the garrison in the town of Bayonne in south west France who were torn between their oath to the old king and their support for the political principles promised by the new régime. At some risk to his own life if the revolution had failed, Bastiat persuaded the officers to throw their weight behind the revolution after an evening of drinking and singing political songs. As he wittily notes, “I was expecting blood but it was only wine that was spilt.” It is interesting to note also that they were singing the songs of the liberal poet Pierre Béranger who had spent two periods in prison during the 1820s for opposing the régime. He wrote several volumes of best-selling poems and songs which criticised and made fun of the repressive policies of the restored Bourbon monarchy and the Church. Bastiat was able to persuade Béranger to join his Free Trade Society in 1846 and sat with him in the Chamber to which they were both elected in April 1848.

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