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

Frédéric Bastiat

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.

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.