Today is France's national holiday. On the 14th of July, the French remember their republic by commemorating the 1789 storming of a Parisian armory and prison known as the Bastille, an event that eventually led to the collapse of the French monarchy and feudalism.
France is America's oldest ally. It was only through French military intervention, led by the Marquis de Lafayette and Count de Rochambeau, that General George Washington's troops were able to eventually defeat the British.
France made it possible for the growing United States to expand into the lands west of the Mississippi by selling its North American claims to the Jefferson administration — at very reasonable terms — through the Louisiana Purchase.
And Americans, aware of their debt to France, have come to France's aid in such perilous fights as the Battle of the Argonne Forest and the D-Day offensive.
This summer, Americans have been reminded through a popular work of history, "The Greater Journey," by David McCullough, and a popular film, Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," that it is not just military alliances that have brought France and America together. France has also served as a critically important cultural resource to many influential Americans.
McCullough's well-written history documents the importance of travel and study in France to the training and imagination of such notably creative 19th-century Americans as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Fenimore Cooper, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Henry James, Charles Sumner, Samuel Morse, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassat and Isador Duncan.
Allen's film playfully reminds us that influential American artists and writers such as Cole Porter, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein found their spark in the Paris of the 1920s.
And Utahns might remember that in the 1890s, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent five Utah artists to Paris to improve their artistic proficiency. Edwin Evans, John B. Fairbanks, Herman Haag, John Hafen and Lorus Pratt all developed their talents as painters in the academies of Paris. Their skill helped decorate LDS temples and guide future generations of Utah artists.
As McCullough says, "Not all pioneers went west."
Admittedly, the Franco-American relationship has been, at times, a challenging one. But given our shared commitment to democracy and basic rights and our longtime military, economic and cultural ties, we would like to say to our French friends, "Happy Bastille Day." We would encourage readers to break open a baguette, slather it with Camembert and raise a glass of Perrier to toast our oldest and most gallant ally. Vive la France!
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