Monday, January 27, 2014

reflections on a snowy day (an essay about Louisville's history)

221 years ago this week Louis XVI lost his head; below is an essay written by Martina Kunnecke and I thought I would share it:


221 years ago this week (1/21/1793) , the man for whom Louisville is named lost his head to the guillotine--essentially ending the absolute monarchy that had ruled France for a 1000 years. Years before, the VA legislature had named our fair city after Louis XVI-- who had sent troops to aid the young American country to fight the British.

Louisville has a rich historic connection with the French. There were 3 waves of French emigres who led the earliest settlements in Louisville, Shippingport and Portland. The first came as trappers in the late 1600s; and, eventually an outpost called La Belle, the precursor to Louisville was established. (FYI-When Daniel Boone led his trek through KY, he would encounter folks of African descent, who had accompanied the French on those early expeditions and chose to remain behind, making KY their home. )

The second came to participate in the American Revolution--which helped France re-establish itself as a world power, but led--in part-- to the staggering debt that instigated the French Revolution. The French spent roughly 1.5 BILLION livres to fight the British in the Americas. On the eve of Louis' execution, these and other costs associated with aristocratic extravagance & fiscal mismanagement had spiraled to 12 BILLION livres. Though Louis was well-meaning and spoke often of reform- the aristocratic ruling class refused to be taxed and were oblivious to hardships suffered by the merchants, tradesmen and farmers who shouldered the burden. Increasingly,these, along with the "lower class" (the peasantry and the lower wage-earners) were embracing the wild concepts of social equity and liberty for all...put forth by the voices of "enlightenment" (e.g. philosophers Diderot, Voltaire, etc.).  These disparate groups would form a

Fleeing the heavily taxed environment and the social disintegration in play, the 3rd wave of French emigres came to Louisville during the French Revolution. This included the surveyor and ferry company owner Monsieur Aaron Fontaine (Fontaine Ferry Park). Behind them.... the "ancien regime" was dying under its own weight...much blood-shed and chaos...before them-- Louisville, a bustling economy and a prosperous future.

In 1967, Louisville's sister city, Montpelier, sent the statute of Louis that now stands in front of the old court-house on Jefferson Street between 5th and 6th.  It should be noted that Louis' wife, Marie Antoinette, lost her head as well--though months after his execution. And though the sentiment "let them eat cake" is attributed to her, there is no evidence that she actually uttered the words that epitomized the "cluelessness" of her peers to the trials suffered by ordinary people.  
A generation later, philosopher Alphonse Karr would attribute the "cake" comment to Marie Antionette.  He is also the source of the adage,  <<plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose>>----- "The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Reflections on a snowy day......

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