“Nothing can be believed
but what one sees, or has
from an eye witness.”
—Thomas Jefferson, July 19, 1789
Appointed U.S. Minister to France in 1785, Thomas Jefferson was the American Government’s man on the ground in Paris in July 1789 when the French people rose up against their rulers and the first blood was shed in the opening days of the French Revolution. Author of the Declaration of Independence whose immortal words had come to define the spirit of the Revolution in America, Jefferson followed closely and with great interest the events of the unfolding Revolution in France.
In 1789, when King Louis XVI summoned the States General, an assembly of nobles, clergy, and citizens that had not convened since 1614, to address a huge financial crisis, Jefferson commuted daily from his lavish house on the outskirts of the city to Versailles to observe the meetings being held there. And in July, when the streets of Paris descended into lawlessness, chaos, and violence, Jefferson and his secretary, William Short, roamed the streets to learn firsthand what was happening.
The storming of the Bastille, the public beheading of its director, a dramatic appearance of the King—these monumental events, clouded by the chaos and uncertainty of the moment—are all told in the calm, clear voice of America’s Thomas Jefferson.