Almost all of the Abrahamic religions have a huge focus on the idea of peace.  In fact, common greetings in Hebrew (שָׁלוֹם עֲלֵיכֶם‎ — shalom aleichem) and in Arabic (ٱلسَّلَامُ عَلَيْكُمْ‎ — as-salamu alaykum) quite literally mean “peace be upon you.”  In the Anglican Church ceremony celebrating the French Alliance yesterday they opened their proceedings with and English call and response “Peace be with you” followed by “and also with you.”  Then they sang La Marseillaise

Now I know for those of you who never learned French, there is no problem here.  We are here to celebrate the long-standing special relationship between the United States and France and what better way to begin that than with the national anthems of both countries.  But while my French is far from fluent, I am standing there, looking directly at a bust of George Washington whose lack of understanding of French caused him to sign a confession prompting the expansion of the Seven Years War to America and possibly precipitating our rebellion, with the word’s “Peace be with you” still hanging in the air, when these words are sung:

Allons, enfants de la patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé. Contre nous, de la tyrannie, L’étendard sanglant est levé; l’étendard sanglant est levé. Entendez-vous, dans les campagnes Mugir ces féroces soldats? Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras Égorger nos fils, nos compagnes. Aux armes, citoyens! Formez vos bataillons, Marchons, marchons! Qu’un sang impur Abreuve nos sillons. Amour sacré de la Patrie, Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs. Liberté, liberté chérie, Combats avec tes défenseurs; combats avec tes défenseurs. Sous nos drapeaux, que la victoire Accoure à tes mâles accents; Que tes ennemis expirants Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire! Aux armes, citoyens!  Let us go, children of the fatherland, Our day of glory has arrived. Against us the bloody flag of tyranny is raised; the bloody flag is raised. Do you hear in the countryside The roar of those savage soldiers? They come right into our arms To cut the throats of our sons, our comrades. To arms, citizens! Form your battalions, Let us march, let us march! That their impure blood Should water our fields. Sacred love of the fatherland, Guide and support our vengeful arms. Liberty, beloved liberty, Fight with your defenders; fight with your defenders. Under our flags, so that victory Will rush to your manly strains; That your dying enemies Should see your triumph and glory! To arms, citizens!  

Not exactly consistent with the message  “Peace be with you” is it?

Now this is, of course not the national anthem of King Louis XVI. La Marseillaise was composed in one night during the French Revolution in 1792 by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, a captain of the engineers when P.F. Dietrich, the mayor of Strasbourg (where Rouget de Lisle was then quartered), expressed the need for a marching song for the French troops. “La Marseillaise” was Rouget de Lisle’s response to this call. Originally entitled “Chant de guerre de l’armée du Rhin” (“War Song of the Army of the Rhine”), the anthem came to be called “La Marseillaise” because of its popularity with volunteer army units from Marseille. The spirited and majestic song made an intense impression whenever it was sung at Revolutionary public occasions. The Convention accepted it as the French national anthem in a decree passed on July 14, 1795.  La Marseillaise was banned by Napoleon during the empire and by Louis XVIII on the Second Restoration (1815) because of its Revolutionary associations. Authorized after the July Revolution of 1830, it was again banned by Napoleon III and not reinstated until 1879.

But our audience belted it out, smiled, and then greeted each other with a second entreaty of peace.  Hum…

There was a time, not that long ago (I feel old but am not really) when an educated person knew more than one language.  Thomas Jefferson spoke English and French but also read Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Unfortunately, George Washington, never learned French which is why in 1754 when the French overwhelmed his forces at Fort Necessity, he signed a confession to the murder of Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville. 

Jumonville brought Washington a summons to depart lands of western Pennsylvania surrounding Fort Duchane (now Pittsburgh) which was claimed by France.  Most sources place the actual killing of Jumonville on a Lanape Indian chief – Tanacharison – who considered the killing justified under their terms of warfare.  When terms of surrender were offered Washington (his position at Fort Necessity was hopeless), they were written in French, which Washington did not speak, and included a confession that he – Washington—had ordered the murder.  When King Louis XV received news of this incident, he dispatched a large body of troops to Canada and as we know the French and Indian War (aka the Seven Years War) raged on from 1754 to 1763 decimating the British Treasury and prompting Parliament to begin collecting taxes on their American Colonies. 

Language matters!

Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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