was the years of the Enlightenment and Paris was the centre of a new era of
thinking. The age of Enlightenment brought a sense of new hope as people’s method
of thinking was challenged. Society began a slow transition that involved a
change of power and significant reforms to the government. It was during this
movement when France underwent several changes to both the nations society,
government, laws and classes. The King, Louis XVI, was an indecisive and easily
manipulated individual who lacked the structure and control needed to rule
France efficiently. Prior to his reign, previous monarchies made decisions that
harshly effected the country that resulted in a savage revolution that lasted
for many years.
meeting of the Estates-General was called by Louis XVI to discuss the manner of
how the classes were being taxed. This meeting was initiated by the financial
minister Jacques Necker, who requested the king to officially hold a meeting.
The meeting was held on May 4th, 1789 to discuss France’s financial
crisis, initiated by several preceding, long-term factors.
Years prior France had been heavily involved in the
American Revolution; giving resources and money to the revolution that impacted
them very little. The American Revolution had begun a few years prior, in 1786.
Although the beginning of the French Revolution is often disputed, it is most
estimated that the revolution began in May of 1789; soon after the initial
meeting of the Estates-General. At the same time France was assisting the
United States in their revolution, France experienced a harsh reality within
its own country. Several harvests had failed due to problematic weather and due
to this, food prices increased dramatically. France’s population was rapidly
increasing, requiring more resources to provide for the increasing population.
This increase in population combined with a scarcity in available resources,
caused France to become unstable before reaching the financial crisis that
tipped the balance and resulted in years of revolution.
Absolute monarchy failed under the reign of Louis XVI
causing changes to the nobility, the commoners and the church. The nobles
objected to the centralization of the state claiming that constitution of
France was based on an ancient constitution that encompassed custom and
tradition. Nobles argued the king was unable to abruptly change the country’s
First and second estates became traditional bodies known
as parlements, which grew out of the idea from Medieval courts. These
parlements were bypassed by the governments leading to movement in the upper
class. Changes began in the church and French society as church officials
argued with the nobility, leaving French society less mobile. Movement occurred
when civil servants were selected from the third estate and were often rewarded
with tithes to nobility and higher classes. At this time, Louis XVI was
battling the nobility and the church over his power in the government and how authority
would impact French society, specifically the commoners and middle-class of the
third estate. The issue with the manner in how French society was operating was
individuals in the third estate were unable to move upward in the social
The first and second
estate were asking for constitutional government, freedom of speech and freedom
of press. Many individuals were willing to give up tax privileges as their main
priority was to end tax exemptions for the nobles. The middle class were asking
for a new constitution, which held the ideas of the Enlightenment about freedom
and social equality. The nobility wanted the Estates-General to meet as it
always had in the past, meaning each estate would sit separately and vote by
estate, not by individual. The third estate wanted the representatives of the
Estates-General to meet together to increase influence of their party. The
concern of the battling estates in the Estates General was the old concept of
government compared to the new ideas of the Enlightenment.
Abbe Emmanuel Joseph
Sieyes (1748-1836) was a priest of bourgeois; the middle class. He made radical
reforms including attacking the privileges of the nobility. Abbe Sieyes thought
of and drafted, “What is the Third-Estate,’ which was a political pamphlet
written in 1789, just before the French Revolution. Included in this political
pamphlet were three questions and answers regarding the third-state.
What is the third
What has it
been in the political order up to the present……. Nothing.
What does it
demand…… To become something…
The third estate consisted
of majority male members of the bourgeoisie, including doctors, lawyers and few
government officials; very few members were peasants or farmers. The importance
of who was included in the third estate was critical to how the third estate
was treated by the first estate, the second estate and the nobility. The third
estate was represented by literate, well-informed and politically aware people
who shared views on France’s constitutional government and overall society. The
third estate argued that they embodied the French people and deserved an equal
share of influence and power in national decisions. They demanded equality and
share of political power as well as full representation and a monarchy limited
by a constitution.
The transition from the Estates-general to the National Assembly
was an admission that traditional absolutism had failed.
the meeting on May the fourth, Louis XVI made the abrasive decision to exclude
the commoners out of the meeting. His intention was to eliminate their ideas
and concerns from being a hot topic of discussion. This action instead, caused
a revolt in the third party, the commoners, who decided to meet elsewhere. The
third estate met on a tennis court establishing the tennis court act. Louis’
XVI decision to prevent the commoners from congregating with the other estates
caused a transition in France. The commoners met despite being excluded by
Louis XVI. This action resulted in the transition from Royalists to Moderates
in France. As more power became prominent by the Moderates, Louis XVI’s
authority was limited.
National Assembly wanted to abolish feudalism and restore structure in France’s
political economy. Louis XVI feared that as France made changes to its economy,
France would leave the traditional system behind and become too advanced for
what it could be.
In regards to the law,
all French citizens were equal. To benefit all classes fairly a new judicial
system of taxation was established. In 1791 the ‘Le Chapelier Law’ abolished
the guilds, which controlled entry into fields of work, giving French people
the right to pursue any trade they wished. French society was becoming more
fair and equal among all people in all classes. People had more opportunities
to work and earn money with less restrictions. The ideals of the Enlightenment
were finally unraveling and proving to be true, all because of the National
importance of the National Assembly to the French Revolution was it proved to
be a turning point in the power distribution of all classes. The third estate
fought for equal power and influence and was rewarded with the recognition of
the National Assembly. The National Assembly was to restore order to France
with a written constitution. The first act was to fully abolish all pieces of
feudalism, freeing peasants of all seigneurial obligations. Peasants became
free people and many privileges of the nobility were ended. The most important
document of the Revolution was The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the
Citizen. This document was constructed after the National Assembly was recognised
on August 26, 1789. This document has great importance as the French Revolution
served as a model to the rest of Europe, this declaration provided just as
The National Assembly wanted to
abolish feudalism and restore structure in France’s political economy. If the
National Assembly was not recognised than several events of the French
Revolution would cease to exist. As a turning point in Frances revolutionary
history, The National Assembly was the building blocks of the end of the Revolution.
The National Assembly was more than one piece of the French Revolution, it was
more like the beginning of a chain of events that lead to the entirety of the
Revolution. Whether or not the revolution was a success or failure, the end
results were dependent on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen,
the radical reforms of Abbe Sieyès and the recognition of the third estate as
the national assembly and the reforms that followed.
first and second estate were asking for a constitutional government, the freedom of speech and
freedom of press. The middle class were asking for a new constitution, which
held the ideas of the Enlightenment about freedom and social equality. The
third estate fought for equal power and influence over political
decisions. Overall French society was looking for reforms in the constitution,
wanted to limit power of the nobility and most importantly limit the sole
authority of Louis XVI. If the National Assembly was not formally recognised,
the estates would not have been able to agree on terms that were considered and
formalized in the constitution of 1791. More importantly, there would not have
been a new constitution of France if the National Assembly was not formalized.
The third estate was successfully recognised as the
National Assembly. This would not have been possible if the third estate did
not fight for influence in France’s political future. As the third-estate
embodied the French people, they felt like their estate held equal power to
those of the nobility and others upper class estates. Although they felt like
they were equals, they had to put in extra effort to be formally recognised as
Majesty, Louis XVI,
It has come to our attention that all individuals of
the third- estate are set aside when matters of great importance are discussed.
You give your undivided attention to the demands and request of the nobility,
declaring that they will better change the society of France. The third-estate
embodies the people of France, our needs will not go unmet as you abuse your
power exclude your influence from your considerations in the nation of France.
This is our home country as much as it yours and we
write you in great disgust with your lack of equality with all your people. As
much as the people adored you, your tyranny will not go ignored; you must take
action now. This revolution will unite all peoples and bring the commoners and middle-class
people to the top of France where we will fight you and your authority until we
get at least some of what we deserve; if not all.
of the third estate
If Abbe Sieyès did not spread his political pamphlet
regarding the third estate than French society would not have been aware of the
great importance the third estate held. People’s awareness of the third estate
was elevated when Sieyès distributed his pamphlets, increasing people’s
awareness of the third estate and also made public knowledge of what average
people in society were capable of and that all French citizens had the equal
right to share in their countries political decisions.
Directly, the National Assembly did not make the
financial crisis any better, but allowed for reforms to take place that would
have eventually helped the financial crisis. The storming of Bastille happened
after riots ripped through Paris and at this moment, the king realized that
changes needed to occur in France. It was only after the storming of Bastille
that Louis XVI recognised the National Assembly.
age of the Enlightenment brought a sense of new hope to the people of France.
With such significant changes happening…
the King never recognised the National Assembly, the French Revolution would
have been more terrorizing than it actually was. The King was an icon who
delivered power and authority and acted as the leader of a country who was
slipping through societal changes. As history retells, Louis XVI, king of
France during the revolution was not known as a man of great intelligence,
skill or ability. As a leader he was indecisive, discontinuous and easily
manipulated, although well-liked by many. One decision that he made as king,
significantly impacted history; recognising the National Assembly. Without the
structure and reforms of the National Assembly, the country would have endured
a much rougher and more terrifying revolution than what history retells. The
National Assembly thrived in providing structure to Frances society, showed
equality to the classes and made steps in the county’s political economy that
was a model for other countries at the time.