What is the third estate?

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Background: Abbe Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyes, as an abbot (head of a monastery), was a member of the First Estate. Yet Sieyes was elected deputy (representative) to the Estates General meeting by the Third Estate in 1789. The reason for this was his written attacks on aristocratic privilege. He participated in the writing and editing of the great documents of the early revolution: Tennis Court Oath, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. However, the pamphlet below, entitled “What Is the Third Estate?” was what convinced the Third Estate that he supported their desire for political change in France.


Abbe Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyes, January 1789
1st. What is the third estate? Everything.

2nd. What has it been heretofore in the political order? Nothing.

3rd. What does it demand? To become something therein....


Who, then, would dare to say that the third estate has not within itself all that is necessary to constitute a complete nation? It is the strong and robust man whose one arm remains enchained. If the privileged order were abolished, the nation would not be something less but something more.

Thus, what is the third estate? Everything; but an everything shackled and oppressed. What would it be without the privileged order? Everything; but an everything free and flourishing. Nothing can progress without it; everything would proceed infinitely better without the others.
It is not sufficient to have demonstrated that the privileged classes, far from being useful to the nation, can only enfeeble and injure it; it is necessary, moreover, to prove that the nobility does not belong to the social organization at all; that, indeed, it may be a burden upon the nation, but that it would not know how to constitute a part thereof.
The third estate, then, comprises everything appertaining to the nation; and whatever is not the third estate may not be regarded as being of the nation. What is the third estate? Everything!

1) Re-read the first 3 statements (“1st , 2nd , 3rd “). Identify the problem the Third Estate faces.

2) In the second paragraph, what groups is Sieyes talking about when he says “the privileged order”?

3) Read the last 3 paragraphs. Summarize the argument Sieyes is making about the Third Estate—what is the Third Estate REALLY?

4) Summarize the call to action Sieyes makes. What does he say will have to change, if the Third Estate is to live up to its potential?

5) Consider the date of this pamphlet. Was it before or after the Estates-General meeting? What role did it play in the events of the Estates-General meeting?

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GRAPHIC ORGANIZER: “What Is the Third Estate?”

by Abbe Sieyes
Directions: Use the primary source, “What Is the Third Estate?” to find the parts of the pamphlet. Write them in the boxes below.

What Is the Third Estate?”

by Abbe Sieyes

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MAIN ARGUMENT (Thesis): What point is Abbe Sieyes trying to prove? What does he want to change?
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Supporting Detail (EXAMPLE): Write 1 example he gives to prove his “main argument.” (DIRECT QUOTE)

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Supporting Detail (EXAMPLE): Write 1 example he gives to prove his “main argument.” (DIRECT QUOTE)

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INFER: What effect do you think Abbe Sieyes wanted his pamphlet to have on the French people? What did he expect the Third Estate to do after reading it?

Find a line from Abbe Sieyes’ pamphlet “What Is the Third Estate?” that matches the message of this political cartoon.

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