The most famous effort was a pamphlet written by liberal clergy member Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès titled “What Is the Third Estate?” In response to his own question, Sieyès answered, “The Nation.” The pamphlet articulated the pervasive feeling in France that though a small minority might be in control, the country truly belonged to the masses. Sieyès’s pamphlet compelled the Third Estate to action, inciting the masses to take matters into their own hands if the aristocracy failed to give them due respect.

The Third Estate’s Revolt

As the impasse in the Estates-General continued, the Third Estate became more convinced of its entitlement to liberty. Seeing that neither the king nor the other estates would acquiesce to its requests, the Third Estate began to organize within itself and recruit actively from the other estates. On June 17, 1789, bolstered by communitywide support, the Third Estate officially broke away from the Estates-General and proclaimed itself the National Assembly. In so doing, it also granted itself control over taxation. Shortly thereafter, many members of the other estates joined the cause.

Blaming the Aristocracy

Although the reconvening of the Estates-General presented France’s aristocracy and clergy with a perfect opportunity to appease the Third Estate and maintain control, they focused only on maintaining the dominance of their respective estates rather than address the important issues that plagued the country. When the Estates-General convened, the Third Estate wasn’t seeking a revolution—just a bit of liberty and a more equitable tax burden. The entire Revolution might have been avoided had the first two estates simply acquiesced to some of the Third Estate’s moderate proposals. Instead, they fell back on tradition and their posh lifestyles and lit the revolutionary flame.

Popular pages: The French Revolution (1789–1799)