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History: Three Estates in France

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There were three estates that made up the population of France. The First Estate was made up of the Clergy, the Second of Nobility, and the Third of Commoners. Of these estates, it was the Third that constituted the majority of the population. The commoners of the Third Estate included the bourgeoisie (middle class), the peasants (about 80 percent of the total population of France), and the working poor, who were surprisingly quite influential. It is evident in the way that the population was separated that the monarchy had based its society on wealth and education, but the Third estate was not happy with this setup.

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On the eve of the French Revolution, there were hundreds of grievances among the Third Estate. King Louis XVI was bombarded by a list of these grievances, or Cahier de Doleances. All grievances, no matter how absurd some may have seemed, had to be dealt with if the Monarch wanted to prevent the revolution. While Third Estate consisted mostly of peasants and merchants, it was the bourgeoisie that are credited with getting the grievances of the estate recognized.

The bourgeoisie consisted of many wealthy and educated people.

Many were lawyers or bankers, and landowners. At this point in history peasants were free, but lived in poverty and had to obey the remaining laws, such as state labor, and payment to the lords, but most of the peasants had owned their own land. The urban or working poor consisted of shopkeepers, and skilled laborers. The working poor were ofter referred to as sans culottes, without pants, or breeches. Some members of the bourgeoisie were allied with the sans culottes, and helped to get their voices heard.

Though there were many grievances, the Third Estate had some very specific problems they wanted fixed. They wanted to eliminate noble and clerical privilege, they wanted protection from the nobility, and they wanted their political and civil right to be put into consideration. When they approached the monarch with their grievances, Louis XVI summoned an Estates General to meet at Versailles in may and June of 1789. The Estates were to pick representatives to attend this meeting. The Third Estate had picked members from the bourgeoisie to represent them.

The monarch did recognize that the Third Estate was significantly larger than the other two, so he granted them with larger representation, but when it was time to vote, all three estates had equal votes. Being that the First and Second Estates consisted of the Clergy and the Nobility, having equal votes made it impossible for the Third Estate to make any gain politically or economically. Whenever the Third Estate made an attempt to pass a law that did not directly benefit the upper First or Second Estates, it was voted against. The bourgeoisie wanted to be recognized by King Louis XVI the same way the nobility was.

Through this grievance they had gone to Louis XVI to seek justice, and were angered when he made them wait for hours while he was checking the credentials of the other Estates. After their aide in the Seven Year War, France faced an economic downfall. To make up for the money they had lost Louis XVI placed a ridiculous tax on the population of France. Because the Clergy was the Catholic Church, they were exempt from all forms of taxation, and the nobles, being noble, were also exempt from taxation, leaving all of the tax on the back of the Third Estate. They resented the other two estates because of the advantage they had over them.

The bourgeoisie, being educated, believed in equality, before the law, and for opportunity. The peasants, already being poor, were sent into a further downfall because of this tax. In the 1780s there was a series of bad harvest, so there was less food to go along with the instability of the economy. Because of this tax and the payments the peasants had to give to the lords, most of them were struggling, and because of a bad harvest year, it was difficult for everyone to find food, but especially the people of the Third Estate, who were burdened with numerous taxes.

This had the Estate on the edge, and many peasants had gone out and attacked the property of the nobles. One of the final grievances that was addressed just before the revolution, was when the Third Estate had gone to their meeting chamber only to find that the doors had been locked to shut them out. In a rage they had called together the National Assembly and had their meeting at a tennis court nearby. This is where the Tennis Court Oath was signed, in June of 1789, stating that they would not give in until a new constitution had been amended.

It wasn’t until after this oath that they received results for their grievances. The National Assembly also enacted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen two months later, in August, in hopes of being heard, and being considered equal to the other Estates. Because of the Tennis Court Oath, Louis XVI granted that the Estates General combine as a one body legislature. By doing this, the Third Estate finally had a voice in politics. Under the national Assembly, a new constitution was written which levied equal taxes under Estate and Class, and universal mall suffarage.

The Third Estate had attempted to address their grievances to Louis XVI numerous times, when he had paid no attention, and even tried to kick them out of the meetings, they had no choice but to rebel, or they would have lived in a county ruled by the Wealthy and Educated, that were constantly keeping the Third Estate on the lower end of the totem pole. They wanted to be seen as equals to the clergy and the nobility, to be protected from them and the political radicalism of the monarchy. If not for the Tennis Court Oath, they would have never gained results for their grievances.

Cite this History: Three Estates in France

History: Three Estates in France. (2017, Mar 12). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/history-three-estates-in-france/

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