The absolute monarchy that had been ruling France for a long period of time would finally end with raised voices demanding a new France, a nation free of oppression and inequality in which everyone had his own place to live decently and freely. The trends of the Enlightenment would remain strong especially in the well-off middle class intellectuals that saw themovement’s philosophical ideas as principles that could be used to amend the political and economic crisis. In addition, the lower class cry of hunger for both justice and equality triggered a number of events that would challenge the government of Louis XVI. The social and economic injustice, and the poverty and misery caused by a regime would lead up to one of the biggest and most influentialrevolutions in Europe.
France’s great deficit due to previous wars, the sudden rise in the cost of living, and Louis XVI’s failed attempts to reform the economic system aggravated the country’s financial situation in immeasurable ways. This crisis was crushing more than 90% of the French population who were trying to survive the poor harvests, while in the Palace of Versailles the royal family andmany nobles were living extravagantly. When Louis XVI convoked the representatives of the three Estates to look for solutions to the country’s crisis, people from the Third Estate knew that this was their opportunity to raise their voices and stand for their rights. Among the grievances of the Third Estate were primarily equality for all citizens, establishment of their rights, and reforms in thecourt and financial system. The Third Estate called for equal tax rates to all citizens, and the cutoff of certain taxes, such as the salt and hides taxes. They demanded to be treated fairly before the law, and to allow them the right to own property, hunt, and work their land. They also requested the end of the sale of offices and a more rigid examination for court candidates. Finally, they askedto stop recruiting people by force and rather form the militia with volunteers (98-100).
The reluctance of the King and some members of the nobility to accept a new form of voting procedure caused the Third State to leave the talks and gather in a tennis court, where it declared itself the National Assembly. The Third Estate, some members of the clergy, and nobles who were also against theabsolute regime made the vow to not separate until they had written a constitution in name of the French people. Emmanuel Sieyes, a clergyman who was also in the Tennis Court, was a prominent figure among the people from the Third Estate. The influence that the ideas of the Enlightenment had on the course of the French Revolution was richly carried by Sieyes’ writings against the nobility. He believedthat “the privileged order” was oppressing the very essence and stability of France, the Third Estate:
What is the Third Estate? Everything
What has it been until now in the political order? Nothing
What does it want to be? Something…. (Sieyes 100)
According to Sieyes, “all the arduous tasks in the service were performed by the Third Estate.” (101). Itcomprised 97% of the population. The people from the Third Estate were the industrial toilers, merchants, peasants, and the specialized workers. Thus, they were the ones who sustained the French economy. However, Sieyes compares them with a “strong and robust man with one arm still in chains” (101). Their rights had been denied by a system with officers that were more concerned about satisfyingtheir own needs, thus leaving the rest of the population to its own luck. The privileged order, according to Sieyes, was a burden for the nation. They did not do any good for the people, nor did they let them be a free nation. Instead, “the people” were an “all” that was “fettered and oppressed” (101). They were a “nothing” with all the qualities of an “everything”.
The Third State could not...