The Abbé Sieyès (born Emmanuel-Joseph
Sieyès at Fréjus on the mediterranean coast in
1748) was educated for the church at the Sorbonne where he
interested himself in philosophy as well as theology. He was
ordained as a priest and was in time appointed to prominent
positions in the Diocese of Chartres.
In the later 1780's there was a dire financial crisis in the
Kingdom of France and the King conceded in principle to allow the
convening of an Estates General at which he would receive
submissions from the three Estates of French society (i.e. the
Aristocracy, the Clerics and the commoner Third Estate) as to how
the crisis should be addressed.
Prior to the actual calling together of the Estates General a
prominent Royal minister named Necker asked for opinions as to
its Constitution. It was in response to this that the
Abbé Sieyès penned his pamphlet Qu'est-ce que le
tiers état? ( What is the third estate? ). This pamphlet,
published in early 1789, attacked noble and clerical privileges
and was hugely popular throughout France amongst the many persons
who hoped for reform.
Abbé Sieyès' pamphlet begins:-
The plan of this book is fairly simple. We must ask ourselves
1. What is the Third State? Everything.
2. What has it been until now in the political order?
3. What does it want to be? Something....
The Third Estate embraces then all that which belongs to the
nation; and all that which is not the Third Estate, cannot be
regarded as being of the nation.
What is the Third Estate?
It is everything.
Abbé Sieyès was elected as one of the Third
Estate deputies from Paris to the Estates General of 1789.
He advocated the abandonment of the traditional functioning of
the three Estates as seperate blocs and the formation of a single
chamber National Assembly. He participated in the writing of the
Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen and the constitution
He contributed to the acceptance of a distinction between
active and passive citizens, which restricted the vote to men of
property. As a member of the Convention (September 1792-September
1795) he voted for the execution of King Louis XVI. During these
times there was something of a Cult of Reason during which
Sieyès abjured his faith.
His voice was not particularly prominent in affairs during the
Reign of Terror, a fact which possibly helped him survive these
difficult times. After the overthrow of Maximilien Robespierre on
27th November 1794, Sieyès again became active in the
In 1795 Sieyès was entrusted with diplomatic duties in
the Hague. He disagreed with several key aspects of the
Constitution of 1795 that was to operate under the Directory and
consequently declined an opportunity to serve as a Director. He
was involved in a diplomatic mission to Prussia (1798) and
elected as a Director in May 1799.
There had, in recent times, been a number of more or less
successful coup d'état. In September 1797 three Directors
ousted two others who were thought to be in favour of a
restoration of the monarchy and an associated negotiated peace.
In May 1798 elections returned a large number of radical Jacobin
deputies and the then Directors decided to ignore the election
results. In May 1799 the relatively radical leanings of the
French legislature led to the forced resignation of three
Directors. Sieyès was opposed to a return to power by
those of radical or Jacobin leanings and looked for a way in
which such radicalism could be contained. He subsequently
intrigued, with a General Joubert with the aim of aligning
military power against radicalism. Joubert's death in battle
caused Sieyès to look to a prominent and popular young
General of Corsican origin named Napoleon Bonaparte as an
Sieyès hoped that a Constitution of his own devising
would be accepted after the intrigues he had entered into with
Bonaparte had achieved a successful coup d'état. Such
success was narrowly achieved against Jacobin and radical
opposition on 9th November 1799 (18th Brumaire 1799 by the French
revolutionary calendar). Sieyès became, with Bonaparte and
Roger Ducos, one of the three Consuls who were to exercise powers
pending the framing of a new Constitution.
It was in these circumstances that Napoleon Bonaparte, as
First Consul, emerged as the most prominent of three Consuls (the
other two were Cambacérès and Lebrun) in a system
of government where elected representatives had limited powers in
relation to the more decisive powers exercised by the
On August 2nd 1802 the French Senate recognised Napoleon
Bonaparte as Consul for Life and a new Constitution adopted two
days later accepted that Napoleon had the power to nominate the
successor to this position. In May 1804 Napoleon was accepted as
the hereditary Emperor of the French Republic.
Sieyès became a senator under the Napoleonic Empire and
in this role defended Bonaparte's suppression of the more radical
Jacobin revolutionary tendency. After the restoration of the
Bourbon monarchy Sieyès would have been politically
unwelcome in France and lived in exile (1816-30) in
A change of monarch in France in July 1830 with the accession
of the relatively liberal Louis Phillipe meant that it was less
imprudent for Sieyès to return home and it was in Paris
that he spent his last days in 1836.
Popular European History pages
The preparation of these pages was influenced to some degree by a particular "Philosophy
of History" as suggested by this quote from the famous Essay "History" by Ralph Waldo Emerson:-
There is one mind common to all individual men...
Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is
illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by
nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest,
the human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every
faculty, every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in
appropriate events. But the thought is always prior to the fact;
all the facts of history preexist in the mind as laws. Each law
in turn is made by circumstances predominant, and the limits of
nature give power to but one at a time. A man is the whole
encyclopaedia of facts. The creation of a thousand forests is in
one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie
folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp,
kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application
of his manifold spirit to the manifold world.
- 1 The European Revolution of 1848 begins
- A broad outline of the background to the onset of the turmoils and a consideration of some of the early events.
- 2 The French Revolution of 1848
- A particular focus on France - as the influential Austrian minister Prince Metternich, who sought to encourage the re-establishment of "Order" in the wake of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic turmoils of 1789-1815, said:-"When France sneezes Europe catches a cold".
- 3 The Revolution of 1848 in the German Lands and central Europe
- "Germany" had a movement for a single parliament in 1848 and many central European would-be "nations" attempted
to assert a distinct existence separate from the dynastic sovereignties they had been living under.
- 4 The "Italian" Revolution of 1848
- A "liberal" Papacy after 1846 helps allow the embers of an "Italian" national aspiration to rekindle across the Italian Peninsula.
- 5 The Monarchs recover power 1848-1849
- Some instances of social and political extremism allow previously pro-reform conservative elements to support
the return of traditional authority. Louis Napoleon, (who later became the Emperor Napoleon III), attains to power
in France offering social stability at home but ultimately follows policies productive of dramatic change in the wider European
structure of states and their sovereignty.