The period of time in France prior to the French Revolution was know as the ancien regime, which translates to, “the old way.” This was a time where if you were fortunate enough to be born into an upper class family, you lived very well, but if you were not so lucky, you lived quite miserably. Chances were, however, that you did not belong to this upper class society. Only about three percent of the population made up this class and consisted of nobles and the clergy. The remaining 97% was referred to as the third estate and included middle class merchants and professionals, collectively known as the bourgeoisie, as well as the farmers and peasants.
The third estate essentially was France’s economy at that time. “This complicated tax system was both inefficient and unfair,” (Hanson 34). The upper class enjoyed many privileges such as tax exemptions that the third estate did not have. Therefore, the third estate basically funded the wealth and luxury of the upper class. When the economy slumped, the already struggling peasants were asked to contribute more. It is estimated that peasants “paid direct taxes equal to 50 to 60 percent of his gross harvest. Given that a fifth to a quarter of the harvest had to be saved for seed for the following year, this left very little grain for the family to consume,” (Hanson 34).
Needless to say, with this state of economic instability and unhappiness among the masses, a drastic change (i.e. the Revolution) was inevitable. The works of many writers influenced these changes. Three such authors were Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, and Emanuel-Joseph Sieyes and are known for their respective works, Discourse on the ...
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...ousseau was also very influential, especially during the times after 1789. The first statement in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, reads “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights,” (reader 235). This definitely has Rousseau’s influence.
Sieyes, however, has a bit stronger influence. It is by far the most direct and the most radical of the three works. What is the Third Estate? comes out at the right time and has a very direct impact. It sets the wheels in motion for what is going to occur in 1789 and in the following years. The pamphlet ultimately leads the transition from the estates general to the national assembly, which forms a constitution, which in turn levels the social structure between the aristocracy and the third estate.
Rousseau - Discourse on the origins of inequality
Beaumarchais - Marraige of Figaro
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