Aspirations for popular political representation
In the seventeen eighties the Kingdom of France experienced a dire financial crisis, and, after several other possible routes to
resolving the situation proved to be non-negotiable, it was decided to convoke a session of Estates-General; the most historically
high-profile forum for interaction between the Crown and the Estates of the Realm.
Liberalism and Consitutionalism
This convening was set to take place at the royal palace complex of Versailles in May, 1789. The Crown had not felt sufficient need to
call such a gathering together of the representatives of the First Estate of Churchmen, the
Second Estate of Noblemen, and the Third Estate of Commoners for more than one hundred and fifty years previously.
The financial crisis, the difficulties surrounding its resolution, and the calling of the Estates-General were widely discussed by
the French public and the Royal authorities found it necessary to tolerate public debate on such issues.
Very many pamphlets and newsletters were in circulation and one by Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès,
a fifty-year-old who held a clerical post as vicar-general in the diocese of Chartres, attracted particular attention.
Sieyès' pamphlet What is the Third Estate? first appeared early in 1789 and voiced the frustrations being felt by the
Third Estate in relation to the degree of influence it was being accorded in the French states' attempting to find a resolution
to its financial difficulties.
Estates-General traditionally interacted with the French Crown as "Orders," with each of the three Estates of the Realm making their
seperate submissions by Order, (Par Ordre), to the king.
In the seventeen eighties the Third Estate constituted more than ninety-five per cent of the population, and collectively paid
a clearly evident majority of the taxation then being raised.
In the lead-up to the meeting of the incoming Estates-General reluctance was being expressed by persons supportive of the voice
of the Third Estate being accorded a hearing, as the Third Estate submissions to the Crown could seem to be counteracted by the
submissions handed-up by each of the historically priviledged Clerical and Noble Estates.
Sieyès' pamphlet supported the view that the three Estates should actually meet collectively, and agree eventual submissions of
their overall positions on issues to the Crown. Such agreement being arrived at by head, (par tête), rather by Order.
Some very brief selections from Sieyès' pamphlet follow:
What is the Third Estate?
The plan of this book is fairly simple. We must ask ourselves three
What is the Third Estate? Everything.
What has it been until now in the political order? Nothing.
What does it want to be? Something.
We are going to see whether the answers are correct...We shall next
examine the measures that have been tried and those that must still
be taken for the Third Estate really to become something.
Chapter 1. The Third Estate Is a Complete Nation
The Third Estate then contains everything that pertains to the
nation while nobody outside the Third Estate can be considered as
part of the nation. What is the Third Estate? Everything.
Chapter 2. What Has the Third Estate Been Until Now? Nothing
Chapter 3. What Does the Third Estate Want to Be?
Third and Last Claim of the Third Estate: That the States-General Vote, Not by Orders, but by Heads
Nobody can deny that in the coming States-General the Chamber
of the Third Estate will be fully competent to convoke the kingdom
in extraordinary representation. Therefore, it is preeminently the duty
of the Third Estate to explain the falsity of France’s constitution to
the citizenry. It is its duty to expostulate that since the States-General
is composed of several orders, it must necessarily be ill-organized
and incapable of fulfilling its national tasks; at the same time it is its
duty to demonstrate the need to provide an extraordinary deputation
with special powers to determine, by clearly defined laws, the
constitutional forms of the legislature.
Until then, the order of the Third Estate will suspend, not of
course its preparatory proceedings, but the exercise of its actual
power; it will take no definitive decisions; it will wait for the nation
to pass judgment in the great contention between the three orders.
Such a course, I admit, is the most straightforward, the most
magnanimous, and, therefore, the best suited to the dignity of the
The Third Estate can therefore view itself in either of two ways.
The first is to regard itself simply as an order; in that case, it agrees
not to shake off completely the prejudices of archaic barbarism; it
recognizes two other orders in the state, without however attributing
to them more influence than is compatible with the nature of things;
and it shows all possible regard for them by consenting to doubt its
own rights until the supreme arbiter has made its decision.
From the second point of view, the Third Estate is the nation. In
this capacity, its representatives constitute the whole National
Assembly and are seized of all its powers. As they alone are the
trustees of the general will, they do not need to consult those who
mandated them about a dispute that does not exist. If they have to
ask for a constitution, it is with one accord; they are always ready to
submit to the laws that the nation may please to give them, but they
do not have to appeal to the nation on any problem arising out of the
plurality of orders. For them, there is only one order, which is the
same as saying that there is none; since for the nation there can be
only the nation.
In the event the Third Estate representatives effectively agreed between themselves to decline to co-operate in the Estates-General
functioning "by Order," and, after
several weeks of deadlock, believing themselves to having been locked out of the Grand Chamber in which all the Estates-General
representatives had been gathering, took a collective Oath to pursue the establishment of Constitutional government in France.
Within days a few clerical representatives showed their support; and a few liberal nobles also gave their support. The Estates-General
was replaced by a would-be "National Assembly" which was to meet collectively and reach agreed positions on issues by head rather than
Such a course of events shows the potential for the bulk of the population of a state, in the western Europe of the later seventeen
hundreds, to prefer the adoption of "national" representation to the continuance of preferential representation of hitherto
relatively priviledged Clerics and Nobles.
King Louis XVIII assumed the throne as King of France after the fall of Napoleon in 1815. He was required by the powers who had defeated
Napoleon, (thus making it possible for monarchy to be restored in France), to award a Constitutional Charter.
He did, however, date the
start of his "reign" from the time of death of his nephew, a son and heir to King Louis XVI, who had died "uncrowned" in revolutionary
captivity almost twenty years previously.
He also replaced the "revolutionary" tricolour, as the flag of the state, with the white emblem of the Bourbon dynastic house.
In 1824 King Louis XVIII was succeeded as King of France by a younger brother who came to the throne as Charles X.
After following policies which seemed to endorse religious conservatism, to cater to the financial compensation of persons who had been
declared to be "enemies of the revolution" during the events after the Revolution of 1789, and policies which seemed prejudicial to the
continuance of constitutional governance in France, the acceptability of Charles X as King of France plummeted.
In July, 1830, three days of serious civil unrest in Paris were followed by the abdication, as King of France, by Charles X and
his succession as King of the French by a member of the most senior cadet branch of the dynastic House of Bourbon, who
ascended to an overtly constitutional throne as King Louis Philippe.
The white emblem of the Bourbons was replaced by the Tricolour as the flag of the kingdom.
There was some civic unrest in Britain in the eighteen twenties and eighteen thirties: to the degree that reform was seen as being
necessary to diminish possibilities of revolution.
A principal reform delivered being the passing, in Parliament in 1832, of "An Act to amend the representation of the people
in England and Wales".
This Act of Parliament, which was considered to only have been passed as a result of public pressure, granted seats in the House of Commons
to large cities that had sprung up during the Industrial Revolution, and removed seats from the so-called "rotten boroughs": those with
very small electorates and usually dominated by a wealthy patron.
Such "rotteness of boroughs" having come about in many cases through depopulation-over-time of previously populated locations.
The Act also increased the electorate in England and Wales from about 400,000 to 650,000, making about one in five adult males
eligible to vote.
In 1818, just after those years in which popular German patriotism had contributed to the downfall of Napoleon, a student named
Heinrich von Gagern wrote to his father about German students:
It is very hard to explain the spirit of the student movement, but I will try even though I can really only describe a few characteristics. ... It speaks to the better sort among the young, the men of heart and spirit who love all that is good, and it gives them nourishment and purpose. For the average student in the past, the university years were a time to enjoy life... Their pleasures, their organizations, and their conversation were all shaped by their being students, and their only obligation to the university was to scrape by and avoid failing the examination—it was only bread-and-butter learning.
There are still many like this. Indeed, they remain the majority overall. But at several universities, another group—in my eyes, a better one—has gained the upper hand and sets the mood. Indeed, I prefer really not to call it a "mood," for it is something really much stronger than that.... Those who share in this spirit have Love of the Fatherland as their guiding principle. Their purpose is to make a better future for the Fatherland, each as best he can; to spread national consciousness (or, to use a much ridiculed and maligned Germanic expression, more "folkish-ness"); and to work for better constitutions.
We want more sense of community among the several states of Germany, greater unity in their policies and in their principles, no separate policies for each state but the closest possible relations with each other; above all, we want Germany to be considered one land and the German people, one people. In the forms of our student life, we show as near as possible how we want to approach this in the real world. We forbid all regional fraternities and live in a German comradeship, one people in spirit... We give ourselves the most free of constitutions, just as we would like Germany to have the freest one possible, insofar as it is suitable for the German people. We want a constitution for the people that fits with the spirit of the times and with the people's own level of enlightenment, rather than with what each prince chooses to give based on his own preferences and private interests. Above all, we want the princes to understand and follow the principle that they exist for the country, and not the country for them.
In 1848 this same Heinrich von Gagern served as President, or Speaker, to a popularly supported "Frankfurt Parliament" which had convened
as an outcome of constitutional-liberal-national enthusiasm in Germanic lands during the so-called "Year of Revolution", 1848.
Also in the dire revolutionary turmoils of 1848 representatives drawn from the Habsburg Empire's numerous Slavic peoples, (which, if
numbered together, actually constituted a majority of the Empire's inhabitants), showed some preparedness to remain loyal to the
House of Habsburg-Lorraine.
It became plain, however, that this support was unlikely to be selfless - as can be appreciated by considering this passage from the
Manifesto to the peoples of Europe issued by the Slavic Congress on the 12th of June, 1848:
… "Taking our stand on the conviction that the mighty current of thought of today demands new political formations and that the state must be reconstructed, if not within new bounds, at least upon new foundations, we have proposed to the Austrian Emperor, under whose constitutional rule the majority of us live, that the imperial State be converted into a federation of nations all enjoying equal rights, whereby regard would be paid not less to the different needs of these nations than to those of the united Monarchy. We see in such a federal union not only our own salvation but also liberty, enlightenment and humanity generally, and we are confident that civilised Europe would readily contribute to the realisation of that union. In any case we are determined to ensure for our nationality in Austria , by all the means available to us, a full recognition of the same rights in the State as the German and Magyar nations already enjoy and in this we rely upon the powerful demand for all genuine rights which wells up warmly in every truly free breast." …
Slavonic and East European Review 26 (1947/1948), p. 309 ff
Thus several of the Slav peoples were willing to accept the continued sovereignty of a powerful ruler, largely in order to better guarantee their security from the actions of potentially encroaching outside powers, whist evidently hoping to pursue their individual emergence as one of several Slav nation-states under a mutually protective “Habsburg” umbrella.
Both the German lands and the Italian Peninsula featured much Dynastic, and other, political and economic plurality and decentralisation
well into the middle of the nineteenth century. Although greater unification for both was on some constitutional-liberal-national
aspirants' agendas during the turmoils of 1848-9 such unification was not achieved at that time.
As the nineteenth century continued, however, Austria lost the friendship of Russia better allowing manoeverings between
"Sardinian-Italian" Cavour, the French Emperor Napoleon III, and "Prussian-German" Bismarck to result in conflicts out of
which "unified" Italy and "unified" Germany emerged and
a Kingdom of Hungary to become a full partner with Imperial Austria in an Austro-Hungarian "Dual Monarchy".
Whilst the manoeverings of Cavour, Napoleon III and Bismarck were often political the outcomes the seemed to offer tended to find support
in popular would-be "Italian liberal national" and popular would-be "German liberal national" circles
… A hundred years ago a man's political
likes and dislikes seldom went beyond the range which was suggested by the
place of his birth or immediate descent. Such birth or descent made him a
member of this or that political community, a subject of this or that
prince, a citizen - perhaps a subject - of this or that commonwealth. The
political community of which he was a member had its traditional alliances
and traditional enmities, and by those alliances and enmities the likes
and dislikes of the members of that community were guided. But those
traditional alliances and enmities were seldom determined by theories
about language or race. The people of this or that place might be
discontented under a foreign government; but, as a rule, they were
discontented only if subjection to that foreign government brought with it
personal oppression or at least political degradation. Regard or disregard
of some purely local privilege or local feeling went for more than the
fact of a government being native or foreign. What we now call the
sentiment of nationality did not go for much; what we call the sentiment
of race went for nothing at all. Only a few men here and there would have
understood the feelings which have led to those two great events of our
own time, the political reunion of the German and Italian nations after
their long political dissolution. …
From: Edward Augustus Freeman, Essay - Race and Language (1879)
Edward Augustus Freeman was appointed regius professor of modern history at Oxford (1884)
Thus the ordering of things where Dynastic Rulers were supported by, and supported, Clerical hierachies and hierachies of Nobility and
the bulk of the population earnt their livings as laborers, artisans and traders, was tending to be supplanted.
Demands for wider political representation were tending to result in the return to office of persons who less were sympathetic than
heretofore for the continuance of Clerical and Noble priviledges.
Rights to Sovereignty were tending to be perceived as lying more or less with national groups rather than solely with
hereditary Dynasties of rulers.
On other pages on this site a case is made that the long-enduring situation in many European states - where Kings ruled, and there were
Clerics, Nobles and laborers, artisans and traders - could well be related, both to the needs of a state for production, defence and wisdom
and Human natures' complementary capacities for appetite, spirit and reason.
Although Modernity is tending to supplant more historic modes of existence it is by no means the case that appetite, spirit and reason,
or what Shakespeare more poetically referred to as "honesty, manhood and good fellowship" are denied any opportunities for expression
Links are provided below to pages, (on our partner site Age-of-the-Sage.org), which consider the European Revolutions of 1848-9 when Liberalizing, Constitutionalizing,
Nationalistic and Socialistic agendas were actively pursued by their respective supporters and dynastic rulers proved unable, for
several months, to re-establish their own preferred versions of Social Order:
- 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 an Austrian foreign minister said "When France sneezes Europe catches a cold".
- 3 The Revolution of 1848 in Germany and central Europe
- The Germanies - 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 European Revolutions - reactionary aftermath 1848-1849
- Some instances of social and political extremism allow previously pro-reform liberal elements to join conservative elements in supporting
the return of traditional authority. Such nationalities living within the Habsburg Empire as the Czechs, Croats, Slovaks, Serbs and Roumanians,
find it more credible to look to the Emperor,
rather than to the democratised assemblies recently established in Vienna and in Budapest as a result of populist agitation, for the future protection
of their nationality.
The Austrian Emperor and many Kings and Dukes regain political powers. Louis Napoleon, (who later became the Emperor Napoleon III), elected as President
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.
- Also of instructive interest: Italian Unification - Cavour,
Garibaldi and the Unification of Italy
- Whereas the Italian Peninsula featured a plurality of states, (the States of the Church, together with several Kingdoms, Grand Duchies and Duchies),
well into the second quarter of the nineteen-hundreds), and where this plurality of states had been largely restored after the events of 1848-9,
a "unified" Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in 1861 and further expanded on in 1870.
Key sources supportive of Tripartite Theory of Soul