Third Estate tiers état

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Third Estate (tiers état)

 

the taxed population of France from the 15th to 18th centuries, including merchants, craftsmen, peasants, and later also the bourgeoisie and workers. It was called the third estate to distinguish it from the first two estates—the clergy and the nobility—who were not taxable (in the 18th century they paid only a small, general state tax). In the 15th century, the term “third estate” had a narrower meaning, designating only that part of the taxed population represented in the Estates General. The meaning of the term broadened as changes occurred in elections and in the composition of the national representative bodies. On the eve of the French Revolution, the bourgeoisie, seeking to unite with the popular masses in the struggle against the nobility, proclaimed their union to be the sole third estate, representing the French nation; the idea was reflected in a pamphlet by the abbot E. J. Sieyes. On June 17, at the Estates General of 1789, the deputies of the third estate declared themselves to be the National Assembly.

The heterogeneous makeup of the third estate often gave rise to disputes between its individual strata. In the course of time the contradictions between the bourgeoisie and the popular masses became antagonistic. With the elimination of estate differences during the French Revolution, the third estate ceased to exist.