Thoughts on the Declaration of Independence and the Third Estate

The document originally drafted by Thomas Jefferson and signed by fifty-six men on July 4th, 1776 that was coined the “unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America” (Blaisdell 63) and later became known as the Declaration of Independence, remains to this day the most famous and important document in American history. Throughout this document, the framers specifically highlight and outline wrongdoings committed by the King of England and ultimately their desire to form a new sovereign nation separate from England. With the abuses committed by the English monarchy, it became their right “to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security” (Blaisdell 64). The Declaration of Independence creates the United States of America, a free and independent nation that has the “full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do” (Blaisdell 66).

Similar to the power that was desired in accordance to the Declaration of Independence, in Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes’ What is the Third Estate? he believes that the Third Estate of France was entitled to more power and respect than they have been given. According to Sieyes, out of all public and private services, “it needs no detailed analysis to show that the Third Estate everywhere constitutes nineteen-twentieths of them” (Blaisdell 72). Clearly, the message that Sieyes wants to relay is that a monarchy is not necessary for the people of France to function. They would be fine and most likely better off if they were to overthrow or rebel against the Crown. The French Revolution ensued and lead to The Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen. This was created with very similar rights in mind as the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence and The Third Estate

Thomas Jefferson wrote up the draft to a very important document back in 1776. It was known as “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America” (Blaisdell 63) but came to be known as the Declaration of Independence. This document explained what the government should do for its people to prove that the king of England was not the proper or wanted ruler for the colonies anymore. It explained how the government should help out the citizens rather than hold them back, how it should promote safety and happiness (Blaisdell 64).

This leads into Sieyès’ document “What is the Third Estate?”. He is trying to provoke a similar rebellion to the one that happened over in America. He wants  the people of France to realize they don’t need. King just like the colonies of America didn’t. To do this, Sieyès explains how the Third Estate is everything (Blaisdell 70) and how they don’t need anyone from outside the Third Estate to help them run the government (Blaisdell 74). All this talk of a new government would lead up to the Tennis Court Oath, where the National Assembly of France. Owed to work until they made a new constitution and the king was out of power (Blaisdell 78).

Independence and the Third Estate

After years of British tyranny over the colonies, a call for revolution was drafted to grant freedom and equality to all. A government was established that gave power to the people. As a result of restrictive British control, the writers of the declaration declared, “that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive, it is the Right of the people to alter or to abolish it” (Blaisdell 64). Jefferson and his counterparts believed that all men were equal and attacked British tyranny over the colonies, listing a number of facts of their tyranny to be read by the rest of the world. As representative of the United States, they conclude “these United Colonies… are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown… and that all political connection between them… is ought to be totally dissolved… as Free and Independent States… they have full power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce” (Blaisdell 66). Breaking away from British control would allow an entire new nation to take form built on its own beliefs and policies, different from those seen previously in Europe (absolute monarchs).


According to Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes, in order for a nation to survive “it needs private and public services” (Blaisdell 71). These activities are needed to support a society, without them a nation would crumble. In his work, What is the Third Estate?, Sieyes claims that the Third Estate is the group that performs “nineteen-twentieths” (Blaisdell 72) of these activities. Without this group, society would not exist. The very importance of the Third Estate constitutes its power it should have within a given society. They should have more rights than others, including nobility, because they are the glue that keeps society together.

Declaring a Revolutionary War

Declaration of Independence of the United States

While the celebrated document asserts the fledgling nation’s independence, it is additionally a list of grievances the colonizers have concerning the Crown and associated British government. Considering the varied atrocities committed by British troops and officials in the run-up to the war (Boston Massacre, various taxes, and weakening the citizens’ collective voice over time, among a whole host of other things), the revolutionary leaders, i.e., Founding Fathers, took advantage of the Declaration of Independence to effectively declare war as well on the British troops garrisoned in America. The language in the text suggests this. “It is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” “…as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce…” In these two quotes from the text the signatories vocalize both their desire for the Crown to recognize their independence and their willingness to wage war should the British not recognize America’s independence.

French writings leading to the eventual revolution

Similarly, the French used various essays as well as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen to make their revolutionary intentions clear. In “What is the Third Estate”, Abbe Sieyes points out the pervasiveness of the French government and nobility (which Louis XVI often manipulated to advance his own agenda) and reflects that it should be the right of the citizens who live under an undesirable government to simply rebel, for it can be detrimental to both the economy and the morale of the citizens. In the Decree upon the National Assembly and in conjunction with the Tennis Court Oath, deputies of the Third Estate (henceforth the National Assembly) asserted its power which was to be independent of the royalty and nobility of France. Finally, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen does belligerent language appear. Until this point the French Crown was considered sovereign and unchallengeable, but the third declared right sought to undo this: “The Nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty; no can any individual, or any body of men, be entitled to any authority which is not expressly derived from it.” This is a challenge to the royalty and nobility who were seen by many as not having earned their sovereign powers (hence Sieyes’s essay). Additionally, the twelfth right denounces abuse of power given by citizens to a government’s officials, which can also be viewed as a challenge to the crown. The third right challenges the validity of the Crown’s powers, and the twelfth challenges the abuse of that power that is itself invalid. Although the hostility is less evident in the French essays than in the American Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of the Rights of Man also intends to attain sovereignty over the monarchy. The French Revolution began shortly thereafter, the fact of which backs the original theory that it was a declaration of a revolutionary war.

Rights, Revolutions, and Revolutionaries in America and France

Throughout history, declarations have been written in order to make a society aware of the problems it faces, frequently appearing in times of rapid change and revolution. In her Declaration of the Rights of Women, Olympe de Gouge, a prominent female revolutionary in the late 18th century, argues that women deserve to share equality with men in matters concerning government, society, marriage, and all other areas of life.  De Gouge wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Women in response to the Rights of Man, challenging its suggestion that men are superior to women. Writing in a passionate, defiant tone, she addresses French women, intending to gain supporters and enlighten women of the injustices that are perpetually being posed against them by men and the French government. De Gouge criticizes the authority that reigns France, and insists that women should be equal to men in order to facilitate a “happy government”. She argues that with equality among men and women will come the purification of morals and a stronger government.

Similarly, the American Declaration of Independence appeals to the British monarchy, stating that the king has failed to comply with the necessities of the rights of the people. The same nature of defiance as seen in the Declaration of the Rights of Women is present in the Declaration of Independence, as both are created in opposition to authority the government has placed upon them.

In his document on the third estate, Sieyes also criticizes the state of the government, arguing that the Third Estate does not possess enough power and more responsibilities should be entrusted to it. The First and Second Estates should be eliminated, suggests Sieyes. If not that, all three estates should at least be under equal representation and common laws.

In both the French and American revolutions, the people of the country respond to injustices placed upon them by their ruling monarchies. Both countries successfully overthrow their monarchies, freeing themselves of inequities. Revolutionaries of both countries sought freedom from their imposing governments, liberating their countries and earning their natural rights through the power of discourse.


Compare and Contrast French and American Revolution Documents

Instigating Change

While reflecting on the revolutions of the past it has been seen that they have brought upon suffering and at times more chaos. Even after there has been a reform, the public’s misery has not been eased. However, at times the natural rights of the people become violated enough and the desire for happiness necessitates retribution which is similarly displayed by the French and American revolutionary documents. They also put doubt on the “perfect State” (The Republic) proposed by Plato.

Although the two documents draw many parallelisms; they occur in different social contexts. While Americans were being oppressed by a King on the other side of the shore, French were being oppressed in their homeland. This probably led to the French having a more aggressive approach in their declaration as the control by the monarchy was a much stronger one. Whereas the Americans living on another land probably had much more freedom than their French did counterparts did.

Both the French and American societies bring to light the tyranny of their respective rulers: one by the dictatorship of the British King; the other, the hierarchal social structure. Being on a common stage brought upon by violation of rights, they plead for equal standing regardless of place of birth in society. Born under the same sun, they believe every man deserves, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”(Blaisedell 64). They reveal that the majority is ruled by a minor group in society and their desires fulfilled at the cost of the majority. In America’s case a British monarch far overseas enforces dictatorship and the French, by the First and Second estate which consists of less than 2% of society but has the most say in the State. They infringe the rights of man which are considered “sacred” and “inviolable”(Paine 94).  The documents also display parallel rhetoric in their arguments. They display a common use of pathos by describing the incompetency of the King and Second estate as the rulers have defiled their right to rule by giving in to personal desires of power, ignoring the public good. Such use of pathos was important, as it would rally up the people to rise for a change in governance. The use of emotion was needed to unite them under one banner.

These two documents signify how intellectuals brought up an issue to the people and allowed them to strive for what was rightfully theirs. While proving that the desire for freedom can instigate change, they also display the long term results of ‘perfect’ compulsive societies put forward by Plato and that perhaps a utopia is one with everyone’s happiness considered.