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Emmanuel Jospeh Sieyes

"Everything. What has it been hitherto in the political order? Nothing. What does it desire? To be something."


Joseph Sieyes was born on May 3, 1748 in Frejus, France. He was born of a mother who was part of the lower ranks of nobility and his father was a postmaster and collected taxes for the king. Despite the fact that Sieyes' family part of a lower rank nobility, they were not very wealthy. They gave him the best education they could afford and sent him to Jesuits’ College at Frejus. Most graduates went into the military and Sieyes expected to do the same. His parents, however, had different plans for his future. His parents pressed him into seminary school; Holy Orders. They hoped that he would make a tidy living and support his parents and two brothers.
Emmanuel was sent to Paris to study at the Seminary of St. Sulpice with the help of the Bishop of Frejus, a family friend. After ten long years of studies Sieyes was ordained priest in 1773. He then became known as Abbe Sieyes and his birth name was almost forgotten. After two years of priesthood Sieyes was placed secretary to Bishop Treguier. His advancement was almost immediately revoked because of his heritage of a middle-class family that lacked a large quantity of noble blood. Nearly ten years later Abbe Sieyes was promoted to vicar general and chancellor to the Bishop of Chartres. From here he became a member of the Provincial Assembly of Orleans in 1787. No less then a year later Sieyes wrote his most famous pamphlet, “What is the Third Estate?” His pamphlet helped allow the middle class join the Third Estate. Then on June 17, Sieyes helped bring about the vote that transformed the Third Estate into the National Assembly where he was elected president.


In the Third Estate , Sieyes efficiently explains his point with a grate deal of facts and detail. By stating that the class with the largest percent of people barely have a say in their country’s laws or at the very least the politics. Instead the few nobles and aristocrats were the only ones with a vote that had an impact on the political topic. Together the lower class had all of one vote. One could imagine how little influence this one vote carried. Sieyes bluntly tells his audience that it is almost ironic how the people that worked the country and economy basically had no say in anything. Instead it is the privileged that go to riding parties and balls. Most do not know the hardships and cruelty that life sufficiently supplies. Abbe Sieyes ends the Third Estate by unifying the country. He successfully states that a country cannot be dictated by simply a king or a queen or by nobles or even by the poor. “The Third State embraces then all that which belongs to the nation, what is the Third Estate? It is the whole”. This concluding sentence itself justifies Sieyes’s thoughts.


After the third Estate pamphlet, Sieyes had major influence on his fellow French men. He suggested that the National Assembly reunite under the Third Estate and strongly disapproved of the confiscation of Church lands. Sieyes was then elected fortnightly president of the Constitution Assembly. When Sieyes took up this post he was excluded from the Legislative Assembly. After this Sieyes disengaged from the political scene only to reappear to vote for the death of King Louis XVI. Sieyes did not dislike the King or the monarchy itself, however, he did dislike the uncontrolled power of the monarch. He felt that the monarch’s power should be controlled by a constitution of the government. After the King’s execution, Sieyes once again disengaged from politics, enabling him to simply live through the Rein of Terror. After the Reign of Terror, Abbe Sieyes decided to go on a diplomatic mission. This mission sent him to The Hague. He helped draw up a treaty between the French and Batavian republics. After this The Directory offered him the position of Director of the Republic, however, he promptly declined the offer because he vehemently resented the constitution of 1795. Three years later Sieyes went to the court of Berlin in attempt to persuade Prussia to ally with France against, he was nevertheless offered Director of France. He diligently accepted on
May 9, 1799 at the age of 51.
Although he accepted this position he plotted to overthrow the Directory. He attempted to undermine the constitution without immediate success. With the success of the Napoleon Bonaparte campaign, Sieyes stopped plotting ways to overthrow the Directory. Sieyes completed the French Constitution only to have it completely revised by Napoleon. The new copy was named the Constitution of the Year VII, which became the foundation of the French Constitution. Sieyes essentially defended Napoleon in arbitrary and illegal acts that allowed Bonaparte to rid himself of any "leading Jacobins".
After this Abbe Sieyes went into retirement with no intent on returning to the political scene. Sieyes was restless and his retirement did not last long. Sieyes soon became the first senator of France. Eventually Sieyes achieved a quiet retirement. He then left France only to return after the July Revolution in 1830. Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes lived six more years and then quietly died in 1836 at the old age of 88.

Sieyes appears to play a quiet role in the French Revolution. He subtly and effectively helped change the government and overthrow the monarchs. He was a subdued man that appeared to lack confidence to share his views with conviction. However, Sieyes was a brilliant political thinker. He successfully created two organizations that helped constitute France.

Mr. Wilson's Modern World History