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How successful was the National Assembly in

satisfying the demands of the Third Estate

between August 1789 and September 1791?

Between August 1789 and September 1791 the National Constituent

assembly made many reforms to the Ancien Regime in an attempt to
make France more democratic and in some respects, appease the third
estate, who wanted a more a democratic system in place rather than the
Ancien regime that placed the first two estates far above the third. How
successful they were in this is debatable.

One of the first things the Assembly did in reforming the Ancien
regime was the creation of the August decrees in 1789. These decrees
satisfied many of the demands of the third estate; they created more
equality between the estates by taxing all citizens equally, regardless of
position in society. Since the inequality and inefficiency of the taxation
system was one of the third estates biggest problems with Ancien Regime,
this was very much in the interest of the third estate. The August
decrees also abolished all tithes payable to the church which satisfied the
third estate due to the growing resentment of the church in France. All
citizens also became eligible for any office, regardless of their status, be it
civil, ecclesiastical or military, which further extended the equality of the
three estates that the august decrees were meant to create. Venal offices
(civil offices or positions, such as a tax collector, that could be bought for
money) which one of the main causes of the inefficiency of the taxation
system were also abolished, meaning that no people could no longer
make a profit of taxing others. On a whole the August decrees were very
beneficial to the National assembly in satisfying the demands of the third

Following the August decrees on 26 th August 1789 was the

Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. After the Assembly put
forward the August decrees that laid the foundation for the constitution,
the declaration of the rights of man and the citizen were put forward as a
set of principles describing the rights of all men in France. They first and
foremost stated that all men are born free and equal, a major step forward
from the Ancien regime the put the nobility and clergy before the third
estate. All stated, similarly to the August decrees that all men are to be
taxed in proportion to their income, which obviously benefited the third
estate since originally they were the only estate not exempt from tax. The
declaration also gave all men the right to own property. The declaration of
the rights of man and the citizen, in theory, created the foundations for a
much more equal and democratic system of government.

One of the other major reforms made by the National Assembly was the
nationalisation of the Church Land on second of November 1789. At this
point the national assembly was short of many since tax revenue was not
returning and they desperately needed a way of raising funds, with
resentment of the church high and the fact that church was of the biggest
landowners in the country, the National assembly decided to Sell off all
land owned by the Church, and make at the disposal of the Nation. This in
turn made the state responsible for electing and paying the wages of all
clergy and carrying out the work of helping the poor. This ended many
traditions in the church that were resented by the Third estate, such as
pluralism and absenteeism, which put the church in a better light.

However on the other hand, there is much evidence to suggest that

the reforms of the National assemblys reforms did not meet the demands
of the third estate. One of the prime examples of this is the nature of the
new democracy. While the national assembly claimed they now had a
democratic system, in reality it didnt create democracy for all. The
assembly split citizens in to two distinct categories, active citizens and
passive citizens. Active citizens were those who paid tax equal to three
days work a year, they had right to vote. So in practise this meant that
only around 60% of the French population could vote. Though, while this
sounds bad looking at it from a modern perspective, in England at the
time only 4% of the population could vote, so it could be considered fairly
democratic for it time. However regardless the distinction between active
and passive citizens benefited the Bourgeoisie far more than it benefited
the less well of members of the third estate, like the peasantry.

The nationalisation of the Church land really only benefited the

bourgeoisie as well, it did open ecclesiastical position to the masses, but
only the bourgeoisie had had access to the education required to gain the
positions. The poorer members of the third estate were left unable to take
advantage of this, and with all the poor aid now under the control of the
money short Assembly, they probably suffered more.

In conclusion while the national Assembly in theory created many

reforms that met the demands of the third estate, creating legislation for a
more equal and democratic France, in practise it wasnt as clear cut, with
the already fairly well of Bourgeoisie gaining the most out of the reforms.