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PREFACE. - Augustin Thierry, The Formation and Progress of the Tiers État, or Third Estate in France vol. 1 
The Formation and Progress of the Tiers État, or Third Estate in France, translated from the French by the Rev. Francis B. Wells, Two volumes in One (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1859).
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The work which forms the principal part of this volume is the summary of all my labours relative to France. It has been composed as an introduction to the collection of unpublished records of the history of the Tiers Etat, one of the publications of historical documents ordered under the last reign. It is a survey of our national history, taken in those years in which the author, carrying his observations back to the distance of seven centuries, and thence bringing it down to the state of things around him, remarked a regular succession of civil and political progress; and recognised, at each end of the road which he had travelled over, the same nation and the same monarchy, connected one with the other, modified under the same circumstances, and exhibiting their last change consecrated by a new compact of union. Considered from this point of view, the history of France appeared beautiful in unity and simplicity. I have vividly felt the grandeur of such a spectacle, and under its impression, I have conceived the design of bringing together continuously into one narrative the facts which mark through successive ages the gradual development of the Tiers Etat, its obscure sources, and the part which it bore in a slow but always progressive influence upon the social life of the country.
In order that the nature of this work may be perfectly understood, I must fix the true sense of the words Tiers Etat in the mind of the reader. The space which separates the present time from the old regime, and the prejudices which were spread by systems tending to divide the population of the nation, which is to-day one and the same, into classes mutually opposed to one another, have obscured in the minds of many persons the historical idea of that which constituted in former times the third order in the States-General of the kingdom. There is a disposition to suppose that this third order then answered to what is now called the bourgeoisie; that it was a superior class among those which were out of the pale of, and, in different degrees, beneath the nobility and the clergy. This opinion, which, besides its falseness, has the evil of making an antagonism appear to have its foundation in history, though it is in reality but an invention of yesterday, and one that is destructive of all public security, is in contradiction to all the ancient proofs, to the authentic acts of the monarchy, and to the spirit of the great movement of reform in 1789. In the sixteenth century some foreign ambassadors, describing the political constitution of France, said, “What are called the States of the kingdom consist of three orders of persons, who are, first the clergy, next the nobility, then all the rest of the population. The Tiers Etat, which has no particular name, may be called by a general one, the state of the people.”* The order of Louis XVI. for the convocation of the last States-General designated, as having a right to be present at the electoral assemblies of the Tiers Etat, “all the inhabitants of the cities, boroughs, and rural districts, French by birth or naturalization, of the age of twenty-five years, having a fixed residence or entered on the list of taxes.”† Lastly, at the same epoch, the author of a celebrated pamphlet, reckoning the number and maintaining the unity of the plebeian order, threw out, as an utterance of the opinion which was almost universal, these three questions and answers, “What is the Tiers Etat?—Everything. What has it been hitherto in the political order?—Nothing. What does it require?—To be something.”*
In this respect the order of persons, which was the instrument of the revolution of 1789, and the history of which I endeavour to trace by ascending to its sources, is nothing else than the whole nation with the exception of the nobility and clergy. This definition marks at once the extent and the exact limits of my subject, it shows what I ought to touch upon and what to omit. The history of the Tiers Etat commences by its indispensable preliminaries long previous to the epoch when the name of Tiers Etat appeared in the history of the country; its startingpoint is the subversion produced in Gaul by the fall of the Roman government, and the German conquest. It is there that history must first look for the forefathers or the representatives of that mass of persons of various conditions and professions, which was designated, in the language of society in the feudal times, by the common name of la roture. From the sixth to the twelfth century, it follows the destiny of this mass, declining in one part, and progressing in another, under the general transformations of society; next, it finds a wider field, a place which is peculiar to it, in the grand period of the revival of the free municipalities and the reconstitution of the royal power. Thence it continues its course, now become simple and regular, through the period of the monarchy of the States, and that of the absolute monarchy, up to the States-General of 1789. It has its termination at the meeting of the three orders in one single and equal assembly, when the division which separated the majority of the nobility and the minority of the clergy from the Tiers Etat ceases, when the illustrious and unfortunate Bailly, president of that first congress of the national sovereignty, was able to say, “The family is complete;” an affecting expression, which seemed to augur well for our new destinies, but which was too soon disappointed.*
Such is the outline which I proposed to myself to fill up in the composition of this work. One circumstance, which especially struck me, is, that during the space of six centuries, from the twelfth to the eighteenth, the history of the Tiers Etat and that of the royal power are indissolubly bound together in such a manner that, in the eyes of him who really understands them, one is, to use the expression, the counterpart of the other. From the accession of Louis le Gros to the death of Louis XIV., each decisive epoch in the progress of the different classes of the roture in liberty, prosperity, enlightenment, and social importance, corresponds, in the series of the reigns, to the name of some great king or of some great minister. The eighteenth century alone shows an exception to this law of our national development; it introduced distrust, and prepared a fatal divorce between the Tiers Etat and the Crown. At the point at which a last step, the guarantee and crowning point of all the others, would naturally have completed civil, and founded political liberty by the establishment of a new constitution, the necessary agreement was wanting in the conditions of a Government at once free and monarchical. The work of the Constituent Assembly of 1791, badly put together, crumbled to pieces almost immediately, and the monarchy was destroyed.
Twenty-two years elapsed, during which an admirable compensation succeeded to enormous calamities, and it seemed then that every tie was broken between new France and the royalty of former days. But the result of the Constitutional Governments of 1814 and of 1830 was to join anew the chain of time and ideas, to resume under fresh forms the attempt of 1789—the alliance of the national tradition and of the principles of liberty. It was at this point of view, presented to me by the very course of the events themselves, that I took my position, fixing my attention on that which seemed to be the path traced out towards the future, and believing that I had before my eyes the providential termination of the labour of the centuries which had elapsed since the twelfth.
Entirely devoted to my task, which I was slowly pursuing as far as my abilities enabled me, I dispassionately approached the much controverted period of the eighteenth century, when the catastrophe of February, 1848, burst suddenly upon us. I have felt the result of it in two ways, both as a citizen and also as an historian. By this new revolution, full of the same spirit and the same threatening appearances as the worst times of the first, the history of France appeared to be thrown into as much disorder as France herself. I suspended my work from a feeling of despondency easy to be understood; and the history, which I had carried down to the end of the reign of Louis XIV., stops at that point. I had before me the alternative of delaying the publication of my work till it had reached its termination, or of forthwith publishing that portion of it, by far the largest, to which I had given five years’ labour;* the shortness of life, its chances more uncertain for me than for any other, and some flattering invitations, have decided me upon taking this last course.
There is, besides, another reason for stopping at this time; it answers to a point of division which is clearly marked in our social history. It is here that the great historical period terminates, during which we see the Tiers Etat and royalty marching in harmony, progressing with a common development, and mutually strengthening themselves. A second period opens, in which that harmony of six centuries disappears, in which the Tiers Etat and royalty are separated, begin to feel distrust of one another, and march in opposite directions: royalty protecting with its assistance what remains of aristocratic privileges; the bourgeoisie becoming, in contradiction to its traditions, hostile to the royal power. Of these two series of facts, so unequal as to their duration, and so different in character, I here present the first, the one which stretches itself across the space of many centuries, as a furrow traced by the instinct and the manners of France.
In order to anticipate objections which might be made against me, I inform the reader that I have not intended to trace the sketch of a general history of French society, but properly and exclusively that of a special history of the Tiers Etat. As the nobility and clergy may be, and indeed have already been, the objects of similar labours, I scarcely make mention of the part which these two first orders have played in society, I only speak of them when their action is mixed with that of the third, whether in antagonism or in co-operation with it. The influence of ecclesiastical institutions upon the progress of civil society, prior to the period of an active royalty, and to that of the States-General, is an important fact which I might have enlarged upon; I have, however, confined myself in this respect within the narrowest limits, in order that I might keep myself disengaged for the later periods, and preserve intact the character of this work, which is the history of an order of persons purely secular.
With regard to the nobles, I am no less aware that they had their part of moral action upon French society. Chivalry was theirs, with all that there is of military valour, glory, and honour around that name. They knew how to die—it was their boast; and in this consisted their legitimate pride. Moreover, they manifested a sentiment of affection for the kingdom of France, for their native land through all its length and breadth, in times when the patriotism of the bourgeoisie had not yet raised itself above the municipal spirit. Douce France is a favourite expression of the poetry of chivalry in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries;* and it was not till the two following centuries, during the great struggle with the English, that the signs of a love of their common country were exhibited by all the classes of the nation. If I have not mentioned this and other circumstances of the same kind, it is not because I do not appreciate them, but because they were beyond my subject; I beg that I may not be charged with a wilful suppression of that which I was obliged to omit by the strictness of my plan.
This strictness, useful in every literary composition, was enforced upon me in this instance in a more authoritative manner by the very nature and novelty of my subject. The facts which I had to collect and to bring to light do not belong to the prominent part of the history of France, but rather to the most obscure, and, if I may be allowed the expression, the inmost parts of it. I attempted to write a history which, strictly speaking, was without definite shape and connexion. My task was to supply the want, by disengaging it by a process of abstraction from all that did not properly belong to it, and it was necessary to give the movement and the interest of a narrative to a succession of rapid views and general facts. Such is the end which I proposed to myself to reach; have I succeeded in it? I have at least made the attempt; I hope that my efforts will be favourably received.
The first of the two fragments which accompany the Essay upon the history of the Tiers Etat touches on one of the most important points of this history; it is a picture of the origin and vicissitudes of the ancient municipal constitutions of the cities of France, described according to their region and their province. This picture has not only its utility for the history of the law and government in the Middle Ages; it offers, besides, a more general interest. It is in some degree the inventory of our old experiences in the matter of political liberty, experiences partial, it is true, but renewed unintermittingly during many centuries over every part of the land.
The second fragment is a study upon the establishment of the communal constitution of Amiens, in which the original texts have been examined and commented upon in the greatest detail. This monography is only intended for those who find pleasure in the most minute particulars in historical researches. If I am asked what kind of interest it can have for other readers, I should say that they may observe in it the minutely-treated history of a constitutional charter of the twelfth century, of a written constitution after the manner of our own, which had not, like these, the pretension of being the work of deep reasoning, but which lasted five hundred years. Such facts, however small may have been their scene of action, are worthy of attention and reflection from persons of our own times. Our ancestors of the Middle Ages, as we are bound to acknowledge, had something which is wanting in us at the present day—that quality of the politician and citizen which consists in perceiving distinctly what is required, and in cherishing patient and persevering aspirations.
Paris, February 15, 1853.
[* ]Questi che si chiamano li stati del regno sono di tre ordini di persone, cioè del clero, della nobiltà, e del restante di quelle persone che, per voce commune, si pùo chiamare popolo. (Relations des Ambassadeurs Vénitiens sur les Affaires de France, published by M. Tommaseo, t. ii., p. 496.) Le condizioni e qualità delle persone sono tre, d’onde ha origine il numero delli tre stati del regno. L’uno e quello del clero, e l’altro dei nobili, il terzo non ha nome particolare, ma, perche è composto di diverse qualità e professioni di persone, si pùo chiamare, con un nome generale, lo stato del popolo. (Ibid, t. i., p. 482.)
[† ]Order of the king for the convocation of the States-General, bearing date the 24th January, 1789. Histoire Parlementaire de la Révolution Française, by M. Buchez, t. i., p. 210.
[* ]Altogether there are not two hundred thousand privileged persons of the two first orders; compare this number with that of twenty-five or twenty-six millions of souls, and decide the question. (Sieyès, Qu’est-ce que le Tiers Etat? p. 104.) When they wish to sow division, they take care to make a distinction between the various classes of the Tiers, in order to excite and to raise up one against the other. They stir up the inhabitants of the cities against those of the country; they strive to set the poor against the rich. (Ibid, p. 96, note.)
[* ]27th June, 1789. Bailly had stated at the sitting of the 25th of June, “We said, in receiving the representatives of the clergy, that there was still something to be desired—that brothers were wanting to this august assembly. Yes, gentlemen, what we want will be given to us; all our brothers will come here.” At that of the 27th he said, “We had already got the order of the clergy—we have got to-day the whole order of the nobility; this day will be illustrious in our annals: it renders the family complete.”
[* ]A first edition intended for a limited number of readers appeared in 1850, annexed to the first volume of the Recueil des Monuments inédits de l’Histoire du Tiers Etat. The present edition differs from that one by some corrections and additions.