When the deputies or representatives of the three estates
came to the royal palace in 1789, they brought with them their list of
grievances, or cahiers de doléances, which were to be presented to
Louis XVI. We are fortunate to have many examples of the cahiers at
our disposal and a few are presented here. The general theme of the cahiers
of all three estates was the equality of rights among the king's subjects.
Of course, the issue of common rights, or any other issue for that matter,
could not be discussed, until the question of the organization and voting of
the Estates General had been settled. Here you will find three examples of
The Clergy of Blois
The clergy of the bailliage of Blois have never believed that
the constitution needed reform. Nothing is wanting to assure the welfare of
king and people except that the present constitution should be religiously
and inviolably observed.
The constitutional principles concerning which no doubt can be
entertained are :
- That France is a true monarchy, where a single man rules and is ruled
by law alone.
- That the general laws of the kingdom may be enacted only with the
consent of the king and the nation. If the king proposes a law, the
nation accepts or rejects it; if the nation demands a law, it is for the
king to consent or to reject it; but in either case it is the king alone
who upholds the law in his name and attends to its execution.
- That in France we recognize as king him to whom the crown belongs by
hereditary right according to the Salic law.
- That we recognize the nation in the States General, composed of the
three orders of the kingdom, which are the clergy, the nobility and the
- That to the king belongs the right of assembling the States General,
whenever he considers it necessary. For the welfare of the kingdom we
ask, in common with the whole nation, that this convocation be
periodical and fixed, as we particularly desire, at every five years,
except in the case of the next meeting, when the great number of matters
to be dealt with makes a less remote period desirable.
- That the States General should not vote otherwise than by order.
- That the three orders are equal in power and independent of each
other, in such a manner that their unanimous consent is necessary to the
expression of the nation's will.
- That no tax may be laid without the consent of the nation.
- That every citizen has, under the law, a sacred and inviolable right
to personal liberty and to the possession of his goods.
[Source: Merrick Whitcombe, ed. "Typical Cahiers of 1789" in Translations
and Reprints From The Original Sources of European History
(Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1898) vol. 4, no. 5, pp. 2-8.]
The Nobility of
Deep and established ills cannot be cured with a single effort: the
destruction of abuses is not the work of a day. Alas! Of what avail to
reform them if their causes be not removed? The misfortune of France arises
from the fact that it has never had a fixed constitution. A virtuous and
sympathetic king seeks the counsels and cooperation of the nation to
establish one; let us hasten to accomplish his desires; let us hasten to
restore to his soul that peace which his virtues merit. The principles of
this constitution should be simple; they may be reduced to two: Security for
person, security for property; because, in fact, it is from these two
fertile principles that all organization of the body politic takes its rise.
Art. I. In order to assure the exercise of this first and most sacred of
the rights of man, we ask that no citizen may be exiled, arrested or held
prisoner except in cases contemplated by the law and in accordance with a
decree originating in the regular courts of justice.
That in case the States General determine that provisional detention may
be necessary at times, it ought to be ordained that every person so arrested
shall be delivered, within twenty-four hours into the hand of appropriate
judges, to be judged with the least possible delay, in conformity with the
laws of the kingdom; that evocations be abolished, and that no extraordinary
commission be established in any instance; finally that no person be
deprived of his position, civil or military, without judgment in due form.
From the right of personal liberty arises the right to write, to think,
to print and to publish, with the names of authors and publishers, all kinds
of complaints and reflections upon public and private affairs, limited by
the right of every citizen to seek in the established courts legal redress
against author or publisher, in case of defamation or injury; limited also
by all restrictions which the States General may see fit to impose in that
which concerns morals and religion.
We indicate further a number of instances in which natural liberty is
- The abuse of police regulations, which every year, in an arbitrary
manner and without regular process, thrusts a number of artisans and
useful citizens into prisons, work-houses and places of detention, often
for trivial faults and even upon simple suspicion;
- The abuse of exclusive privileges which fetter industry;
- The guilds and corporations which deprive citizens of the right of
using their faculties;
- The regulations governing manufactures, the rights of inspection and
marque, which impose restrictions that have lost their usefulness, and
which burden industry with a tax that yields no profit to the public
Art. 2. A tax is a partition of property.
This partition ought not to be otherwise than voluntary; in any other
case the rights of property are violated: Hence it is the indefeasible and
inalienable right of the nation to consent to its taxes.
According to this principle, which has been solemnly recognized by the
king, no tax, real or personal, direct or indirect, nor any contribution
whatsoever, under whatsoever name or form, may be established except with
the consent and free and voluntary approval of the nation. Nor may said
power of consenting to a tax be transferred or delegated by the nation to
any magistracy or other body, or exercised by the provincial estates nor by
the provincial, city or communal assemblies: superior and inferior courts
shall be especially charged to attend to the execution of this article, and
to prosecute as exactors those who may undertake to levy a tax which has not
received the proper sanction.
- Throughout the whole kingdom there should be but one code of
laws, one system of weights and measures.
- That a commission be established composed of the most eminent, men of
letters of the capital and provinces, and citizens of all orders, to
formulate a plan of national education for the benefit of all classes of
society; and for the purpose of revising elementary text-book.
- That all customs duties collected in the interior of the kingdom be
abolished, and all custom-houses, offices and customs barriers be
removed to the frontier.
CONCERNING THE NATIONAL CONSTITUTION
AND THE MEANS OF OBTAINING THE ABOLITION OF ABUSES
Art. 8. Up to this point we have merely indicated the abuses which have
accumulated in France during a long succession of centuries; we have made it
evident that the rights of citizens have been abridged by a multitude of
laws which attack property, liberty and personal safety.
That these rights have suffered injury as well in the nature as in the
imposition of the taxes; in the administration of justice in both civil and
criminal law; that this has been the case especially in the administration
of the public revenues.
It is not sufficient to suppress these abuses; it is necessary to prevent
their return; there must be established in ever-active influence, moving
without interruption in the direction of public prosperity, which shall bear
in itself the germ of all good, a principle destructive of all evil.
In order to accomplish this great object the nobility of the bailliage
of Blois demand:
That the States General about to assemble shall be permanent and shall
not be dissolved until the constitution be established; but in case the
labors connected with the establishment of the constitution be prolonged
beyond a space of two years, the assembly shall be reorganized with new
deputies freely and regularly elected.
That a fundamental and constitutional law shall assure forever the
periodical assembly of the States General at frequent intervals, in such
manner that they may assemble and organize themselves at a fixed time and
place, without the concurrence of any act emanating from the executive
That the legislative power shall reside exclusively in the assembly of
the nation, under the sanction of the king, and shall not be exercised by
any intermediate body during the recess of the States General.
That the king shall enjoy the full extent of executive power necessary to
insure the execution of the laws; but that he shall not be able in any event
to modify the laws without the consent of the nation.
That the form of the military oath shall be changed, and the troops
promise obedience and fidelity to the king and the nation.
That taxes may not be imposed without the consent of the nation; that
taxes may be granted only for a specified time, and for no longer than the
next meeting of the States General.
[Source: Merrick Whitcombe, ed. "Typical Cahiers of 1789" in Translations
and Reprints From The Original Sources of European History
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1898) vol. 4, no. 5, pp. 8-24.]
The Third Estate of
The order of the third estate of the City, Bailliage, and County of Dourdan, imbued with gratitude prompted by the paternal kindness of the King, who deigns to restore its former rights and its former constitution, forgets at this moment its misfortunes and impotence, to harken only to its foremost sentiment and its foremost duty, that of sacrificing everything to the glory of the
Patrie and the service of His Majesty. It supplicates him to accept the grievances, complaints, and remonstrances which it is permitted to bring to the foot of the throne, and to see therein only the expression of its zeal and the homage of its obedience.
That his subjects of the third estate, equal by such status to all other citizens, present themselves before the common father without other distinction which might degrade them.
That all the orders, already united by duty and a common desire to contribute equally to the needs of the State, also deliberate in common concerning its needs.
That no citizen lose his liberty except according to law; that, consequently, no one be arrested by virtue of special orders, or, if imperative circumstances necessitate such orders, that the prisoner be handed over to the regular courts of justice within forty-eight hours at the latest.
That no letters or writings intercepted in the post [mails] be the cause of the detention of any citizen, or be produced in court against him, except in case of conspiracy or undertaking against the State.
That the property of all citizens be inviolable, and that no
one be required to make sacrifice thereof for the public welfare, except
upon assurance of indemnification based upon the statement of freely
selected appraisers. . . .
That every personal tax be abolished; that thus the capitation
taille and its accessories be merged with the vingtiemes
in a tax on land and real or nominal property.
That such tax be borne equally, without distinction, by all
classes of citizens and by all kinds of property, even feudal and contingent
That the tax substituted for the corvee be borne by
all classes of citizens equally and without distinction. That said tax, at
present beyond the capacity of those who pay it and the needs to which it is
destined, be reduced by at least one-half. . . .
That the administration of justice be reformed, either by restoring strict execution of ordinances, or by reforming the sections thereof that are contrary to the dispatch and welfare of
justice. . . .
That venality of offices be suppressed. . . .
That the excessive number of offices in the necessary courts
be reduced in just measure, and that no one be given an office of magistracy
if he is not at least twenty-five years of age, and until after a
substantial public examination has verified his morality, integrity, and
ability. . . .
That the study of law be reformed; that it be directed in a manner analogous to our legislation, and that candidates for degrees be subjected to rigorous tests which may not be evaded; that no dispensation of age or time be granted.
That a body of general customary law be drafted of all articles common to all the customs of the several provinces and
bailliages. . . .
That deliberations of courts . . . which tend to prevent entry of the third estate thereto be rescinded and annulled as injurious to the citizens of that order, in contempt of the authority of the King, whose choice they limit, and contrary to the welfare of justice, the administration of which would become the patrimony of those of noble birth instead of being entrusted to merit, enlightenment, and virtue.
That military ordinances which restrict entrance to the service to those possessing nobility be reformed.
That if the Estates General considers it necessary to preserve the fees of
aides, such fees be made uniform throughout the entire kingdom and reduced to a single
denomination. . . .
That the tax of the gabelle be eliminated if possible, or that it be regulated among the several provinces of the
kingdom. . . . 3. That the taxes on hides, which have totally destroyed that branch of commerce and caused it to go abroad, be suppressed forever. 4. That
. . . all useless offices, either in police or in the administration of justice, be abolished and suppressed.
That the right to hunt may never affect the property of the citizen; that, accordingly, he may at all times travel over his lands, have injurious herbs uprooted, and cut
luzernes, sainfoins, and other produce whenever it suits him; and that stubble may be freely raked immediately after the
harvest. . . .
That individuals as well as communities be permitted to free themselves from the rights of
banalite, and corvee, by payments in money or in kind, at a rate likewise established by His Majesty on the basis of the deliberations of the Estates
General. . . .
That the militia, which devastates the country, takes workers away from husbandry, produces premature and ill-matched marriages, and imposes secret and arbitrary taxes upon those who are subject thereto, be suppressed and replaced by voluntary enlistment at the expense of the provinces.
[Source: John Hall Stewart, ed., A Documentary Survey of the French
Revolution, (New York; Macmillan, 1951), pp. 76-82.]
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