Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès

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Portrait of Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès by Jacques-Louis David from 1817. Sieyès' signature:
Signature Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès.PNG

Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès (count since 1808), also: l'abbé Sieyès (born  May 3, 1748 in Fréjus , †  June 20, 1836 in Paris ) was a French priest ( Abbé ) and statesman, one of the main theorists of the French Revolution and the Era of the French Consulate .

Live and act

Rise in the clergy

He was the son of an employee of the treasury and postmaster. Sieyès was able to study at the St. Sulpice seminary in Paris with scholarships. There he came into contact with the teachings of John Locke , Condillacs and other political thinkers of the Enlightenment and neglected theology.

Nevertheless, he was ordained a priest in 1774 and was canon in Tréguier from 1775 . Thanks to his erudition and insight, he rose in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. From 1780 he served the Bishop of Chartres as vicar general . As early as 1787 and 1788 he was a member of the Provincial Estates of the Province of Orléanais for the clergy of his diocese .

Political writer

Sieyès pamphlet from 1789

During this time he came into contact with radical political salons of the Enlightenment in Paris and probably became a Freemason . He belonged to the so-called Philosopher's Lodge Neuf Sœurs in Paris and, like other of its members, also became part of the Society of Thirty .

After the announcement of the Estates General in the summer of 1788, he made his first appearance as a political writer. Within a short time he published several extensive writings. In these, the enlightener questioned the previous order and pleaded for an elected representative assembly as the legislative body. The most famous font was Qu'est-ce que le Tiers État? ( What is the Third Stand ? ) From January 1789. This has remained the political pamphlet with the highest circulation to this day.

He begins with the following questions and answers:

«1. Qu'est-ce que le tiers état? - Tout. 2. Qu'a-t-il été jusqu'à présent dans l'ordre politique? - Rien. 3. Que demande-t-il? - À y devenir quelque chose.  »

"1. What is the third estate? - Everything. 2. What has it been up to now in the political order? - Nothing. 3. What does he ask? - To be something. "

It is believed that he owes this formulation to Nicolas Chamfort . He also writes in this pamphlet about the prevailing political conditions:

“Has it been noticed that we respect this order of things, which we respect for low motives and, I dare to say, for beastly stupidity, despicable, monstrous, detrimental to all manual industry, opposed to social progress, but above all humiliating for find the human race in general and intolerable for Europeans in particular when we read about it in the history of ancient Egypt or in travelogues about India (etc. etc)? "

Member of the National Assembly

Sieyès by David d'Angers (1838).

The pamphlet attracted a great deal of attention and its author was elected by the Third Estate, not the clergy, as the last of the twenty Paris deputies to the Estates-General . He belonged to the Comité Breton and tried with this to structure the will-formation of the disorderly mass of MPs.

Despite his failure as a public speaker, his influence grew; he strongly recommended the declaration of the Assembly of Estates on the National Assembly without a statute. As a result, he played a major role in shaping the French constitution of 1791 . At first he opposed the abolition of tithing and the confiscation of church property, but agreed when it became clear that the state deficit could be reduced through the secularization of church property. He supported the introduction of the civil constitution of the clergy . In 1791 he refused to be elected bishop because he had chosen a career as a politician.

In the committee to draft a constitution into which he had been elected, he rejected the right of an absolute veto for the king, which Mirabeau unsuccessfully supported. In the constitutional committee, he was concerned with the creation of a modern nation as an association of responsible citizens and he spoke out in favor of a representative constitution.

He had considerable influence in shaping the departmental system, but after the spring of 1790 he was ousted by men of more determined character. Only once was he elected to the post of two-week President of the National Assembly.

Since he could not be re-elected to the legislative assembly as a member of the constituent assembly, he reappeared in the third National Assembly, known as the National Convention (September 1792 to September 1795). At this gathering his reticence became even more evident; It was partly due to his indignation, partly to his fearfulness. After the terror regime , he characterized his behavior with the ironic remark J'ai vécu (I survived). He voted for the execution of Louis XVI. but he is known to have disapproved of many of the prescriptions in the 1791 and 1793 Constitutions, though doing little or nothing to improve them. Overall, Sieyès stayed in the background in the convention, but was actively involved in the overthrow of Maximilien de Robespierre and Antoine de Saint-Just . He then joined the welfare committee . In this he was involved in the transition to the directorate system.

Directory of the Republic

In the years between 1795 and 1799 Sieyès advocated the French expansion policy. In 1795 he went on a diplomatic mission to The Hague and was involved in the negotiation of a treaty between France and the Batavian Republic . He deviated from the 1795 constitution (of the Directory ) in some points, but without success. He then refused to serve as director of the republic. In January 1798, he traveled to the court in Berlin as French representative in order to try to persuade Prussia to join forces against the Second Coalition . His behavior was skillful, but his main intention failed. The prestige associated with his name led to his being elected director of France in May 1799 in Reubell's place. He had already begun to weave intrigues to overthrow the board. He now set about undermining the basis of the constitution of 1795 and eventually caused the closure of the neo-Jacobin Club du Manège . Because of a future coup, he approached General Barthélemy-Catherine Joubert . However, Joubert's death at the Battle of Novi and Napoleon's return from Egypt ruined his plans.

Alliance with Napoleon

Eventually, however, he came to an agreement with the young general Napoleon. After the coup d'état on 18 Brumaire , he became one of the three consuls of the republic. Sieyès wrote a constitution according to his ideas, but it was greatly changed by Bonaparte. Sieyès soon retired from the post of provisional consul; he then became one of the first senators. After the bomb attack at the end of 1800 (Nivôse affair), Sieyès defended in the Senate the arbitrary and illegal procedure with which Bonaparte got rid of the leading Jacobins.

French Academy

In 1795 Sieyès became one of the first members of the Académie des sciences morales et politiques , the new Institut de France .

When the institute was reorganized in 1803, he was elected to second class, where he took seat 31, where the astronomer and politician Jean-Sylvain Bailly , guillotined in 1793, had previously sat.

After the Restoration of 1815 Sieyès was withdrawn from the Academy for his role in the execution of Louis XVI. excluded as régicide and replaced by the Marquis de Lally-Tollendal , appointed by royal decree.

Later years

During the empire he was appointed count and in 1815 peer of France. Politically, however, it hardly played a role. Since he because of his vote for the execution of Louis XVI. Sieyes had to go into exile in 1816 as a "regicide". He lived in Brussels. He only returned after the July Revolution and died in Paris in 1836.

Work editions

  • Oliver W. Lembcke / Florian Weber (eds.): Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès. What is the third estate? Selected writings (= writings on the European history of ideas; vol. 3), Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-05-004561-0 ( review )
  • Eberhard Schmitt , Rolf Reichardt (eds.): Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès: Political writings 1788 to 1790 . With glossary and critical Sieyes bibliography, series: Ancien Régime, Enlightenment and Revolution 5, Oldenbourg / De Gruyter 1975, 2nd edition 1981


  • Charles Philippe Dijon de Monteton: The long shadow of the Abbé Bonnot de Mably. Divergences and analogies of his thinking in the political theory of Count Sieyès , in: Thiele, U. (ed.): Popular sovereignty and freedom rights. Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes' understanding of the state, Nomos, Baden-Baden, 2009, pp. 43–110
  • Alois Riklin : Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes and the French Revolution (= Small Political Writings. Vol. 8). Stämpfli et al., Bern et al. 2001, ISBN 3-727299339
  • Gerhard Robbers : Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès - The idea of ​​a constitutional jurisdiction in the French Revolution. In: Festschrift for Wolfgang Zeidler , ed. by Walther Fürst, Roman Herzog and Dieter C. Umbach, Volume 1, Gruyter 1987, ISBN 3110110571 , pp. 247-264 .

Web links

Wikisource: Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès  - Sources and full texts (French)

supporting documents

  1. Sieyes on the role of the Third Estate, "What is the Third Estate?" in: Paschold / Gier: The French Revolution, A reader with contemporary reports and documents , Stuttgart 2005.
predecessor Office successor

François-Antoine Boissy d'Anglas
President of the French National Convention
April 20, 1795 - May 5, 1795

Théodore Vernier
predecessor Office successor

François-Toussaint Villers
President of the French Council of Five Hundred
November 21, 1797 - December 20, 1797

Joseph Boulay de la Meurthe