Constitutional Father Essay Research Paper Emmanuel Joseph

Constitutional Father Essay, Research Paper

Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes, better known as Abbe Sieyes, is considered by some

scholars, the leader of the early Revolution in France; however, others consider

him a selfish, jealous man. No matter what one believes, there are some

indisputable facts about Abbe Sieyes. Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes was born on May

3rd, 1748 in Frejus. His father was a postmaster and collector of king’s dues,

while his mother was connected to the lower ranks of nobility. Sieyes’ parents

gave him the best education they could afford, first at home under a tutor, then

in the Jesuits’ College at Frejus. Most graduates of the college attended

military academies and Sieyes expected the same, but was forced into a different

occupation. Emmanuel’s parents pushed him into Holy Orders in the hope that he

would support the family, especially his two brothers. The Bishop of Frejus was

a family friend and helped Emmanuel’s parents send him to Paris to study at the

Seminary of St. Sulpice. His studies lasted for ten years and he was ordained a

priest in 1773. Two years after his ordination, Abbe Sieyes became secretary to

the Bishop of Treguier. His advancement in the priesthood was hindered of

course, because he came from a middle-class family that lacked nobility. Then in

1784, he became vicar general and chancellor to the Bishop of Chartres. Abbe

Sieyes then became a member of the Provincial Assembly of Orleans in 1787. When

the Estates General was called in late 1788, Abbe Sieyes wrote his most famous

pamphlet, Qu’est-ce que le Tiers Etat? "What is the Third Estate?"

With its publishing in January 1789, Sieyes became a prominent figure at the

Estates General. On June 12, 1789, Sieyes brought about the vote to allow the

privileged to join the Third. Then on June 17, he brought about the vote that

transformed the Third into the National Assembly. One year later, Sieyes was

voted president of the Assembly and of the Jacobian Club. During the next three

years, Sieyes simply survived the Terror. Later in his career he was a member of

the Committee of Public Safety, a member of the Council of Five Hundred, and

received membership to the Directory, but denounced it, and finally was named a

Consul in 1799. Sieyes left Paris for the Restoration and returned after the

revolution of 1830. He lived six more years and died on June 20, 1836. That was

Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes’ life, but scholars have written various interpretations

of it and its impact (Clapham 4 – 10). The first scholarly interpretation I

examined was that of John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton. Acton wrote Lectures on

the French Revolution. Acton states that, "Sieyes was essentially a

revolutionist, because he held that political oppression can never be right, and

that resistance to oppression can never be wrong?he (Sieyes) sacrificed

equality by refusing the vote to those who paid no taxes"(Acton 161). Acton

treats Sieyes as an important figure to the Revolution, especially in its early

stages. He makes Sieyes out to be a student of the Locke. He also states that

Sieyes controlled France twice, by sheer political power. This political power

did not derive from public opinion, but from Sieyes’ political thoughts. To

Acton, Sieyes was a political thinker, the best of his time, but he lacked the

pulse of the people and therefore was a poor politician. The next interpretation

I examined was that of J. M. Thompson. Thompson sees Sieyes as a philosopher

with one major flaw. In Leaders of the French Revolution, Thompson states,

"In both those acts (the creation of the National Assembly and the

Constitution of Brumaire) Sieyes did well by his country, and did so because he

was human enough to forget, for the moment, he was a philosopher"(Thompson

15). Thompson interprets this ignorance as Sieyes’ major weakness. He thinks

Sieyes could not philosophically detach himself from a situation. Thompson also

thinks Sieyes was unfit for the priesthood and was closer to the philosophes’

movements. Overall, Thompson believes that Sieyes is responsible for the

National Assembly, the National Guard, and the Departmental System and in effect

a great political thinker. The third interpretation I read was that of Henri

Beraud. In Beraud’s book, Twelve Portraits of the French Revolution, he sees

Sieyes as a secondary figure to the revolution, "a man who internally

struggled with respect for monarchy and the love of liberty"(Beraud 299).

Beraud’s interpretation of Abbe Sieyes differs form the first two because he

sees Sieyes political thoughts as part of his problem. To Beraud, Sieyes was

concerning himself more with his reputation and thoughts, than with his

political power. To Beraud, Sieyes could have helped prevent disastrous times by

taking control, but he acknowledges the fact that Sieyes was not a very good

politician. In conclusion, Beraud sees Sieyes as a man clouded by his thoughts

and ego. The next scholar I examined was Georges Lefebvre. Lefebvre wrote The

Coming of the French Revolution. This book examines the early revolution and

pays some attention to Abbe Sieyes. Lefebvre believes that "Sieyes was the

theorist of the ‘constitutive power’ and the moving spirit of the judicial

revolution. But being neither a speaker nor a man of action, he was never known

except to the bourgeoisie"(Lefebvre 69). To him, Emmanuel Sieyes was a man

who lacked the ability and conviction to be a leader. Lefebvre also opposes

Thompson’s view that Sieyes’ actions, especially the coup d’etat of 18 Brumaire,

helped France. To Lefebvre, Sieyes was the "gravedigger" to the

political liberty he espoused. Lefebvre sees Sieyes’ life as one contradiction -

becoming part of the priesthood, after another – planning the coup d’etat of 18

Brumaire. The final interpretation I examined was that of J. H. Clapham, the

foremost author of Emmanuel Sieyes. His book, The Abbe Sieyes, was a source for

most of the information I read on Sieyes. Clapham sees Sieyes as a political

genius. "He (Sieyes) had genius, it has been rightly said, for finding the

key to a given political position. Hence, a dangerous tactician, whose influence

both on ideas and on affairs had to be reckoned with at each crisis of the

Revolution" (Clapham 2). To Clapham, Sieyes was hated by his adversaries,

because his ideas and principles changed with the revolution and therefore was

seen as a traitor to each political faction. Sieyes was a "political

metaphysician"-a man who took politics to the abstract level. That was

Sieyes legacy, according to Clapham. He was able to bring politics to a science.

Clapham also sees the contradiction in Sieyes thoughts and occupation. Clapham

acknowledges the fact that Sieyes’ thoughts and ideas contradicted his vocation,

but does not go into any more detail. In conclusion, Clapham believes Sieyes to

be the foremost political thinker of his time who influence the Revolution with

his thoughts, words, and inaction! These five interpretations cover the spectrum

on Sieyes and my personal interpretation falls somewhere in the center. I admit

Sieyes political theories were essential to the Revolution, as well as, his

pamphlet. Sieyes was the leader of the Third when it was looking for an

identity, and he helped create the National Assembly. In his own mind, he had a

vision for a government, which would help France achieve its greatness, but

lacked the leadership to implement it. Sieyes was too concerned with political

theories to take action when action was needed. Sieyes political thought was a

combination of Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. He was not as radical as later

revolutionaries, but was radical for his time in the early Revolution. Sieyes

was a constitutional monarchist. He wanted a constitution to control the power

of the monarch, but believed a monarch was needed. Sieyes never attempted to

destroy the King, he simply attempted to curtail his power. In the end, Sieyes

became a great political thinker, but lacked the courage and leadership to

control France and shape his political thoughts into reality. I think many of

his political theories and actions came out of his deep seeded hatred for the

nobility. He first disliked the priesthood, then the nobility within it because

they hindered his advancement. Sieyes’ ego took that as an insult. I think his

theory of government was created to destroy the nobility’s power. Sieyes did not

hold hatred toward the King. In actually, Sieyes loved monarchy just the same as

he loved liberty. He wanted both liberty and monarchy, but he could not

implement this form government because he lacked the leadership and confidence

to do it. Sieyes’ lack of confidence led many to view him as weak, feeble man,

but I have to disagree. Overall, Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes was a great political

thinker who wanted a constitutional monarch, but lacked the confidence to create

this form of government. A lack of confidence does not create a weak man or a

failure, he is just human. No one can be expexted to be perfect at the perfect

times. Sieyes was essential to the Revolution, he helped create the National

Assembly and the Constitution of Brumaire. No matter how you view his potential

ability, in reality, he did well by his country

Beraud, Henri. Twelve Portraits of the French Revolution. Trans. Madeleine Boyd.

Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1928. Clapham, J.H. The Abbe Sieyes. London:

P.S. King & Son, 1912. Dalberg-Acton, John E.E. Lectures on the French

Revolution. Ed. John Figgis and Reginald Laurence. London: MacMillan and

Company, 1932. Lefebvre, Georges. The Coming of the French Revolution. Trans.

R.R. Palmer. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947. Thompson, J.M. Leaders

of the French Revolution. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1929.


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