Abbe Sieyès was a member of the French clergy around the time of the French Revolution. At the time, France's social system was broken up into three estates. The First Estate was made up of the clergy. The Second Estate was made up of the nobility. The Third Estate was made up of everyone else, and it constituted the vast majority of French citizens in the late 18th Century. The Third Estate consisted of 98% of French citizens, yet prior to the French Revolution, these citizens received few rights and benefits. Additionally, the Third Estate was the only estate required to pay taxes, despite its members including the poorest of the French people.
Sieyès is significant for his beliefs that were central to the ideas of the French Revolution. Sieyès favored ideas like popular sovereignty (rule by the people), in which the Third Estate (the bulk of the French population) received more rights and had a greater say in the government. There are three questions associated with Sieyès regarding the Third Estate. These questions are addressed by Sieyès in his pamphlet "What is the Third Estate?"
What is the Third Estate? Sieyès argues that the Third Estate is "everything." This is due to its being the vast majority of the French population of the time. He saw the Third Estate as being the true French nation.
What has it been so far in the political order? Sieyès claims the Third Estate is "nothing." This is because the Third Estate lacked rights and political representation at the time.
What does it ask to be? Sieyès believed the Third Estate asks to be "something." It is his view that, being such a large part of the population, the Third Estate requests, and deserves, rights, representation, and influence within the French government.
Sieyès played a critical role in representing the Third Estate at the Estates General in 1789. Under Sieyès, the Third Estate also moved to establish the National Assembly, which sought to provide greater representation of the Third Estate in French politics. Sieyès later stood against the King of France when the king refused to recognize the National Assembly.
An examination of the thoughts and actions of Sieyès shows his belief in the importance of the Third Estate. He can clearly be seen as a proponent of the repressed Third Estate and a leader of their cause as it culminated with the French Revolution.