The public sphere is vital to Kenneth Margerison’s chapter on the pamphlet debate. His careful analysis of the pamphlet literature published in the months preceding the convocation of the Estates General informs his interpretation of events at Versailles in the summer of 1789. He argues that the largely aristocratic Society of Thirty’s well-known publication campaign calling for a doubled Third Estate and vote by head in the Estates General was designed to bring the Third Estate into an alliance with the privileged orders to combat ministerial despotism. The abbé Sieyès, who distrusted the aristocratic leadership of the society, rejected such an alliance in his famous pamphlet, What Is the Third Estate? Disputing the conventional assessment of this pamphlet’s importance, Margerison argues that it had little impact on public opinion, which had come by early 1789 to accept the necessity of a union of the three orders in the Estates General. Furthermore, the success of Sieyès’s motion that created the National Assembly in June 1789 did not result, as historians usually contend, in a victory establishing the political dominance of the Third Estate. Instead, the formation of the National Assembly, after a brief but fraught period of tension, led directly to the common deliberations sought by the unionist nobility who emerged as important leaders in the body. By emphasizing the efforts of the leaders of the Society of Thirty and their allies to create a basis for cooperation among the three orders, Margerison’s analysis challenges not only Georges Lefebvre’s classic description of events in the summer of 1789 as a struggle between the Third Estate and the nobility but also the more recent interpretations of François Furet and Keith Baker, who have emphasized the influence of Sieyès on the development of the Revolutionary concept of sovereignty.
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