Three Cahiers from Orléans

The cahiers de doléances ("list of grievances") drawn up by each assembly in choosing deputies to the Estates–General are the best available source of the thoughts of the French population on the eve of the French Revolution. The following excerpts from workers’ cahiers in various towns around the kingdom again show an important complaint: that nobles and officeholders enjoyed numerous privileges and that such offices were not usually open to the most qualified members of society.


We ask that the luxurious way of life of the nobility be restrained. A kitchen fire is necessary, but it could be smaller. Monsieur and Madame could share a chimney and so could the children of the house. The servants could have two chimneys: one for the men; another for the women. In this way, a lot of firewood could be saved. The people could buy it for less, because it does cost a lot, maybe as much as the bread. . . .

Juvaincourt (Bailliage Mirecourt)

To be represented in the Estates-General, we cannot choose a lord, nor a noble without facing the greatest danger. There are some human, generous, and kind lords. But they can be jealous of their rights and their privileges and can keep us under their dependence. We should not trust any gentleman who approaches us or have his servants approach us in order to be elected. We need to be convinced that their plans are [intended to] trap us and they only want to cheat us. As farmers, we have only good and trustworthy people among our class: the Third Estate. If we seek our representatives somewhere else, our interests will be sacrificed and we will keep on being poor.

Vieuvic (Bailliage Orléans)

It is not only the members of the clergy who made themselves useful, and who deserve considerations and rewards, but also the members of the nobility who sacrificed to the nation their fortune, their youth, and their health in the military service. Because the Third Estate recognizes how much the nobility is useful to it, and how much it deserves considerations and distinctions, the Third Estate does not believe that by taking away just rewards, it is possible to provide for the needs of the government, but rather by bringing order and economy in all the branches of the administration of finances.

P. Riviere-Verdun
Montouse (Hautes-Pyrénées)

Source: Pierre Goubert and Michel Denis, 1789: Les Français ont la parole (Paris: Juillard, 1964), 80–81.