Fourth Estate

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The term Fourth Estate refers to the press. The term goes back at least to Thomas Carlyle in the first half of the 19th century. Thomas Macaulay used it in 1828.

Novelist Jeffrey Archer in his work The Fourth Estate made the observation: "In May 1789, Louis XVI summoned to Versailles a full meeting of the 'Estates General'. The First Estate consisted of three hundred clergy. The Second Estate, three hundred nobles. The Third Estate, six hundred commoners. Some years later, after the French Revolution, Edmund Burke, looking up at the Press Gallery of the House of Commons, said, 'Yonder sits the Fourth Estate, and they are more important than them all.'"


[edit] Primary meaning

The earliest use of the term fourth Estate to mean the press, is found in Thomas Carlyle's book On Heroes and Hero Worship (1841) in which he wrote:

[British politician Edmund] Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all. (Italics added)[1]

If, indeed, Burke did make the statement Carlyle attributes to him, his remark may have been in the back of Carlyle's mind when he wrote in his French Revolution (1837), "A Fourth Estate, of Able Editors, springs up."[2] In this context, the other three estates are those of the French States-General: the church, the nobility and the commoners.

Burke, as author of Reflections on the Revolution in France, could have had in mind precisely these three estates, or the three referred to by Henry Fielding in the quotation below.

[edit] Alternative meaning

The term Fourth Estate has less frequently referred to the proletariat in opposition to the three recognized estates of the French Ancien Régime.

An early citation for this use—earlier than for the one that now prevails—is Henry Fielding in Covent Garden Journal (1752):

None of our political writers ... take[s] notice of any more than three estates, namely, Kings, Lords, and Commons ... passing by in silence that very large and powerful body which form the fourth estate in this community ... The Mob.[3]

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Qtd. from Thomas Carlyle, "The Hero as Man of Letters. Johnson, Rousseau, Burns", Lecture V, May 19, 1840, from On Heroes and Hero Worship, The Victorian Web, accessed November 18, 2006; qtd. also in part in "The Mass Media as Fourth Estate" in
  2. ^ Chap. 39, Section V, "The Fourth Estate" in French Revolution, rpt. in The French Revolution, World Wide School (online library), accessed November 18, 2006.
  3. ^ Quoted in

[edit] External links

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