The cahiers des doléances (Book of Grievances) were distributed in early 1788, by order of the King.
Essentially, each Estate in every electoral region was invited to write down their list of grievances with the current status quo in France, as well as any ideas for social reform. They were significant as it was a departure from the absolute divine authority of the King, who was now asking for the opinion of the common people and thus diluting his own power.
Some of the cahiers were quite conservative, especially those of the noblesse d’épée. However, most were relatively liberal and demonstrated a real appetite for reform, with ideas including a more meritocratic society and greater personal liberties. Moreover, as many of those in the Third Estate were illiterate, they often reflected the opinions and ideas of the bourgeois who were asked to write down the complaints and wishes of urban workers and peasants, but who in reality reiterated their own desires of greater political involvement and agency and other ideas influenced by the Enlightenment.
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