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Fourth Estate

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Title: Fourth Estate  
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Fourth Estate

The Fourth Estate (or fourth power) is a societal or political force or institution whose influence is not consistently or officially recognized. "Fourth Estate" most commonly refers to the news media, especially print journalism or "the press". Thomas Carlyle attributed the origin of the term to Edmund Burke, who used it in a parliamentary debate in 1787 on the opening up of press reporting of the House of Commons of Great Britain.[1] Earlier writers have applied the term to lawyers, to the British queens consort (acting as a free agent, independent of the king), and to the proletariat. The term makes implicit reference to the earlier division of the three Estates of the Realm.


  • The press 1
    • The networked Fourth Estate 1.1
  • Alternative meanings 2
    • In European law 2.1
    • The proletariat 2.2
    • British queens consort 2.3
  • Fiction 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • External links 6

The press

In current use the term is applied to the press,[2] with the earliest use in this sense described by Thomas Carlyle in his book On Heroes and Hero Worship: "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."[3]

In Burke's 1787 coining he would have been making reference to the traditional three estates of Parliament: The Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal and the Commons.[4] If, indeed, Burke did make the statement Carlyle attributes to him, the remark may have been in the back of Carlyle's mind when he wrote in his French Revolution (1837) that "A Fourth Estate, of Able Editors, springs up; increases and multiplies, irrepressible, incalculable."[5] In this context, the other three estates are those of the French States-General: the church, the nobility and the townsmen.[4] Carlyle, however, may have mistaken his attribution: Thomas Macknight, writing in 1858, observes that Burke was merely a teller at the "illustrious nativity of the Fourth Estate".[6] If Burke is excluded, other candidates for coining the term are Henry Brougham speaking in Parliament in 1823 or 1824[7] and Thomas Macaulay in an essay of 1828 reviewing Hallam's Constitutional History: "The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm."[8] In 1821, William Hazlitt (whose son, also named William Hazlitt, was another editor of Michel de Montaigne—see below) had applied the term to an individual journalist, William Cobbett, and the phrase soon became well established.[9][10]

Oscar Wilde wrote:

In United States English, the phrase "fourth estate" is contrasted with the "fourth branch of government", a term that originated because no direct equivalents to the estates of the realm exist in the United States. The "fourth estate" is used to emphasize the independence of the press, while the "fourth branch" suggests that the press is not independent of the government.[12]

The networked Fourth Estate

  • "The Fourth Estate", Section V of French Revolution by Thomas Carlyle, as posted in the online library of World Wide School

External links

  1. ^ Schultz, Julianne (1998). Reviving the fourth estate. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 49.  
  2. ^ "estate, n, 7b".  
  3. ^ Carlyle, Thomas (19 May 1840). "Lecture V: The Hero as Man of Letters. Johnson, Rousseau, Burns". On Heroes, Hero-Worship, & the Heroic in History. Six Lectures. Reported with emendations and additions (Dent, 1908 ed.). London: James Fraser. p. 392.  
  4. ^ a b OED: "estate, n, 6a"
  5. ^ "The French Revolution". Sixth. London: Griffith Farrane Browne. pp. 146–148. Retrieved 12 November 2009. 
  6. ^ Macknight, Thomas (1858). History of the life and times of Edmund Burke 1. London: Chapman and Hall. p. 462.  
  7. ^ Ross, Charles (9 June 1855). "Replies to Minor Queries".   Ross (October 1800–6 December 1884) was chief parliamentary reporter for The Times.
  8. ^ Macaulay, Thomas (September 1828). "Hallam's constitutional history".  
  9. ^ Hazlitt, William (1835). Character of W. Cobbett M. P. Finsbury, London: J Watson. p. 3.  
  10. ^  
  11. ^ Wilde, Oscar (February 1891). " 
  12. ^ Martin A. Lee and Norman Solomon. Unreliable Sources (New York, NY: Lyle Stuart, 1990) ISBN 0-8184-0521-X
  13. ^ Benkler, Yochai (2011). "Free Irresponsible Press: Wikileaks and the Battle over the Soul of the Networked Fourth Estate" (PDF). Harv. CR-CLL Rev. 46: 311. Retrieved 11 July 2013. 
  14. ^ a b "US vs Bradley Manning, Volume 17 July 10, 2013 Afternoon Session" (PDF). Freedom of the Press Foundation: Transcripts from Bradley Manning's Trial. 10 July 2013. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  15. ^ "US vs Bradley Manning, Volume 17 July 10, 2013 Morning Session" (PDF). Freedom of the Press Foundation: Transcripts from Bradley Manning's Trial. 10 July 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-07-12. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  16. ^  
  17. ^ For a more recent translation, see Hazlitt's edition of 1842:"What can be more outrageous than to see a nation where, by lawful custom, the office of a Judge is to be bought and sold, where judgments are paid for with ready money, and where justice may be legally denied him that has not the wherewithal [sic] to pay...a fourth estate of wrangling lawyers to add to the three ancient ones of the church, nobility and people, which fourth estate, having the laws in their hands, and sovereign power over men's lives and fortunes, make a body separate from the nobility." (Hazlitt 1842: 45)
  18. ^ Fielding, Henry (13 June 1752). Covent Garden Journal (London) (47).  , Quoted in OED "estate, n, 7b".
  19. ^ Paulicelli, Eugenia (2001). Barański, Zygmunt G.; West, Rebecca J., ed. The Cambridge companion to modern Italian culture. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 248.   For his painting, Pellizza transferred the action to his home village of Volpedo.
  20. ^ Pugliese, Stanislao G. (1999). Carlo Rosselli: Socialist Heretic and Antifascist Exile. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 67–69.  
  21. ^ Regent, rather than the sick king's consort, Queen Charlotte.


See also

In his novel The Fourth Estate Jeffrey Archer wrote "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." The book is a fictionalization from episodes in the lives of two real-life Press Barons: Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch.


In a parliamentary debate of 1789 Thomas Powys, 1st Baron Lilford, MP, demanded of minister William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham that he should not allow powers of regency to "a fourth estate: the queen".[21] This was reported by Burke, who, as noted above, went on to use the phrase with the meaning of "press".

British queens consort

Far-right theorist Julius Evola saw the Fourth Estate as the final point of his historical cycle theory, the regression of the castes:

This sense has prevailed in other countries: In Italy, for example, striking workers in 1890s Turin were depicted as Il quarto stato—The Fourth Estate—in a painting by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo.[19] A political journal of the left, Quarto Stato, published in Milan, Italy, in 1926, also reflected this meaning.[20]

(This is an early use of "mob" to mean the mobile vulgus, the common masses.)

None of our political writers ... take 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.[18]

An early citation for this is Henry Fielding in The Covent Garden Journal (1752):

Il quarto stato (1901): a march of strikers in Turin, Italy

The proletariat

What is more barbarous than to see a nation [...] where justice is lawfully denied him, that hath not wherewithall [sic] to pay for it; and that this merchandize hath so great credit, that in a politicall government there should be set up a fourth estate [tr. Latin: quatriesme estat] of Lawyers, breathsellers and pettifoggers [...].
— Michel de Montaigne, in the translation by John Florio, 1603

In 1580 Montaigne proposed that governments should hold in check a fourth estate of lawyers selling justice to the rich and denying it to rightful litigants who do not bribe their way to a verdict:[16][17]

In European law

Alternative meanings


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