The French Revolution/Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen


Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
One of the first important pronouncements of the National Assembly after the Tennis Court Oath was the Declaration
of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The authors drew inspiration from the American Declaration of Independence,
but the language is even more heavily influenced by the ideals of French Enlightenment philosophers, particularly Rousseau.
Following are the Declaration?s preamble and some of its most important principles.
he representatives of man. These rights are liberty, property, and on the basis of no other distinction
the French people, con- security, and resistance to oppression. than that of their virtues and talents.
stituted as the National Article 3. The source of all sovereignty Article 16. A society in which the
Assembly, considering resides essentially in the nation. No body, guarantee of rights is not secured, or the
31:22 2:11:22: that ignorance, disre- no individual can exercise authority that separation of powers is not clearly estab-
gard, or contempt for the rights of man does not explicitly proceed from it. lished, has no constitution.
are the sole causes of public misfortunes Article 4. Liberty consists in being able
Cl th t. f t h Cl h. h d . . Source: Declaration of the Rights of Man and of
an e corrup ion 0 governmen s, ave to o anyt ing t at oes not injure the Citizen, as cited in K. M. Baker, ed., The Old
resolved to set forth, in a solemn declara- another; thus the only limits upon each Regime and the French Revolution (Chicago: 1987),
tion, the natural, inalienable, and sacred man?s exercise of his natural laws are those PP- 238?239-
rights of man, so that the constant pres- that guarantee enjoyment of these same . l
ence of this declaration may ceaselessly rights to the other members of society. Questions for Ana YSIS
remind all members of the social body of Article 5. The law has the right to 1. Who is the Declaration addressed to?
their rights and duties; so that the acts of forbid only actions harmful to society. Is itjust about the rights of the French,
legislative power and those of the execu- No action may be prevented that is not or do these ideas apply to all people?
tive ower ma be more res ected . . . forbidden b law and no one ma be . I
P y p , , , y ‘ y 2. What gave a group of deputies elected
and so that the demands of the Citizens, constrained to do what the law does not
to adVIse Louis XVI on constitutional
grounded henceforth on Simple and order.
reforms the right to proclaim them-
incontestable prinCIples, may always be Article 6. The law is the expressnon of
selves a National Assembly? What was
directed to the maintenance of the con- the general Will. All Citizens have the
revolutionary about this claim to rep-
stitution and to the welfare of all. . . . right to partICIpate personally, or
resent the French nation?
Article 1. Men are born and remain through representatives, in its forma-
free and equal in rights. Social distinc- tion. It must be the same for all, whether 3. Article 6, which states that ?law is the
tions can be based only on public utility. it protects or punishes. All citizens, being expression of general will,? is adapted
Article 2. The aim of every political equal in its eyes, are equally admissable from Rousseau?s Social Contract. Does
association is the preservation of the to all public dignities, positions, and the Declaration give any indication of
natural and imprescriptible rights of employments, according to their ability, how the ?general will? can be known?
fathers, claims that would have been impossible under the tionary crisis, and eventually these notes circulated widely
prerevolutionary legislation. as paper money. In July 1789, the assembly enacted the
Civil Constitution of the Clergy, bringing the Church under
state authority. The new law forced all bishops and priests
to swear allegiance to the state, whlch henceforth paid their
In November 1789 the National Assembly decided to con- salaries. The aim was to make the Catholic Church of France
fiscate all Church lands to use them as collateral for issu- a national institution, free from interference from Rome.
ng interest-bearing notes known as assignats. The assembly These reforms were bitterly divisive. Many people
hoped that this action would resolve the economy?s infla- resented the privileged status of the Church, and its vast
The Destruction of the Old Regime I 591

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