Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen  

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No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.
The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (Déclaration des droits de l'Homme et du citoyen) is a fundamental document of the French Revolution, defining the individual and collective rights of all the estates of the realm as universal. Influenced by the doctrine of natural rights, the rights of Man are universal: valid at all times and in every place, pertaining to human nature itself. Although it establishes fundamental rights for French citizens and all men without exception, it addresses neither the status of women nor slavery; despite that, it is a precursor document to international human rights instruments.

Contents

Philosophical and theoretical context

The concepts in the Declaration come from the philosophical and political duties of the Enlightenment, such as individualism, the general will, the social contract as theorized by the French philosopher Rousseau, and the separation of powers espoused by the Baron de Montesquieu. As can be seen in the texts, the French declaration is heavily influenced by the political philosophy of the Enlightenment, by Enlightenment principles of human rights, and by the U.S. Declaration of Independence which preceded it (4 July 1776). Thomas Jefferson—the primary author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence—was at the time in France as a U.S. diplomat, and worked closely with Lafayette in designing a bill of rights for France. In the ratification by the states of the U.S. Constitution in 1788, critics had demanded a written Bill of Rights. In response, James Madison's proposal for a U.S. Bill of Rights was introduced in New York on June 8, 1789, 11 weeks before the French declaration. Considering the 6 to 8 weeks it took news to cross the Atlantic, it is possible that the French knew of the American text. But, as Lafebvre notes, both texts emerged from the same shared intellectual heritage. The same people took part in shaping both documents; Lafayette admired Jefferson, and Jefferson in turn found Lafayette useful, writing in 1787 that Lafayette was "a most valuable auxiliary to me. His zeal is unbounded, & his weight with those in power, great." Historian Iain McLean concludes that Jefferson worked hard to influence the French Declaration and that Lafayette was "the ideal tool for Jefferson's interests as they broadened from American trade to French politics."

The declaration is in the spirit of "secular natural law", which does not base itself on religious doctrine or authority, in contrast with traditional natural law theory, which does.

The declaration defines a single set of individual and collective rights for all men. Influenced by the doctrine of natural rights, these rights are held to be universal and valid in all times and places. For example, "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good." They have certain natural rights to property, to liberty, and to life. According to this theory, the role of government is to recognize and secure these rights. Furthermore, government should be carried on by elected representatives.

At the time of writing, the rights contained in the declaration were only awarded to men. Furthermore, the declaration was a statement of vision rather than reality. The declaration was not deeply rooted in either the practice of the West or even France at the time. The declaration emerged in the late 18th century out of war and revolution. It encountered opposition as democracy and individual rights were frequently regarded as synonymous with anarchy and subversion. The declaration embodies ideals and aspirations towards which France pledged to struggle in the future.

Substance

The Declaration opens by affirming "the natural and imprescriptible rights of man" to "liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression". It called for the destruction of aristocratic privileges by proclaiming an end to exemptions from taxation, freedom and equal rights for all men, and access to public office based on talent. The monarchy was restricted, and all citizens were to have the right to take part in the legislative process. Freedom of speech and press were declared, and arbitrary arrests outlawed.

The Declaration also asserted the principles of popular sovereignty, in contrast to the divine right of kings that characterized the French monarchy, and social equality among citizens, "All the citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally admissible to all public dignities, places, and employments, according to their capacity and without distinction other than that of their virtues and of their talents," eliminating the special rights of the nobility and clergy.

Article X and XI

Nul ne doit être inquiété pour ses opinions, même religieuses, pourvu que leur manifestation ne trouble pas l’ordre public établi par la Loi.
La libre communication des pensées et des opinions est un des droits les plus précieux de l’Homme : tout Citoyen peut donc parler, écrire, imprimer librement, sauf à répondre de l’abus de cette liberté, dans les cas déterminés par la Loi.

Article X - No one may be questioned about his opinions, [and the] same [for] religious [opinions], provided that their manifestation does not trouble the public order established by the law.

Article XI - The free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man: any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely, save [if it is necessary] to respond to the abuse of this liberty, in the cases determined by the law.

Full text in English

The representatives of the French people, constituted into a National Assembly, considering that ignorance, forgetting or contempt of the rights of man are the sole causes of public misfortunes and of the corruption of governments, are resolved to expose [i.e., expound], in a solemn declaration, the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of man, so that that declaration, constantly present to all members of the social body, points out to them without cease their rights and their duties; so that the acts of the legislative power and those of the executive power, being at every instant able to be compared with the goal of any political institution, are very respectful of it; so that the complaints of the citizens, founded from now on on simple and incontestible principles, turn always to the maintenance of the Constitution and to the happiness of all.

In consequence, the National Assembly recognizes and declares, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and of the citizen:

Article I - Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common utility.

Article II - The goal of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible [i.e., inviolable] rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, safety and resistance against oppression.

Article III - The principle of any sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation. No body, no individual can exert authority which does not emanate expressly from it.

Article IV - Liberty consists of doing anything which does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those borders which assure other members of the society the enjoyment of these same rights. These borders can be determined only by the law.

Article V - The law has the right to ward [i.e., forbid] only actions [which are] harmful to the society. Any thing which is not warded [i.e., forbidden] by the law cannot be impeded, and no one can be constrained to do what it [i.e., the law] does not order.

Article VI - The law is the expression of the general will. All the citizens have the right of contributing personally or through their representatives to its formation. It must be the same for all, either that it protects, or that it punishes. All the citizens, being equal in its eyes, are equally admissible to all public dignities, places and employments, according to their capacity and without distinction other than that of their virtues and of their talents.

Article VII - No man can be accused, arrested nor detained but in the cases determined by the law, and according to the forms which it has prescribed. Those who solicit, dispatch, carry out or cause to be carried out arbitrary orders, must be punished; but any citizen called [i.e., summoned] or seized under the terms of the law must obey at the moment; he renders himself culpable by resistance.

Article VIII - The law should establish only strictly and evidently necessary penalties, and no one can be punished but under a law established and promulgated before the offense and [which is] legally applied.

Article IX - Any man being presumed innocent until he is declared culpable, if it is judged indispensible to arrest him, any rigor [i.e., action] which would not be necessary for the securing of his person must be severely reprimanded by the law.

Article X - No one may be questioned about his opinions, [and the] same [for] religious [opinions], provided that their manifestation does not trouble the public order established by the law.

Article XI - The free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man: any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely, save [if it is necessary] to respond to the abuse of this liberty, in the cases determined by the law.

Article XII - The guarantee of the rights of man and of the citizen necessitates a public force [i.e., a police force]: this force is thus instituted for the advantage of all and not for the particular utility of those to whom it is confided.

Article XIII - For the maintenance of the public force and for the expenditures of administration, a common contribution is indispensable; it must be equally distributed between all the citizens, by reason of their faculties [i.e., ability to pay].

Article XIV - Each citizen has the right of noting, by himself or through his representatives, the necessity of the public contribution, of free consent, of following the employment [of the contributions], and of determining the quotient [i.e., the share], the assessment, the recovering [i.e., the collecting] and the duration.

Article XV - The society has the right of requesting [an] account[ing] from any public agent of its [i.e., the society's] administration.

Article XVI - Any society in which the guarantee of rights is not assured, nor the separation of powers determined, has not a bit of Constitution.

Article XVII - Property being an inviolable and sacred right, no one can be deprived of private usage, if it is not when the public necessity, legally noted, evidently requires it, and under the condition of a just and prior indemnity [i.e., compensation].


See also





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