Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789)

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789)

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Voted by the National Constituent Assembly on August 26, 1789, the Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen is one of the major texts in world history. Its ideals are the basis of nineteenth-century liberalism, even though they were not applied in revolutionary France. This text has, moreover, inspired all subsequent declarations. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen served as a preamble to the Constitution of 1791 and is part of the constitutionality bloc of the Fifth Republic.

The development of the Declaration of Human and Citizen Rights

From the beginnings of the French Revolution in June 1789, groups of deputies were formed to draft a bill of rights for each French person, which will serve as a preamble to the future constitution that the brand new National Assembly intends to put in place. The selected project was drawn up by the group of the Archbishop of Bordeaux Champion of Circe. It is entitled "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen".

Composed of a preamble and seventeen articles, it was certainly inspired by the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 and by the Constitutions which had been promulgated by the American States since their independence, but it is above all the summary of all French political philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment. We find there the idea of ​​natural rights dear to the Encyclopedists, the theory of the general will, which comes from Rousseau, the idea of ​​the separation of powers, which is from Montesquieu, the Voltairian concern for the defense of the individual against judicial and police arbitrariness, etc.

The main principles of the Declaration

The Declaration stated in its preamble “the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of man».
She then stated that:

  • "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights" (article 1),
  • that the natural and imprescriptible rights of man are "liberty, property, safety and resistance to oppression" (Article 2),
  • that "the principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation" (Article 3),
  • that “freedom consists in being able to do anything that does not harm others” (article 4),
  • that "the law has the right to defend only actions harmful to society" (article 5),
  • that "the law is the expression of the general will", that "it must be the same for all, whether it protects, or that it punishes", that "all citizens, being equal in its eyes, are also eligible for all public dignities, places and jobs, according to their ability and without any distinction other than that of their virtues and talents ”(Article 6),
  • that "no man can be accused or detained except in the cases determined by the law, and according to the forms it has prescribed", that those who order or carry out arbitrary orders must be punished (Article 7),
  • that laws cannot have retroactive effect (Article 8),
  • that every man is "presumed innocent until found guilty" (Article 9),
  • that "no one should be worried about his opinions, even religious", provided that their manifestation does not disturb public order (Article 10),
  • that "any citizen can ... speak, write, print freely, except to answer for the abuse of this freedom in the cases determined by the law" (art 11),
  • that the public force is at the service of all (article 12),
  • that the tax must be equally distributed among all citizens "because of their faculties" (Article 13),
  • that citizens have the right to control taxes (Article 14),
  • that all public officials are responsible to society (Article 15),
  • that the guarantee of rights and the separation of powers must be determined (Article 16),
  • that "property being an inviolable and sacred right, no one can be deprived of it, except when public necessity, legally established, obviously requires it, and under the condition of fair and prior compensation" (article 17).

This declaration, which made no reference to the Christian God, the king or the monarchical tradition, was, in Aulard's words, the "death certificate" of the Ancien Régime. Although the French Revolution itself, at the time of the Terror, reneged on many of the articles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, it became in a way the charter of freedom in the world. , and a British statesman could say that she had been "more powerful than any of Napoleon's armies."

Subsequent declarations

Two other Declarations of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen were voted under the French Revolution.

The Declaration of 1793, which served as a preface to the Year I Constitution, emphasized equality; it prohibited slavery; she asserted that “public relief is a sacred debt. Society owes its subsistence to unhappy citizens, either by providing them with work or by ensuring the means of existence for those who are unable to work "(Article 21); that "education is everyone's need. Society must favor with all its power the progress of public reason and make education accessible to all citizens ”(article 22). Finally, according to article 35, "when the government violates the rights of the people, the insurrection is for the people, and for every portion of the people, the most sacred and the most indispensable of duties".

The Declaration of 1795, an introduction to the Constitution of Year III (that of the Directory), was much closer to that of 1789 than that of 1793; it no longer mentioned the rights to work, to assistance and to insurrection. In addition, it was accompanied by a Declaration of Duties, which placed particular emphasis on maintaining property.


- The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (August 26, 1789), by J. Morange. What do I know, 2002.

- The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789; history, analysis and commentary. Economica, 1993.

- The Constitutions of France since 1789, by Jacques Godechot. Flammarion, 1993.

Video: Execution of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights English version


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