Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen | 2022

This declaration, aside from the one made by the United States in 1776, is considered the precursor document of human rights. The first declaration that establishes a set of personal and group rights for the whole of a citizenry, the French, consolidating concepts such as national sovereignty.

This list of rights was drawn up and approved in the first months of one of the most important episodes of humanity, the French Revolution. This put an end to the Old Regime and the Modern Age, opening the way to the Contemporary Age and more liberal regimes. In some cases, in the form of a republic, in others, constitutional monarchies, although absolute monarchies would continue to exist until the mid-nineteenth century.

Context of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

The declaration, as we mentioned before, is set in the French Revolution, but what is its background? The trigger for the revolution was the situation of misery in the country, while the royal house enjoyed every luxury and comfort.

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All this, added to the political crisis, led to the popular violent uprising. Although the start of the revolution dates back to May 1789 with the convening of the Estates General, the first significant violent act was the taking of the Bastille on July 14 of that same year.

Days before, on July 4, the National Constituent Assembly is proclaimed, in order to draft a Constitution for the nation. The old National Assembly, constituted barely twenty days ago, did away with the Estates General, ensuring a more faithful representation of the French people.

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Another great antecedent of the declaration was the abolition of feudalism carried out by the assembly in August. This put an end to feudal rights and the peasantry as a source of work for the nobility and the clergy. Finally, on August 26, 1789, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen came to light, although the revolution had only just begun.

Contents

Before detailing the articles of the document, it is necessary to indicate its scope. Despite its universal character and all the changes brought about at the time, the content of the declaration was only intended for the French free man. In 1791 its female version would arrive, promoted by Olympe de Gouges, who claimed the same rights for women. Although, in practice, it did not have the same value.


The items of the declaration are as follows:

  • Article 1: Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can only be founded on common utility.
  • Article 2: The purpose of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. Such rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
  • Article 3: The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation. No body, no individual, can exercise an authority that does not expressly emanate from it.
  • Article 4: Freedom consists in being able to do everything that does not harm another: therefore, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no other limits than those that guarantee the enjoyment of these same rights to the other members of society. These limits can only be determined by law.
  • Article 5: The law only has the right to prohibit acts harmful to society. Nothing that is not prohibited by law can be prevented, and no one can be forced to do something that the law does not order.
  • Article 6: The law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to contribute to its preparation, personally or through their representatives. It must be the same for everyone, whether it protects or punishes. As all citizens are equal before it, all are equally admissible in all public dignity, position or employment, according to their abilities and without any other distinction than that of their virtues and talents.
  • Article 7: No man can be accused, arrested or detained, except in the cases determined by the law and in accordance with the forms that it has prescribed. Those who request, issue, execute or have arbitrary orders executed must be punished; but every citizen summoned or apprehended by virtue of the law must obey immediately; he is guilty if he resists.
  • Article 8: The law should only establish strict and obviously necessary penalties, and no one can be punished, except by virtue of a law established and promulgated prior to the crime, and legally applied.
  • Article 9: Since every man is presumed innocent as long as he is not declared guilty, if it is deemed essential to arrest him, any rigor that is not necessary to seize his person must be severely repressed by law.
  • Article 10: No one should be bothered by their opinions, including religious ones, provided that their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.
  • Article 11: The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the most precious rights of man; consequently, every citizen can speak, write and print freely, in exchange for responding to the abuse of this freedom in the cases determined by law.
  • Article 12: The guarantee of the rights of man and of the citizen needs a public force; therefore, this force has been instituted for the benefit of all, and not for the particular benefit of those to whom it has been entrusted.
  • Article 13: For the maintenance of the public force and for administrative expenses, a common contribution is essential; this must be shared equally among citizens, proportionally to their capacity.
  • Article 14: Citizens have the right to verify, by themselves or through their representatives, the need for the public contribution, to accept it freely, to monitor its use and to determine its proportion, its base, its collection and its duration.
  • Article 15: The company has the right to demand accounts of its management from any public agent.
  • Article 16: Any society in which the guarantee of rights is not established, nor is the separation of powers determined, lacks a Constitution.
  • Article 17: Since property is an inviolable and sacred right, no one can be deprived of it, except when public necessity, legally proven, clearly requires it, and on condition of fair and prior compensation.
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