France’s National Constituent Assembly declared the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen on August 26th 1789. The Declaration was drafted by the Abbé Sieyès and the Marquis de Lafayette, in consultation with Thomas Jefferson. It is one of the many topics about the French Revolution, which is also featured in the World History segment of the IAS Exam.
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Background of the Declaration of the Rights of Man
The Enlightenment ideals largely inspired the content of the document. The first draft was prepared by Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, a French commander who had fought for the American Revolutionaries during the American Revolution. He made the draft in consultation with his close friend, Thomas Jefferson, who would later become the 3rd President of the United States. Honoré Mirabeau played a central role in conceptualizing and drafting the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in August 1789.
The final draft of the article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was adopted on the 26 of August 1789 by the National Constituent Assembly, when the French Revolution was at its height, as the first step toward writing a constitution for France. The representatives discussed the original version of the Declaration based on 24 articles. The draft was proposed by the sixth bureaucrat, led by Jérôme Champion de Cicé. The draft was later modified during the debates. A second and lengthier declaration, known as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1793, was written in 1793 but never formally adopted.
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Structure of the Declaration of Rights of Man
The structure of the Declaration of Rights of Man consists of 17 articles, some of the most well known and important are highlighted below:
Article I – Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good.
Article II – The goal of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible 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. Nobody, no individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.
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 fruition of these same rights. These borders can be determined only by the law.
Article V – The law has the right to forbid only actions harmful to society. Anything that the law is not forbidden cannot be impeded, and no one can be constrained to do what it 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.
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Facts about the Declaration of the Rights of Man
- It talked of a nation of free individuals who are accorded equal protection by the law.
- The adoption of this declaration was the first step in writing a constitution for France.
- This declaration is included at the beginning of the fourth (1946) and the fifth (1958) French Republic’s constitutions.
- It is valid to date.
- The ideals enshrined here form the basis of democracies everywhere.
- The Declaration was inspired by the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, when ideals like liberty, tolerance, fraternity, progress, separation of the church from the state and constitutional government came about.
- The French Revolution led to the abolition of feudalism in France and it abolished privileges given to the aristocracy and the clergy.
- It stated that people have the right to resist oppression.
- It also stressed ‘popular sovereignty’ rather than the prevailing European notion of the ‘divine right of kings’.
- It also asserted that all men have equal rights of admission to public places and employment as per their capacities and without any kind of discrimination.
- It also stated that there should be the rule of law and that no man can be punished until proven guilty in court.
- It also stated that people should not be persecuted for their beliefs, including religious ones.
Declaration of Rights of Man – UPSC Notes:- Download PDF Here
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