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La Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, France 1789 –
For the original French text: CLICK HERE
Drawn from the essay of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, first published 11-Jul-1789.
It is convincingly argued by Georg Jellinek that Lafayette was one of the driving forces behind the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789)
The symbolic beginning of the French Revolution was the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789. Soon after, the Constituent Assembly promulgated the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizen on August 26, 1789. But as the historian Georg Jellinek notes, the Marquis de Lafayette had on July 11 already pointed out the need for such a declaration of rights. His model was not the American Declaration of Independence (proclaimed on July 4, 1776) but rather the declarations of rights which preceded the constitutions of many of the colonial states such as Virginia (June 12, 1776):
The conception of a declaration of rights had found expression in France even before the assembling of the States General. It had already appeared in a number of cahiers. The cahier of the Bailliage of Nemours is well worth noting, as it contained a chapter entitled “On the Necessity of a Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens”, and sketched a plan of such a declaration with thirty articles. Among other plans that in the cahier des tiers état of the city of Paris has some interest.
In the National Assembly, however, it was Lafayette who on July 11, 1789, made the motion to enact a declaration of rights in connection with the constitution, and he therewith laid before the assembly a plan of such a declaration.
…[i]n his Memoirs … Lafayette mentions the model that he had in mind when making his motion in the Constituent Assembly. He very pertinently points out that the Congress of the newly formed Confederation of North American free states was then in no position to set up, for the separate colonies, which had already become sovereign states, rules of right which would have binding force. He brings out the fact that in the Declaration of Independence there are asserted only the principles of the sovereignty of the people and the right to change the form of government. Other rights are included solely by implication from the enumeration of the violations of right, which justified the separation from the mother country.
The constitutions of the separate states, however, were preceded by declarations of rights, which were binding upon the people’s representatives. The first state to set forth a declaration of rights properly so called was Virginia.
The declarations of Virginia and of the other individual American states were the sources of Lafayette’s proposition. They influenced not only Lafayette, but all who sought to bring about a declaration of rights. Even the above-mentioned cahiers were affected by them.
About this Quotation:
The ties which bound 18th and 19th century America and France were deep and rich, so it is fitting to reflect upon this connection as we celebrate America’s “July 4” (Independence Day) and France’s “July 14” (Bastille Day). To mention only half a dozen or very significant connections one could mention the following: Montesquieu (his study of the British constitution led to his book The Spirit of Laws which in turn had a profound impact on the framers of the American constitution; Thomas Jefferson (who read many French theoretical works, served as a diplomat in Paris, and translated the writings of Destutt de Tracy into English); Thomas Paine (an Englishman who wrote the bestselling Common Sensewhich galvanized the American colonists in favor of independence and who became an elected representative in Paris during their revolution); Jean-Baptiste Say (the leading French political economist of his day whose treatise on political economy became the standard economics textbook in 19th century America); the marquis de Lafayette (an aristocratic general who actively participated in at least three revolutions the American, the French, and then the French again (1830)); Alexis de Tocqueville (the scholar whose observations on democracy in America in the 1830s have fascinated American readers ever since). Then of course there is the Statue of Liberty in New York habor which was given to the people of America by the French to celebrate the 100th anniversary of independence. Its design is modeled on the image of “Marianne”, the symbol of Liberty during the French Revolution. So happy birthdays America and France!
The representatives of the French people, constituted into a National Assembly, considering that ignorance, forgetfulness or contempt of the rights of man are the sole causes of public misfortunes and of the corruption of governments, are resolved to expose, 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 simple and incontestable 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 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. 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 forbid only actions harmful to society. Anything which is not forbidden by the law 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.
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 or seized under the terms of the law must obey at once; he renders himself culpable by resistance.
Article VIII – The law should establish only penalties that are strictly and evidently necessary, and no one can be punished but under a law established and promulgated before the offense and legally applied.
Article IX – Any man being presumed innocent until he is declared culpable, if it is judged indispensible to arrest him, any rigor which would not be necessary for the securing of his person must be severely reprimanded by the law.
Article X – No one may be disturbed for his opinions, even religious ones, 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, except 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: this force is thus instituted for the advantage of all and not for the particular utility of those in whom it is trusted.
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, according to their ability to pay.
Article XIV – Each citizen has the right to ascertain, by himself or through his representatives, the need for a public tax, to consent to it freely, to know the uses to which it is put, and of determining the proportion, basis, collection, and duration.
Article XV – The society has the right of requesting account from any public agent of its administration.
Article XVI – Any society in which the guarantee of rights is not assured, nor the separation of powers determined, has no 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.
Original:This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.
Translation: This work is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license, which allows free use, distribution, and creation of derivatives, so long as the license is unchanged and clearly noted, and the original author is attributed.
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