Declaration of the Rights of Man
and of the Citizen
Approved by the National Assembly of France, August 26, 178.
The representatives of the French people, organized as a National
Assembly, believing that the ignorance, neglect, or contempt of
the rights of man are the sole cause of public calamities and of
the corruption of governments, have determined to set forth in a
solemn declaration the natural, unalienable, and sacred rights of
man, in order that this declaration, being constantly before all
the members of the Social body, shall remind them continually of
their rights and duties; in order that the acts of the legislative
power, as well as those of the executive power, may be compared
at any moment with the objects and purposes of all political
institutions and may thus be more respected, and, lastly, in order
that the grievances of the citizens, based hereafter upon simple
and incontestable principles, shall tend to the maintenance of
the constitution and redound to the happiness of all. Therefore
the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims, in the presence
and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights
of man and of the citizen.
- Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social
distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.
- The aim of all political association is the preservation of
the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights
are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
- The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the
nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which
does not proceed directly from the nation.
- Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which
injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights
of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other
members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These
limits can only be determined by law.
- Law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society.
Nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no
one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law.
- Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has
a right to participate personally, or through his representative,
in its foundation. It must be the same for all, whether it
protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of
the law, are equally eligible to all dignities and to all public
positions and occupations, according to their abilities, and
without distinction except that of their virtues and talents.
- No person shall be accused, arrested, or imprisoned except in
the cases and according to the forms prescribed by law. Any one
soliciting, transmitting, executing, or causing to be executed,
any arbitrary order, shall be punished. But any citizen summoned
or arrested in virtue of the law shall submit without delay, as
resistance constitutes an offense.
- The law shall provide for such punishments only as are
strictly and obviously necessary, and no one shall suffer
punishment except it be legally inflicted in virtue of a law
passed and promulgated before the commission of the offense.
- As all persons are held innocent until they shall have been
declared guilty, if arrest shall be deemed indispensable, all
harshness not essential to the securing of the prisoner's
person shall be severely repressed by law.
- 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.
- The security of the rights of man and of the citizen
requires public military forces. These forces are, therefore,
established for the good of all and not for the personal
advantage of those to whom they shall be intrusted.
- A common contribution is essential for the maintenance
of the public forces and for the cost of administration. This
should be equitably distributed among all the citizens in
proportion to their means.
- All the citizens have a right to decide, either personally
or by their representatives, as to the necessity of the public
contribution; to grant this freely; to know to what uses it is
put; and to fix the proportion, the mode of assessment and of
collection and the duration of the taxes.
- Society has the right to require of every public agent an
account of his administration.
- A society in which the observance of the law is not assured,
nor the separation of powers defined, has no constitution at all.
- Since property is an inviolable and sacred right, no one
shall be deprived thereof except where public necessity, legally
determined, shall clearly demand it, and then only on condition
that the owner shall have been previously and equitably indemnified.
The above document was written by The Marquis de Lafayette,
with help from his friend and neighbor, American envoy to France,
Thomas Jefferson. Lafayette, you may recall, had come to the
Colonies at age 19, been commissioned a Major General, and was
instrumental in the defeat of the British during the American
Revolutionary War. He considered one special man his 'father':
French King Louis XVI signed this document, under duress, but
never intended to support it. Indeed, the Revolution in France
soon followed, leading to the tyrannical rule of Napolean
Prepared by Gerald Murphy (The Cleveland Free-Net - aa300)
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