The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789 AD) is a fundamental document of the French Revolution and in the history of human rights—defining the individual and collective rights of all the estates of the realm as universal. Influenced by the doctrine of “natural right”, the rights of man are held to be universal: valid at all times and in every place, pertaining to human nature itself.
The concepts in the Declaration come from the philosophical and political duties of the Enlightenment Era, such as individualism, the social contract as theorized by the French philosopher Rousseau, and the separation of powers espoused by the Baron de Montesquieu. As can be seen in the texts, the French declaration is heavily influenced by the political philosophy of the Enlightenment, and by Enlightenment principles of human rights, some of which it shares with the U.S. Declaration of Independence which preceded it (4 July 1776). During the creation of the French Declaration, Thomas Jefferson – primary author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence – was in France as a U.S. diplomat and was in correspondence with members of the French National Constituent Assembly. The authorship and the people who influenced its content were the same people who took part in shaping both documents.
This Declaration is in the spirit of what has come to be called “secular natural law”, which does not base itself on religious doctrine or authority but with traditional natural law theory.
This Declaration defines a single set of individual and collective rights for all men. Influenced by the doctrine of natural rights, these rights are held to be universal and valid in all times and places. For example, “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.” They have certain natural rights to property, to liberty and to life. According to this theory the role of government is to recognize and secure these rights. Furthermore government should be carried on by elected representatives
The Declaration is introduced by a preamble describing the fundamental characteristics of the rights which are qualified as being “natural, unalienable and sacred” and consisting of “simple and incontestable principles” on which citizens could base their demands. In the second article, “the natural and imprescriptible rights of man” are defined as “liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression”. It called for the destruction of aristocratic privileges by proclaiming an end to exemptions from taxation, freedom and equal rights for all human beings (referred to as “Men”), and access to public office based on talent. The monarchy was restricted, and all citizens were to have the right to take part in the legislative process. Freedom of speech and press were declared, and arbitrary arrests outlawed
The declaration has also influenced and inspired rights-based liberal democracy throughout the world. It was translated as soon as 1793–94 by Colombian Antonio Nariño, who published it despite the Inquisition and was sentenced to be imprisoned for ten years for doing so. In 2003, the document was listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World register.
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