Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
by the National Assembly of France, August 26, 1789
The representatives of the French people, organized as a
believing that the ignorance, neglect, or contempt of the rights of man
sole cause of public calamities and of the corruption of governments,
determined to set forth in a solemn declaration the natural,
sacred rights of man, in order that this declaration, being constantly
all the members of the Social body, shall remind them continually of
rights and duties; in order that the acts of the legislative power, as
those of the executive power, may be compared at any moment with the
purposes of all political institutions and may thus be more respected,
lastly, in order that the grievances of the citizens, based hereafter
simple and incontestable principles, shall tend to the maintenance of
constitution and redound to the happiness of all.
Therefore the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims, in
and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of
man and of
- Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social
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,
and resistance to oppression.
- The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the
body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed
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
which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the
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
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
must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All
equal in the eyes of the law, are equally eligible to all dignities and
public positions and occupations, according to their abilities, and
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,
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
obviously necessary, and no one shall suffer punishment except it be
inflicted in virtue of a law passed and promulgated before the
commission of the
- As all persons are held innocent until they shall have been
guilty, if arrest shall be deemed indispensable, all harshness not
the securing of the prisoner's person shall be severely repressed by
- No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions,
religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the
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
freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as
defined by law.
- The security of the rights of man and of the citizen
military forces. These forces are, therefore, established for the good
and not for the personal advantage of those to whom they shall be
- A common contribution is essential for the maintenance of
the public forces
and for the cost of administration. This should be equitably
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
freely; to know to what uses it is put; and to fix the proportion, the
assessment and of collection and the duration of the taxes.
- Society has the right to require of every public agent an
account of his
- 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
it, and then only on condition that the owner shall have been
The above document was written by The Marquis de Lafayette,
with help from
his friend and neighbor, American envoy to France, Thomas Jefferson.
you may recall, had come to the Colonies at age 19, been commissioned a
General, and was instrumental in the defeat of the British during the
Revolutionary War. He considered one special man his 'father': George
Washington. French King Louis XVI signed this document, under duress,
intended to support it. Indeed, the Revolution in France soon followed,
to the tyrannical rule of Napolean Bonaparte.
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