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AFTER the legal abolition of the feudal system the National Assembly proceeded to draw up the celebrated Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. It was obviously framed on the model of the bills of rights inserted in several of the American state constitutions, which had been translated into French. The Declaration was prefixed to the French Constitution of 1791, and many of its clauses were subsequently reproduced in the constitutions framed in France and other Continental countries during the nineteenth century.


CITIZEN, 1798 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 causes of public calamities and of the corruption of governments, have determined to set forth in a solemn declaration the natural, inalienable, 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 ends 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:

I. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may only be founded upon the general good.

1 Translations and Reprints, vol. i, No. 5, pp. 6-8.

II. 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.

III. 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.

IV. 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.

V. 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.

VI. Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in its formation. 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.

VII. 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.

VIII. 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.

IX. As all persons are held innocent until they shall have been declared guilty, if arrest shall be deemed indispensable, all severity not essential to the securing of the prisoner's person shall be severely repressed by law.

X. 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.

XI. 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.

XII. The security of the rights of man and of the citizen requires military force. These forces are, therefore, established for the good of all and not for the personal advantage of those to whom they shall be intrusted.

XIII. 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.

XIV. 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.

XV. Society has the right to require of every public agent an account of his administration.

XVI. A society in which the observance of the law is not assured, nor the separation of powers defined, has no constitution at all.

XVII. 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 conquest of the Austrian Netherlands by the revolutionary armies and the voluntary adhesion of Nice and Savoy to the French Republic filled the French with enthusiasm; they prepared to carry “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” throughout Europe. The following decree, passed by the National Convention in December, 1792, was a direct challenge to autocratic rulers and privileged classes everywhere. Articles I, II, XI, and XII are of particular importance in this connection.


its arms,

The National Convention, after having heard the report of its united

committees of finances, war, and diplomacy, faithful to the principles of the sovereignty of the people, which do not permit it to recognize any of the institutions that constitute an attack thereon, and wishing to settle the rules to be followed by the generals of the armies of the Republic in the countries where they shall carry

decrees: I. In the countries which are or shall be occupied by the armies of the Republic, the generals shall proclaim immediately, in the name of the French nation, the sovereignty of the people, the suppression of all the established authorities and of the existing imposts and taxes, the abolition of the tithe, of feudalism, of seignioral rights, both feudal and censuel, fixed or precarious, of banalités, of real and personal servitude, of the privileges of hunting and fishing, of corvées,3 of the nobility, and generally of all privileges.

II. They shall announce to the people that they bring them peace, assistance, fraternity, liberty, and equality, and that they will convoke them directly in primary or communal assemblies, in order to create and organize an administration and a provisional judiciary; they shall look after the security of persons and property; they shall cause the present decree and the proclamation herewith annexed to be printed in the language or idiom of the country, and to be posted and executed without delay in each commune.

1 F. M. Anderson, The Constitutions and Other Select Documents Illustrative of the History of France, 1789-1907, pp. 130–133. Second Edition. Minneapolis, 1908. H. W. Wilson Company.

2 Certain exclusive rights of a lord over mills, forests, fishing, etc.
3 The corvée was the forced labor exacted of peasants on the highways.

III. All the agents and civil and military officers of the former government, as well as the persons formerly reputed noble, or the members of any formerly privileged corporation, shall be, for this time only, inadmissable to vote in the primary or communal assemblies, and they shall not be elected to administrative positions or to the provisional judicial power.

IV. The generals shall directly place under the safeguard and protection of the French Republic all the movable and immovable goods belonging to the public treasury, to the prince, to his abettors, adherents, and voluntary satellites, to the public establishments, to the lay and ecclesiastical bodies and communities; they shall cause to be prepared without delay a detailed list thereof, which they shall dispatch to the executive council, and shall take all the measures which are in their power that these properties may be respected.

V. The provisional administration selected by the people shall be charged with the surveillance and control of the goods placed under the safeguard and protection of the French Republic; it shall look after the security of persons and property; it shall cause to be executed the laws in force relative to the trial of civil and criminal suits and to the police and the public security; it shall be charged to regulate and to cause the payment of the local expenses and those which shall be necessary for the common defense; it may establish taxes, provided, however, that they shall not be borne by the indigent and laboring portion of the people.

VI. When the provisional administration shall be organized, the National Convention shall appoint commissioners from within its own body to go to fraternize with it.

VII. The executive council shall also appoint national commissioners, who shall repair directly to the places in order to coöperate with the generals and the provisional administration selected by the people upon the measures to be taken for the common defense, and upon the means employed to procure the clothing and provisions necessary for the armies, and to meet the expenses which they have incurred and shall incur during their sojourn upon its territory.

VIII. The national commissioners appointed by the executive council shall every fifteen days render an account to it of their opera

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