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The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (French: Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen) is a fundamental document of the French Revolution, 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 last article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was adopted on 26 August 1789, by the National Constituent Assembly (Assemblée nationale constituante), during the period of the French Revolution, as the first step toward writing a constitution for France. Inspired by the Enlightenment, the original version of the Declaration was discussed by the representatives on the basis of a 24 article draft proposed by the sixth bureau, led by Jérôme Champion de Cicé. The draft was later modified during the debates. A second and lengthier declaration, known as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1793 was later adopted.
The concepts in the Declaration come from the philosophical and political principles of the Age of Enlightenment, such as individualism, the social contract as theorized by the Swiss 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). Thomas Jefferson, primary author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, was at the time in France as a U.S. diplomat, and was in correspondence with members of the French National Constituent Assembly. James Madison's proposal for a U.S. Bill of Rights was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives on 21 August 1789., that is 5 days before the French declaration. Considering the speed at which information crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the 18th century, it can be assumed that the French declaration was not directly inspired by its US counterpart.
The 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.
At the time of writing, the rights contained in the declaration were only awarded to men. Furthermore, the declaration was a statement of vision rather than reality. The declaration was not deeply rooted in either the practice of the West or even France at the time. The declaration emerged in the late 18th Century out of war and revolution. It encountered opposition as democracy and individual rights were frequently regarded as synonymous with anarchy and subversion. The declaration embodies ideals and aspirations towards which France pledged to struggle in the future.
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The Declaration opens by affirming "the natural and imprescriptible rights of man" to "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 also asserted the principles of popular sovereignty, in contrast to the divine right of kings that characterized the French monarchy, and social equality among citizens, "All the citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, 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," eliminating the special rights of the nobility and clergy.
While the French Revolution provided rights to a larger portion of the population, there remained a distinction between those who obtained the political rights in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen and those who did not. Those who were deemed to hold these political rights were called active citizens. Active citizenship was granted to men who were French, at least 25 years old, paid taxes equal to three days work, and could not be defined as servants (Thouret). This meant that at the time of the Declaration only white, male, property owners held these rights. The deputies in the National Assembly (French Revolution) believed that only those who held tangible interests in the nation could make informed political decisions. This distinction directly affects articles 6, 12, 14, and 15 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen as each of these rights is related to the right to vote and to participate actively in the government. With the decree of 29 October 1789, the term active citizen became embedded in French politics.
The concept of passive citizens was created to encompass those populations that had been excluded from political rights in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Because of the requirements set down for active citizens, the vote was granted to approximately 4.3 million Frenchmen. out of a population of around 29 million. These omitted groups included women, slaves, children, and foreigners. As these measures were voted upon by the General Assembly, they limited the rights of certain groups of citizens while implementing the democratic process of the new French Republic (1792–1804). This legislation, passed in 1789, was amended by the creators of the Constitution of 1795 in order to eliminate the label of active citizen. However, the power to vote continued to be granted solely to substantial property owners.
Tensions arose between active and passive citizens throughout the Revolution. This happened when passive citizens started to call for more rights, or when they openly refused to listen to the ideals set forth by active citizens. This cartoon clearly demonstrates the difference that existed between the active and passive citizens along with the tensions associated with such differences. In the cartoon, a passive citizen is holding a spade and a wealthy landowning active citizen is ordering the passive citizens to go to work. The act appears condescending to the passive citizen and it revisits the reasons why the French Revolution began in the first place.
Women, in particular, were strong passive citizens who played a significant role in the Revolution. Olympe de Gouges penned her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen in 1791 and drew attention to the need for gender equality. By supporting the ideals of The French Revolution and wishing to expand them to women, she represented herself as a revolutionary citizen. Madame Roland also established herself as an influential figure throughout the Revolution. She saw women of The French Revolution as holding three roles; “inciting revolutionary action, formulating policy, and informing others of revolutionary events.” By working with men, as opposed to working separate from men, she may have been able to further the fight of revolutionary women. As players in The French Revolution, women occupied a significant role in the civic sphere by forming social movements and participating in popular clubs, allowing them societal influence, despite their lack of direct political influence.
The Declaration recognized many rights as belonging to citizens (who could only be male). This was despite the fact that after The March on Versailles on 5 October 1789, women presented the Women's Petition to the National Assembly in which they proposed a decree giving women equality. In 1790 Nicolas de Condorcet and Etta Palm d'Aelders unsuccessfully called on the National Assembly to extend civil and political rights to women. Condorcet declared that “and he who votes against the right of another, whatever the religion, color, or sex of that other, has henceforth abjured his own”. The French Revolution did not lead to a recognition of women’s rights and this prompted Olympe de Gouges to publish the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen in September 1791.
The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen is modelled on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and is ironic in formulation and exposes the failure of the French Revolution, which had been devoted to equality. It states that:
“This revolution will only take effect when all women become fully aware of their deplorable condition, and of the rights they have lost in society”.
The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen follows the seventeen articles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen point for point and has been described by Camille Naish as “almost a parody... of the original document”. The first article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen proclaims that:
“Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be based only on common utility.”
The first article of Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen replied:
“Woman is born free and remains equal to man in rights. Social distinctions may only be based on common utility”.
De Gouges also draws attention to the fact that under French law women were fully punishable, yet denied equal rights, declaring “Women have the right to mount the scaffold, they must also have the right to mount the speaker’s rostrum”.
The declaration did not revoke the institution of slavery, as lobbied for by Jacques-Pierre Brissot's Les Amis des Noirs and defended by the group of colonial planters called the Club Massiac because they met at the Hôtel Massiac. Despite the lack of explicit mention of slavery in the Declaration, slave uprisings in Saint-Domingue that would later be known as the beginning of the Haitian Revolution took inspiration from its words, as discussed in C. L. R. James' history of the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins. Deplorable conditions for the thousands of slaves in Saint-Domingue, the most profitable slave colony in the world, also led to the uprisings which would be known as the first successful slave revolt in the New World. Slavery in the French colonies was abolished by the Convention dominated by the Jacobins in 1794. However, Napoleon reinstated it in 1802. The colony of Saint-Domingue declared its independence in 1804.
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.
According to the preamble of the Constitution of the French Fifth Republic (adopted on 4 October 1958, and the current constitution), the principles set forth in the Declaration have constitutional value. Many laws and regulations have been canceled because they did not comply with those principles as interpreted by the Conseil Constitutionnel ("Constitutional Council of France") or by the Conseil d'État ("Council of State").
The Eye of Providence represents the sun 'shining' on the laws and fueled several conspiracy theories, for instance that the French Revolution was caused by occults groups.[better source needed]
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