Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen


a program document proclaiming the fundamental principles of the Great French Revolution: the sovereignty of the people and the natural and inalienable rights of man. It was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on Aug. 26, 1789. Article 1 of the declaration states: “All men are born and remain free and have equal rights. Social distinctions are unjustifiable except insofar as they may serve the common good.” Article 2 states: “The purpose of political association is to preserve the natural and inalienable rights of man, that is, liberty, private property, the inviolability of the person, and the right to resist oppression.” Article 6 declares that “law is an expression of the general will,” that “all citizens have the right to participate in legislation, either in person or through their representatives,” and that since all citizens are equal before the law, they are “equally eligible for all public offices and obligations.” Articles 7, 9, 10, and 11 affirm freedom of the person, of conscience, of speech, and of the press. Articles 13 and 14 provide for the equal division of taxes among all citizens. Article 15 proclaims the right of citizens to demand of all officials an account of their conduct. The last article, article 17, declares that “the right to private property is inviolable and sacred.” This last article brings out the class and bourgeois nature of the declaration.

The declaration became the banner for the struggle against the feudal-absolutist order, not only in France but in other countries too. However, the big bourgeoisie put its own limited, class interpretation on the democratic slogans of the declaration. This was also reflected in the electoral qualification system provided for in the Constitution of 1791, in the retention of slavery in the French colonies, the suppression of peasant demonstrations, and certain other antidemocratic actions of the Constituent Assembly (July 9, 1789, to Sept. 30, 1791) and thereafter of the Legislative Assembly (Oct. 1, 1791, to Sept. 19, 1792). The democratic principles in the declaration were partially realized only after the overthrow of the monarchy on Aug. 10, 1792, the convening of the National Convention, and the proclamation of a republic on Sept. 22, 1792, and even more during the Jacobin dictatorship (June 2, 1793, to July 27-28, 1794).

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen adopted by the National Convention together with the new constitution in 1793 was more democratic. In addition to the freedoms proclaimed in the Declaration of 1789, it included the right of petition, the right of assembly, the right of rebelling against a government that was violating the rights of the people, freedom of religion, and the obligation of society to provide work for the needy, to ensure means of subsistence to those incapable of working, and to provide education to all citizens. However, even during that period the workers and farm laborers remained the victims of social injustice in view of the law adopted on June 14, 1791, prohibiting trade unions and strikes; at this time repressive measures were also taken against left-wing groups and the movement of the Enrages, who expressed the interests of the protoproletariat.


Frantsuzskaia burzhuaznaia revoliutsiia, 1789-1794. Edited by V. P. Volgin and E. V. Tarle. Moscow-Leningrad, 1941. Chapter 3.
Konstitutsii i zakonodatel’nye akty burzhuaznykh gosudarstv XVH-XIX vv. Moscow, 1957. Pages 250-52 and 330-33.
Les Declarations françaises des droits de l’homme. Texts reconciled and annotated by A. Aulard. Paris, 1928.
Marcaggi, V. Les Origines de la declaration des droits de l’homme de 1789, 2nd ed. Paris, 1912.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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