A manifesto debated in the National Assembly of France, 1789. The original form (listed below in English translation) was approved by the National Assembly. Later, the Declaration was published as the preface to the 1791 constitution.

As regards the author of the Declaration, various traditions exist for its provenance, listing the author as the Marquis de Lafayette, Thomas Jefferson, or Alexis François Pison de Galland.

The Declaration embodies the political and moral principles of the Enlightenment and of the Great Revolutions. The tradition, ever since, has been to clearly specify individual rights and liberties (whether in the form of a constitution or in the form of such international instruments as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Noder's preface: This text of the Declaration, in English translation, is supplied with the copyright provisions listed at the end of the WU. The notes at the end of the document were provided by the same source, and do not constitute a contribution by this noder.

Declaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen

Approved by the National Assembly of France, August 26, 1789

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 cause of public calamities and of the corruption of governments, have determined to set forth in a solemn declaration the natural, unalienable, 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 objects and purposes 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:


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

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

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

7. 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.

8. 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.

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

10. 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.

11. 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.

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

13. 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.

14. 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.

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

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

17. 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.

Bibliographic data:

Declaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen / par A.F. Pison du Galland, membre de l'Assemble nationale.
Imprint: A Versailles: Chez Baudoin . . . ., 1789
( New York Public Library Rare Book Room Call Numbers: KVR KVR 3021; KVR 3022 and KVR 11175)

The above document was written by The Marquis de Lafayette, with help from his friend and neighbor, American envoy to France, Thomas Jefferson. There are also versions credited to Alexis François Pison de Galland, a member of the National Assembly who approved the Declaration (hence the bibliographical information). Lafayette had come to the Colonies at age 19, been commissioned a Major General, and was instrumental in the defeat of the British during the American Revolutionary War. He considered one special man his 'father': George Washington.

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Permission is hereby granted to download, reprint, and/or otherwise redistribute this file, provided appropriate point of origin credit is given to the preparer(s) and the National Public Telecomputing Network.

The preamble declares this to be a "declaration the natural, unalienable, and sacred rights of man." Article 1 contradicts this by allowing government to make "social distinctions" founded upon "the general good." This means that when Hitler wants to genocide Jews, and is confronted as violating rights specified in this document, he needs to claim that the Jews are a lesser race and that exterminating them cleanses the gene pool and helps the general good. Having made that claim, Hitler is no longer in violation.

The "general good" doesn't exist. There is only the good of particular individuals, and by sanctioning "social distinction" based on "general good," this document allows governments to violate certain individuals' rights in order to reward certain other individuals. This creates pressure groups which compete for being perceived as representatives of the general populace in order to attain government handouts.

Article 2: "Security" as a right. The rights to life, liberty, and property, being proper rights, place no obligations on other people to provide anything for us. Unless someone takes action, we posses our life, we are free, and we maintain ownership of our property. These proper rights merely assert that no one may kill us, imprison us, or steal from us. They are "negative" in the sense that they place only a negative obligation on other individuals--the obligation to abstain from taking specific actions which cause particular harm to us. But what does right to security mean? If I take a job in which my continued employment depends on my achievement, I am lacking "security" because someone better qualified than me might always come along and force me to look for a job which I am more qualified to do. I am, according to this document, justified in suing the employer who discriminates based on ability because said discrimination violates my right to security.

Article 3: It is unclear which body aside from the individual is forbidden to exercise authority by article 3. In fact, the sole purpose of article 3 seems to be to assert government authority over the individual.

Article 4, by asserting that "liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else," destroys the notion of the right to liberty. By acting to win the love of a woman, I am injuring other men who might have had her love had I not acted, and thus my action is not protected by this document. Properly, libery consists in the freedom to do everything which does not violate someone's proper rights (i.e., life, liberty, & property).

Article 14 seems to make taxation voluntary, but by saying that the citizens have a "right to decide, either personally or by their representatives," it ensures that no particular citizen will have the right to refuse taxation, as such refusal can properly be established by refusing to vote for politicians who tax.

There are other problems with the Declaration, but they are left as an exercise to the reader.

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