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Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789

From September 15, 2021 to January 3, 2022 - Free entry

With the presentation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the National Archives inaugurate a new cycle, Les Essentiels, starting with this founding text of contemporary history.

Affiche de l'exposition La déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen

Formally adopted on the 26 August 1789 and used as the preamble for the Constitution of 1791, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was the outcome of multiple discussions held by the Constituent Assembly. Inextricably intertwined with the revolutionary context, this text abolished the Ancien Régime and provided the founding principles for a new French society, as well every political regime that has followed since. Universal in scope, the Declaration is a document of international significance that will continue to prove influential for the world of the future.

Curator : Céline Parcé, responsable des archives des assemblées parlementaires et consultatives. AN. Département de l'Exécutif et du Législatif.

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The tennis court oath

Gravure d'Helman d'après un dessin de Monnet, peintre du roi, représentant le Serment du Jeu de paume, le 20 juin 1789, à Versailles. Sans date. Dates document 1789/06/19. Cote AE/II/2900

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Gravure d'Helman d'après un dessin de Monnet, peintre du roi, représentant le Serment du Jeu de paume, le 20 juin 1789, à Versailles. Cote AE/II/2900

On the 17 June, the deputies of the Third Estate proclaimed themselves the National Assembly. On the 20 June, at the tennis court, they took the Tennis Court Oath not to disperse until France had a constitution.

 

 

Several drafts

Projet de déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen élaboré par le 6e bureau de l'Assemblée constituante. C//27.

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Projet de déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen élaboré par le 6e bureau de l'Assemblée constituante. C//27.

On the 9 July, Assembly secretary Jean-Joseph Mounié proposed a preamble to the constitution, a "declaration of the natural and unalienable rights of man". An initial draft was presented by La Fayette two days later, which was then followed by several others.

However, the principle of a declaration was not unanimously approved within the Assembly. Lively discussions continued between its partisans and adversaries throughout early August. On the 4 August, having discussed the question of combining the declaration of rights with a declaration of obligations, the Assembly decreed that the constitution would be preceded solely by a declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

Minute originale extraite des procès-verbaux des séances de l'Assemblée nationale, à la date du 30 septembre 1789. 6 pages. Cote : AE/II/1129.


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Minute originale extraite des procès-verbaux des séances de l'Assemblée nationale, à la date du 30 septembre 1789. 6 pages. Cote : AE/II/1129.

This work was interrupted on the same evening by circumstance. From the 20 July onwards, following the announcement of Parisian events that raised fears of retaliation by the aristocracy, the Great Fear swept across the country. Combined with food scarcity, the panic provoked riots which often took aim at landowners. Given the scale of this widespread movement and the fear it provoked among landowners, the Assembly abolished class privileges on the night of the 4 August.

After the decrees abolishing privileges were adopted, work on the declaration resumed on the 12 August. Deputies adopted the text with conciliatory wording issued by one of the offices charged with preparing the Assembly's work before each session, the 6th office, as a basis of discussion. From the 20 to the 26 August, the text was discussed article by article. The final text was profoundly modified as a result of the debate, and only two articles of the initial 24 were retained without modification.

The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was the result of multiple compromises, a collective work produced by the Assembly.

See the 6 scanned pages, in the SIV

 

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

The representatives of the French People, formed into a National Assembly, considering ignorance, forgetfulness or contempt of the rights of man to be the only causes of public misfortunes and the corruption of Governments, have resolved to set forth, in a solemn Declaration, the natural, unalie-nable and sacred rights of man, to the end that this Declaration, constantly present to all members of the body politic, may remind them unceasingly of their rights and their duties; to the end that the acts of the legislative power and those of the executive power, since they may be continually compared with the aim of every political institution, may thereby be the more respected; to the end that the demands of the citizens, founded henceforth on simple and incontestable principles, may always be directed toward the maintenance of the Constitution and the happiness of all.
In consequence whereof, the National Assembly recognises and declares, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

  • ARTICLE FIRST

Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be based only on conside-rations of the common good.

  • ARTICLE 2

The aim of every political association is the preser-vation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of Man. These rights are Liberty, Property, Safety and Resistance to Oppression.

  • ARTICLE 3

The principle of any Sovereignty lies primarily in the Nation. No corporate body, no individual may exercise any authority that does not expressly emanate from it.

  • ARTICLE 4

Liberty consists in being able to do anything that does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of every man has no bounds other than those that ensure to the other members of society the enjoyment of these same rights. These bounds may be determined only by Law.

  • ARTICLE 5

The Law has the right to forbid only those actions that are injurious to society. Nothing that is not forbidden by Law may be hindered, and no one may be compelled to do what the Law does not ordain.

  • ARTICLE 6

The Law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to take part, personally or through their representatives, in its making. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or puni-shes. All citizens, being equal in its eyes, shall be equally eligible to all high offices, public positions and employments, according to their ability, and without other distinction than that of their virtues and talents.

  • ARTICLE 7

No man may be accused, arrested or detained except in the cases determined by the Law, and following the procedure that it has prescribed. Those who solicit, expedite, carry out, or cause to be carried out arbitrary orders must be punished; but any citizen summoned or apprehended by virtue of the Law, must give instant obedience; resistance makes him guilty.

  • ARTICLE 8

The Law must prescribe only the punishments that are strictly and evidently necessary; and no one may be punished except by virtue of a Law drawn up and promulgated before the offense is committed, and legally applied.

  • ARTICLE 9

As every man is presumed innocent until he has been declared guilty, if it should be considered necessary to arrest him, any undue harshness that is not required to secure his person must be severely curbed by Law.

  • ARTICLE 10

No one may be disturbed on account of his opinions, even religious ones, as long as the mani-festation of such opinions does not interfere with the established Law and Order.

  • ARTICLE 11

The free communication of ideas and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man. Any citizen may therefore speak, write and publish freely, except what is tantamount to the abuse of this liberty in the cases determined by Law.

  • ARTICLE 12

To guarantee the Rights of Man and of the Citizen a public force is necessary; this force is therefore established for the benefit of all, and not for the particular use of those to whom it is entrusted.

  • ARTICLE 13

For the maintenance of the public force, and for administrative expenses, a general tax is indis-pensable; it must be equally distributed among all citizens, in proportion to their ability to pay.

  • ARTICLE 14

All citizens have the right to ascertain, by them-selves, or through their representatives, the need for a public tax, to consent to it freely, to watch over its use, and to determine its proportion, basis, collection and duration.

  • ARTICLE 15

Society has the right to ask a public official for an accounting of his administration.

  • ARTICLE 16

Any society in which no provision is made for guaranteeing rights or for the separation of powers, has no Constitution.

  • ARTICLE 17

Since the right to Property is inviolable and sacred, no one may be deprived thereof, unless public necessity, legally ascertained, obviously requires it, and just and prior indemnity has been paid.

Declaration of human and civic rights of 26 august 1789 {Pdf-EN-228Ko}

 

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