The French Revolution and the organization of justice

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen


The representatives of the French people, constituted in the National Assembly, considering that ignorance, oblivion or contempt for the rights of man are the only causes of misfortunes, public and of the corruption of governments, have resolved to expose , in a solemn declaration, the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of man, so that this declaration, constantly present to all the members of the social body, constantly reminds them of their rights and their duties; so that the acts of the Legislative Power and those of the Executive Power, being able to be compared at any time with the goal of any political institution, are more respected; so that the complaints of the citizens, henceforth founded on simple and indisputable principles, always turn to the maintenance of the Constitution and to the happiness of all.

Consequently, the National Assembly recognizes and declares, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of Man and of the Citizen:

Article :

  1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can only be based on common utility.
  2. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, safety, and resistance to oppression.
  3. The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation. No body, no individual can exercise authority which does not emanate expressly from it.
  4. Freedom consists in being able to do anything that does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits other than those which assure the other members of society the enjoyment of these same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.
  5. The law only has the right to defend actions harmful to society. Anything that is not forbidden by law cannot be prevented, and no one can be compelled to do what it does not order.
  6. The Law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to contribute personally, or through their representatives, to its formation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in his eyes, are equally admissible to all dignities, places and public employments, according to their capacity, and without any other distinction than that of their virtues and their talents.
  7. No man can be accused, arrested or detained except in the cases determined by the law, and according to the forms it has prescribed. Those who solicit, expedite, execute or cause to be executed arbitrary orders must be punished; but every citizen summoned or seized by virtue of the law, must obey immediately: he is guilty by resistance.
  8. The law should establish only strictly and obviously necessary penalties, and no one can be punished except by virtue of a law established and promulgated prior to the offense, and legally applied.
  9. Every man being presumed innocent until he has been declared guilty, if it is deemed essential to arrest him, any rigor which would not be necessary to ascertain his person, must be severely punished by law. .
  10. No one should be disturbed for his opinions, even religious ones, provided that their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by the Law.
  11. The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the most precious rights of man; any citizen can thus speak, write, print freely, except to answer for the abuse of this freedom in the cases determined by the Law.
  12. The guarantee of the rights of man and of the citizen requires a public force; this force is therefore instituted for the benefit of all, and not for the particular utility of those to whom it is entrusted.
  13. For the maintenance of the public force, and for the expenses of administration, a common contribution is indispensable: it must be equally distributed among all the citizens, according to their faculties.
  14. All citizens have the right to ascertain, by themselves or through their representatives, the need for the public contribution, to consent to it freely, to monitor its use, and to determine the quota, the base, recovery and duration.
  15. The company has the right to hold any public official accountable for its administration.
  16. Any society in which the guarantee of rights is not assured, nor the separation of powers determined, has no constitution.
  17. Property being an inviolable and sacred right, no one can be deprived of it, except when public necessity, legally established, obviously requires it, and under the condition of a just and prior indemnity.

Note – This text was established from the original edition of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which is part of the Constitution of September 3, 1791.

The spelling has been modernized.

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