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Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

Primary Source Set

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, written in August 1789, is a central document of the French Revolution and fundamental to the history of both civil and human rights. It was strongly influenced by America’s Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson; The Marquis de Lafayette, a veteran of the American Revolution and friend of Jefferson, wrote the French Declaration. He persuaded the National Assembly to adopt the document in 1789, shortly after the fall of Bastille prison, a symbol of the ancien régime, the old regime, and the feudal system in France. The Declaration relies heavily on the Enlightenment philosophy of natural rights, or rights that are universal and inalienable for all individuals, and embodies the French Revolution ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. At the time of its creation, the Declaration united people of various social classes (the first, second, and third estate) as they began an often-violent revolution; after, its words echoed in future French constitutions and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) created by the United Nations. Belief in “human rights,” particularly the right of a people to break the social contract between themselves and their government when that government is oppressive, permeates our world today.

Additional resources for research

  1. Creating the United States: Declaration Legacy, Library of Congress.
  2. French Revolution Digital Archive, Stanford University Libraries and Bibliothèque nationale de France.
  3. A Brief History of Human Rights, United for Human Rights.

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