Living in the Languedoc: Central Government: The Rights of Man
Declaration of the Rights of Man.
Approved by the National Assembly of France, August 26, 1789
The representatives of the French people, organised 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
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
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.