The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen

The authors of “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen” were influenced by the excitement of the American Revolution and were inspired by the concepts captured in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. The Declaration served as a contract between men and the state. This represented a fundamental shift. Whereas nobles and clergy had wielded unprecedented power for centuries prior, the individual rights of man were now established by the rule of law. This document served to elevate the rule of law above all else and no longer were nobles or clergy above the law, in theory at least. Principles which we now take for granted such as free speech, private property, and the practice that one is innocent until proven guilty were codified in this document. A national system of taxation was established as was a national military to defend and expand territorial holdings of the king.

This document was also influenced by the Enlightenment. The revolution in thought, and belief in human reason allowed people to overcome fear, superstition and an exploration of both their natural and place in the social order (Rapport, 7). This new-found reliance on the self, promoted participation in civil affairs and politics in new and exciting ways which helped keep public officials accountable.

The influence of this document was not confined to French borders, but influenced a modernization of thought in the other nations of Europe leading to revolutions and a reduction of clerical influence in schools and universities. The rise of liberalism ushered in many changes in Europe including a demand for wider access to public office, a new sense that the public had rights which were not limited to other the elite or landowning classes. Political representation was demanded by ‘patriots,’ those who held the needs of the state above those of the nobility or clergy (Rapport, 8). These changes ushered in the long-nineteenth century and would change society dramatically.