Declaration of the Rights of
and of the Citizen
The Marquis de Lafayette
Approved by the National Assembly of France, August 26, 1789
The representatives of the French people, organized 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
- Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may
be founded only upon the general good.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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 by law.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Society has the right to require of every public agent an account of his
- A society in which the observance of the law is not assured, nor the
separation of powers defined, has no constitution at all.
- 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.
The above document was written by The Marquis de Lafayette, with help from
his friend and neighbor, American envoy to France, Thomas Jefferson. Lafayette,
you may recall, had come to the Colonies at age 19, been commissioned a Major
General, and was instrumental in the defeat of the British during the American
Revolutionary War. He considered one special man his 'father': George
Washington. French King Louis XVI signed this document, under duress, but never
intended to support it. Indeed, the Revolution in France soon followed, leading
to the tyrannical rule of Napolean Bonaparte.
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