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Declaration of the Rights of Man
and of the Citizen, 1789

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New translation [1] of the French Declaration of Rights prepared by Xavier Hildegarde, January 2002.

Permission to reproduce this translation by electronic means granted to magnacartaplus.org on permanent licence from  abelard.org..

© 2002,  abelard.org.


La Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen, France 1789original French text


Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citzen
End notes


The representatives of the French people, formed into a National Assembly, considering that ignorance, neglect or scorn of the rights of man to be the only causes of national misfortunes and the corruption of governments, have resolved to set out, in a solemn Declaration, the natural, unalienable and sacred rights of man,

so that this Declaration, always present to all members of society, reminds them constantly 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 every moment with the aim of the whole political institution, should have greater respect for that aim;

so that the demands of the citizens, founded henceforth on simple and indisputable principles, are always oriented to conserving the Constitution and to the happiness of everybody.

Consequently , the National Assembly acknowledges and declares, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and of the citizen:

First Article —Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be based only upon benefit for the community.

Article 2 —The aim of every political association is the preservation of the natural rights of man, which rights must not be prevented. These rights are freedom, property, security and resistance to oppression.

Article 3 —The fundamentals of sovereignty has its origins essentially in the Nation. No organisation, nor individual, may exercise any authority that does not expressly come from there.

Article 4 —Liberty consists in being able to do anything that does not harm other people. Thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those limits that that ensure to the other members of society the enjoyment of these same rights. These limits may be determined only by the law.

Article 5 —The law has only the right to forbid those actions that are detrimental to society. Anything that is not forbidden by law may not be prevented, and none may be compelled to do what the law does not require.

Article 6 —The law is the expression of the collective wishes of the public. All citizens have the right to contribute, personally or through their representatives, to the forming of the law. The law must be the same for all, whether it protects or it punishes. All citizens, being equal in its eyes, shall be equally eligible for all important offices, positions and public employments, according to their ability and without other distinction than that of their qualities and talents.

Article 7 —No man can be accused, arrested or detained except in the cases determined by the law, and according to the methods that the law has stipulated. Those who pursue, distribute, enforce, or cause to be enforced, arbitrary orders must be punished; but any citizen summoned, or apprehended in accordance with the law, must obey immediately: he makes himself guilty by resisting.

Article 8—The law must introduce only punishments that are strictly and indisputably necessary; and no one may be punished except in accordance with a law instituted and published before the offence is committed, and legally applied.

Article 9—Because every man is presumed innocent until he has been declared guilty, if it should be considered necessary to arrest him, any force beyond the minimum necessary to arrest and imprison the person will be treated with severely.[2]

Article 10—No-one should be harassed for his opinions, even religious views, provided that the expression of such opinions does not cause a breach of the peace as established by law.

Article 11—The free communication of thought and opinions is one of the most precious rights of man. Any citizen can therefore speak, write and publish freely; however, they are answerable for abuse of this freedom as determined by law.

Article 12—Guaranteeing the rights of man and of the citizen requires a public force[3]. This force is therefore established for the benefit of all, and not for the particular use of those to whom it is entrusted.

Article 13—For the maintenance of the public force, and for administrative expenses, a common tax is necessary. It must be spread in similar fashion among all citizens, in proportion to their capability.

Article 14—All citizens have the right to verify for themselves, or through their representatives, the necessity for the public tax. They further have the right to grant the tax freely, to watch over how it is used, and to determine its amount[4], the basis for its assessment and of its collection, and its duration.

Article 15—Society has the right to ask a public official for an explication of his management and supervision.

Article 16—Any society in which the guarantee of rights is not ensured, nor a separation of powers is worked out, has no Constitution.

Article 17—Property, being an inviolable and sacred right, no one may be deprived of it; unless public necessity, legally investigated, clearly requires it, and just and prior compensation has been paid.

End Notes

  1. It is very easy, when translating French, to be misled by the many faux amis (false friends)—words that look the same in French and English but have different meanings. Sometimes, this difference may affect the translation little, but in some cases a more accurate translation gives a very different aspect to the meaning of the original text.

    I am at odds with previous available translations that I have seen. Although previous translators have much facility in creating word pictures, they seem often to have avoided reference to a French-English dictionary. This results in inadequate interpretations of an important document.

  2. The wording in the final clause of article 9 has been written to reflect more clearly the notion being described. Here, in this endnote, is a more literal translation of this last part of article 9:

    “...all harshness that is not necessary to secure his person must be severely suppressed by the law.”

  3. of policemen, gendarmes, troops.

  4. Quotité: literally the fixed amount representing each share.
    There are two types of tax
    —tax by shares, where one determines in the first instance the amount each person must pay;
    —and tax by distribution, where each administrative unit (commune) must pay; the amount paid being subsequently shared between the inhabitants who each pay their portion.





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