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The Rights of Man and of the Citizen, French history.

Last evening somebody commented that it is odd the way the French regard France as “le pays des droits de l’homme” – the land of the rights of man.

Well, the French did write a very important document called “Declaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen” (declaration of the rights of man and of citizens) in 1789, and it is on this that they base their claim.

However, it does indeed need clarifying. What, exactly, are “the rights of man” ?

They are defined as “natural law”, that is law that is not governed or influenced by religion or authority. In other words:-

- the non-absolutism of the monarch
- religious tolerance
- the right to be tried by law
- the right to own property
- freedom of speech
- the right to “promotion” instead of inherited promotion
- the right to humane treatment

So, although France did indeed draw up this document, it needs to be said that most of these rights already existed in Great Britain, in Prussia (today’s Germany and Poland) and in the USA.

It also needs to be added that this “Declaration des Droits de l’Homme” was all very fine, but it did not include women, children, slaves, foreigners, servants, non-tax payers of any kind, men under the age of 25, men who did not own land.

A quick time-line:-

1215, England: The Magna Carta. This document, drawn up under the reign of King John, reduces the monarch’s authority and entitles all “free men” (ie not serfs) to be tried by law.

1628, England: The Petition of Rights, Charles 1. Religious tolerance is established. The king marries a Roman Catholic (Henrietta Maria) and also offers protection to Protestants (Huguenots) in hiding in La Rochelle

1642, England: the English Civil War. The precedent that a monarch cannot govern without Parliament is established

1712, Prussia: Frederick the Great rules with an enlightened absolutism (ie the king cannot make arbitary laws), greatly supports religious tolerance and passes laws by which prisoners are to be treated humanely

1776, USA: Thomas Jefferson advocates free speech, human rights, religious freedom (ie not just religious tolerance)

1789, USA: The Bill of Rights, Madison

1789, France: the French Revolution

There is not the room here to go in to a proper discussion, and I don’t have time, though it would be fun. Meanwhile, just out of curiosity:-

votes for women:
New Zealand: 1893
Australia: 1894
Finland: 1907
Norway: 1913
UK: 1918
France: 1944
Switzerland: 1977
(ignoring various suffrage movements, the first of which was in France in 1780, and ignoring partial laws etc)
SLAVERY abolished:
UK: 1833
Spain: 1834
France: 1848
USA: 1865
(same footnote as votes for women).

My conclusion is that France is not really The Land of the Rights of Man at all, but that it did give it a name …. and so it has gone down in French history books as such.

Voila!

Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist.  She is widely travelled and writes regularly for magazines and blog sites.  Her sketches are on her web site http://www.turquoisemoon.co.uk .  Her books are available from Amazon and on Kindle, or can be ordered from several leading book stores.

Click here for forcing children to eat

Click below for “A Call from France”, voted a must-read for mothers of teenagers:-

http://www.amazon.com/Call-From-France-Catherine-Broughton/dp/1475116659/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1370507560&sr=8-2&keywords=catherine+broughton

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Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist.  Her books are available as e-books on this site:-

https://payhip.com/b/tEva            “A Call from France”

https://payhip.com/b/OTiQ          “French Sand”

https://payhip.com/b/BLkF         ”The Man with Green Fingers”

https://payhip.com/b/1Ghq        “Saying Nothing”

They are also available on Amazon & Kindle, or can be ordered as paperbacks from most leading book stores and libraries.

Disclaimer: I do not know the site below, but it looks interesting – just FYI :-

http://www.frenchhistorysociety.ac.uk/

Posted by Catherine Broughton on 5 June 2012
Catherine is a novelist, a poet and an artist. Her books are available from this site as e-books or can be ordered from any leading book store or library.
  • Farraday

    Yes, I would agree with that, though it is a very in-a-nutshell version.  You omit an important point, however, and that is that the French Revolution, for all its worthy aims in the early years, was in fact no more than an outrageous blood bath in which over a million people were killed – vastly more than in the English Civil War or the US War of Independence or any other similarly ground-breaking revolutions.  To boot, the French just brought a king back in once it was over, followed by Napoleon who created even more murder.  To say that the French Revolution did any good at all would be misleading.  All thinking nations find their way forward, establish their governments, their regulations and their vetoes, without having to commit mass murder.  For the French to then claim to be the Land of the Rights of Man is quite simply laughable.

    Dennis Farraday, college lecturer, Ontario.

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