Study Guide

Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen Main Idea

By The Marquis de Lafayette

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  • Main Idea

    Frenchmen were created equal too, FYI

    The people of France help the Americans get their very own brand new form of (non-monarchy centered) government and think, "Wait, why do we still have this lousy king of France?"

    So they start a revolution and write the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen outlining the philosophy behind their drive to create some kind of government where (male) citizens can have a voice.

    They dream big and list a bunch of stuff they think the French government should be protecting (like security and property) and subtly imply that they current king is doing none of those things. And, oh yeah: this doc borrows super-heavily from American ideas and enlightened thinkers.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. How does the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen compare and contrast with the important documents of the American Revolution?
    2. Which of the articles in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen are specifically criticizing the French king?
    3. Are there rights missing from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen that might have helped France avoid the difficult periods of its revolution?

    Chew on This

    The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was a colossal failure, which led directly to the Reign of Terror and the coup of Napoleon Bonaparte; it should go down in history as a botched attempt at liberty.

    More so than even the American documents it was based on, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen is a watershed moment in human history because it boldly declares that all governments must be accountable to the people.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    France was blowing up, the revolution was underway, and it was time to figure out what people wanted to get out of it. Nothing makes a revolution legit like a good declaration of rights.

    The Text

    The National Assembly took a bold step and declared that all of France's problems are the result of its shady government. But never fear, because they've also taken the liberty of listing the rights that the government should be recognizing as well as defining a few key terms that the current French leader (ahem, the king) don't seem to understand.

    They list seventeen articles that contain such gems as asserting that all men are created equal and have a right to free speech, religion, and a representative government that will decide on taxes and laws. Just so as there's no confusion, they explain what they mean by sovereignty, liberty, law and other tricky legal terms that Louis or his advisors might try to finagle later.


    The royal family has sunk France neck-deep in an unfortunate mess, so it's time to spell things out for them: people have rights that even you have to respect.

  • Questions

    1. What rights should men, women, and citizens have in the modern world that aren't listed here (due to the fact that things like the internet and surveillance cameras hadn't been invented yet)?
    2. Are the articles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and citizen in a logical order? Explain and make suggestions for the perfect placement of each article.
    3. Should every nation on earth have their own list of rights or would this list work for everyone? Explain what makes the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen culturally specific, or universal.
    4. Could France have kept this list of rights and also kept their royal family? Could the two have worked together in a constitutional monarchy, or are they completely incompatible?
    5. Is it xenophobic to specify that these rights only apply to citizens of France? Should the authors have gone big and said that everyone everywhere is equal too? Why or why not?

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