Essay on French Revolution: The Formation of Constituent Assembly (June 1789-91)

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In the midst of the above developments the French National Assembly (also known as Constituent Assembly) continued its activities and not only succeeded in abolishing feudalism, serfdom and class privileges but also made a declaration regarding the rights of man, which outlined the aims of the revolution in details. The Declaration of the Rights of man and of the Citizens was adopted by the National Assembly of France on 26 August, 1789.

This declaration from the very beginning became the working pro­gramme of the revolution in France and the basis of liberalism in most of the countries. It may be noted that the French Assembly was clearly influenced by the philosophy of Rousseau, the provisions of the British Magna Carta as well as the American Declaration of Independence in pronouncing the above declaration.

The authors of the Declaration while asserting the “ignorance, neglect or contempt of the rights of man are the sole cause of public calamities and corruption of the government, proceeded to define and outline the fundamental principles on which the society should be based. These prin­ciples can be best stated in the language of the Declaration itself which asserted “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.

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Social dis­tinctions may be found only upon the general good. The aim of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and imperceptible 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 or 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 be determined only by law. Law can prohibit only such actions as are hurtful to society. Nothing may be presented 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 public will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally or through his representative in its formation. It must be the same all whether it protects or punishes.”

After laying down the above principles, the framers of the Declaration proceeded to emphasis certain specific rights.

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These rights were mostly those which had been commonly ignored or violated. They pertained to the status of the individual as well as property. The Declaration asserted that “No person shall be accused, arrested or imprisoned; except in the cases and according to the forms prescribed by law…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 the offence…No one shall be disquietened 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 he defined by law… All the citizens have

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