Citizenship and The French Revolution

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Citizenship and The French Revolution

The French Revolution of 1789 changed the meaning of the word “revolution.” Prior to this year, revolution meant restoring a previous form of government that had been taken away. Since then, revolution has meant creating a new institution of government that did not previously exist. This required that a constitution be drafted. After a series of four mini-revolutions from May to July, the “Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen” was released on the twenty-sixth of August, 1789. When the French revolutionaries drew up the Declaration, they wanted to end the traditions surrounding hereditary monarchy and establish new institutions based on the principles of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment brought the application of scientific laws and formulas to society through the use of observation and reason rather than religion or tradition. The Declaration “brought together two streams of thought: one springing from the Anglo-American tradition of legal and constitutional guarantees of individual liberties, the other from the Enlightenment's belief that reason should guide all human affairs. Reason rather than tradition would be its justification.”1

“Men are born and remain free and equal in rights,” began the “Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen,” a document that was supposed to be applicable to all Frenchmen. But did the Declaration really apply to the Jews, Black African slaves, and women in the same respect as it applied to its creators, and was it even intended to do so? Historians have taken diverse approaches to the study of the French Revolutionary era. Perhaps this is because the French Revolution impacted different groups of people in quite contradictory ways. The interests o...

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Hunt, Lynn, ed.. The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History. Boston, New York: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Very useful collection of primary sources including from the French Revolution including The Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen and the Declaration of Rights of Woman among others, with good biographical references.


Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution. Washington, D.C.: the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, and New York: the American Social History Project at the City University of New York, supported by the Florence Gould Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. American Social History Productions, Inc., 2001. [cited 4 November 2001.] Available from the World Wide Web: (
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