Grievances of the Third Estate: Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens

Grievances of the Third Estate: Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens

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Against what abuses of the ancient regime did revolutionary figures protest, and how did the Enlightenment influence the reforms they advocated?


Grievances of the Third Estate

Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens


One of the most significant shortcomings of France and its government prior to the Enlightenment period and the changes and the French Revolution and the changes both events brought was a distinct lack of equality of men before the law. Some laws favored the rich, some only affected the poor, and the growing middle class was caught in between the two. Revolutionary leaders protested this injustice, and drew much inspiration from Enlightenment thinkers and their ideas in doing so.

The writers of the key Revolution document "Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens" stated unequivocally in Article V that "The law ought to prohibit only actions harmful to society" 1 , and in Article VI that "It should be the same to all, whether it protects or punishes" 2


Religious freedom was also conspicuously lacking prior to the Enlightenment and the Revolution, as well as freedom of speech overall. The failure of the old regime to provide for citizens' ability to express their opinions, religious and secular, was yet another problem that Revolution leaders desired to address. Desiring to deal with the problem, it was written in "The Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizens" that "No man ought to be molested on account of his opinions, not even on account of his religious opinions, provided his avowal of them does not disturb the public order established by the law." This provision paved the way for many more documents guaranteeing the right of all citizens to free speech, including the significant not...


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...hat documents such as "Grievances of the Third Estate" called for, writings such as "Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens" passed into law. The former document contained many Enlightenment ideals and beliefs, which had a strong influence on the legal documents that came after. Equal application of taxes, guaranteed rights and liberties for all citizens, and an equality of every citizen before just laws were all things that the leading thinkers and writers of the Enlightenment believed in. These beliefs in turn inspired and influenced many who went on to see that these and other ideals were made not just ideals, but laws.




1Perry, Sources of Western Tradition, p. 68

2Perry, Sources of Western Tradition, p. 68

3 Perry, Sources of Western Tradition, p. 68

4 Perry, Sources of Western Tradition, p. 65

5 Perry, Sources of Western Tradition, p. 65

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