What is the significance of "Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen" in history?



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The Declaration of the Rights of Man, along with the Bill of Rights in the United States, has been hugely significant for the world as a whole.  It has helped to create the idea that people everywhere are entitled to basic human rights.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man takes ideas from the American Declaration of Independence (which was of course inspired by European Enlightenment thinkers) and makes them more specific.  Thomas Jefferson’s document talks about God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The French document takes this further and specifies exactly what rights are included in Jefferson’s broad categories.  The French document is, in this way, very similar to the American Bill of Rights which was adopted by the US House of Representatives at almost exactly the same time.  The major difference is that the French document claims that these rights are inherent to all men (not including women at that time) whereas the American Bill of Rights is specifically about America.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man, then, is very important because it helped to bring about the idea that all people everywhere have a basic set of rights by virtue of the fact that they are human.  This idea is imperfectly applied today, but it remains as one of the basic ideas behind liberal democracies and behind many international bodies such as the United Nations.

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