How does the Declaration of the Rights of Man reflect the French ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity?  

Expert Answers
mrkirschner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In 1789, the French produced a document that paved their path to the future. In the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the importance of the principals of liberty, equality, and fraternity are evident throughout the document.  Liberty is defined as the condition of people who are able to act and speak freely.  Liberty is demonstrated when a government provides its citizens with important freedoms.  The Declaration of the Rights of Man provides for a fair justice system, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.  Liberty is referenced directly in Articles 2 and 4:

2. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.

4. 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 only be determined by law.

Equality means that all citizens are treated equally.  The French wanted to eliminate the idea of special status for kings and the aristocracy.  Equality is embedded throughout the document, especially when it comes to how citizens are treated before the law.  The notion of equality was very important to the enlightened Frenchman and was documented in the first article:

1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.

Fraternity means a feeling of friendship and togetherness.  Words like "common", "general good", and "all" are used to strengthen this notion of fraternity.  Articles 1,6, and 13 embody the ideals of fraternity in this document:

1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.

6. Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in its foundation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally eligible to all dignities and to all public positions and occupations, according to their abilities, and without distinction except that of their virtues and talents.

13. A common contribution is essential for the maintenance of the public forces and for the cost of administration. This should be equitably distributed among all the citizens in proportion to their means.

A sense of fraternity is felt when all members contribute.  For this reason, the document lists the duties expected of French citizens.