How are the ideals of the Enlightenment expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen and how can the influence of Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence be seen?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As we have seen in the answer to your question in the link below, there are three main Enlightenment ideas that influenced the American Revolution and the French Revolution.  The first of these is the idea of popular sovereignty.  This idea holds that the people should have the ultimate power over the government.  The second idea is that of individual freedoms.  The government should protect the rights that people have by virtue of being human.  Finally, there is the idea of political and legal equality.  The law should treat every person equally, regardless of whether they are rich or poor.  These ideas informed Thomas Jefferson as he wrote the Declaration of Independence and they (and Jefferson) influenced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.

Article 1 of the French Declaration says that all men “are born and remain free and equal.”  This clearly echoes Jefferson’s phrase from the Declaration of Independence.  Both declarations take this idea from the Enlightenment idea of political and legal equality.  Article 2 of the French Declaration says that the goal of all governments is “the preservation of the natural and inalienable rights of man.”  Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence says that governments are formed “to secure these rights” (“these rights” are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”).  Again, both formulations come from the Enlightenment idea that people have individual rights and freedoms.  Finally, Article 3 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen says that “all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation.”  By “nation,” it means “the people.” 

In looking at these passages from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, we can see very close connections to the American Declaration of Independence and to the ideas of the Enlightenment.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, passed by the National Assembly in 1789, is based on the Enlightenment idea of inalienable rights—the idea that people are born with certain inherent rights that cannot be taken away by government. One of the statements in the Declaration is the following:

"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."

This idea replicates the idea of the social contract, explained in the writings of Hobbes and Locke, which is that if people give up some of their inalienable rights to government, then their government must protect, in Locke's words, "life, liberty, and property." Jefferson wrote about this principle in the Declaration of Independence but referred to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." 

In addition, the Declaration of the Rights of Man granted people certain rights, such as the right to "speak, write, and print with freedom" and the right to practice their religion. These ideas were not explicitly part of the Declaration of Independence but were part of the Bill of Rights added to the US Constitution.

mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are several principles in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen that appear to be derived from the Declaration of Independence. The ideas in both documents reflect ideas from the Enlightenment.

Both documents mention certain rights that all people have that cannot be taken away. These rights, known as inalienable rights, include life, liberty, property, and security.

Another similarity is that both documents state that the power of government comes from the people. The Declaration of Independence describes power coming from the consent of the governed. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen refers to the idea of popular sovereignty.

Finally, additional similarities include that both documents explain that people are to be treated equally and are born as equals. People also are considered to be innocent until proven guilty.

The ideas of the Declaration of Independence can be seen in some ways in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.