The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen is the document that provided the basis of the French constitution, which states the laws of the nation. Drafted by revolutionary Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès (1748–1836), the declaration was adopted in 1789 by the National Assembly, a law-making body that was formed at the start of the French Revolution (1789–99). The revolution began as a rebellion against the inefficient regime of King Louis XVI (1754–1793) and soon developed into a movement to topple the monarchy and establish a more representative form of government. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was based on the motto of the French Revolution—"liberty, equality, and fraternity"—and was influenced by the U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776), the document in which American colonies declared independence from Great Britain.
Reflecting the ideas of the Enlightenment (an intellectual and scientific movement of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen guaranteed religious freedom, the freedom of speech and the press, and personal security. It proclaimed that people have natural and inalienable rights, which include "liberty, property, personal security, and resistance to oppression." The declaration further stated that "No one may be accused, imprisoned, or held under arrest except in such cases and in such a way as is prescribed by law" and that "Every man is presumed innocent until he is proved guilty." The document was written into the preamble (opening statement) of the French constitution in 1791.
Further Information: Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. [Online] Available http://members.aol.com/agentmess/frenchrev/mancitizen.html, October 26, 2000; "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen." The Columbia Encyclopedia: Sixth Edition. [Online] Available http://www.bartleby.com/65/de/DeclarRMNC.html, October 26, 2000; "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen." Encyclopedia Britannica. [Online] Available http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/5/0,5716,65315+1+63684,00.html, October 26, 2000.