Some thoughts on the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen

In no particular order

  • Context/Author: most people mentioned either the Declaration of Independence (and sometimes the English Bill of Rights) or the Enlightenment (Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu), but almost nobody mentioned both. Similarly, many of you mentioned Lafayette’s American sojourn but ignored the fact that he was an educated Frenchman to begin with, well-versed in philosophe writings.
  • Responses: The United States did, generally, welcome the Declaration, but it also reacted very badly to the radical turn of the Revolution, eventually passing the Alien and Sedition acts to criminalize revolutionary positions and restrict French immigration. The Haiti slave revolts were very worrying to the plantation states as well. But buying the Louisiana Territory when Napoleon needed cash to try to put down the Haitian revolt was a good deal.
  • Historical Use: Similarly, very few people noted that the Declaration was only operative for a few years, though the principles it establishes do influence later French governments. The effect of the Declaration was both minimal in the short term and extraordinary in the long term. History’s a funny thing, sometimes.
  • I’m still writing “weak paraphrase” on too many papers. Summarizing or condensing primary sources is a challenge sometimes: the temptation to quote extensively is strong. If you’re not using exact quotes with quotation marks, though, what you write needs to be your words, not a slightly modified version of the words you read.

Don’t forget: the document assignment for Japan’s Meiji Constitution is due Monday the 28th.

Hope you’re having a fun and productive break!