Commentary: The French Revolution, Part 6

Previously, we spoke about the philosophies developed by the French supporting the French Revolution. The attention is turned today to the people, events and documents involved in the actual revolution itself. Once the philosophical framework is in place, it is interesting to see what naturally unfolds next.

Please keep the above chart in mind throughout this discussion and follow the progression. First of all, the whole thing gets rolling when France is bankrupt in 1788. This forces King Louis to be flexible and sit at the bargaining table with the secular powers of France. Thus, the King calls a meeting of the Estates General in 1789 – essentially Parliament. Note that many of these words in English are translated from French, and even though the two languages are closely related, the translations are clumsy. One last thing, King Louis was still the king for the next few years. In my opinion, that is a constitutional monarchy, not a republic – at least not a republic yet.

An important document that was developed in this revolution is Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. I will include the articles of the Declaration down below. One of the things that struck me about the Declaration was that nothing in it is really new. For the most part, societies have always agreed with these articles. What is new is the obvious attack on the King. To expunge the King, religion has to be abolished.

As I have said earlier in this series, people in history have typically seen their leader as a type of priest-king-god. Europe changed that to priest-king. In Catholic Europe, the king had to be conferred by the Pope. A king could even appoint his own bishops. The constitutions of the USA and France are very radical. Historically, it was normal to have a recognized state religion included in the constitution. France is completely removing all power from the Church. In the USA, no state religion is mentioned and the word “God” is not uttered at all. In the USA, the term, Creator, is used in the Declaration of Independence. Think about that. What does that mean? One last thing, in Mexico, Benito Juarez (1806 – 1872), president of Mexico, copied the essentials of the US constitution. However, Juarez was not equivocal about religion – The Catholic Church was attacked and marginalized. Juarez had been an orphan and helped by priests in becoming a lawyer. The real name of Mexico is the United Mexican States.

Articles

Article I – Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good.

Article II – The goal of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, safety and resistance against oppression.

Article III – The principle of any sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation. No body, no individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.

Article IV – Liberty consists of doing anything which does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those borders which assure other members of the society the fruition of these same rights. These borders can be determined only by the law.

Article V – The law has the right to forbid only actions harmful to society. Anything which is not forbidden by the law cannot be impeded, and no one can be constrained to do what it does not order.

Article VI – The law is the expression of the general will. All the citizens have the right of contributing personally or through their representatives to its formation. It must be the same for all, either that it protects, or that it punishes. All the citizens, being equal in its eyes, are equally admissible to all public dignities, places, and employments, according to their capacity and without distinction other than that of their virtues and of their talents.

Article VII – No man can be accused, arrested nor detained but in the cases determined by the law, and according to the forms which it has prescribed. Those who solicit, dispatch, carry out or cause to be carried out arbitrary orders, must be punished; but any citizen called or seized under the terms of the law must obey at once; he renders himself culpable by resistance.

Article VIII – The law should establish only penalties that are strictly and evidently necessary, and no one can be punished but under a law established and promulgated before the offense and legally applied.

Article IX – Any man being presumed innocent until he is declared culpable if it is judged indispensable to arrest him, any rigor which would not be necessary for the securing of his person must be severely reprimanded by the law.

Article X – No one may be disquieted for his opinions, even religious ones, provided that their manifestation does not trouble the public order established by the law.

Article XI – The free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man: any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely, except to respond to the abuse of this liberty, in the cases determined by the law.

Article XII – The guarantee of the rights of man and of the citizen necessitates a public force: this force is thus instituted for the advantage of all and not for the particular utility of those in whom it is trusted.

Article XIII – For the maintenance of the public force and for the expenditures of administration, a common contribution is indispensable; it must be equally distributed to all the citizens, according to their ability to pay.

Article XIV – Each citizen has the right to ascertain, by himself or through his representatives, the need for a public tax, to consent to it freely, to know the uses to which it is put, and of determining the proportion, basis, collection, and duration.

Article XV – The society has the right of requesting an account from any public agent of its administration.

Article XVI – Any society in which the guarantee of rights is not assured, nor the separation of powers determined, has no Constitution.

Article XVII – Property being an inviolable and sacred right, no one can be deprived of private usage, if it is not when the public necessity, legally noted, evidently requires it, and under the condition of a just and prior indemnity.

I was not able to find any document that gives these articles in the original French language. So, the articles you see above are taken from Wikipedia. I do read some French and I did find a picture of the articles but when enlarged, the script became very blurry. I wish I could have translated the script myself to verify the translation, and translations can vary quite a bit; but the best i can do is Wikipedia.

In the early 1800s, the foreign minister of France, Alexis de Tocqueville, came to the US to do a survey of our country. This is pretty much right after the French Revolution, so he was well aware of what effects a revolution can have. He was astonished that our nation was prospering. Our founding documents did not attack religion, they just did not address it. For instance, churches are tax exempt organizations. The Constitution did not strip the churches of property as was done in France and Mexico. de Tocqueville concluded, in essence, that America is good because the people are good. I can not help but feel that is changing.

Next time, we will stay on this topic, and look into the important documents, people, and events of the French Revolution.

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