Comparing Revolutionary Documents

The idea of natural rights, or the universal unalienable privileges given to any citizen, gained popularity after the Enlightenment era. John Locke argued that it is the government’s role to help protect its peoples’ rights to life, liberty, and property. The French and American governments both chose to include their own versions of Locke’s ideas in their declarations; France with The Declaration of the Rights of Man, and America in The Declaration of Independence. Although both countries included similar natural rights, the specific dictation is very important in learning what ideals each country held above all else.

The writers of The Declaration of the Rights of Man stated, “The end of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptable rights of man; and these rights are Liberty, Property, Security, and Resistance of Oppression.” Both countries neglect to include one of Locke’s original natural rights. It seems neglecting life as one of the universal rights foreshadows the Reign of Terror which began as an extension of the French Revolution after all the Third Estate’s requests were not met. The French included security and resistance to oppression in their natural rights. After such a large percentage of the population was abused, and subjected to poverty for such a lengthy period-of-time it seems obvious that they would be more focused on these ideas than the American people. Furthermore in The Declaration of the Rights of Man they describe natural rights as being imprescriptable, meaning immune from the prescription of law or rule. This coincides their proposal that the government and law should only hinder actions that are harmful to society.

Thomas Jefferson is most famous for writing the section of The Declaration of Independence which said, “ We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” In the American version property is not included. It could be argued, that the meaning is the same if you view wealth as the highest happiness, because at the time property equalled wealth. Instead of arguing that these values should not be interfered with by law Jefferson chooses to connect natural rights with religion, and chooses the word, self-evident, or without requiring proof. Of course as a country formed on the ideals of religious freedom, with most of it’s citizens practicing Christianity it is logical that they believed this would be the most inspirational wording.

Since the French were subjected to oppression from their own people they were even more weary of government than Americans who no longer considered themselves part of the English people. Both countries viewed natural rights differently based on the specific circumstances of their abuse. This lead them to modify Locke’s ideas in ways that better suited the goals of their revolution. Both countries were seeking equality, but the French’s attempt was more of a revision, whereas the American’s were striving to create a whole new nation.