Rights & Enlightened Revolution
Rights and Revolution
FIRST: Review the following primary sources and respond to ONE of the questions below.
SECOND: After you have posted your response, please comment on the post of one your classmates.
- Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789): https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/rightsof.aspLinks to an external site.
- Declaration of the Rights of Woman (1791): https://revolution.chnm.org/d/293Links to an external site.
- Declaration of Independence (1776): https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/declare.aspLinks to an external site.
- Declaration of Sentiments (1848): https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/senecafalls.aspLinks to an external site.
- What do these declarations reveal about the distribution of power in the societies in which they were produced? Choose one or several to discuss. ~OR~
- How might one or more of these declarations either uphold or reject established religious principles or facets of society that are supported by religion? ~OR~
- Describe how one or more of these declarations might reflect or contradict Enlightenment ideals.
Olympe de Gouges, The
Declaration of the Rights
of Woman (September 1791)
Olympe de Gouges, �e Declaration of the Rights of
Woman (September 1791)
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AGE OF REVOLUTIONS (HTTPS://AGEOFREVOLUTIONS.COM/)
Marie Gouze (1748–93) was a self–educated butcher’s
daughter from the south of France who, under the name
Olympe de Gouges, wrote pamphlets and plays on a variety
of issues, including slavery, which she attacked as being
founded on greed and blind prejudice. In this pamphlet
she provides a declaration of the rights of women to
parallel the one for men, thus criticizing the deputies for
having forgotten women. She addressed the pamphlet to
the Queen, Marie Antoinette, though she also warned the
Queen that she must work for the Revolution or risk
destroying the monarchy altogether. In her postscript she
denounced the customary treatment of women as objects
easily abandoned. She appended to the declaration a
sample form for a marriage contract that called for
communal sharing of property. De Gouges went to the
guillotine in 1793, condemned as a counterrevolutionary
and denounced as an “unnatural” woman.
�e materials listed below appeared originally in �e
French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief
Documentary History, translated, edited, and with an
introduction by Lynn Hunt (Boston/New York Bedford/St.
Martin’s, 1996), 124–129.
To be decreed by the National Assembly in its last sessions
or by the next legislature.
Mothers, daughters, sisters, female representatives of the
nation ask to be constituted as a national assembly.
Considering that ignorance, neglect, or contempt for the
rights of woman are the sole causes of public misfortunes
and governmental corruption, they have resolved to set
forth in a solemn declaration the natural, inalienable, and
sacred rights of woman: so that by being constantly
present to all the members of the social body this
declaration may always remind them of their rights and
duties; so that by being liable at every moment to
comparison with the aim of any and all political
institutions the acts of women’s and men’s powers may be
the more fully respected; and so that by being founded
henceforward on simple and incontestable principles the
demands of the citizenesses may always tend toward
maintaining the constitution, good morals, and the
In consequence, the sex that is superior in beauty as in
courage, needed in maternal su�ferings, recognizes and
declares, in the presence and under the auspices of the
Supreme Being, the following rights of woman and the
1. Woman is born free and remains equal to man in rights.
Social distinctions may be based only on common utility.
2. �e purpose of all political association is the
preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of
woman and man. �ese rights are liberty, property,
security, and especially resistance to oppression.
3. �e principle of all sovereignty rests essentially in the
nation, which is but the reuniting of woman and man. No
body and no individual may exercise authority which does
not emanate expressly from the nation.
4. Liberty and justice consist in restoring all that belongs to
another; hence the exercise of the natural rights of woman
has no other limits than those that the perpetual tyranny of
man opposes to them; these limits must be reformed
according to the laws of nature and reason.
5. �e laws of nature and reason prohibit all actions which
are injurious to society. No hindrance should be put in the
way of anything not prohibited by these wise and divine
laws, nor may anyone be forced to do what they do not
6. �e law should be the expression of the general will. All
citizenesses and citizens should take part, in person or by
their representatives, in its formation. It must be the same
for everyone. All citizenesses and citizens, being equal in
its eyes, should be equally admissible to all public dignities,
o��ces and employments, according to their ability, and
with no other distinction than that of their virtues and
7. No woman is exempted; she is indicted, arrested, and
detained in the cases determined by the law. Women like
men obey this rigorous law.
8. Only strictly and obviously necessary punishments
should be established by the law, and no one may be
punished except by virtue of a law established and
promulgated before the time of the o�fense, and legally
applied to women.
9. Any woman being declared guilty, all rigor is exercised
by the law.
10. No one should be disturbed for his fundamental
opinions; woman has the right to mount the sca�fold, so
she should have the right equally to mount the rostrum,
provided that these manifestations do not trouble public
order as established by law.
11. �e free communication of thoughts and opinions is
one of the most precious of the rights of woman, since this
liberty assures the recognition of children by their fathers.
Every citizeness may therefore say freely, I am the mother
of your child; a barbarous prejudice [against unmarried
women having children] should not force her to hide the
truth, so long as responsibility is accepted for any abuse of
this liberty in cases determined by the law [women are not
allowed to lie about the paternity of their children].
12. �e safeguard of the rights of woman and the citizeness
requires public powers. �ese powers are instituted for the
advantage of all and not for the private bene�t of those to
whom they are entrusted.
13. For maintenance of public authority and for expenses of
administration, taxation of women and men is equal; she
takes part in all forced labor service, in all painful tasks; she
must therefore have the same proportion in the
distribution of places, employments, o��ces, dignities, and
14. �e citizenesses and citizens have the right, by
themselves or through their representatives, to have
demonstrated to them the necessity of public taxes. �e
citizenesses can only agree to them upon admission of an
equal division, not only in wealth, but also in the public
administration, and to determine the means of
apportionment, assessment, and collection, and the
duration of the taxes.
15. �e mass of women, joining with men in paying taxes,
have the right to hold accountable every public agent of the
16. Any society in which the guarantee of rights is not
assured or the separation of powers not settled has no
constitution. �e constitution is null and void if the
majority of individuals composing the nation has not
cooperated in its dra�ting.
17. Property belongs to both sexes whether united or
separated; it is for each of them an inviolable and sacred
right, and no one may be deprived of it as a true patrimony
of nature, except when public necessity, certi�ed by law,
obviously requires it, and then on condition of a just
compensation in advance.
Women, wake up; the tocsin of reason sounds throughout
the universe; recognize your rights. �e powerful empire of
nature is no longer surrounded by prejudice, fanaticism,
superstition, and lies. �e torch of truth has dispersed all
the clouds of folly and usurpation. Enslaved man has
multiplied his force and needs yours to break his chains.
Having become free, he has become unjust toward his
companion. Oh women! Women, when will you cease to be
blind? What advantages have you gathered in the
Revolution? A scorn more marked, a disdain more
conspicuous. During the centuries of corruption you only
reigned over the weakness of men. Your empire is
destroyed; what is le�t to you then? Firm belief in the
injustices of men. �e reclaiming of your patrimony
founded on the wise decrees of nature; why should you fear
such a beautiful enterprise? . . . Whatever the barriers set
up against you, it is in your power to overcome them; you
only have to want it. Let us pass now to the appalling
account of what you have been in society; and since
national education is an issue at this moment, let us see if
our wise legislators will think sanely about the education of
Women have done more harm than good. Constraint and
dissimulation have been their lot. What force has taken
from them, ruse returned to them; they have had recourse
to all the resources of their charms, and the most
irreproachable man has not resisted them. Poison, the
sword, women controlled everything; they ordered up
crimes as much as virtues. For centuries, the French
government, especially, depended on the nocturnal
administration of women; o��cials kept no secrets from
their indiscretion; ambassadorial posts, military
commands, the ministry, the presidency [of a court], the
papacy, the college of cardinals, in short everything that
characterizes the folly of men, profane and sacred, has
been submitted to the cupidity and ambition of this sex
formerly considered despicable and respected, and since
the revolution, respectable and despised. . . .
Under the former regime, everyone was vicious, everyone
guilty. . . . A woman only had to be beautiful and amiable;
when she possessed these two advantages, she saw a
hundred fortunes at her feet. . . . �e most indecent
woman could make herself respectable with gold; the
commerce in women [prostitution] was a kind of industry
amongst the highest classes, which henceforth will enjoy
no more credit. If it still did, the Revolution would be lost,
and in the new situation we would still be corrupted. Can
reason hide the fact that every other road to fortune is
closed to a woman bought by a man, bought like a slave
from the coasts of Africa? �e di�ference between them is
great; this is known. �e slave [that is, the woman]
commands her master, but if the master gives her her
freedom without compensation and at an age when the
slave has lost all her charms, what does this unfortunate
woman become? �e plaything of disdain; even the doors
of charity are closed to her; she is poor and old, they say;
why did she not know how to make her fortune?
Other examples even more touching can be provided to
reason. A young woman without experience, seduced by
the man she loves, abandons her parents to follow him; the
ingrate leaves her a�ter a few years and the older she will
have grown with him, the more his inconstancy will be
inhuman. If she has children, he will still abandon her. If
he is rich, he will believe himself excused from sharing his
fortune with his noble victims. If some engagement ties
him to his duties, he will violate it while counting on
support from the law. If he is married, every other
obligation loses its force. What laws then remain to be
passed that would eradicate vice down to its roots? �at of
equally dividing [family] fortunes between men and
women and of public administration of their goods. It is
easy to imagine that a woman born of a rich family would
gain much from the equal division of property [between
children]. But what about the woman born in a poor family
with merit and virtues; what is her lot? Poverty and
opprobrium. If she does not excel in music or painting, she
cannot be admitted to any public function, even if she is
fully quali�ed. . . .
Marriage is the tomb of con�dence and love. A married
woman can give bastards to her husband with impunity,
and even the family fortune which does not belong to
them. An unmarried woman has only a feeble right:
ancient and inhuman laws refuse her the right to the name
and goods of her children’s father; no new laws have been
made in this matter. If giving my sex an honorable and just
consistency is considered to be at this time paradoxical on
my part and an attempt at the impossible, I leave to future
men the glory of dealing with this matter; but while
waiting, we can prepare the way with national education,
with the restoration of morals and with conjugal
Form for a Social Contract between Man and Woman
We, ________ and ________, moved by our own will, unite
for the length of our lives and for the duration of our
mutual inclinations under the following conditions: We
intend and wish to make our wealth communal property,
while reserving the right to divide it in favor of our
children and of those for whom we might have a special
inclination, mutually recognizing that our goods belong
directly to our children, from whatever bed they come
[legitimate or not], and that all of them without distinction
have the right to bear the name of the fathers and mothers
who have acknowledged them, and we impose on ourselves
the obligation of subscribing to the law that punishes any
rejection of one’s own blood [refusing to acknowledge an
illegitimate child]. We likewise obligate ourselves, in the
case of a separation, to divide our fortune equally and to
set aside the portion the law designates for our children. In
the case of a perfect union, the one who dies �rst will give
up half his property in favor of the children; and if there
are no children, the survivor will inherit by right, unless
the dying person has disposed of his half of the common
property in favor of someone he judges appropriate. [She
then goes on to defend her contract against the inevitable
objections of “hypocrites, prudes, the clergy, and all the
Text (/items/browse?tags=Text), Women (/items/browse?
“Olympe de Gouges, �e Declaration of the Rights of
Woman (September 1791),” LIBERTY, EQUALITY,
FRATERNITY: EXPLORING THE FRENCH REVOUTION,
accessed October 11, 2023,
�is site is a collaboration of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media
(http://chnm.gmu.edu/) (George Mason University) and American Social History Project
(http://www.ashp.cuny.edu/) (City University of New York), supported by grants from the
Florence Gould Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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