The French Revolution and Human Rights

This brief documentary history explores the issue of rights and citizenship that dominated Revolutionary France and helped define modern notions of civil rights. The rich selection of 38 primary documents - many never before published in English allows students to read and analyze, firsthand, the intense debates and subsequent legislation engendered by the French Revolution. An extensive introductory essay discusses the controversies over citizenship and rights current in Enlightenment and Revolutionary France.
Since the early eighteenth century and the beginning of the intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment, the issue of individual rights has dominated political thought in the West. The principles of political and civil rights strongly influenced the struggle of North American colonists for independence from Britain and the cataclysmic French Revolution (1789–1799) with its slogan of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” The French Revolution deposed and executed a reigning monarch, questioned the very basis of the divine right of kings, and most importantly addressed the issues of individual freedom and human rights, specifically religious freedom, slavery, and women’s rights. Lynn Hunt’s The French Revolution and Human Rights approaches these considerable questions through a collection of primary documents ranging from prerevolutionary treatises to speeches and decrees focused on the rights of women.
The introduction to Hunt’s documentary history accomplishes two purposes: first, it narrates clearly how the Revolution came about and what it represented for France, Europe, and the regions colonized by both; second, it examines how dialogues about citizenship and rights yielded a variety of experiments with limited democratic government. Throughout her introduction, Hunt weaves a critical discussion about how gender, race, ethnicity, and class affected late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century interpretations of the rights of citizenship.