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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

The ties which bound 18th and 19th century America and France were deep and rich, so it is fitting to reflect upon this connection as we celebrate America’s “July 4” (Independence Day) and France’s “July 14” (Bastille Day). To mention only half a dozen or very significant connections one could mention the following: Montesquieu (his study of the British constitution led to his book The Spirit of Laws which in turn had a profound impact on the framers of the American constitution; Thomas Jefferson (who read many French theoretical works, served as a diplomat in Paris, and translated the writings of Destutt de Tracy into English); Thomas Paine (an Englishman who wrote the bestselling Common Sensewhich galvanized the American colonists in favor of independence and who became an elected representative in Paris during their revolution); Jean-Baptiste Say (the leading French political economist of his day whose treatise on political economy became the standard economics textbook in 19th century America); the marquis de Lafayette (an aristocratic general who actively participated in at least three revolutions the American, the French, and then the French again (1830)); Alexis de Tocqueville (the scholar whose observations on democracy in America in the 1830s have fascinated American readers ever since). Then of course there is the Statue of Liberty in New York habor which was given to the people of America by the French to celebrate the 100th anniversary of independence. Its design is modeled on the image of “Marianne”, the symbol of Liberty during the French Revolution. So happy birthdays America and France!

Other quotes about Politics & Liberty:

12 July, 2010

StatueLiberty300

Georg Jellinek argues that Lafayette was one of the driving forces behind the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789)

Read the full quote in context here.

The symbolic beginning of the French Revolution was the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789. Soon after, the Constituent Assembly promulgated the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizen on August 26, 1789. But as the historian Georg Jellinek notes, the Marquis de Lafayette had on July 11 already pointed out the need for such a declaration of rights. His model was not the American Declaration of Independence (proclaimed on July 4, 1776) but rather the declarations of rights which preceded the constitutions of many of the colonial states such as Virginia (June 12, 1776):

The conception of a declaration of rights had found expression in France even before the assembling of the States General. It had already appeared in a number of cahiers. The cahier of the Bailliage of Nemours is well worth noting, as it contained a chapter entitled “On the Necessity of a Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens”, and sketched a plan of such a declaration with thirty articles. Among other plans that in the cahier des tiers état of the city of Paris has some interest.

In the National Assembly, however, it was Lafayette who on July 11, 1789, made the motion to enact a declaration of rights in connection with the constitution, and he therewith laid before the assembly a plan of such a declaration.

…[i]n his Memoirs … Lafayette mentions the model that he had in mind when making his motion in the Constituent Assembly. He very pertinently points out that the Congress of the newly formed Confederation of North American free states was then in no position to set up, for the separate colonies, which had already become sovereign states, rules of right which would have binding force. He brings out the fact that in the Declaration of Independence there are asserted only the principles of the sovereignty of the people and the right to change the form of government. Other rights are included solely by implication from the enumeration of the violations of right, which justified the separation from the mother country.

The constitutions of the separate states, however, were preceded by declarations of rights, which were binding upon the people’s representatives. The first state to set forth a declaration of rights properly so called was Virginia.

The declarations of Virginia and of the other individual American states were the sources of Lafayette’s proposition. They influenced not only Lafayette, but all who sought to bring about a declaration of rights. Even the above-mentioned cahiers were affected by them.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

THE BILLS OF RIGHTS OF THE INDIVIDUAL STATES OF THE NORTH AMERICAN UNION WERE ITS MODELS.

The conception of a declaration of rights had found expression in France even before the assembling of the States General. It had already appeared in a number of cahiers. The cahier of the Bailliage of Nemours is well worth noting, as it contained a chapter entitled “On the Necessity of a Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens”, and sketched a plan of such a declaration with thirty articles. Among other plans that in the cahier des tiers état of the city of Paris has some interest.

In the National Assembly, however, it was Lafayette who on July 11, 1789, made the motion to enact a declaration of rights in connection with the constitution, and he therewith laid before the assembly a plan of such a declaration.

It is the prevailing opinion that Lafayette was inspired to make this motion by the North American Declaration of Independence. And this instrument is further declared to have been the model that the Constituent Assembly had in mind in framing its declaration. The sharp, pointed style and the practical character of the American document are cited by many as in praiseworthy contrast to the confusing verbosity and dogmatic theory of the French Declaration. Others bring forward, as a more fitting object of comparison, the first amendments to the constitution of the United States, and even imagine that the latter exerted some influence upon the French Declaration, in spite of the fact that they did not come into existence until after August 26, 1789. This error has arisen from the French Declaration of 1789 having been embodied word for word in the Constitution of September 3, 1791, and so to one not familiar with French constitutional history, and before whom only the texts of the constitutions themselves are lying, it seems to bear a later date.

By practically all those, however, who look further back than the French Declaration it is asserted that the Declaration of Independence of the United States on July 4, 1776, contains the first exposition of a series of rights of man.

Yet the American Declaration of Independence contains only a single paragraph that resembles a declaration of rights. It reads as follows:

“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; That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

This sentence is so general in its content that it is difficult to read into it, or deduct from it, a whole system of rights. It is therefore, at the very start, improbable that it served as the model for the French Declaration.

This conjecture becomes a certainty through Lafayette’s own statement. In a place in his Memoirs, that has as yet been completely overlooked, Lafayette mentions the model that he had in mind when making his motion in the Constituent Assembly. He very pertinently points out that the Congress of the newly formed Confederation of North American free states was then in no position to set up, for the separate colonies, which had already become sovereign states, rules of right which would have binding force. He brings out the fact that in the Declaration of Independence there are asserted only the principles of the sovereignty of the people and the right to change the form of government. Other rights are included solely by implication from the enumeration of the violations of right, which justified the separation from the mother country.

The constitutions of the separate states, however, were preceded by declarations of rights, which were binding upon the people’s representatives. The first state to set forth a declaration of rights properly so called was Virginia.

The declarations of Virginia and of the other individual American states were the sources of Lafayette’s proposition. They influenced not only Lafayette, but all who sought to bring about a declaration of rights. Even the above-mentioned cahiers were affected by them.

[More works by Georg Jellinek (1851 – 1911) and on The French Revolution]