The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens of 1789, the Reign of Terror, and the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris

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The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens of 1789, the Reign of Terror, and the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris
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The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens of 1789, the Reign of Terror, and the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris

Vincent Robert Johnson

13 B. C. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 1 (1990).

    Recently, Americans have been engaged in an effort to properly commemorate the bicentennial of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.  If one is serious about that endeavor, it may be profitable to focus on the other bicentennial being celebrated this year in France.  The early days of the French and American republics were intertwined, and it would be erroneous to think that the developments which then took place in the two countries can now fully be understood in isolation.

A number of legal aspects of the French Revolution are especially relevant to the American experience, therefore worth consideration.  Among these are the terms of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens, the American contributions toward its enactment, the failure of the French to enforce the Declaration’s guarantees through an independent judiciary, and the abuses of legal procedure and governmental power which occurred during the Reign of Terror.  In reflecting on the Declaration of Rights’ origin and content on the occasion of the French bicentennial, Americans can pay tribute to the struggles of the great nation and honor a small part of their own history as well.

Keywords: French Revolution, American history, French history, legal history, Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens, Reign of Terror, Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris, United States Constitution, United States Bill of Rights, French legal procedure, government, independent judiciary, judicial duties, prosecutorial discretion, rights of the accused, freedom of expression, law of suspects, due process, private property, civil rights, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, American liberal ideals.

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