Source Collection: The Enlightenment and Human Rights


When the French revolutionaries drew up the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in August 1789, they aimed to topple the institutions surrounding hereditary monarchy and establish new ones based on the principles of the Enlightenment, a philosophical movement gathering steam in the eighteenth century. The goal of the Enlightenment's proponents was to apply the methods learned from the... Read More »

Summoning to Execution


One of the most fearful parts of the Terror was its unpredictability. Many were swept up in suspicion, including unexpected, even nighttime arrests. As reality and imagination merged, this fear of the uncertainty of the era became an important part of the story, as this print in English testifies.

Sword Hilt with Revolutionary Icons—Liberty


This sword, an actual artifact of the revolutionary wars, shows how strongly French officers and soldiers believed themselves to be fighting for the defense of liberty, which is represented by the woman holding the balance and by the Phrygian bonnet on a pike, both visible in the hilt. This example illustrates that even "masculine" objects such as swords depicted liberty as female.

Sword of Sieyès


This ceremonial sword, created for one of the directors in 1799, is presented symbolically as an instrument to defend the "people." Indeed, the war effort was waged for the populace against the perceived injustices of the old regime and its remnants in and outside of France. Placing war on this footing clearly had the potential to inspire more support and more bloodshed as so much more seemed... Read More »

The Abolition of Negro Slavery or Means for Ameliorating Their Lot, 1789


The passage of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, explicitly cited in this pamphlet, did not go unnoticed by those who favored abolition of the slave trade and eventual emancipation of the slaves. Yet even the most determined adversaries of slavery worried about the consequences of immediate abolition, especially for the French economy. As a result, advocates of abolition put... Read More »

The Bill of Rights, 1689


In response to policies that threatened to restore Catholicism in England, Parliament deposed King James II and called William of Orange from the Dutch Republic and his wife Mary, who was James’s Protestant daughter, to replace him. William and Mary agreed to the Bill of Rights presented to them by Parliament, thereby acknowledging that their power came from the legislature rather than from... Read More »

The Counterrevolution


This cartoon mocks all the leading figures of the "Counterrevolution," including the former royal family and its blood relatives, plus the clergy, the nobility, and specific individuals, such as Mirabeau, who had supported the monarchy in the early years of the Revolution. In this cartoon, the comical counterrevolutionary parade poses no real threat to the impregnable republic at the extreme... Read More »

The King Accepting the Constitution amid the National Assembly, 14 September 1791


The Estates–General, reborn as the National Assembly, finished its work by completing a new constitution. This document provided for an executive—the King—as well as a legislative body. Suffrage was male and restricted to certain economic levels. Overall, it was a moderate document that created a constitutional monarch and privileged the wealthy to a considerable degree at a time when the... Read More »

The Pathos of Death


Locked up in the Temple prison, there was little for the family to do but await the likely result. This image shows the grief suffusing the entire situation.

The Queen Exhausted


An image produced well after the Revolution shows a Queen, assaulted by the gaze of the people, controlled by the soldier, and tentative in her stance and appearance.