Reflections on World History

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Ch. 16: Documents on Rights & Images of the French Revolution



It is hard for us to imagine a world in which the concept of rights did not exist.  But the idea of rights was only invented in the mid eighteenth century. Where could the idea of rights have come from? What were some of the political consequences and uses of this new term once it emerged? What other concepts existed that might have contradicted this new rights talk?

Feel free to respond to these questions, or any others you find interesting. I look forward to reading your posts! – Dr. Davidson



  1. Jessica says:

    Document 16.1
    The Rights of Women

    This document I found most interesting was the speech by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I remember in high school when my history teacher was talking about feminist leaders, she mentioned Stanton, former president of NAWSA. Stanton told these arguments with a simple and clear style to get her points across effectively and is also very straightforward. In the speech, she noted women to be allowed to the same exact rights as other citizens of America, other people of civilization, even men. Her big purpose to argue for a woman’s rights is the isolation of every human being and that the essence of self dependence is important because that will give each person the right to choose their own surroundings. Overall, Stanton’s speech is told in an easy language, not only making it more facile for her audience to comprehend, but denoting that her argument is just as simple- “equality in social life” (pg. 819)


  2. ajohnson206 says:

    During the eighteenth century, racism was ubiquitous. To the whites, it was a way of life, it was also the only thing they knew. However, the rights began to emerge when slaves realized that they were human beings too. They began to realize that just because they contain darker skin pigment, doesn’t mean they should be treated like the dirt in which they were plowing. Therefore, they began to take action by revolting and running away. Eventually, some realistic whites with an open mind to the world, realized that this was wrong. Eventually, laws and rights gradually began to show themselves. However, some consequences came with it. The whites had always seen blacks as inferior beings. After the rights were becoming more abundant, the whites were in a quandary due to the change in their everyday life, therefore, they resorted to severe racism. They began to kill the blacks brutally and forcefully. This cause an indirect “civil war” between the whites and the blacks; the blacks severely outnumbered.

  3. Daisha B. says:

    When speaking on this time you can’t possibly skip over the issues with rights. White males at this time ruled in high society. Women and the minorities didn’t have the rights to do a lot. Of course over time these groups began to be tired of this injustice. However, I want to focus my post on women’s rights. My source is from document 16.4 on page 818 in the text. It says that Olympe de Gouges wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Female Citizen, begging for women to wake up and realize their rights.
    I believe that this idea alone brought women to where we are now. I took a course last semester and Valdosta specifically talking about the history of women and how the white man ruled and stripped others of their rights. Women couldn’t speak out or disagree. They were seen a certain way and that was how it had to remain in males eyes. They were arranged to marry men high in society and couldn’t break that mold. Of course women over time revolted against this with many protest and so on. Now women are some of the most powerful beings on the planet Earth.

  4. Jamison H says:

    In Document 16.4 is a speech Elizabeth Cady Stanton gave to congress, this speech was not so much a speech but more of a plea for women’s rights in America, with high regard to the subject of women’s voting rights. What I found most interesting about this passage is not the content in which she speaks of women’s rights, but the underlying humanistic nature of her speech. She was not only speaking about a reform to women’s rights but of an altogether transformation of human rights for everyone. Her last line even stating “Who, I ask you, can take, dare take, on himself the rights, the duties, the responsibilities of another human soul?” implying that everyone, whether it be women, immigrants, or slaves has been given a soul and therefore has their own rights, duties, and responsibilities that no one has the power to take away from them. I believe the fact that she not only recognized the need for women’s rights, but also the need for reform in human rights in general speaks volumes about her character and intelligence. She did a flawless job of addressing the issue that affected her directly but also the issues that would still be affecting those around her.

  5. JoslynP says:

    I believe the concept of rights emerged from individuals wanting equality from the overbearing restrictions the elites had over the common people. The idea that ultimately every human being was made equally became more important during this time. A consequence that came with rights falls more so on the women. In Document 16.4, Elizabeth Stanton gives a speech advocating for women’s rights. She address that every individual has the right to equal opportunity, such as freedoms of thought and action. She elaborated on how no matter how much a woman may want to be protected and supported, her rights and freedoms should remain equal to those of men. Women hold a great significance in the world and what makes her actions and thoughts of lesser value than those of men? They live in the same exact society as men, believe in the same religions as men… These imbalances to me is what introduced the need for rights. No one shall “take the responsibilities of another soul.”

  6. Rashundra Martin says:

    During the 18th century, “rights” weren’t distributed among all people. Only those in higher positions had rights; these individuals were white males. Women seeking equality, colonial people seeking independence, and slaves demanding freedom were those who had no real rights as humans. In the United States, The Declaration of Independence spoke of all all men being created as equals but the brutal reality of slavery and inequality amongst the people stated otherwise. In Document 16.4, Fredrick Douglass discussed rights and slavery. Douglass expressed his feelings towards these indiscretions in a document entitled “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” in the document, he explains that for the american slave the fouth of July represents injustice and cruelty. To a slave the celebration is fake or a sham. Slaves were still being mistreated so it was like they had never gained independence. They were still forced to work extreme labor and with little to no food and absolutely no pay. Essentially no rights were giving to the slaves. Though whites seen them as be an inferior race they purposely underminded them forcing them to feel worthless and beneath them. -Rashundra M.

  7. Arian Amiri says:

    After Reading Document 16.1, I noticed many similarities to our Bill of Rights in the French, “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen” written in 1789. Belief by the National Assembly that ignorance, neglect, or contempt of the rights of man are the soul causes of public misfortunes and governmental corruption seem to be very true to me (813). Speaking about the people and how men are born free and are to remain free with equality in rights is followed by numerous reassuring points to back this up. Point 13 speaks about taxation which is commonly brought up and altered in the United States. Point 13 states: For the maintenance of public authority and for expenses of administration, common taxation is indispensable. It should be apportioned equally among all the citizens according to their capacity to pay.” I think this is a very good way to state this right in the French “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen”. Equal taxation only seems fair, however if you don’t have an income or the money to pay for taxes, then it’s only fair to lessen taxes on these people. I also noticed that it jumps from the 13th right to the 17th right skipping everything in between. Wondering if this was book error or if the French did this intentionally because of removing rights, I looked it up and in fact our book left them out. So I figured I would include them for all seeing eyes:

    14. All the citizens have a right to decide, either personally or by their representatives, as to the necessity of the public contribution; to grant this freely; to know to what uses it is put; and to fix the proportion, the mode of assessment and of collection and the duration of the taxes.
    15. Society has the right to require of every public agent an account of his administration.
    16. A society in which the observance of the law is not assured, nor the separation of powers defined, has no constitution at all.

    I do not know why our book would leave these three out since they hold great importance.

  8. Jose F says:

    Before the French Revolution, France was sharply and unjustly divided among three groups or estates. The two superior groups doing everything in their power to keep the third estate of commoners down while maintaining their supremacy due to the high taxation of the third estate. Visual Source 16.2 shows the inevitable reversal of roles that came with the French Revolution and how it altered the governmental landscape of France. The representatives of the clergy and the nobility are seen recoiling in fear because they know that once the commoners realize their strength in unity and in numbers then their demise will surely follow. It is also interesting to see the commoner’s arms were bound by iron before – representing the iron grip that the superior estates had on them – but now the representative of the common estate is unshackling them and releasing itself from that subordinate role. -Jose F

  9. Shamira says:

    The idea of rights seemed to come at a time when all different types of people were beginning to think of themselves as just that – people. While before, only certain people were treated as though they were actual people. Before this new forward thinking, only the elite in a society were given special priviledges, which we now call rights, while the rest of the people were seen as servants or slaves to those above them in their societies own hierarchy. As the enlightenment movement spread, people started thinking about what should constitute as the basic privilidges given to people, but this was contradictory because even at this time of political and social advancement, not all people were given the same rights or rights at all. Referring to document 16.4, Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes to persuade the men of power to give the women rights because at this time only men were allowed to vote. The fact that still at this time in history, not all members of a given society were treated equally is contrary to exactly it was that these men were preaching about.

  10. Sidney Nelson says:

    In the document Claiming Rights, the Declaration spells out many specific rights. For instance, the first thing stated is that everyone is born free and equal. This means that no one can be discriminated against. Also, the Declaration mentions that everyone has the right to their natural rights. These rights include liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression. In addition, it is stated that the most vital right is that every citizen is entitled to free communication of his or her thoughts and opinions. Therefore, this means that everyone can speak or write whatever they feel. Another right mentioned is that no one can be deprived of obtaining property, which is also very important. I noticed that the rights skip from 13 to 17. I wonder why the author decided to omit these rights. Did he feel that they were not important enough to include? – Sidney N.

  11. Fredrick Douglas, in document 16.3, felt that we as humans have a God given right to freedom, which was then reiterated by the American elites in the Declaration of Independence. He felt that the Declaration of Independence proved that Americans were fully aware of what was right and the injustices that blacks were receiving. With this being the focal point of his argument. He uses juxtaposition to emerge the feeling that all humans should be treated as humans. They all fought the war to gain freedom from Britain, but the blacks still did not have freedom. Douglas states that “it is not light that is needed, but fire,” showing that he was aware of the people’s knowledge of injustice, but they need to have a spark of action with the knowledge.

  12. mina-s says:

    For the slaves of the Atlantic, the idea of fighting for rights, indeed came from the French Revolution as well. In Document 16.3 Frederick Douglas, a former slave, gave a speech titled “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July”. This speech brings important points that while the “white population” is celebrating Independence Day, there has not been a day of equality for the enslaved Americans. The holiday is “a sham” and is a day where he says, “You may rejoice, I must mourn,” (page 817). It is depressing, but it was the reality of that time. It is fortunate that today, July 4 is celebrated by everyone with fireworks and a good family gathering.

  13. Kameron H says:

    Visual source 16.2 brings out an interesting concept of the awakening of the third estate or everyone not associated with the nobility and the clergy. In the image the third estate is seen on the ground removing the shackles that were most likely place on it by the other two estates. This breaking free represents the third estates realization that they no longer had to be controlled by the two estates and that they could fight for their rights. The ability to fight is depicted by the weapons that lay beside the third estate and reveals that the third estate had always had the tools fight it was just a matter of realizing they were beside them. Anoother image in the picture is of the other two estates jumping back in fear at the fact that the third estate is breaking free of the shackles the estates placed upon it. The fact that the other estates knew what the the third was capable of removing the power already established between the first and second estates.

  14. Garrett Mitchell says:

    With the development of the idea of rights came many social changes. I feel the development of rights was partially a means of justification for taking action against what they perceived as grievances against them. Before the enlightenment, many people likely saw their situation as simply the way things were. With the common folk feeling as if they were finally entitled to certain things came the drive to protect these rights, through either physical or political action, which often lead to an overthrow of the sitting power. Ironically, these rights which were “unalienable” and “endowed by their creator” were often restricted to white males even after a new power was installed.

  15. Ruby says:

    I find the Haitian Revolution to be so interesting. Seeing how it came from being regarded as one of the richest colonies of the world to now one of the poorest countries to date. Makes you really want to know what happened. How is it that a colony that once produced approximately 40 percent of the world’s sugar and possibly 50 percent of the world’s coffee be in such poor conditions now? The population of Saint Domingue was interesting as well. What was it like for the grands blancs and petits blancs to live among each other? Did they ever interact with each other or did they avoid each other?

  16. Matthew C. says:

    In visual source 6.2, at first I felt like that the third estate, the common people, has been beat down by the clergy and the nobility estate. Then, I noticed the fear in their eyes because the third estate has strength in numbers. The third estate always had the short end of the stick, because votes would be only recognized in states and there were three. Usually, I felt really bad for the third estate because they had to deal with every hardship while the clergy and the nobles had a non-tax life. At this time, equality really rings in the people’s head of the third estate. This is why the third estate rebelled, on the other hand, this rebellion could have been stopped if the other two estates were more fare on how taxes or laws. Plus, I bet the third estate would put the other two estates in the jail in the background.

  17. Denny says:

    I found really interesting document 16.3 where it talks about the rights and slavery. What would’ve be of American history without talking of slavery? This document focus on the different point of view of the national Independence Day for Frederick Douglass an abolitionist who fought for the freedom of his people “slaves” and white people who were citizen and had the right to everything in the United States. Douglass refers to this day as a painful day which bring bad memories of his pass and what people of color had to go trough until this day.

  18. Anna B says:

    In Doc.16.2 the reader learns about the Spanish colonies struggle for independence. Simon Bolivar expresses the idea that, no matter the fate of Latin America is, what bounds them to Spain will be severed. Bolivar states that “it would be easier to bring the two continents together than to reconcile the spirits and minds of the two countries” this explains the incredible divide between the culture and character of the people of Spain an their colonies. This is similar to the American Revolution, as the American colonists had entirely separate ideas for how they wanted to be governed than how Britain wished to govern them. Bolivar states that the obstacles faced when reaching this level of independence is that those in the American hemisphere are very passive. From this, I think he means that since the New World is in fact so new and isolated that maybe it has yet to build the courage to fight back, defend what they want as a people. He discusses how those of Latin America are of a “race halfway,” this could instill a sense of a loss of identity. How can they feel connected to Spain across the Atlantic this way? His objections to Spanish rule was the unmoving inability for those of Latin America to govern themselves, or have rights. Ultimately, Bolivar’s ideas do become a reality, “then we will follow the majestic path toward abundant prosperity marked out by destiny for South America…”

  19. dzdavidson says:

    There are lots of great comments and ideas voiced in these posts this week. Thanks for taking the time to truly engage with this material. I liked Jamison’s and Jocelyn’s comments about Stanton’s argument for women’s rights as HUMAN rights, that it is the human condition to be solitary, and need to rely on oneself, and that women have been denied that sense of self. I also appreciated Arian’s effort at finding the additional three articles from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. I think they were left out purely for reasons of space.

    One thing to consider as we prepare for class this afternoon is the difference between privileges and rights. If you have time, look up the meaning and etymology of the two words.

  20. ajones188 says:

    In visual source 16.2, the Three Estates are shown. The First Estate – the Clergy – and the Second Estate – the Nobility – are shown to be horrified by the sight of the Third Estate finally shedding his chains and reaching for guns which very likely symbolize the determination of rebellion. The first two estates may fear for their lives or that they will lose all the power they have had. It seems as though that the Third Estate is completely fed up with metaphorically carrying the first two estates on his back and will overthrow the oppression by any means necessary.


  21. Grecia C. says:

    Elizabeth Stanton was a feminist leader who was seeking equal rights for woman. In Doc. 16.4 she amends the constitution to give women the right to vote. In my opinion, Stanton wanted a revolutionary transformation because she mentions “the point I wish plainly to bring before you on this occasion in the individuality of each human soul…” This was her first line, which made this amemdment very powerful because she is giving us the big picture, and then goes into the fact that woman should be self-dependent. I completely agree with Stanton, and I love how direct she in in her letter because she gives clear points such as; stating that woman must rely on themselves because we are able to reach great heights independently as well and we don’t always need the support of a man to have that ability.

  22. Marcus G. says:

    Simon Bolivar was advocate for Colombian Independnce, he was known as the George Washingto of Latin America. In Document 16.5, in his letter he made the case for independence of his continet. He feels as if he owes now lolaity to Euopre since he is not European. Upon reading, I found out that Bolivar he not only drove Spainsh from northern South Americ but he helped set up rebuplics.

  23. Simbuilder5 says:

    It amazes me that Samuel Smiles in Thrift is consciously aware of the condition of the poor. He says they, “… work, eat, drink, and sleep…” (Smiles, 866). He points out that while England is one of the richest countries in the world, there is a lot of poverty. I think this idea can be generalized for human society today. We have billionaires in the world and every person from ages 14-35 are obsessed with the lifestyles of the rich and famous, but no one seems interested in the homeless people they walk past on the way to school. There’s a gap in the logic of today. We’re doing just as the aristocrats and middle-class did back then (Ignoring the problem). Smiles even says, “Money is our god,” (Smiles, 866). It’s still true today. For money to be a printed piece of paper, it sure does rule the minds of people in society. This is what it did in 1875. I agree with Smiles that education is the answer. He says it will, “… help them to use, and not abuse, their means of comfortable living,” (Smiles, 867). What do you all think the answer is?

    Winston S

  24. Ashley McCall says:

    Document 16.3

    Fredrick Douglas who was once a slave delivered a speech entitled “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July. Douglas felt as tho the American people knew what rights and treatments of African Americans were right and wrong. Stating that they all fought for freedom but African Americans did not recieve freedom. The declaration stated that “all men are created equal”. Douglas is trying to make a point in this speech stating that there is no equality so why should blacks celebrate a holiday when they are not free.

  25. ShanakayW says:

    The primary source that was fascinating to me was document 16.4. Elizabeth Stanton’s, an American feminist leader made a speech in 1982 before the congressional committee, encouraging them to give woman the right to vote. Elizabeth speech was aimed towards woman urging them to wake up, to take a stand, and to fight for rights that are rightfully theirs. She makes the argument that “the strongest reason why we ask for woman a voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professional, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself.” Implying that woman has a birth right to be independent, she made it clear that it’s important for woman to have their own occupation and their own income. She stated, “Alike amid the greatest triumphs and darkest tragedies of life we walk alone.” Meaning that, that no one, especially woman, should be reliant on anyone because at the end of the day they walk alone meaning that they should have their own. It’s clear that Stanton’s speech made a huge impact on the government. Even though changes were made almost two decade after she passed, it’s visible that she was a big influence in the shaping of our society.

    – ShanakayW

  26. DHarris says:

    In document 16.3, Fredrick Douglas, strongly believed that humans have a God given right to be free. This same “God given right to freedom”became incorporated in the Declaration of Independence. Douglas thought that the Declaration of Independence was a sign that Americans were aware of the injustices that African Americans were exposed to. He beleived that they fought against the British inorder to gain freedom and that the African American were being mistreated because they did not have access to this freedom.

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