Arthur Dieme -- Natural Rights

Here is an essay on Natural Rights by Arthur Dieme:

Unit 5: Political Revolutions and Governance Essay

Natural Rights were a critical factor in both the French and the Haitian revolutions. The idea of Natural Rights first gained traction during the enlightenment, just before the French revolution. This is because the main factors of Natural Rights, being equality and freedom, were things that many people felt they were being deprived of by their government. This sentiment was especially strong in France, where the poor felt that the monarchs and the rich were infringing on their Natural Rights without their consent. The French spread these ideas to the people of Haiti, because revolutionaries who were captured in France were often sent to Haiti, where they could continue to spread these ideas. As one could imagine, in the country of Haiti, where the French had enslaved and mistreated people constantly, ideas of Natural Rights stuck and aided in the eventual revolution to come. As is the unfortunate case with many of these ideas of “freedom” and “equality,” those who supported these ideas in France decided that this freedom and equality should not apply to those of color. In addition, the original text by John Locke makes it very clear that Natural Rights are for men, and not women. While Natural Rights supported clearing the distinction between poor and rich, and was originally supposed to be extended to other races, in practice in both the French and Haitian revolutions they affected men of whichever race was the majority. Natural Rights were the crux of the French and Haitian revolutions. It's very clear why an unhappy group of people would use Natural Rights to rebel and resist the political power, because clearly that is what Natural Rights are for. The original text by John Locke, again, lays out the circumstances in which it is right for the people to revolt. Overall, Natural Rights played a large role in the French and Haitian revolutions by showing the oppressed what rights they should have and giving them a reason to revolt.

Natural Rights heavily impacted the decisions of both the French and the Haitians to revolt. For the French revolution, the influence of John Locke’s thinking is very clear. Comparing the document “The Second Treatise on Government” by John Locke and the French “Declaration of The Rights of Man,” the similarities are striking. For example, in Locke’s words, “What state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom … A state also of equality, … born to all the same advantages of nature,”1 and in the French document, “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.”2 It is evident from these examples that the French took aspects of Locke’s work for their declaration. Further examples of this are both paper’s insertions that the government exists to preserve the Natural Rights of man, specifically regarding property and possessions. In the aspect of the Haitian revolt, while not as clear as the French document, the Haitian constitution shares many similarities with the writings of John Locke as well. The Haitians believed, as Locke did, that “Property is sacred, its violation shall be severely prosecuted,”3 which shares an odd similarity with the thoughts of John Locke and the French proletariat, with Locke stating “The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.”4 Of course, considering that the Haitians only know of Natural Rights from captured French revolutionaries, their understanding would be less precise than the similarities between the French and Locke, but the similarities are still present. In addition to this insistence that property rights be taken seriously, the Haitians also believe in the freedom and liberty of every citizen of Haiti, something which, as stated above, was pushed by Locke. This exemplifies the similarities between the thinking of John Locke and the revolutionaries of France and Haiti. These similarities are no coincidence, two societies that thought they were treated poorly by their respective governments, exposed to the thinking of John Locke, successfully revolted and overthrew their governments. After that, they both ended up writing constitutions that share aspects of the writing of John Locke. There is clear correlation between John Locke’s ideas of Natural Rights and mistreated people revolting.

Natural Rights, while speaking of liberty and freedom, actually excluded a large portion of the population, as well as being adapted to exclude even more people. John Locke did not include women in the group of people with Natural Rights. This was amplified by both the French and the Haitians, who decided that the only people entitled to Natural Rights were the majority racial group of their respective countries. Throughout Locke's writing, he consistently refers to those with Natural Rights as “man,” “men,” and “mankind,” with no mention of the other sex. This is held throughout the French and Haitian documents, neither of which mention women in context of Natural Rights. Each document has at least one line to the effect of Locke’s “what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man,”5 with heavy emphasis on men. In France’s Declaration of The Rights of Man, it states even in the title that it concerns men, and later goes on to state that “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.”6 The Haitian document, while it does mention women, only does so with reference to children and as an exemption to the racial bias, not in terms of Natural Rights. It also says that “The Citizens of Hayti are brothers at home,”7 which implies that the citizens of Haiti are all men, thus brothers. Furthermore, according to Robert Strayer’s writing on the French revolution, when women tried to fight to receive equality, it was seen as “wildly inappropriate and threatening to most men.”8 This apparently prompted revolutionaries and conservatives alike to agree that women do not deserve equal rights as men. Also in Strayer’s textbook are details about how the French were opposed to minorities being considered equal as well. According to Strayer, both the rich and poor in France were “adamantly opposed” to the thought that people of color should be treated as equals too. The opposite is seen in Haiti, as the self-proclaimed “Blacks” barred all white men from owning property in Haiti, and only permitting white women who were “naturalized” to bypass this law. No matter the context, Natural Rights always highlighted men and left out women, however depending on the French or Haitian revolutions, they emphasised white people or black people respectively.

In conclusion, Natural Rights played a very large part in the French and Haitian revolutions. The Natural Rights movement during the enlightenment inspired many to revolt against the unjust ruling by their government. This becomes evident when reading the French Declaration of The Rights of Man, where the French outline rules that closely mimic those laid out by the original document by John Locke, The Second Treatise on Government. While not as clear, the same can be said of the Haitian constitution of 1805, where the newly independent Haitian government detailed similar yet more harsh and less inclusive laws that also incorporate aspects of John Locke. Mentioning John Locke, it is clear when reviewing his document that he does not believe that women have the same Natural Rights as men, if they even have any. In the cases of the French and Haitian revolutions, both changed an aspect of Natural Rights in order to fit their narrative of excluding other races. All these factors taken into consideration, it is clear to see why Natural Rights are a valuable resource in understanding political revolution. Natural Rights provided motivation for both French and Haitian revolutionaries to fight for their liberty and for equality. In addition, the acceptance of the John Locke document of people of color shows the limitations of the morals of people from this time period. Natural Rights can and should be used to explore the motivations and limitations of revolutionaries.