Discussion of Citizenship under the Proposed New Constitution (29 April 1793)

In the discussion of a new constitution in April 1793, Jean–Denis Lanjuinais spoke for the constitutional committee. He admitted that the question of women’s rights had aroused controversy.


Report of the Committee Charged with Analyzing Constitutional Projects

The general idea aroused by the word citizen is that of a member of the polity, of civil society, of the nation. In a strict sense, it signifies only those who are admitted to the exercise of political rights, to vote in the people's assemblies, those who can elect and be elected to public offices; in a word, the members of the sovereign. Thus children, the insane, minors, women, and those condemned to corporal punishment or to a loss of civil rights until their rehabilitation, would not be citizens.

But in common usage, this expression is applied to all those who form the social body, that is, who are neither foreigners nor civilly dead, whether or not they have political rights; finally, to all those who enjoy the fullness of civil rights, whose person and goods are governed in all things by the general laws of the country. These are citizens in the most ordinary language. . . .

I conclude from this that the denomination of active citizen, invented by Sieyès, would still be useful even today; it would bring clarity to our constitutional language. . . . There are essential conditions for being an active citizen: namely, a suitable age, the use of reason, the declaration of wanting to belong to the French nation, a time of residence after that declaration which would make apparent the persevering will to belong to this nation, and not to have been deprived by court judgment of the quality of citizen or of the right to vote.

Before turning to the question of age, we must speak about sex. The committee appears to exclude women from political rights, but several projects have opposed this exclusion; our colleague Romme [another deputy] has already brought you his complaints, and Guyomar has given us an interesting dissertation on the subject.

It is true that the physique of women, their goal in life, and their position distance them from the exercise of a great number of political rights and duties. Perhaps our current customs and the vices of our education make this distancing still necessary at least for a few years. If the best and most just institutions are those most in conformity with nature, it is difficult to believe that women should be called to the exercise of political rights. It is impossible for me to think that taking everything into consideration, men and women would gain anything good from it.

Source: The materials listed below appeared originally in The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History, translated, edited, and with an introduction by Lynn Hunt (Bedford/St. Martin's: Boston/New York), 1996, 132–35.