Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

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King John of England granted the Magna Carta ("the great charter") on 15 June 1215. Leading nobles had demanded confirmation of their liberties and had threatened war if their demands were not met. The King agreed not to confiscate his subjects’…

In 1628, the position of Charles I of England had gone from bad to worse. Rash enterprises, lavish and illegal expenditure, and broken promises of better government had almost ruptured relations between the monarch and his subjects. The King offered…

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…

John Locke (1632–1704) wrote his Second Treatise of Government early in the 1680s and published it in 1690. In it Locke proposed a social contract theory of government and argued against the idea of "divine right," which held that rulers had a…

The author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), was deeply influenced by the European Enlightenment. He spent many years in Paris and was just as much at home among European intellectuals as he was on his plantation in…

The Declaration of Rights drafted in 1776 by George Mason for the state constitution of Virginia influenced both Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. It clearly states that rights are…

Voltaire was the pen name of François–Marie Arouet (1694–1778), an Enlightenment writer known for his plays and histories and his acerbic criticism of the French Catholic Church. Although Voltaire eventually became a kind of cultural icon…

Abbé Guillaume–Thomas Raynal (1711–96), known by his clerical title [abbé refers to ecclesiastical training], first published his multivolume history of European colonization anonymously in French in 1770. Today many sections of it seem almost…

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948 to provide an authoritative list of human rights that could serve as an international standard for all peoples and nations. An affirmation of…

On 5 May 1789, the deputies of all three orders convened before the King as the Estates–General. In attendance, among other visiting foreign dignitaries, was the American Gouverneur Morris, who recorded his observations in a diary. In the excerpt…
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