Abstract

No nation, revolutionary or otherwise, granted women equal political rights in the eighteenth century (or the nineteenth century for that matter). The failure of the French revolutionaries to do so has seemed especially disappointing, in large measure because they accorded political as well as civil rights to so many previously excluded groups. The first article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789 insisted that ‘Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.’ Between 1789 and 1794, revolutionaries debated the meaning of those words. They carefully defined the age of majority, imposed then withdrew property qualifications, almost immediately granted political rights to Protestants, eventually accorded such rights to Jews, and even abolished slavery. They devoted very little energy, in contrast, to the question of women’s political rights, assuming, as the journalist Louis Marie Prudhomme explained in 1791, that ‘civil and political liberty is in a manner of speaking useless to women’ because they are ‘born to a perpetual dependence from the first moment of their existence until that of their decease.’1 A similar disregard for women’s political rights can be traced in the American Revolution and in British radical circles of the 1790s, Mary Wollstonecraft notwithstanding.

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© Lynn Hunt 2005

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  • Lynn Hunt

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