The domestic debates and conflicts, during the period between 1815 and 1849, were about the topic of a written constitution. The liberal Bourgeoisie aspired a liberal constitution, which would include the acceptance of human rights - equality in front of the law, freedom of speech, assembly, religion - and duties - to pay taxes, to serve in the military, to obey the laws, as well as to limit the power of state and church - separation of state and church, a definition of the authority of monarch and government on the one side and of parliament on the other.

At the Vienna Congress, promises were made by the monarchs, to grant constitutions. However, this promise lacked a specific definition of what such a constitution was to include and what not. Second, many monarchs wanted to rule absolute, to avoid any framework which limited their power. Thus, while some monarchs granted constitutions, others failed to make good on their promise (Prussia, Austria). In a number of cases, the Holy Alliance actually interfered and had constitutions cancelled by the use of force (Sicily 1820, Spain 1823). In 1837, King Ernst August cancelled the constitution of Hannover which he felt limited his authority too much.

A number of early written constitutions were based on a (traditional) balance between King and Estates. They established political representation in parliament by status and foresaw parliament to assemble about every 3 years. The cabinet would represent the monarch. Examples for such traditional constitutions, in German referred to as landständische Verfassungen, were those of Norway (1814), Hessen-Kassel, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1817), Hannover 1819, Braunschweig 1820. In 1837 King Ernst August of Hannover cancelled a liberal constitution and reimposed a traditional constitution.

Liberal written constitutions foresaw parliament to meet permanently, to be reelected every couple of years. There were unicameral and bicameral parliaments; the cabinet still represented the monarch. Parliament had the right to debate and pass laws and to force individual ministers to resign. Examples for such constitutions were those passed by Spain 1812, France, Nassau (1814), United Netherlands 1815, Baden, Bavaria 1818, Württemberg 1819, Spain again in 1820, Saxony 1831, Hessen-Kassel 1831, Braunschweig 1832, Hannover 1833 and again in 1840.

The liberal constitutions drew upon the experiences of revolutionary France (which failed to establish institutions and a constitution functioning over a longer period of time) and of England. Yet, it took relatively long until countries on the European continent introduced Parliamentary Rule - the tradition that the monarch would appoint the leader of parliament majority prime minister, in the United Kingdom practised since 1740. Belgium followed in 1830, the Netherlands and Denmark in 1848, Sweden in 1864.

The constitutional debate focussed on the relation between monarch and parliament. Matters such as the franchise were of secondary nature; in most countries the franchise was limited to property holders. In the U.K., the franchise was extended by the Reform Bill in 1833, still excluding the far majority of the adult male population from the vote. In France, universal adult manhood suffrage was introduced in 1848. Women and workers were barred from voting.

DOCUMENTS Baden Constitution of 1818, from Badnerland, in German
19. Jahrhundert (19th century), from Documentarchiv, in German, has a number of constitutions of German states
Norwegian constitution of 1814, posted by Thomas Horsen, in Norwegian
France, Constitutional Charter of 1814, from Napoleon Series
French Constitutional Charter of 1830, from Website of the French Prime Minister, in French; from Modern History Sourcebook, in Engl. trsl.
French Constitutional Charter of 1848, from Website of the French Prime Minister, in French

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on October 5th 2003, last revised on November 16th 2004

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