Reconsidering Constitutional Formation

Reconsidering Constitutional Formation

Graduated historians and legal scholars from Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Poland, Italy and Spain conduct research under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Ulrike Müßig (University of Passau) on European constitutional history in the 18th and 19th century.

The project aims at investigating the cross-border interplays between constitutional process and public debates in late 18th and 19th cenutry Europe. Constitution is not only the body of text, but rather the consensus of those to be ruled by the constituted sovereignty.

ReConFort understands constitution as an evolutionary achievement assessing the interplay of the constitutional text, societal context, political practice and constitutional interpretation.

The guiding principle of ReConFort is to find “discourse”-related explanation models for the rather paradigmatic experimental nature, ambiguity or indetermination of constitutional texts with regard to state-organisational core elements (i.e. power-balance of the pouvoirs constitutés, monarchical or popular sovereignty).

The legal implications of the circulation of ideas and constitutional notions become more evident for the first time at the interface of legal and historical sciences.

After the emergence of the American Constitution (1787), the genesis of constitutional semantics was accompanied by an immense public interest and participation in Continental-Europe. Against this backdrop, the interplay of linked paradigms reveals the European constitutionalism as a history of movements. ReConFort concentrates on the public “discourses” by selecting five historical case studies, i.e. the Polish Sejm (1788-1792), the Spanish Cortes (1812), the Belgian National Congress (1830-1831), the Frankfurt Parliament (1848-1849) and the Italian Parlamento Subalpino (1861).

The reconsidering of the constitutional processes of the late 18th and 19th centuries is based on the exploration of mainly still unknown primary sources (cross-border correspondences and publicist activities of major constitutional protagonists (including exile literature) and regional/national and cross-border constitutional journalism in leading public media). The interconnected synchronic and diachronic comparative approach of ReConFort sheds light on the complex mechanisms of constitutional formation and their generalisation. This is meant to contribute to the contemporary overall debate about the future of the EU integration process.



The Advanced Grant ReConFort (Reconsidering Constitutional Formation, Constitutional Communication by Drafting, Practice and Interpretation in 18th and 19th century Europe) brings together post-docs from Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland. The project focuses on constitutional formation as interplay of constitutional text, societal context, political practice and interpretation.

The historical constitutional discourses in the Sejm (Poland), the Cortes (Spain), in the Belgian National Congress, the Paulskirche (Germany) and the Parlamento Subalpino (Italy) illustrate perfectly how the legal codification of a political system in a constitution communicates authority in the context of a society. Almost 200 years ago, constitutional discourse was closely accompanied by the public, a circumstance which contributed its success in 18th and 19th century Europe and which is arguably missing in contemporary European Union contracts.


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no. 339529.