The Revolution of 1848 and the question of the ideal form of government
Ensuring freedom of the press, representation of the people by a parliament, the formation of a national state and the drafting of a constitution - the so-called March demands (“Märzforderungen”) made by the protesters as part of the 1848 Revolution were the basis for the attempt to reshape the state order in Germany.
But what should this (ideal?) new state look like? This question, which had occupied state theorists and philosophers for centuries, was now also posed to the revolutionaries of 1848.
The ReConFort-research team under the direction of Prof. Dr. Ulrike Müßig from the University of Passau gained insights into the coverage of some German newspapers as part of its research on constitutional formation. Among the documents compiled and digitized by the research team is the article on the comparison of the republic with the monarchical constitutional forms. In three editions of the newspaper “Der Volksfreund”, published in Lemgo, the author presents possible forms of government starting January 6, 1849, in light of the still ongoing discussions of the members of the National Assembly on this question.
The constitutional monarchy - half freedom and half despotism?
For the description of the form of government preferred at this time by large parts of the National Assembly, the constitutional monarchy, the author finds few friendly words in the first and second part of his article. In particular with a reference to the developments in France after the July Revolution of 1830, but also with regard to England and Belgium, the journalist of the “Volksfreund” points out that this form of state organization would always mean the rule of the propertied class over those without any possession.
Whether the constitutional monarchy was practiced in a one-chamber or two-chamber system, the power of the prince would be restrained in any case. This was the difference to the absolute monarchy, in which the prince had the entire power of the state in his hands.
According to the author, however, the limits of the princely power are to the advantage of the wealthy because of a census suffrage and a considerable restriction of the freedom of the press. This stood in the way of the demand for the abolition of political prerogatives and the introduction of universal (men´s) suffrage. Such a “mixed constitution”, in which neither the prince nor the people would be granted full sovereignty, was therefore undesirable.
The democratic monarchy - new building on old foundations
An alternative could be the so-called democratic monarchy, in which the prince is not the natural head of state, but is elected. However, in the third part of the article the “Volksfreund” also critically evaluates this form of government. The elected prince would be nothing more than a president who would have to take responsibility for his actions and could be voted out of office. The author strongly doubts that the German princes would engage in this agreement.
The people as sovereign - the republic
Sovereignty as the epitome of all right and all power in the state is divided into three branches: execution of administration, legislation and jurisdiction. If these three powers are united in the hand of the people, there is a democracy, according to the author.
If, however, the reigning prince appropriates part of this power, one of the mixed forms described in the first part will emerge. But sovereignty is an inalienable right of the people. The partial transfer of power, as is the case in the constitutional monarchy, is therefore practically impossible. Accordingly, in the author`s eyes, the republic is the only desirable and feasible form of government. Moreover, it is also the only potential form of state organization that offers the possibility of political and social co-determination of the people without property.
The draft constitution of 1849 and the Three Kings Constitution (“Drei-Königs-Verfassung”)
This desire for the establishment of a republic, however, was not to be fulfilled. In a fourth article the author finally presents the “Three Kings Constitution” (elaborated by the “Dreikönigsbündnis”, later “Erfurter Union”). This is a reaction to the constitution drawn up by the Frankfurt National Assembly and modifies its decisive points.
Read the complete evaluation and assessment of this constitutional document in the digitized edition of the "Volksfreund" and find more interesting digital copies in the ReConFort-database.