The 196th issue of the Deutsche constitutionelle Zeitung (German constitutional newspaper), published on 14 July 1848, contains the second instalment of the three-part series “Der Entwurf der Grundrechte des deutschen Volkes” (“The draft of the fundamental rights of the German people”). An article on the first part of the series analysing the contents of the proposed constitution has previously been published here on our Reconfort research blog.
The significance of the new fundamental rights
Much as in the first article in the series, the introduction outlines the reasoning behind a series on the draft of the fundamental rights of the German people. The author believes it to be the duty of the press to critically analyse the draft in order to raise awareness of its importance and to give the public the chance to protest should the national assembly’s draft fall short of expectations. The author highlights the enormous significance of the part of the new constitution containing the fundamental rights. While the remaining sections concern themselves with the organization of Germany as a unified state, the section containing the fundamental rights of the people touches on the very core of political life in every single member state as a foundation for each individual law and constitution.
A comparison with the American constitution
In comparing the draft to the American constitution, the author notes that the latter hardly even mentions the fundamental rights of the people. While section 9 of article 1 contains some provisions concerning the safety of the people, a fair legislative process, reasonable taxation and the freedom of the people, it is imminent from the context that these provisions only apply to the federal government and not to the individual member states. The author feels this might prompt the question as to why it is deemed necessary, then, to restrict the individual member states in the German constitution, when the American constitution does not include such regulations. He provides the following answer: Firstly, it goes without saying that the constitutions of the American member states have to be in line with the federal constitution, as the constitution does not only exist to provide freedom to the individual states but also to protect the citizens form an abuse of power. Secondly, it is only partly true that the American constitution does not contain the fundamental rights of the people: While it does not list any specific rights, it most definitely guarantees them: Section four of Article four states that “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government […]”, which, according to the author, equals an express and extensive declaration of the fundamental rights of the people.
Further sources of fundamental rights in the United States
As if this wasn’t enough, the American Congress passed a series of amendments in as early as 1791 which precisely determine the granted fundamental rights. In addition, the author praises the declaration of independence, signed 4 July 1776, which he sees as an unsurpassable model of political wisdom.
After having undertaken this comparison with the American regulations, the author announces a return to analysing the draft of the German constitution in the next and final part of the series, which would be published in issue 196 the following day.
This source, as well as the other articles in the series on the draft of the fundamental rights of the German people, is accessible from our database on constitutional formation at sources.reconfort.eu. Issue 187 has previously been discussed on our research blog, while the final article from issue 196 will follow in the upcoming weeks.