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Austrian Constitution of the Reich

Austrian Constitution of the Reich On March 7, 1849 (dated March 4) the Austrian Constitution of the Reic h was proclaimed by Emperor Franz Josef I and the Schwarzenberg government. When disregarding the constitutional decrees of 1848, this constitution marks the beginning proper of constitutionalization at the level of the Hapsburg Reich because up to 1848 there was no constitution for the entire state. This basic law provided the counterpart to the constitution prepared in Kremsier by the Austrian Diet and, immediately after its dissolution, was imposed by the Austrian government.

The const itution of the Reich had been drawn up in week-long consultations by the Austrian council of ministers with the substantial participation of the minister of the interior Franz Sereph von Stadion and the minister of justice Alexander Bach. In contrast to the bourgeois-constitutional and parliament-oriented constitution of Kremsier, designed to elevate Austria to a federation of nations and peoples on the basis of equality, the basic law promulgated by the government was clearly tailored to the dominat ing position of the Hapsburg crown within a centralized general state. The totality of all crown lands should form "the free independent indivisible and indissoluble constitutional Austrian hereditary monarchy." Not only the representation of the state towards outside on the basis of international law together with military affairs were, by declaration, made official affairs of the Reich, but also trade and crafts, transport and the questions of international security. Compared with it, the compet ence of the lands was limited to secondary spheres, such as the construction of community buildings, the cultivation of the country's culture, etc. Hungary was not granted any special status which abrogated its sovereignty over peoples and nationalities it had formerly ruled. Those concessions that concerned the election and the position of parliament were extremely narrow. The provisions established a two-chamber system--as set forth in the Pillersdorff constitution of April 1848--with possibilit ies provided for regimentation by the monarch (dissolution of parliament). The electoral system, however, provided for a public voting and favored the prosperous classes. Altogether, the constitution kept the margin of maneuver extremely narrow and limited parliamentary development. But it did allow the possibility of a conservative renewal of the Hapsburg Reich with a limited constitutional orientation, including the proclamation of fundamental rights (freedom of person, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of science, etc.), regulations on the acquisition of real estate and the freedom of trade, the buildup of administration and, specifically, the abolition of statue labor promised at the beginning of March.

The fundamental law encountered outright rejection by the Slavs and Hungarians especially due to its centralism. But large sections of the population in German-Austria responded to the law positively because bourgeois circles considered it a basis for further economic development. The Schwarzenberg government was unable to honor the promise for reform, as set forth in the constitution--except for the abolition of statue labor- -since it was impossible to put the fundamental law into force due to the continuing state of emergency in wide parts of the country, so it was formally rescinded on December 31, 1851.
Gunther Hildebrandt


Walter, Friedrich. oesterreichische Verfassungs und Verwaltungsgeschic hte von 1500-1955. Vienna/Cologne/Graz, 1971.

A. Wandruszka and P. Urbanitsch Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848- 1918, II "Verwaltung und Rechtswesen" Vienna, 1975.

Reichsgesetzblatt, No. 150/1849 (text).

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