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France: Constitution of 1848

Constitution of 1848 The French constitution of 1848 was drawn up by the national constituent assembly elected following the revolution of February 1848, which created the Second French Republic. The constituent assembly was chosen on April 23 by universal manhood suffrage, and the republican and democratic principles of the February revolution were embodied in the constitution that the assembly adopted later in the year after exhaustive debate.

The constitutional committee consisted in the main of moderate republicans and former liberal monarchists, among them Alexis de Tocqueville; it included one socialist , Victor Consid‚rant, and one worker, Anthyme Corbon. A draft presented on June 19 guaranteed not only the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and religion, but also the controversial "right to work" proclaimed in February.

The draft constitution also affirmed the hallowed revolutionary ideals of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity," but after the workers' insurrection in late June the assembly added "Family, Work, Property, Public Order" as basic principles while replacing "right to work" wit h a limited obligation of the state to provide aid to the unemployed. But in general the democratic features of the early draft were preserved in the constitution as adopted on November 4. Both nobility and slavery were abolished, and France was declared an indivisible republic, this "definitive" form of government resting on the sovereignty of its citizens. Both a legislative assembly and the executive, a president, were to be elected by universal suffrage of all males at least 21 years of age. In the single chamber, the constitution revived the representative principle first adopted in 1789, but in creating the presidency it rejected the collegial executives of the first republic of 1792 in favor of the American model, which was also reflected in the term of four years. Only slight changes were introduced in the judicial system.

By the time the executive power was debated in October, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte had appeared as a serious candidate, but the constituent assembly defeate d a proposal to replace popular election of the president with election by the assembly itself. However, the constituents did prohibit immediate re-election and contained other articles designed to forestall a presidential coup.

In the election of December 10, 1848, Louis Napoleon overwhelmingly defeated the incumbent premier, General Louis Eugène Cavaignac, and other republican and socialist candidates. Some historians have argued that the constitution made conflict inevitable betwee n a legislature and a president both democratically elected, and indeed it lasted only three years; despite the precautions written into the document, President Bonaparte overthrew the republic with ease in the violent coup d'état of December 2, 1851.
Frederick de Luna


Bastid, Paul Doctrines et institutions politiques de la seconde république 2 vols. Paris: Hachette, 1945.

Cohen, Jacques La Préparation de la constitution de 1848 Paris: Jouve, 1935.

Curtis, Eugene The French Assembly of 1848 and American Constitutional Doctrines New York: Columbia University Press, 1918.

de Luna, Frederick A. The French Republic under Cavaignac, 1848. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Godechot, Jacques Les Constitutions de la France depuis 1789 Paris: Flammerion, 1979.

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