Constitution of Denmark - History


The original constitution of Denmark was signed on 5 June 1849 by King Frederick VII. The event marked the country's transition to constitutional monarchy, putting an end to the absolute monarchy that had been introduced in Denmark in 1660. The Constitution has been rewritten 4 times since 1849.

Before the first constitutions, the power of the king was tempered by a håndfæstning, a charter each king had to sign before being accepted as king by the land things. This tradition was abandoned in 1665 when Denmark got its first constitution Lex Regia (The Law of The King, Danish: Kongeloven) establishing absolute power for King Frederick III of Denmark, and replacing the old feudal system. This is Europe's only formal absolutist constitution. Absolute power was passed along with a succession of Danish monarchs until Frederick VII who agreed to sign the new constitution into law on 5 June 1849, which has since been a Danish national holiday.

Frederick VII's father and immediate predecessor, Christian VIII, ruled Denmark from 1839 to 1848, had earlier been king of Norway until political turmoil of 1814 forced him to abdicate after a constitutional convention. Those who supported similar constitutional reforms in Denmark were disappointed with his refusal to acknowledge any limitations to his inherited absolute power, and had to wait for his successor to put through the reforms.

Ditlev Gothard Monrad, who became Secretary in 1848 drafted the first copy of the Constitution, based on a collection of the constitutions of the time, sketching out 80 paragraphs, whose basic principles and structure resembles the current constitution. The language of the draft was since revised by Secretary Orla Lehmann among others, and since treated in the Constitutional Assembly of 1848 (Danish: Grundlovsudvalget af 1848). Sources of inspiration for the Constitution include the Constitution of Norway of 1814 and the Constitution of Belgium. The constitution's civil rights are based on the Constitution of the United States of 1787, especially the Bill of Rights.

The government's draft was laid before the Constitutional Assembly of the Realm (Danish: Den Grundlovgivende Rigsforsamling), part of which had been elected on 5 October 1848, the remainder having been appointed by the King. The 152 members were mostly interested in the political aspects, the laws governing elections and the composition of the two chambers of Parliament. The Constitution was adopted during a period of strong national unity, namely the First Schleswig War, which lasted from 1848–1851.

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