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A constitution is an aggregate of fundamental
principles A principle is a proposition or value that is a guide for behavior or evaluation. In law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified wh ...

principles
or established
precedents A precedent is a principle or rule established in a previous legal case A legal case is in a general sense a dispute between opposing parties which may be resolved by a court, or by some equivalent legal process. A legal case is typically based ...
that constitute the
legal Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described by its boundari ...

legal
basis of a
polity A polity is an identifiable political entity—any group of people who have a collective identity, who are organized by some form of Institutionalisation, institutionalized social relation, social relations, and have a capacity to mobilize resourc ...
,
organisation An organization, or organisation (English in the Commonwealth of Nations, Commonwealth English; American and British English spelling differences#-ise, -ize (-isation, -ization), see spelling differences), is an legal entity, entity—such a ...

organisation
or other type of
entity An entity is something that exists as itself, as a subject or as an object, actually or potentially, concretely or abstractly, physically or not. It need not be of material existence. In particular, abstraction Abstraction in its main sense is ...
and commonly determine how that entity is to be governed. When these principles are written down into a single document or set of legal documents, those documents may be said to embody a ''written constitution''; if they are encompassed in a single comprehensive document, it is said to embody a ''codified constitution''.
The Constitution of the United Kingdom The Constitution of the United Kingdom or British constitution comprises the written and unwritten arrangements that establish the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irel ...
is a notable example of an ''uncodified constitution''; it is instead written in numerous fundamental Acts of a legislature, court cases or treaties. Constitutions concern different levels of organizations, from
sovereign countries The following is a list providing an overview of sovereign states around the world, with information on their status and recognition of their sovereignty. The 206 listed states can be divided into three categories based on membership within ...
to
companies A company, abbreviated as co., is a legal entity In law, a legal person is any person A person (plural people or persons) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason, morality, consciousness or self-consciousness ...

companies
and unincorporated associations. A
treaty A treaty is a formal, legally binding written agreement between actors in international law International law, also known as public international law and law of nations, is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally accepted in relat ...

treaty
which establishes an
international organization An international organization (also known as an international institution or intergovernmental organization) is a stable set of norms and rules meant to govern the behavior of states and other actors in the international system. Organizations m ...
is also its constitution, in that it would define how that organization is constituted. Within
states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, Un ...
, a constitution defines the principles upon which the state is based, the procedure in which laws are made and by whom. Some constitutions, especially codified constitutions, also act as limiters of state power, by establishing lines which a state's rulers cannot cross, such as
fundamental rights Fundamental rights are a group of rights that have been recognized by a high degree of protection from encroachment. These rights are specifically identified in a constitution A constitution is an aggregate of fundamental principles A princ ...
. The
Constitution of India The Constitution of India (IAST The International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST) is a transliteration scheme that allows the lossless romanisation Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the sci ...

Constitution of India
is the longest written constitution of any country in the world, with 146,385 words in its
English-language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World language, leading language of international discourse in the 21st centu ...
version, while the
Constitution of Monaco The Constitution of Monaco, first adopted in 1911 after the Monégasque Revolution The Monégasque Revolution of 1910 was a series of confrontations by the subjects of Monaco Monaco (; ), officially the Principality of Monaco (french: Princi ...
is the shortest written constitution with 3,814 words. The
Constitution of San Marino The Constitution of the Republic of San Marino (also called the Constitution of the Most Serene Republic of San Marino) is distributed over a number of legislative instruments of which the most significant are the Statutes of 1600 and the Declarat ...
might be the world's oldest active written constitution, since some of its core documents have been in operation since 1600, while the
Constitution of the United States The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law A constitution is an aggregate of fundamental principles or established precedents that constitute the legal basis of a polity, organisation An organization, or orga ...
is the oldest active codified constitution. The historical life expectancy of a constitution since 1789 is approximately 19 years.


Etymology

The term ''constitution'' comes through French from the
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an appa ...
word ''constitutio'', used for regulations and orders, such as the
imperial Imperial is that which relates to an empire, emperor, or imperialism. Imperial or The Imperial may also refer to: Places United States * Imperial, California * Imperial, Missouri * Imperial, Nebraska * Imperial, Pennsylvania * Imperial, Texas * ...

imperial
enactments (''constitutiones principis'': edicta, mandata, decreta, rescripta). Later, the term was widely used in
canon law Canon law (from grc, κανών, , a 'straight measuring rod, ruler A ruler, sometimes called a rule or line gauge, is a device used in geometry and technical drawing, as well as the engineering and construction industries, to measure dis ...
for an important determination, especially a decree issued by the
Pope The pope ( la, papa, from el, πάππας, translit=pappas, "father"), also known as the supreme pontiff () or the Roman pontiff (), is the bishop of Diocese of Rome, Rome, chief pastor of the worldwide Catholic Church, and head of state o ...

Pope
, now referred to as an ''
apostolic constitution An apostolic constitution ( la, constitutio apostolica) is the most solemn form of legislation Legislation is law which has been promulgation, promulgated (or "enactment of a bill, enacted") by a legislature or other Government, governing body o ...
''.
William Blackstone Sir William Blackstone (10 July 1723 – 14 February 1780) was an English jurist A jurist is a person with expert knowledge of law; someone who analyses and comments on law. This person is usually a specialist legal scholarnot necessaril ...

William Blackstone
used the term for significant and egregious violations of public trust, of a nature and extent that the transgression would justify a
revolutionary A revolutionary is a person who either participates in, or advocates a revolution. Also, when used as an adjective, the term ''revolutionary'' refers to something that has a major, sudden impact on society or on some aspect of human endeavor. D ...
response. The term as used by Blackstone was not for a legal text, nor did he intend to include the later American concept of
judicial review Judicial review is a process under which executive Executive may refer to: Role, title, or function * Executive (government), branch of government that has authority and responsibility for the administration of state bureaucracy * Executive, ...
: "for that were to set the judicial power above that of the legislature, which would be subversive of all government".


General features

Generally, every modern written constitution confers specific powers on an organization or institutional entity, established upon the primary condition that it abides by the constitution's limitations. According to Scott Gordon, a political organization is constitutional to the extent that it "contain
institution Institutions, according to Samuel P. Huntington Samuel Phillips Huntington (April 18, 1927 – December 24, 2008) was an American political scientist, adviser and academic. He spent more than half a century at Harvard University Har ...
alized mechanisms of power control for the protection of the interests and of the
citizenry Citizenship is the status of a person recognized under the law of a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often referred to as the land of an individual's birth, residence or citizenship. ...

citizenry
, including those that may be in the minority". Activities of officials within an organization or polity that fall within the constitutional or statutory authority of those officials are termed "within power" (or, in Latin, ''intra vires''); if they do not, they are termed "beyond power" (or, in Latin, ''
ultra vires ''Ultra vires'' (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Rom ...
''). For example, a
students' union A students' union, also known by many other names, is a student organization present in many colleges, universities, and high schools. In higher education, the students' union is often accorded its own building on the campus, dedicated to social, ...
may be prohibited as an organization from engaging in activities not concerning students; if the union becomes involved in non-student activities, these activities are considered to be ''ultra vires'' of the union's charter, and nobody would be compelled by the charter to follow them. An example from the constitutional law of
sovereign state A sovereign state is a political entity A polity is an identifiable political entity—any group of people who have a collective identity, who are organized by some form of Institutionalisation, institutionalized social relation, social relatio ...
s would be a provincial
parliament In modern politics and history, a parliament is a legislative body of government. Generally, a modern parliament has three functions: Representation (politics), representing the Election#Suffrage, electorate, making laws and overseeing the ...

parliament
in a
federal state A federation (also known as a federal state) is a political entity characterized by a union of partially self-governing provinces, states, or other regions under a central federal government (federalism Federalism is a mixed or compou ...
trying to legislate in an area that the constitution allocates exclusively to the federal parliament, such as ratifying a treaty. Action that appears to be beyond power may be judicially reviewed and, if found to be beyond power, must cease. Legislation that is found to be beyond power will be "invalid" and of no force; this applies to primary legislation, requiring constitutional authorization, and secondary legislation, ordinarily requiring statutory authorization. In this context, "within power", ''intra vires'', "authorized" and "valid" have the same meaning; as do "beyond power", ''ultra vires'', "not authorized" and "invalid". In most but not all modern states the constitution has supremacy over ordinary
statutory law Statutory law or statute law is written law passed by a body of legislature. This is as opposed to Oral law, oral or customary law; or regulatory law promulgated by the Executive (government), executive or common law of the judiciary. Statutes may ...
(see
Uncodified constitution An uncodified constitution is a type of constitution where the fundamental rules often take the form of custom (law), customs, usage, precedent and a variety of statutes and legal instruments.Johari, J. C. (2006) ''New Comparative Government'', L ...
below); in such states when an official act is unconstitutional, i.e. it is not a power granted to the government by the constitution, that act is ''null and void'', and the nullification is ''
ab initio ''Ab initio'' ( ) is a Latin term meaning "from the beginning" and is derived from the Latin ''ab'' ("from") + ''initio'', ablative singular of ''initium'' ("beginning"). Etymology , from Latin, , from ablative case of ''initium'' "entrance, begi ...
'', that is, from inception, not from the date of the finding. It was never "law", even though, if it had been a statute or statutory provision, it might have been adopted according to the procedures for adopting legislation. Sometimes the problem is not that a statute is unconstitutional, but that the application of it is, on a particular occasion, and a court may decide that while there are ways it could be applied that are constitutional, that instance was not allowed or legitimate. In such a case, only that application may be ruled unconstitutional. Historically, the remedies for such violations have been petitions for common law
writ In , a writ (Anglo-Saxon ''gewrit'', Latin ''breve'') is a formal written order issued by a body with administrative or judicial ; in modern usage, this body is generally a . , s, s, and are common types of writ, but many forms exist and have ...

writ
s, such as ''
quo warranto In British and American common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or case law) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial tribunals by virtue of being stated in written opinions. ''B ...
''. Scholars debate whether a constitution must necessarily be
autochthonous River ecosystems are flowing waters that drain the landscape, and include the Biotic component, biotic (living) interactions amongst plants, animals and micro-organisms, as well as abiotic (nonliving) physical and chemical interactions of its many ...
, resulting from the nations "spirit".
Hegel Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (; ; 27 August 1770 – 14 November 1831) was a German German(s) may refer to: Common uses * of or related to Germany * Germans, Germanic ethnic group, citizens of Germany or people of German ancestry * For citi ...

Hegel
said "A constitution...is the work of centuries; it is the idea, the consciousness of rationality so far as that consciousness is developed in a particular nation."


History and development

Since 1789, along with the
Constitution of the United States of America The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, primar ...
(U.S. Constitution), which is the oldest and shortest written constitution still in force, close to 800 constitutions have been adopted and subsequently amended around the world by independent states. In the late 18th century,
Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, philosopher, and who served as the third from 1801 to 1809. He had previously served as the second under and as the first under ...

Thomas Jefferson
predicted that a period of 20 years would be the optimal time for any constitution to be still in force, since "the earth belongs to the living, and not to the dead." Indeed, according to recent studies,() the average life of any new written constitution is around 19 years. However, a great number of constitutions do not last more than 10 years, and around 10% do not last more than one year, as was the case of the
French Constitution of 1791 The French Constitution of 1791 (french: Constitution française du 3 september 1791) was the first written constitution in France, created after the collapse of the absolute monarchy of the . One of the basic precepts of the French Revolution w ...
. The most common reasons for these frequent changes are the political desire for an immediate outcome and the short time devoted to the constitutional drafting process.() A study in 2009 showed that the average time taken to draft a constitution is around 16 months,() however there were also some extreme cases registered. For example, the
Myanmar Myanmar, ); UK pronunciations: US pronunciations incl. . Note: Wikipedia's IPA conventions require indicating /r/ even in British English although only some British English speakers pronounce r at the end of syllables. As John C. Wells, John ...

Myanmar
2008 Constitution was being secretly drafted for more than 17 years, whereas at the other extreme, during the drafting of
Japan Japan ( ja, 日本, or , and formally ) is an island country An island country or an island nation is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often referred to as the land of an in ...

Japan
's 1946 Constitution, the bureaucrats drafted everything in no more than a week. Japan has the oldest unamended constitution in the world. The record for the shortest overall process of drafting, adoption, and ratification of a national constitution belongs to the
Romania Romania ( ; ro, România ) is a country at the crossroads of Central Central is an adjective usually referring to being in the center (disambiguation), center of some place or (mathematical) object. Central may also refer to: Directions ...

Romania
's 1938 constitution, which installed a royal dictatorship in less than a month. Studies showed that typically extreme cases where the constitution-making process either takes too long or is extremely short were non-democracies. Constitutional rights are not a specific characteristic of democratic countries. Non-democratic countries have constitutions, such as that of
North Korea North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), is a country in East Asia, constituting the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. It borders China and Russia to the north, at the Yalu River, Yalu (Amnok) and Tu ...

North Korea
, which officially grants every citizen, among other rights, the
freedom of expression in London, 1974 Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom Freedom, generally, is having the ability to act or change without constraint. Something is "free" if it can change easily and is not constrained in its present stat ...
.


Pre-modern constitutions


Ancient

Excavations in modern-day
Iraq Iraq ( ar, الْعِرَاق, translit=al-ʿIrāq; ku, عێراق, translit=Êraq), officially the Republic of Iraq ( ar, جُمْهُورِيَّة ٱلْعِرَاق '; ku, کۆماری عێراق, translit=Komarî Êraq), is a country i ...

Iraq
by
Ernest de Sarzec Ernest Choquin de Sarzec (1832–1901) was a French archaeologist, to whom is attributed the discovery of the civilization of ancient Sumer. He was in the French diplomatic service; on being transferred to Basra in 1872 as a vice-consul, he became ...
in 1877 found evidence of the earliest known code of justice, issued by the
Sumer Sumer ()The name is from '; ''kig̃ir'', written and ,approximately "land of the civilized kings" or "native land". means "native, local", ifrom ''The Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary''). Literally, "land of the native (local, noble) lor ...

Sumer
ian king
Urukagina Uru-ka-gina, Uru-inim-gina, or Iri-ka-gina ( sux, ; 24th century BC, middle chronology The chronology of the ancient Near East is a chronology, framework of dates for various events, rulers and dynasties. Historical inscriptions and texts c ...
of
Lagash Lagash (cuneiform: LAGAŠKI; Sumerian: ''Lagaš''), or Shirpurla, was an ancient city state A city-state is an independent sovereign Sovereign is a title which can be applied to the highest leader in various categories. The word is borrowe ...

Lagash
c. 2300 BC. Perhaps the earliest prototype for a law of government, this document itself has not yet been discovered; however it is known that it allowed some rights to his citizens. For example, it is known that it relieved tax for widows and orphans, and protected the poor from the
usury Usury () is the practice of making unethical or immoral monetary s that unfairly enrich the lender. The term may be used in a moral sense—condemning, taking advantage of others' misfortunes—or in a legal sense, where an interest rate is charg ...
of the rich. After that, many
governments A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state. In the case of its broad associative definition, government normally consists of legislature A legislature is a deliberative assemb ...

governments
ruled by special codes of written laws. The oldest such document still known to exist seems to be the
Code of Ur-Nammu The Code of Ur-Nammu is the oldest known law code A code of law, also called a law code or legal code, is a type of legislation that purports to exhaustively cover a complete system of laws or a particular area of law as it existed at the time t ...
of (c. 2050 BC). Some of the better-known ancient law codes are the code of Lipit-Ishtar of
Isin Isin (, modern Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language that first emerged in the 1st to 4th centuries CE.Semitic languages: an international handbook / edited by Stefan Weninger; in collaboration with Geoffrey Khan, Michael P ...
, the
code of Hammurabi The Code of Hammurabi is a Babylonian legal text composed 1755–1750 BC. It is the longest, best-organised, and best-preserved legal text from the ancient Near East. It is written in the Old Babylonian dialect of Akkadian, purportedly by Ham ...

code of Hammurabi
of
Babylonia Babylonia () was an and based in central-southern which was part of Ancient Persia (present-day and ). A small -ruled state emerged in 1894 BCE, which contained the minor administrative town of . It was merely a small provincial town dur ...
, the Hittite code, the Assyrian code, and
Mosaic law The Law of Moses ( he, תֹּורַת מֹשֶׁה ), also called the Mosaic Law, primarily refers to the Torah Torah (; he, תּוֹרָה, "Instruction", "Teaching" or "Law") has a range of meanings. It can most specifically mean the fi ...
. In 621 BC, a scribe named
Draco DRACO (double-stranded RNA Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a polymer A polymer (; Greek '' poly-'', "many" + '' -mer'', "part") is a substance or material consisting of very large molecule File:Pentacene on Ni(111) STM.jpg, A scanning t ...
codified the oral laws of the
city-state A city-state is an independent sovereign Sovereign is a title which can be applied to the highest leader in various categories. The word is borrowed from Old French Old French (, , ; Modern French French ( or ) is a Romance la ...
of
Athens , image_skyline = File:Athens Montage L.png, center, 275px, alt=Athens montage. Clicking on an image in the picture causes the browser to load the appropriate article. rect 15 15 985 460 Acropolis of Athens rect 15 475 48 ...

Athens
; this code prescribed the
death penalty Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ' ...

death penalty
for many offenses (thus creating the modern term "draconian" for very strict rules). In 594 BC,
Solon Solon ( grc-gre, Σόλων Solon ( grc-gre, wikt:Σόλων, Σόλων ''Sólōn'' ;  BC) was an Archaic Greece#Athens, Athenian statesman, lawmaker and poet. He is remembered particularly for his efforts to legislate against political, e ...

Solon
, the ruler of Athens, created the new ''
Solonian Constitution The Solonian Constitution was created by Solon in the early 6th century BC. At the time of Solon the Athenian State was almost falling to pieces in consequence of dissensions between the parties into which the population was divided. Solon wanted ...
''. It eased the burden of the workers, and determined that membership of the ruling class was to be based on wealth (
plutocracy A plutocracy ( el, πλοῦτος, ', 'wealth' and , ', 'power') or plutarchy is a society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth Wealth is the abundance (economics), abundance of Value (economics), valuable financial asse ...
), rather than on birth (
aristocracy Aristocracy ( grc-gre, ἀριστοκρατία , from 'excellent', and , 'rule') is a form of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state State may refer to: Ar ...
).
Cleisthenes Cleisthenes ( ; grc-gre, Κλεισθένης, Kleisthénēs, ) or Clisthenes ( la, Clīsthenēs ) was an ancient Athenian lawgiver credited with reforming the constitution of ancient Athens Athens ( ; el, Αθήνα, Athína ; grc, Ἀθ ...
again reformed the Athenian constitution and set it on a democratic footing in 508 BC.
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental quest ...

Aristotle
(c. 350 BC) was the first to make a formal distinction between ordinary law and constitutional law, establishing ideas of constitution and
constitutionalism Constitutionalism is "a compound of ideas, attitudes, and patterns of behavior elaborating the principle that the authority of government derives from and is limited by a body of fundamental law". Political organizations are constitutional ...

constitutionalism
, and attempting to classify different forms of constitutional government. The most basic definition he used to describe a constitution in general terms was "the arrangement of the offices in a state". In his works '' Constitution of Athens'', ''
Politics Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-making, making decisions in Social group, groups, or other forms of Power (social and political), power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of res ...
'', and ''
Nicomachean Ethics The ''Nicomachean Ethics'' (; grc, Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια, ) is the name normally given to 's best-known work on . The work, which plays a role in defining , consists of ten books, originally separate scrolls, and is understood to be ...
'', he explores different constitutions of his day, including those of Athens,
Sparta Sparta (Doric Greek Doric or Dorian ( grc, Δωρισμός, Dōrismós) was an . Its variants were spoken in the southern and eastern as well as in , , , , , some islands in the southern and some cities on the south east coast of ...
, and
Carthage Carthage was the capital city of the ancient , on the eastern side of the in what is now . Carthage was the most important trading hub of the Ancient Mediterranean and one of the most affluent cities of the . The city developed from a n colony ...

Carthage
. He classified both what he regarded as good and what he regarded as bad constitutions, and came to the conclusion that the best constitution was a mixed system including monarchic, aristocratic, and democratic elements. He also distinguished between citizens, who had the right to participate in the state, and non-citizens and slaves, who did not. The Romans initially codified their constitution in 450 BC as the ''
Twelve Tables The ''Law of the Twelve tables'' ( la, Leges Duodecim Tabularum or ) was the legislation that stood at the foundation of Roman law Roman law is the law, legal system of ancient Rome, including the legal developments spanning over a thousand y ...
''. They operated under a series of laws that were added from time to time, but
Roman law Roman law is the law, legal system of ancient Rome, including the legal developments spanning over a thousand years of jurisprudence, from the Twelve Tables (c. 449 BC), to the ''Corpus Juris Civilis'' (AD 529) ordered by Eastern Roman emperor J ...
was not reorganised into a single code until the ''
Codex Theodosianus The ''Codex Theodosianus'' (Eng. Theodosian Code) was a compilation of the laws Law is a system of rules created and law enforcement, enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior,Robertson, ''Crimes against huma ...

Codex Theodosianus
'' (438 AD); later, in the Eastern Empire, the '' Codex repetitæ prælectionis'' (534) was highly influential throughout Europe. This was followed in the east by the ''Ecloga'' of
Leo III the Isaurian Leo III the Isaurian ( gr, Λέων Γ ὁ Ἴσαυρος, Leōn ho Isauros; 685 – 18 June 741), also known as the Syrian, was Byzantine Emperor from 717 until his death in 741 and founder of the Isaurian dynasty. He put an end to the Twent ...
(740) and the ''Basilica'' of
Basil I Basil I, called the Macedonian ( el, Βασίλειος ὁ Μακεδών, ''Basíleios ō Makedṓn''; 811 – August 29, 886), was a Byzantine Emperor This is a list of the Byzantine emperors from the foundation of Constantinople la, Co ...

Basil I
(878). The ''
Edicts of Ashoka The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of more than thirty inscriptions on the , as well as boulders and cave walls, attributed to Emperor of the who reigned from 268 BCE to 232 BCE. Ashoka used the expression ''Dhaṃma '' ( in the : , "Ins ...
'' established constitutional principles for the 3rd century BC
Maurya The Maurya Empire was a geographically extensive Iron Age list of ancient great powers, historical power in South Asia based in Magadha, founded by Chandragupta Maurya in 322 BCE, and existing in loose-knit fashion until 185 BCE. Quote: "Ma ...
king's rule in
India India, officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by area, seventh-largest country by area, the List of countries and dependencies by population, second-most populous ...
. For constitutional principles almost lost to antiquity, see the code of Manu.


Early Middle Ages

Many of the Germanic peoples that filled the power vacuum left by the
Western Roman Empire The Western Roman Empire comprises the western provinces of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Republican Republican ...

Western Roman Empire
in the
Early Middle Ages The Early Middle Ages or Early Medieval Period, sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages, is typically regarded by historians as lasting from the late 5th or early 6th century to the 10th century. They marked the start of the Middle Ages ...
codified their laws. One of the first of these Germanic law codes to be written was the Visigothic ''Code of
Euric Euric (Gothic Gothic or Gothics may refer to: People and languages *Goths or Gothic people, the ethnonym of a group of East Germanic tribes **Gothic language, an extinct East Germanic language spoken by the Goths **Crimean Gothic, the Gothic l ...
'' (471 AD). This was followed by the ''
Lex Burgundionum The ''Lex Burgundionum'' (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of t ...
'', applying separate codes for Germans and for Romans; the '' Pactus Alamannorum''; and the
Salic Law#REDIRECT Salic law The Salic law ( or ; la, Lex salica), or the was the ancient Salian Franks, Salian Frankish Civil law (legal system), civil law code compiled around AD 500 by the first Frankish King, Clovis I, Clovis. The written text is in La ...
of the
Franks The Franks ( la, Franci or ) were a group of whose name was first mentioned in 3rd-century Roman sources, and associated with tribes between the and the , on the edge of the . Later the term was associated with Germanic dynasties within the ...

Franks
, all written soon after 500. In 506, the '' Breviarum'' or ''"Lex Romana"'' of
Alaric II Alaric II ( got, 𐌰𐌻𐌰𐍂𐌴𐌹𐌺𐍃, , "ruler of all"; la, Alaricus; August 507) was the in 484–507. He succeeded his father as king of the in on 28 December 484; he was the great-grandson of the more famous , who sacked Rom ...
, king of the Visigoths, adopted and consolidated the ''Codex Theodosianus'' together with assorted earlier Roman laws. Systems that appeared somewhat later include the ''
Edictum Rothari Illumination of a manuscript of the Edict of Rothari The ''Edictum Rothari'' (lit. ''Edict of Rothari''; also ''Edictus Rothari'' or ''Edictum Rotharis'') was the first written compilation of Lombards, Lombard law, codified and promulgated on 22 No ...
'' of the
Lombards The Lombards () or Langobards ( la, Langobardi) were a Germanic people Germanic may refer to: * Germanic peoples The historical Germanic peoples (from lat, Germani) are a category of ancient northern European tribes, first mentioned by G ...
(643), the ''
Lex Visigothorum The cover of an edition of the Liber Iudiciorum from 1600. The Visigothic Code ( la, Forum Iudicum, Liber Iudiciorum; es, Libro de los Jueces, Book of the Judges), also called ''Lex Visigothorum'' (English: Law of the Visigoths), is a set of laws f ...
'' (654), the ''Lex Alamannorum'' (730), and the '' Lex Frisionum'' (c. 785). These continental codes were all composed in Latin, while
Anglo-Saxon The Anglo-Saxons were a who inhabited . They traced their origins to the 5th century settlement of incomers to Britain, who migrated to the island from the coastlands of . However, the of the Anglo-Saxons occurred within Britain, and the ide ...
was used for those of England, beginning with the Code of
Æthelberht of Kent Æthelberht (; also Æthelbert, Aethelberht, Aethelbert or Ethelbert; ang, Æðelberht ; 550 – 24 February 616) was Kings of Kent, King of Kingdom of Kent, Kent from about 589 until his death. The eighth-century monk Bede, in his ''Ecc ...
(602). Around 893,
Alfred the Great Alfred the Great (848/49 – 26 October 899) was king of the West Saxons This is a list of monarchs of Wessex until 886 AD. For later monarchs, see the List of English monarchs. While the details of the later monarchs are confirmed by a numbe ...

Alfred the Great
combined this and two other earlier Saxon codes, with various Mosaic and Christian precepts, to produce the '' Doom book'' code of laws for England.
Japan Japan ( ja, 日本, or , and formally ) is an island country An island country or an island nation is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often referred to as the land of an in ...

Japan
's ''Seventeen-article constitution'' written in 604, reportedly by Prince Shotoku, Prince Shōtoku, is an early example of a constitution in Asian political history. Influenced by Buddhism, Buddhist teachings, the document focuses more on social morality than on institutions of government, and remains a notable early attempt at a government constitution. The Constitution of Medina ( ar, صحیفة المدینه, Ṣaḥīfat al-Madīna), also known as the Charter of Medina, was drafted by the Islamic prophet Muhammad after his flight (Hegira, hijra) to Yathrib where he became political leader. It constituted a formal agreement between Muhammad and all of the significant tribes and families of Yathrib (later known as Medina), including Muslims, Jews, and pagans. The document was drawn up with the explicit concern of bringing to an end the bitter intertribal fighting between the clans of the Aws (Banu Aus, Aus) and Khazraj within Medina. To this effect it instituted a number of rights and responsibilities for the Muslim, Jewish, and pagan communities of Medina bringing them within the fold of one community – the Ummah. The precise dating of the Constitution of Medina remains debated, but generally scholars agree it was written shortly after the Hijra (Islam), Hijra (622). In Wales, the ''Welsh law, Cyfraith Hywel'' (Law of Hywel) was codified by Hywel Dda c. 942–950.


Middle Ages after 1000

The ''Pravda Yaroslava'', originally combined by Yaroslav the Wise the List of Ukrainian rulers, Grand Prince of Kyiv, was granted to Great Novgorod around 1017, and in 1054 was incorporated into the ''Russkaya Pravda, Ruska Pravda''; it became the law for all of Kievan Rus. It survived only in later editions of the 15th century. In England, Henry I of England, Henry I's proclamation of the Charter of Liberties in 1100 bound the king for the first time in his treatment of the clergy and the nobility. This idea was extended and refined by the English barony when they forced John of England, King John to sign ''Magna Carta'' in 1215. The most important single article of the ''Magna Carta'', related to "''habeas corpus''", provided that the king was not permitted to imprison, outlaw, exile or kill anyone at a whim – there must be due process of law first. This article, Article 39, of the ''Magna Carta'' read: This provision became the cornerstone of English liberty after that point. The social contract in the original case was between the king and the nobility, but was gradually extended to all of the people. It led to the system of Constitutional Monarchy, with further reforms shifting the balance of power from the monarchy and nobility to the British House of Commons, House of Commons. The Nomocanon of Saint Sava ( sr, Законоправило/Zakonopravilo) was the first Serbian constitution from 1219. St. Sava's Nomocanon was the compilation of Civil law (legal system), civil law, based on Roman Law, and
canon law Canon law (from grc, κανών, , a 'straight measuring rod, ruler A ruler, sometimes called a rule or line gauge, is a device used in geometry and technical drawing, as well as the engineering and construction industries, to measure dis ...
, based on Ecumenical Councils. Its basic purpose was to organize the functioning of the young Serbia in the Middle Ages, Serbian kingdom and the Serbian Ortodox Church, Serbian church. Saint Sava began the work on the Serbian Nomocanon in 1208 while he was at Mount Athos, using ''The Nomocanon in Fourteen Titles'', ''Synopsis of Stefan the Efesian'', ''Nomocanon of John Scholasticus'', and Ecumenical Council documents, which he modified with the canonical commentaries of Aristinos and Joannes Zonaras, local church meetings, rules of the Holy Fathers, the law of Moses, the translation of Prohiron, and the Byzantine emperors' Novellae Constitutiones, Novellae (most were taken from Justinian's Novellae). The Nomocanon was a completely new compilation of civil and canonical regulations, taken from Byzantine Empire, Byzantine sources but completed and reformed by St. Sava to function properly in Serbia. Besides decrees that organized the life of church, there are various norms regarding civil life; most of these were taken from Prohiron. Legal transplants of Roman Law, Roman-Byzantine law became the basis of the Serbian medieval law. The essence of Zakonopravilo was based on Corpus Iuris Civilis. Stefan Dušan, emperor of Serbs and Greeks, enacted Dušan's Code ( sr, Душанов Законик/Dušanov Zakonik) in Serbia, in two state congresses: in 1349 in Skopje and in 1354 in Serres. It regulated all social spheres, so it was the second Serbian constitution, after St. Sava's Nomocanon (Zakonopravilo). The Code was based on Roman Law, Roman-Byzantine law. The legal Legal transplants, transplanting within articles 171 and 172 of Dušan's Code, which regulated the juridical independence, is notable. They were taken from the Byzantine code Basilika (book VII, 1, 16–17). In 1222, Hungarian King Andrew II of Hungary, Andrew II issued the Golden Bull of 1222. Between 1220 and 1230, a Saxony, Saxon administrator, Eike von Repgow, composed the ''Sachsenspiegel'', which became the supreme law used in parts of Germany as late as 1900. Around 1240, the Coptic Egyptian Christian writer, 'Abul Fada'il Ibn al-'Assal, wrote the ''Fetha Negest'' in Arabic language, Arabic. 'Ibn al-Assal took his laws partly from apostolic writings and Mosaic law and partly from the former Byzantine Empire, Byzantine codes. There are a few historical records claiming that this law code was translated into Ge'ez language, Ge'ez and entered Ethiopia around 1450 in the reign of Zara Yaqob. Even so, its first recorded use in the function of a constitution (supreme law of the land) is with Sarsa Dengel beginning in 1563. The ''Fetha Negest'' remained the supreme law in Ethiopia until 1931, when a modern-style Constitution of Ethiopia, Constitution was first granted by Emperor Haile Selassie I. In the Principality of Catalonia, the Catalan constitutions were promulgated by the Court from 1283 (or even two centuries before, if Usatges of Barcelona is considered part of the compilation of Constitutions) until 1716, when Philip V of Spain gave the Nueva Planta decrees, finishing with the historical laws of Catalonia. These Constitutions were usually made formally as a royal initiative, but required for its approval or repeal the favorable vote of the Catalan Courts, the medieval antecedent of the modern Parliaments. These laws, like other modern constitutions, had preeminence over other laws, and they could not be contradicted by mere decrees or edicts of the king. The Kouroukan Fouga, Kouroukan Founga was a 13th-century charter of the Mali Empire, reconstructed from oral tradition in 1988 by Siriman Kouyaté. The Golden Bull of 1356 was a decree issued by a ''Imperial Diet (Holy Roman Empire), Reichstag'' in Nuremberg headed by Emperor Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV that fixed, for a period of more than four hundred years, an important aspect of the constitutional structure of the Holy Roman Empire. In China, the Hongwu Emperor created and refined a document he called ''Huang Ming Zu Xun, Ancestral Injunctions'' (first published in 1375, revised twice more before his death in 1398). These rules served as a constitution for the Ming Dynasty for the next 250 years. The oldest written document still governing a sovereign nation today is that of San Marino. The ''Constitution of San Marino, Leges Statutae Republicae Sancti Marini'' was written in Latin and consists of six books. The first book, with 62 articles, establishes councils, courts, various executive officers, and the powers assigned to them. The remaining books cover criminal and civil law and judicial procedures and remedies. Written in 1600, the document was based upon the ''Statuti Comunali'' (Town Statute) of 1300, itself influenced by the ''Codex Justinianus'', and it remains in force today. In 1392 the ''Carta de Logu'' was legal code of the Giudicato of Arborea promulgated by the ''giudicessa'' Eleanor of Arborea, Eleanor. It was in force in Sardinia until it was superseded by the code of Charles Felix of Sardinia, Charles Felix in April 1827. The Carta was a work of great importance in Sardinian history. It was an organic, coherent, and systematic work of legislation encompassing the Civil law (area), civil and penal law. The ''Great Law of Peace, Gayanashagowa'', the oral constitution of the Haudenosaunee nation also known as the Great Law of Peace, established a system of governance as far back as 1190 AD (though perhaps more recently at 1451) in which the Sachems, or tribal chiefs, of the Iroquois League's member nations made decisions on the basis of universal consensus of all chiefs following discussions that were initiated by a single nation. The position of Sachem descends through families and are allocated by the senior female clan heads, though, prior to the filling of the position, candidacy is ultimately democratically decided by the community itself.


Modern constitutions

In 1634 the Kingdom of Sweden adopted the Instrument of Government (1634), 1634 Instrument of Government, drawn up under the Lord High Chancellor of Sweden Axel Oxenstierna after the death of king Gustavus Adolphus, it can be seen as the first written constitution adopted by a modern state. In 1639, the Colony of Connecticut adopted the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, Fundamental Orders, which was the first North American constitution, and is the basis for every new Connecticut constitution since, and is also the reason for Connecticut's nickname, "the Constitution State". The English Protectorate that was set up by Oliver Cromwell after the English Civil War promulgated the first detailed written constitution adopted by a modern state; it was called the Instrument of Government. This formed the basis of government for the short-lived republic from 1653 to 1657 by providing a legal rationale for the increasing power of Cromwell after Parliament consistently failed to govern effectively. Most of the concepts and ideas embedded into modern constitutional theory, especially bicameralism, separation of powers, the written constitution, and
judicial review Judicial review is a process under which executive Executive may refer to: Role, title, or function * Executive (government), branch of government that has authority and responsibility for the administration of state bureaucracy * Executive, ...
, can be traced back to the experiments of that period. Drafted by John Lambert (General), Major-General John Lambert in 1653, the ''Instrument of Government'' included elements incorporated from an earlier document "Heads of Proposals", which had been agreed to by the Army Council (1647), Army Council in 1647, as a set of propositions intended to be a basis for a constitutional settlement after King Charles I of England, Charles I was defeated in the First English Civil War. Charles had rejected the propositions, but before the start of the Second Civil War, the Grandee (New Model Army), Grandees of the New Model Army had presented the ''Heads of Proposals'' as their alternative to the more radical Agreement of the People presented by the Agitators and their civilian supporters at the Putney Debates. On January 4, 1649, the Rump Parliament declared "that the people are, under God, the original of all just power; that the Commons of England, being chosen by and representing the people, have the supreme power in this nation".Fritze, Ronald H. & Robison, William B. (1996). ''Historical dictionary of Stuart England, 1603–1689'', Greenwood Publishing Group,
p. 228
/ref> The ''Instrument of Government'' was adopted by Parliament on December 15, 1653, and Oliver Cromwell was installed as Lord Protector on the following day. The constitution set up a state council consisting of 21 members while executive authority was vested in the office of "Lord Protector of the Commonwealth." This position was designated as a non-hereditary life appointment. The ''Instrument'' also required the calling of triennial Parliaments, with each sitting for at least five months. The ''Instrument of Government'' was replaced in May 1657 by England's second, and last, codified constitution, the Humble Petition and Advice, proposed by Sir Christopher Packe (politician), Christopher Packe. The Petition offered hereditary monarchy to Oliver Cromwell, asserted Parliament of England, Parliament's control over issuing new taxation, provided an independent council to advise the king and safeguarded "Triennial" meetings of Parliament. A modified version of the Humble Petition with the clause on kingship removed was ratified on 25 May. This finally met its demise in conjunction with the death of Cromwell and the Restoration (England), Restoration of the monarchy. Other examples of European constitutions of this era were the Corsican Constitution of 1755 and the Swedish Constitution of 1772. All of the British colonies in North America that were to become the 13 original United States, adopted their own constitutions in 1776 and 1777, during the American Revolution (and before the later Articles of Confederation and United States Constitution), with the exceptions of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The Massachusetts, Commonwealth of Massachusetts adopted Constitution of Massachusetts, its Constitution in 1780, the oldest still-functioning constitution of any U.S. state; while Connecticut and Rhode Island officially continued to operate under their old colonial charters, until they adopted their first state constitutions in 1818 and 1843, respectively.


Democratic constitutions

What is sometimes called the "enlightened constitution" model was developed by philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment such as Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and John Locke. The model proposed that constitutional governments should be stable, adaptable, accountable, open and should represent the people (i.e., support democracy). ''Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk, Agreements and Constitutions of Laws and Freedoms of the Zaporizian Host'' was written in 1710 by Pylyp Orlyk, ''hetman'' of the Zaporozhian Host. It was written to establish a free Cossack Hetmanate, Zaporozhian-Ukrainian Republic, with the support of Charles XII of Sweden. It is notable in that it established a democratic standard for the separation of powers in government between the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches, well before the publication of Montesquieu's ''Spirit of the Laws''. This Constitution also limited the executive authority of the ''hetman'', and established a democratically elected Cossack parliament called the General Council. However, Orlyk's project for an independent Ukraine, Ukrainian State never materialized, and his constitution, written in exile, never went into effect. Corsican Constitutions of 1755 and 1794 were inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The latter introduced universal suffrage for property owners. The Instrument of Government (1772), Swedish constitution of 1772 was enacted under King Gustavus III and was inspired by the separation of powers by Montesquieu. The king also cherished other Age of Enlightenment, enlightenment ideas (as an Enlightened absolutism, enlighted despot) and repealed torture, liberated agricultural trade, diminished the use of the
death penalty Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ' ...

death penalty
and instituted a form of religious freedom. The constitution was commended by Voltaire. The United States Constitution, ratified June 21, 1788, was influenced by the writings of Polybius, John Locke, Locke, Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Montesquieu, and others. The document became a benchmark for republicanism and codified constitutions written thereafter. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth Constitution of May 3, 1791, Constitution was passed on May 3, 1791."The first European country to follow the U.S. example was Poland in 1791." John Markoff (professor), John Markoff, ''Waves of Democracy'', 1996, , p. 121. Its draft was developed by the leading minds of the Enlightenment in Poland such as King Stanislaw August Poniatowski, Stanisław Staszic, Scipione Piattoli, Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, Ignacy Potocki and Hugo Kołłątaj. It was adopted by the Great Sejm and is considered the first constitution of its kind in Europe and the world's second oldest one after the American Constitution. Another landmark document was the
French Constitution of 1791 The French Constitution of 1791 (french: Constitution française du 3 september 1791) was the first written constitution in France, created after the collapse of the absolute monarchy of the . One of the basic precepts of the French Revolution w ...
. The 1811 Constitution of Venezuela was the first Constitution of Venezuela and Latin America, promulgated and drafted by Cristóbal MendozaBriceño Perozo, Mario. "Mendoza, Cristóbal de" in ''Diccionario de Historia de Venezuela'', Vol. 3. Caracas: Fundación Polar, 1999. and Juan Germán Roscio and in Caracas. It established a federal government but was repealed one year later. On March 19, the Spanish Constitution of 1812 was ratified by a Cortes Generales, parliament gathered in Cadiz, the only Spanish continental city which was safe from Peninsular War, French occupation. The Spanish Constitution served as a model for other liberal constitutions of several South European and Latin American nations, for example, the Liberal Revolution of 1820, Portuguese Constitution of 1822, constitutions of various Italy, Italian states during Carbonari revolts (i.e., in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies), Constitution of Norway, the Norwegian constitution of 1814, or the 1824 Constitution of Mexico, Mexican Constitution of 1824. In Brazil, the Constitution of 1824 expressed the option for the monarchy as political system after Brazilian Independence. The leader of the national emancipation process was the Portuguese prince Pedro I of Brazil, Pedro I, elder son of the king of Portugal. Pedro was crowned in 1822 as first emperor of Brazil. The country was ruled by Constitutional monarchy until 1889, when it adopted the Republican model. In Denmark, as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, the absolute monarchy lost its personal possession of Norway to Sweden. Sweden had already enacted its Instrument of Government (1809), 1809 Instrument of Government, which saw the division of power between the Riksdag of Sweden, Riksdag, the king and the judiciary. However the Norwegians managed to infuse a radically democratic and liberal Constitution of Norway, constitution in 1814, adopting many facets from the American constitution and the revolutionary French ones, but maintaining a hereditary Constitutional monarchy, monarch limited by the constitution, like the Spanish one. The first Swiss Federal Constitution was put in force in September 1848 (with official revisions in 1878, 1891, 1949, 1971, 1982 and 1999). The Serbian revolution initially led to a proclamation of a proto-constitution in 1811; the full-fledged Constitution of Serbia followed few decades later, in 1835. The first Serbian constitution (Sretenjski ustav) was adopted at the national assembly in Kragujevac on February 15, 1835. The Constitution of Canada came into force on July 1, 1867, as the British North America Act, an act of the British Parliament. Over a century later, the BNA Act was patriated to the Canadian Parliament and augmented with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Apart from the ''Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982'', Canada's constitution also has unwritten elements based in common law and convention.


Principles of constitutional design

After tribal people first began to live in cities and establish nations, many of these functioned according to unwritten customs, while some developed autocratic, even tyrannical monarchs, who rule by decree, ruled by decree, or mere personal whim. Such rule led some thinkers to take the position that what mattered was not the design of governmental institutions and operations, as much as the character of the rulers. This view can be seen in Plato, who called for rule by "philosopher-kings." Later writers, such as
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental quest ...

Aristotle
, Cicero and Plutarch, would examine designs for government from a legal and historical standpoint. The Renaissance brought a series of political philosophers who wrote implied criticisms of the practices of monarchs and sought to identify principles of constitutional design that would be likely to yield more effective and just governance from their viewpoints. This began with revival of the Roman law of nations concept and its application to the relations among nations, and they sought to establish customary "laws of war and peace" to ameliorate wars and make them less likely. This led to considerations of what authority monarchs or other officials have and don't have, from where that authority derives, and the remedies for the abuse of such authority. A seminal juncture in this line of discourse arose in England from the English Civil War, Civil War, the Oliver Cromwell, Cromwellian Commonwealth of England, Protectorate, the writings of Thomas Hobbes, Samuel Rutherford, the Levellers, John Milton, and James Harrington (author), James Harrington, leading to the debate between Robert Filmer, arguing for the divine right of monarchs, on the one side, and on the other, Henry Neville (writer), Henry Neville, James Tyrrell (writer), James Tyrrell, Algernon Sidney, and John Locke. What arose from the latter was a concept of government being erected on the foundations of first, a state of nature governed by natural laws, then a state of society, established by a social contract or compact, which bring underlying natural or social laws, before governments are formally established on them as foundations. Along the way several writers examined how the design of government was important, even if the government were headed by a monarch. They also classified various historical examples of governmental designs, typically into democracies, aristocracies, or monarchies, and considered how just and effective each tended to be and why, and how the advantages of each might be obtained by combining elements of each into a more complex design that balanced competing tendencies. Some, such as Montesquieu, also examined how the functions of government, such as legislative, executive, and judicial, might appropriately be separated into branches. The prevailing theme among these writers was that the design of constitutions is not completely arbitrary or a matter of taste. They generally held that there are underlying principles of design that constrain all constitutions for every polity or organization. Each built on the ideas of those before concerning what those principles might be. The later writings of Orestes Brownson would try to explain what constitutional designers were trying to do. According to Brownson there are, in a sense, three "constitutions" involved: The first the ''constitution of nature'' that includes all of what was called "natural law." The second is the ''constitution of society'', an unwritten and commonly understood set of rules for the society formed by a social contract before it establishes a government, by which it establishes the third, a ''constitution of government''. The second would include such elements as the making of decisions by public Convention (meeting), conventions called by public notice and conducted by established Parliamentary procedure, rules of procedure. Each constitution must be consistent with, and derive its authority from, the ones before it, as well as from a historical act of society formation or constitutional ratification. Brownson argued that a state (polity), state is a society with effective dominion over a well-defined territory, that consent to a well-designed constitution of government arises from presence on that territory, and that it is possible for provisions of a written constitution of government to be "unconstitutional" if they are inconsistent with the constitutions of nature or society. Brownson argued that it is not ratification alone that makes a written constitution of government legitimate, but that it must also be competently designed and applied. Other writers have argued that such considerations apply not only to all national constitutions of government, but also to the constitutions of private organizations, that it is not an accident that the constitutions that tend to satisfy their members contain certain elements, as a minimum, or that their provisions tend to become very similar as they are amended after experience with their use. Provisions that give rise to certain kinds of questions are seen to need additional provisions for how to resolve those questions, and provisions that offer no course of action may best be omitted and left to policy decisions. Provisions that conflict with what Brownson and others can discern are the underlying "constitutions" of nature and society tend to be difficult or impossible to execute, or to lead to unresolvable disputes. Constitutional design has been treated as a kind of metagame in which play consists of finding the best design and provisions for a written constitution that will be the rules for the game of government, and that will be most likely to optimize a balance of the utilities of justice, liberty, and security. An example is the metagame Nomic. Political economy theory regards constitutions as coordination devices that help citizens to prevent rulers from abusing power. If the citizenry can coordinate a response to police government officials in the face of a constitutional fault, then the government have the incentives to honor the rights that the constitution guarantees. An alternative view considers that constitutions are not enforced by the citizens at-large, but rather by the administrative powers of the state. Because rulers cannot themselves implement their policies, they need to rely on a set of organizations (armies, courts, police agencies, tax collectors) to implement it. In this position, they can directly sanction the government by refusing to cooperate, disabling the authority of the rulers. Therefore, constitutions could be characterized by a self-enforcing equilibria between the rulers and powerful administrators.


Key features

Most commonly, the term ''constitution'' refers to a set of rules and principles that define the nature and extent of government. Most constitutions seek to regulate the relationship between institutions of the state, in a basic sense the relationship between the executive, legislature and the judiciary, but also the relationship of institutions within those branches. For example, executive branches can be divided into a head of government, government departments/ministries, executive agencies and a civil service/administration. Most constitutions also attempt to define the relationship between individuals and the state, and to establish the broad rights of individual citizens. It is thus the most basic law of a territory from which all the other laws and rules are hierarchically derived; in some territories it is in fact called "Basic Law".


Classification


Classification


Codification

A fundamental classification is codification or lack of codification. A codified constitution is one that is contained in a single document, which is the single source of constitutional law in a state. An uncodified constitution is one that is not contained in a single document, consisting of several different sources, which may be written or unwritten; see constitutional convention (political custom), constitutional convention.


=Codified constitution

= Most states in the world have codified constitutions. Codified constitutions are often the product of some dramatic political change, such as a revolution. The process by which a country adopts a constitution is closely tied to the historical and political context driving this fundamental change. The legitimacy (and often the longevity) of codified constitutions has often been tied to the process by which they are initially adopted and some scholars have pointed out that high constitutional Wiki-constitutionalism, turnover within a given country may itself be detrimental to separation of powers and the rule of law. States that have codified constitutions normally give the constitution supremacy over ordinary statute law. That is, if there is any conflict between a legal statute and the codified constitution, all or part of the statute can be declared ''ultra vires'' by a court, and struck down as Constitutionality, unconstitutional. In addition, exceptional procedures are often required to constitutional amendment, amend a constitution. These procedures may include: convocation of a special constituent assembly or constitutional convention, requiring a supermajority of legislators' votes, approval in two terms of
parliament In modern politics and history, a parliament is a legislative body of government. Generally, a modern parliament has three functions: Representation (politics), representing the Election#Suffrage, electorate, making laws and overseeing the ...

parliament
, the consent of regional legislatures, a referendum process, and/or other procedures that make amending a constitution more difficult than passing a simple law. Constitutions may also provide that their Entrenched clause, most basic principles can never be abolished, even by amendment. In case a formally valid amendment of a constitution infringes these principles protected against any amendment, it may constitute a so-called ''unconstitutional constitutional law''. Codified constitutions normally consist of a ceremonial preamble, which sets forth the goals of the state and the motivation for the constitution, and several articles containing the substantive provisions. The preamble, which is omitted in some constitutions, may contain a Constitutional references to God, reference to God and/or to fundamental values of the state such as liberty, democracy or human rights. In ethnic nation-states such as Estonia, the mission of the state can be defined as preserving a specific nation, language and culture.


=Uncodified constitution

= only two sovereign states, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, have wholly uncodified constitutions. The Basic Laws of Israel have since 1950 been intended to be the basis for a constitution, but as of 2017 it had not been drafted. The various Laws are considered to have precedence over other laws, and give the procedure by which they can be amended, typically by a simple majority of members of the Knesset (parliament). Article gives information on the procedures for amending each of the Basic Laws of Israel. Uncodified constitutions are the product of an "evolution" of laws and conventions over centuries (such as in the Westminster System that developed in Britain). By contrast to codified constitutions, uncodified constitutions include both written sources – e.g. constitutional statutes enacted by the Parliament – and unwritten sources – Constitutional convention (political custom), constitutional conventions, observation of precedents, royal prerogatives, convention (norm), customs and traditions, such as holding general elections on Thursdays; together these constitute British constitutional law.


=Mixed constitutions

= Some constitutions are largely, but not wholly, codified. For example, in the Constitution of Australia, most of its fundamental political principles and regulations concerning the relationship between branches of government, and concerning the government and the individual are codified in a single document, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia. However, the presence of statutes with constitutional significance, namely the Statute of Westminster 1931, Statute of Westminster, as adopted by the Commonwealth in the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1942, and the Australia Act 1986 means that Australia's constitution is not contained in a single constitutional document. It means the Constitution of Australia is uncodified, it also contains Constitutional convention (political custom), constitutional conventions, thus is partially unwritten. The Constitution of Canada resulted from the passage of several British North America Acts from 1867 to the Canada Act 1982, the act that formally severed British Parliament's ability to amend the Canadian constitution. The Canadian constitution includes specific legislative acts as mentioned in section 52(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982. However, some documents not explicitly listed in section 52(2) are also considered constitutional documents in Canada, entrenched via reference; such as the Proclamation of 1763. Although Canada's constitution includes List of Canadian constitutional documents, a number of different statutes, amendments, and references, some constitutional rules that exist in Canada is derived from unwritten sources and constitutional conventions. The terms ''written constitution'' and ''codified constitution'' are often used interchangeably, as are ''unwritten constitution'' and ''uncodified constitution'', although this usage is technically inaccurate. A codified constitution is a single document; states that do not have such a document have uncodified, but not entirely unwritten, constitutions, since much of an uncodified constitution is usually written in laws such as the Basic Laws of Israel and the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949, Parliament Acts of the United Kingdom. Uncodified constitutions largely lack protection against amendment by the government of the time. For example, the U.K. Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 legislated by simple majority for strictly Fixed-term election, fixed-term parliaments; until then the ruling party could call a general election at any convenient time up to the maximum term of five years. This change would require a constitutional amendment in most nations.


Amendments

A constitutional amendment is a modification of the constitution of a
polity A polity is an identifiable political entity—any group of people who have a collective identity, who are organized by some form of Institutionalisation, institutionalized social relation, social relations, and have a capacity to mobilize resourc ...
, organization or other type of
entity An entity is something that exists as itself, as a subject or as an object, actually or potentially, concretely or abstractly, physically or not. It need not be of material existence. In particular, abstraction Abstraction in its main sense is ...
. Amendments are often interwoven into the relevant sections of an existing constitution, directly altering the text. Conversely, they can be appended to the constitution as supplemental additions (wikt:codicil, codicils), thus changing the frame of government without altering the existing text of the document. Most constitutions require that amendments cannot be enacted unless they have passed a special procedure that is more stringent than that required of ordinary legislation.


Methods of amending

''Some countries are listed under more than one method because alternative procedures may be used.''


Entrenched clauses

An entrenched clause or entrenchment clause of a basic law or constitution is a provision that makes certain amendments either more difficult or impossible to pass, making such amendments inadmissible. Overriding an entrenched clause may require a supermajority, a referendum, or the consent of the minority party. The term eternity clause is used in a similar manner in the constitutions of the Constitution of the Czech Republic, Czech Republic, Constitution of Germany, Germany, Constitution of Turkey, Turkey, Constitution of Greece, Greece, Constitution of Italy, Italy, Constitution of Morocco, Morocco, Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Constitution of Brazil, Brazil and Constitution of Norway, Norway. The
Constitution of India The Constitution of India (IAST The International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST) is a transliteration scheme that allows the lossless romanisation Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the sci ...

Constitution of India
and the Constitution of Colombia contain similar provisions aimed at making it difficult, but not impossible, to change their basic structure.


Constitutional rights and duties

Constitutions include various rights and duties. These include the following: * Duty to pay taxes * Conscription, Duty to serve in the military * Duty to work * Suffrage, Right to vote * Freedom of assembly * Freedom of association * Freedom of speech, Freedom of expression * Freedom of movement * Freedom of thought * Freedom of the press * Freedom of religion * Right to dignity * Right to civil marriage * Right to petition * Right to academic freedom * Right to keep and bear arms, Right to bear arms * Right to Conscientious objector, conscientious objection * Right to a Right to a fair trial, fair trial * Right to personal development * Right to start a family * Freedom of information laws by country, Right to information * Right to marriage * Right of revolution * Right to privacy * Right to protect one's reputation * Right to Renunciation of citizenship, renounce citizenship * Children's rights, Rights of children * Rights of debtors


Separation of powers

Constitutions usually explicitly divide power between various branches of government. The standard model, described by the Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu, Baron de Montesquieu, involves three branches of government: executive branch, executive, legislature, legislative and judiciary, judicial. Some constitutions include additional branches, such as an audit, auditory branch. Constitutions vary extensively as to the degree of separation of powers between these branches.


Accountability

In Presidential system, presidential and semi-presidential systems of government, department secretaries/ministers are accountable to the President (government title), president, who has patronage powers to appoint and dismiss ministers. The president is accountable to the people in an election. In parliamentary systems, Cabinet Ministers are accountable to Parliament, but it is the prime minister who appoints and dismisses them. In the case of the United Kingdom and other countries with a monarchy, it is the monarch who appoints and dismisses ministers, on the advice of the prime minister. In turn the prime minister will resign if the government loses the confidence of the parliament (or a part of it). Confidence can be lost if the government loses a vote of no confidence or, depending on the country, loses a particularly important vote in parliament, such as vote on the budget. When a government loses confidence, it stays in office until a new government is formed; something which normally but not necessarily required the holding of a general election.


Other independent institutions

Other independent institutions which some constitutions have set out include a central bank, an List of anti-corruption agencies, anti-corruption commission, an Election commission, electoral commission, a judicial oversight body, a human rights commission, a media commission, an ombudsman, and a truth and reconciliation commission.


Power structure

Constitutions also establish where sovereignty is located in the state. There are three basic types of distribution of sovereignty according to the degree of centralisation of power: unitary, federal, and confederal. The distinction is not absolute. In a unitary state, sovereignty resides in the state itself, and the constitution determines this. The territory of the state may be divided into regions, but they are not sovereign and are subordinate to the state. In the UK, the constitutional doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty dictates that sovereignty is ultimately contained at the centre. Some powers have been devolution, devolved to Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales (but not England). Some unitary states (Spain is an example) devolve more and more power to sub-national governments until the state functions in practice much like a federal state. A federal state has a central structure with at most a small amount of territory mainly containing the institutions of the federal government, and several regions (called ''states'', ''provinces'', etc.) which compose the territory of the whole state. Sovereignty is divided between the centre and the constituent regions. The constitutions of Canada and the United States establish federal states, with power divided between the federal government and the provinces or states. Each of the regions may in turn have its own constitution (of unitary nature). A confederal state comprises again several regions, but the central structure has only limited coordinating power, and sovereignty is located in the regions. Confederal constitutions are rare, and there is often dispute to whether so-called "confederal" states are actually federal. To some extent a group of states which do not constitute a federation as such may by treaty, treaties and accords give up parts of their sovereignty to a Supranational union, supranational entity. For example, the countries constituting the European Union have agreed to abide by some Union-wide measures which restrict their absolute sovereignty in some ways, e.g., the use of the metric system of measurement instead of national units previously used.


State of emergency

Many constitutions allow the declaration under exceptional circumstances of some form of state of emergency during which some rights and guarantees are suspended. This provision can be and has been abused to allow a government to suppress dissent without regard for human rights – see the article on state of emergency.


Facade constitutions

Italian political theorist Giovanni Sartori noted the existence of national constitutions which are a facade for authoritarian sources of power. While such documents may express respect for human rights or establish an independent judiciary, they may be ignored when the government feels threatened, or never put into practice. An extreme example was the Constitution of the Soviet Union that on paper supported freedom of assembly and freedom of speech; however, citizens who transgressed unwritten limits were summarily Political prisoner, imprisoned. The example demonstrates that the protections and benefits of a constitution are ultimately provided not through its written terms but through deference by government and society to its principles. A constitution may change from being real to a facade and back again as democratic and autocratic governments succeed each other.


Constitutional courts

Constitutions are often, but by no means always, protected by a legal body whose job it is to interpret those constitutions and, where applicable, declare void executive and legislative acts which infringe the constitution. In some countries, such as Germany, this function is carried out by a dedicated constitutional court which performs this (and only this) function. In other countries, such as Republic of Ireland, Ireland, the ordinary courts may perform this function in addition to their other responsibilities. While elsewhere, like in the United Kingdom, the concept of declaring an act to be unconstitutional does not exist. A constitutional violation is an action or legislative act that is judged by a constitutional court to be contrary to the constitution, that is, unconstitutional. An example of constitutional violation by the executive could be a public office holder who acts outside the powers granted to that office by a constitution. An example of constitutional violation by the legislature is an attempt to pass a law that would contradict the constitution, without first going through the proper constitutional amendment process. Some countries, mainly those with uncodified constitutions, have no such courts at all. For example, the United Kingdom has traditionally operated under the principle of parliamentary sovereignty under which the laws passed by United Kingdom Parliament could not be questioned by the courts.


See also

* Basic law, equivalent in some countries, often for a temporary constitution * Apostolic constitution (a class of Catholic Church documents) * Consent of the governed * Constitution of the Roman Republic * Constitutional amendment * Constitutional court * Constitutional crisis * Constitutional economics * Constitutionalism * Constitutional documents, Corporate constitutional documents * International constitutional law * Judicial activism * Judicial restraint * Judicial review * Philosophy of law * Rule of law * Rule according to higher law ''Judicial philosophies of constitutional interpretation (note: generally specific to United States constitutional law)'' * List of national constitutions * Originalism * Strict constructionism * Textualism * Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, Proposed European Union constitution ** Treaty of Lisbon (adopts same changes, but without constitutional name) * United Nations Charter


Further reading

* Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg. 2021. "doi:10.1146/annurev-polisci-100720-102911, What Can We Learn from Written Constitutions?" ''Annual Review of Political Science''.


References


External links


Constitute
an indexed and searchable database of all constitutions in force
Dictionary of the History of Ideas
Constitutionalism

"Constitutions, bibliography, links"
''International Constitutional Law'':
English translations of various national constitutions
''constitutions of countries of the European Union''

United Nations Rule of Law: Constitution-making
on the relationship between constitution-making, the rule of law and the United Nations. {{Authority control Constitutions, Sources of law