BELGIUM | ‘A Constitution For Everyone’: website analyses the making of the 1830-1831 Constitution for the Kingdom of Belgium

Recently, the Catholic University of Leuven or KU Leuven launched the website Belgische Grondwet, telling the tale of a constitution which has the reputation of being “very liberal for its time”. 

The Constitution of Belgium was created in 1831, after the country gained independence from the Netherlands.

In August 1830, there was a popular uprising in Brussels, which spread throughout the country and resulted in the establishment of an independent Belgium. A National Congress was elected in November 1830 to draw up a new constitution for the country.

The National Congress was composed of 200 members, elected by the people, and representing a wide range of political views. The Congress met in Brussels from November 1830 to July 1831, and worked to draft a new constitution that would establish a constitutional monarchy, with a separation of powers and guarantees of individual rights and freedoms.

The Constitution of Belgium was finally adopted by the National Congress on July 7, 1831. The new constitution established a parliamentary system of government, with a monarch as head of state, a bicameral parliament, and a judiciary that was independent of the other branches of government.

Since its adoption, the Belgian Constitution has been amended several times to reflect changes in the country’s political and social landscape, and to incorporate new provisions and protections for citizens’ rights and freedoms.

The 1830 Constitution.

Why is the 1830 Constitution of Belgium considered so liberal?

The 1830 Constitution of Belgium is considered a liberal document for several reasons:

  1. It established a constitutional monarchy: The constitution created a parliamentary system of government with a monarch as head of state. This system limited the power of the monarch and established a balance of power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.
  2. It provided for the separation of powers: The constitution established a clear separation of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, which helped to prevent abuses of power and protect individual rights.
  3. It guaranteed individual rights and freedoms: The constitution included a Bill of Rights that protected individual liberties, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press, as well as the right to own property and receive a fair trial.
  4. It provided for a democratic system of government: The constitution established a system of representative democracy, with elected officials and universal male suffrage.

Overall, the 1830 Constitution of Belgium reflected the liberal ideals of the time, which emphasized individual rights, democracy, and the rule of law. It represented a significant departure from the absolutist monarchies that dominated Europe at the time and set the stage for Belgium to become a modern, liberal democracy.

Federal Parliament of Belgium.

Why did Belgium choose Leopold as first king?

After Belgium declared its independence from the Netherlands in 1830, the new country faced the task of choosing a monarch to lead it. The National Congress, a body of elected representatives, decided to offer the throne to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

There were several reasons why Leopold was chosen as the first king of Belgium:

  1. He was a Protestant: At the time, Belgium was a predominantly Catholic country, and it was important to choose a monarch who would be acceptable to both Catholics and Protestants. Leopold’s Protestant faith made him a neutral candidate who could bridge this divide.
  2. He had a European background: Leopold came from a prominent European family and had lived in several European countries. This made him familiar with European politics and culture, and helped to establish Belgium as a legitimate and respected country on the continent.
  3. He was seen as a strong leader: Leopold had experience as a military commander and had served as the first king of Greece before abdicating due to political turmoil. He was seen as a capable and charismatic leader who could help guide Belgium through its early years as an independent country.
  4. He was a constitutional monarch: Leopold agreed to abide by the new constitution and serve as a constitutional monarch, which helped to reassure Belgians that he would not try to impose his own will on the country.

Ultimately, the National Congress believed that Leopold would be a unifying and effective leader for the new country, and he was elected as the first king of Belgium in 1831.

Leopold I, King of the Belgians.

Who were the other candidates to become King of the Belgians in 1830?

Several candidates were considered for the position of the first King of the Belgians before Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was chosen. Here are some of the other candidates:

  1. Prince Augustus of Sussex: He was a son of King George III of the United Kingdom and had expressed an interest in the Belgian throne. However, his candidacy was not seriously considered due to his lack of political experience.
  2. Prince Louis of Orléans: He was a member of the French royal family and was seen as a potential candidate due to his connection to the French-speaking region of Belgium. However, he was ultimately considered too closely tied to France and its politics.
  3. Prince Charles of Mecklenburg: He was a German prince who had served as a general in the Russian army. He was considered a strong candidate due to his military experience, but his lack of political experience was seen as a drawback.
  4. Archduke Charles of Austria: He was a member of the Habsburg dynasty and had experience as a military commander. However, his candidacy was seen as problematic due to the close ties between Austria and the former rulers of the Netherlands, from which Belgium had just declared its independence.

Belgian Constitution website 

KU Leuven, one of Belgium’s oldest and most prestigious universities, started the website Belgische Grondwet as a way to promote transparency and accessibility in the country’s legal system.

The website provides a comprehensive, user-friendly guide to the Belgian Constitution, including its history, structure, and key provisions. It also offers translations of the constitution into several languages, making it accessible to a wider audience.

The goal of the website is to help Belgian citizens better understand their rights and responsibilities under the constitution, as well as to promote civic engagement and participation in the country’s democratic processes.

By providing easy access to information about the constitution, KU Leuven hopes to foster a more informed and engaged citizenry, as well as to promote greater transparency and accountability in the country’s legal system.

Flag of Belgium.

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