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Speech of Friedrich Julius Stahl against the Repeal of the Prussian Constitution (1853)

In this 1853 speech, the conservative law professor Friedrich Julius Stahl (1802-1861) pleads against a motion to abolish the Prussian constitution, which was instituted during the revolution of 1848/49. Stahl supported the constitution because he felt that it strengthened the monarchy. His speech shows how widely accepted the constitutional form of government was even within pro-monarchical circles.

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Repeal of the Prussian constitution. Motion of Count v. Saurma-Jeltsch and Prince Reuß (Session of the First Chamber on February 24, 1853)*

Gentlemen! I cannot agree with how the Committee has taken exception to the motion. It maintains that Article 107 permits only amending, and therefore not repealing, the constitution. As was emphasized by the previous speaker: Amending repeals not the substantial, but rather only the imaginary. This difference alone is irrelevant in consequence; there could indeed be a motion proposed to repeal all the sections dealing with the Chambers. Formally, this would be only an amendment and yet would amount to a repeal. In fact, however, Article 107 does not emphasize that the constitution can be altered, but rather that it can be altered in the usual manner of legislation. That it can be amended is something this article does not even need to say; this was self-evident. But just as self-evident is that it can be repealed. Thus, in the entire document there is nary a word about how a law can be amended or repealed, and have we ever disputed this? The right to repeal the constitution in a legal manner is based not on Article 107, but rather on the nature of the matter; it is based on the premise that the authorities that conferred the constitution, the king and the state parliament, must likewise also have the right to withdraw it. Article 107 merely specifies the form for this, that this does not need to happen through an assembly specially summoned for this purpose, authorized with a special mandate, but rather through the ordinary Chambers.

A previous speaker remarked that it would certainly not be permissible in England to propose a motion for the abolition of Parliament. I would reply that we are also not permitted to propose a motion for transforming the monarchy into a republic. This impermissibility, though, is not based on the constitutional document; according to it, it would be completely permissible. Rather, it is based on the innermost sanctity of kingship, and this sanctity is something that our Chambers and the entire constitution do not have, at least not up to now.

* Count v. Saurma-Jeltsch, together with Prince Reuß – as a member at the time of the First Chamber, and in the matter of the petition dealt with in the previous speech – presented a motion "requesting that His Majesty submit to the Chambers a bill whereby the constitution of January 31, 1850 be repealed again in the manner prescribed by Art. 107 of the same." Since the motion did not have the required support, it was treated as a petition. The Petition Committee proposed moving on to the daily agenda, "since Art. 107 of the constitution contains a provision that does not permit a motion for repeal." The above speech is opposed to the motion and directed against the motive given by the Committee.

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