Antecedents: The Constitution of 20.4.1808

From the succession of Maximilian IV Joseph’s (1756–1825) in 1799, the Electorate of Bavaria had experienced a profound transformation of the political and social order. It participated in a phase of German and European history that underwent an accelerated transition from the world of old Europe to the modern age. The Bavarian constitution of 1808 belongs in this context and amalgamated almost all reforms of the years between 1799 and 1807 into one system. Complemented and developed further by the Organic Edicts of 1808/09 and some later amendments, the Constitution formed the framework for the future transformation of state and society up to the Constitution of 1818.

The development of a new legal framework for state conditions had become necessary after the independent collection and administration of taxes had been taken away from the estates in 1807, soon after the end of the Old Kingdom. Thus the territorial assembly of estates as public body had become superfluous; special estates based-provincial rights were no longer tolerated. The state was in a new position that had to be legally fixed. In June 1807, the Bavarian king therefore instructed his minister Maximilian von Montgelas (1759–1838) to draw up a draft constitution in consultation with the experts in the ministries.

A further incentive to draft a constitution arose from the situation of Bavaria regarding foreign and alliance policies, since the kingdom had been a member of the Confederation of the Rhine under French control since 1806. By drawing up one’s own constitution, one wanted to pre-empt Napoleon’s plans to organise the Confederation of the Rhine in a centralist manner by means of a Basic Law. On 20 January 1808, at the meeting of the Secret State Conference, the supreme advisory and decision-making body bringing together the king and the ministers, the king approved the proposal of his minister Montgelas to draft a constitution for the Kingdom of Bavaria on the basis of the constitution for the Kingdom of Westphalia. The terms “Konstitution” and “Verfassung” were usually used synonymously by contemporaries.

Work progressed rapidly, so that the “Konstitution für das Königreich Baiern” (Constitution of the Kingdom of Bavaria) could be proclaimed on 1 May. It was not conceived as a final set of rules, but, as the king had it formulated at the end of the text, it laid “die Grundlagen der künftigen Verfassung Unsers Reichs” (the foundations of the future constitution of our kingdom), which was to take effect as a whole on 1 October 1808.