The Constitution of 1791 on government (1791)


These extracts from the Constitution of 1791, passed by the National Assembly in September, concern the form of the new government in France:


The division of the kingdom

1. The kingdom is one and indivisible; its territory is divided into eighty-three departments, every department into districts, every district into cantons…

5. The civic oath is: ‘I swear to be faithful to the nation, to the law, and to the King, and to maintain with all my power the Constitution of the kingdom’…

7. The law considers marriage only as a civil contract…

9. The citizens composing a commune have the right to elect at stated times, according to the forms determined by law, those among them who, under the title of municipal officials, are responsible for administering the immediate affairs of the commune.

Of public powers

1. Sovereignty is one, indivisible, inalienable, and imprescriptible. It appertains to the nation; no section of the people nor any individual may assume the exercise thereof.

2. The nation, from which alone all powers emanate, may exercise such powers only by delegation. The French Constitution is representative; the representatives are the legislative body and the King.

3. The legislative power is delegated to a National Assembly, composed of temporary representatives freely elected by the people, to be exercised by it, with the sanction of the King…

4. The government is monarchical; the executive power is delegated to the King, to be exercised, under his authority, by ministers and other responsible agents…

5. The judicial power is delegated to judges who are elected at stated times by the people.

Of the National Legislative Assembly

1. The National Assembly constituting the legislative body is permanent and is composed of only one chamber.

2. It shall be formed every two years by new elections. Every period of two years shall constitute a legislature…

5. The legislative body may not be dissolved by the King.

In order to constitute the National Legislative Assembly, the active citizens shall meet every two years in primary assemblies in the cities and cantons. In order to be an active citizen it is necessary:

To have been born, or to become, a Frenchman;

To be fully 25 years of age;

To be domiciled in the city or canton for the period determined by law;

To pay, in any part of the kingdom whatsoever, a direct tax equal at least to the value of three days’ labor, and to present the receipt therefor;

Not be in a position of domesticity, that is to say, a servant for wages;

To be inscribed upon the roll of the National Guard in the municipality of his domicile;

To have taken the civic oath…

Of the Monarchy

1. Monarchy is indivisible and is delegated hereditarily to the reigning family, from male to male, by order of primogeniture, to the perpetual exclusion of women and their descendants.

2. The person of the King is inviolable and sacred; his only title is King of the French.

3. There is no authority in France superior to that of the law; the King reigns only thereby, and only in the name of the law may he exact obedience.

4. On his accession to the throne, or as soon as he has attained his majority, the King, in the presence of the legislative body, shall take oath to the nation to be faithful to the nation and to the law, to employ all the power delegated to him to maintain the Constitution…

5. If, one month after the invitation of the legislative body, the King has not taken said oath, or if, after having taken it, he retracts it, he shall be deemed to have abdicated the throne.

6. If the King places himself at the head of an army and directs the forces thereof against the nation, or if he does not, by a formal statement, oppose any such undertaking carried on in his name, he shall be deemed to have abdicated the throne.

Royal sanction

1. The decrees of the legislative body are presented to the King, who may refuse his consent thereto.

2. In case the King refuses his consent, such refusal shall be only suspensive. When the two legislatures following the one in which the decree was introduced have again successively presented the same decree in the same terms, the King shall be deemed to have given his sanction…

4. The King is required to express his consent to, or refusal of, every decree within two months of its presentation.”