Onthisday, the 22nd of August 1818 Grand Duke Karl Ludwig of Baden signed the new Constitution of Baden into law, one of the most advanced constitutions of its day.

The citizens of Baden were granted habeas corpus, freedom of property, religion, equality before the law and the removal of feudal structures. The constitution established a parliament with material involvement in legislation and an independent judiciary.

By modern standards the constitution leaves much to be desired. The King had the exclusive right to propose laws and the nobility had a de-facto veto against rules they disliked. However, this has to be seen in the context of the times. We are in the year 1818, a time of conservative backlash after the French Revolution. The Congress of Vienna had brought back conservative monarchy and a year later the Carlsbad Decrees implement censorship, ban liberal professors and student organisations across the German Federation.

The background to this more liberal approach may be found in part in the Grand Duke’s personal convictions. But probably more important were the dismal state of finances and economy after the Napoleonic wars. Fear of revolution was in the air. In 1815 the citizens of Heidelberg led by the law professor Christoph R.D. Martin made a forceful request to the Grand Duke to call a parliament.

Baden furthermore had to integrate a large number of smaller principalities that they had received in the reorganisation of Germany in 1806. Karl Friedrich Nebenius who led the development of the constitution combined political instincts, administrative skills and a good understanding of economics. He devised the constitution as both an instrument to integrate the new population as well as creating conditions for economic growth.

The Constitution of 1818 did not remain unchallenged. The new Grand Duke, Ludwig tried to wind back the clock, manipulated elections, dissolved the chamber, removed administrative support etc. In 1825 he managed to revise the constitution in 1825. Once Ludwig had passed the baton to the next Grand Duke, in 1830, the constitution was reinstated and far reaching liberal reforms attempted.

Until the revolution of 1848, the parliament (Staendeversammlung) of Baden was the place for the liberal opposition in Germany to be heard. The greater freedoms made Baden a refuge for liberal though in Germany. The universities of Heidelberg and Freiburg attracted great scholars like Karl von Rotteck whose political views were unwelcome elsewhere.

It ingrained a liberal and democratic tradition that became most visible in the Revolution of 1848, where Baden became a (short-lived) republic. When the revolution failed many liberals from Baden emigrated to the US where they became known as the Forty-Eighters. Names like Friedrich Hecker and Carl Schurz and Franz Sigel.