Comparative Constitution Making
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Comparative Constitution Making

Edited by David Landau and Hanna Lerner

Recent years have witnessed an explosion of new research on constitution making. Comparative Constitution Making provides an up-to-date overview of this rapidly expanding field.
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Chapter 5: Constituent power, primary assemblies, and the imperative mandate

Joel Colon-Rios


During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, some constitutions were drafted and ratified in processes that had at their base meetings of neighbours in particular localities. Usually called primary assemblies, these local meetings facilitated practices inconsistent with the logic of representation, such as the preparation of instructions intended to bind the elected deputies. This chapter examines the ways in which primary assemblies figured in four historical constitution-making episodes: the creation of the first two French Constitutions (1791, 1793) and the subsequent creation of constitutions in Spain (1812) and Venezuela (1811). Through the analysis of these cases, we will see how the notion of primary assemblies as the main site of constituent activity, as well as the institution of citizen instructions, were replaced by a conception that attributed to local meetings of citizens the sole function of electing representatives considered capable of drafting a constitution. I then explore the ways in which primary assemblies, as well as a ‘soft’ version of the imperative mandate, could operate in contemporary constitution-making practices.

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