Greece THE AGE OF REFORM, 1864-1909
Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies
In 1864 a constituent assembly promulgated a new constitution that vested sovereignty in the Greek people and specified precisely the monarch's powers. A single-chamber parliament with full legislative powers would be elected by direct, secret ballot. Because the king retained substantial powers, however, the choice of a new monarch remained an extremely important issue.
The Constitution of 1864
Otto's successor had to be uniquely noncontroversial. Prince Albert, son of Queen Victoria of Britain, was selected by 95 percent of Greeks voting in a 1862 referendum, but France and Russia rejected this outcome because it would give Britain direct control of the Greek throne. The eventual choice was Prince William, second son of the future King Christian IX of Denmark and brother of the future queen consort Alexandra of Britain. The prince would reign as George I until his assassination in 1913.
Greece's constitutional reforms seemed to yield little political change. Powerful personalities maintained their fiefdoms through patronage networks, although issues such as industrialization and government planning opened a new split between the growing liberal urban middle class and conservatives of the old tzakia elite.
The most significant element of Greek political culture in the second half of the nineteenth century was the political clubs that proliferated. Such clubs of professional men and landowners fostered coherent political discourse and linked members of parliament with local power brokers. They also mobilized support for parliamentary candidates representing the political views of the clubs' members. Large landowners, for example, guaranteed the votes of their laborers on behalf of local patrons. Artisan associations and mercantile guilds such as the Athens-based Guild of Greengrocers, also provided vehicles for political acculturation and mobilized electoral support. This patchwork of clubs and guilds was the starting point of political factions and other fluid political groupings that lay at the base of Greek parliamentary democracy as it was practiced under the 1864 constitution.
In spite of the new constitution, the political system was deeply flawed. From 1865 to 1875, seven general elections were held, and eighteen different administrations held office. King George could and did create and dismiss governments if legislation or a budget failed to pass, so political leaders constantly juggled competing interests to keep fragile ruling coalitions together. Often the king asked leaders of minority parties to form governments while more significant legislative figures were overlooked, actions that were a recipe for political gridlock as well as a mockery of the democratic process.
Data as of December 1994
NOTE: The information regarding Greece on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Greece THE AGE OF REFORM, 1864-1909 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Greece THE AGE OF REFORM, 1864-1909 should be addressed to the Library of Congress.