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The Constituent Assembly in the records of the Historical Archives

The Institutional Referendum and the election of the Constituent Assembly

Under Lieutenant Decree Law no. 151 of 25 June 1944 issued by the Bonomi government a few days after the liberation of Rome, at the end of the war a universal and direct vote by secret ballot would be held to elect a Constituent Assembly to chose the form of the state and give a new constitution to the country. Later, the lieutenant legislative decree of the De Gasperi Government (Decree 98 of 16 March 1946) expanded and amended the previous law, and put the question of the form of the state to popular vote. Lieutenant Decree 99 of 16 March of that year set down the rules for the simultaneous holding of the referendum and the election of the Constituent Assembly by means of a system of proportional representation (Lieutenancy Decree Law 74 of 10 March 1946).

The electoral law divided Italy into 32 electoral constituencies returning 573 Deputies to Parliament, but no elections were held in the Province of Bolzano and the electoral district of Trieste-Venezia Giulia-Zara. The constituent members were 556. The electoral campaign was lively and turn-out at the polls was very high: 89.1% of the 28,005,449 eligible to vote did so, for a total of 24,947,187. In the referendum, the vote went in favour of the institution of a republic. The referendum result was proclaimed on 10 June 1946 by the Court of Cassation, sitting at the Sala della Lupa at Palazzo Montecitorio. Immediately afterwards Prime Minister Alcide de Gasperi took up the functions of provisional Head of State. Following the counting of ballots, the results, officially validated by the Court of Cassation on 18 June 1946, were 12,718,641 in favour of the republic (54.3% of all valid votes) and 10,718,502 in favour of the monarchy (45.7%).

In the elections to the Constituent Assembly, the Christian Democrats won a qualified majority (8,080,664 votes, a share of 35.2%), followed by the Socialist Party (PSIUP) (4,758,129 votes, 20.7%) and the Communist Party (4,356,686 votes, 19%). No other party obtained more than 10% of the total. The results of the election in percentage terms were as follows: Christian Democrats: 35.2%; Socialist Party (PSIUP): 20.7%; Communist Party: 19%; National Democratic Union: 6.8%; Fronte uomo qualunque: 5.3%; Republican Party: 4.4%; Blocco nazionale libertà: 2.8%; the Action Party (Partito d'azione): 1.4%; other lists: 1.7%. In Valle d'Aosta, the Christian Democrats won 48.2% of the votes, while the Democratic Progressive-Republican Front ( a coalition of the PSIUP, Communist Party, Republican Party and Action Party) won 51.8% and returned one Deputy (reference: Central Statistics Institute and Ministry of the Interior, elections to the Constituent Assembly and the institutional referendum: 2 June 1946, Rome, Istituto Poligrafico dello Stato, 1948).

The referendum ballot offered voters a choice between the symbols of the republic and the monarchy. The Republic was symbolised by two entwined branches of oak and laurel framing the figure of a woman with a mural crown known as the "donna turrita", a symbol of Italy that was already used on four-lira postage stamps. The monarchy was symbolised by the Savoy coat of arms surmounted by a crown. In the districts of Trento and Udine, a bilingual ballot was used. The external cover of the ballot paper was signed by a teller and stamped by the polling station.

In a sign of the straitened economic times, the official document proclaiming the results was typed on a sheet of graph paper. The entire first page of the official document and the entire final page of the same summarising the results may be seen.

The Work of the Assembly

The Constituent Assembly convened for the first time on 25 June 1946 and, in its first session, elected Giuseppe Saragat as its President. On 28 June, Enrico De Nicola was elected provisional Head of State by the Assembly with 396 of 501 votes. Pursuant to the provisions of Decree 98 of 1946 mentioned above, the Assembly was bound to dissolve itself on the day the constitution came into force and, in any event, not later than the eighth month after its first meeting.

The term for the conclusion of work was extended, first to 24 June 1947 (by Constitutional Law 1 of 21 February 1947) and then to 31 December 1947 (by Constitutional Law 2 of 17 June 1947).

The Constituent Assembly continued to work until 31 January 1948 on the basis of an extension provided for by the transitory provision no. 17 of the Constitution. The Assembly's committees continued to function beyond that date until April 1948.

During the period in which it was active, 375 public sessions were held, of which 170 were dedicated to the Constitution and 210 to other matters. The Assembly convened twice in-camera to discuss internal problems.

On 15 July 1946, the Assembly resolved to set up a Special Committee to design and propose a draft Constitution to be debated in Parliament. On 20 July, at its first meeting, the Committee, which was to become known as the Committee of the Seventy-five, elected Meuccio Ruini, former president of the Council of State, as its president.

The Committee of the Seventy-Five was supposed to complete its work by 20 October. In fact, the work did not end until 1 February 1947. The Committee divided itself into three subcommittees, one for each of the main sections into which the new Constitution was to be divided. The first subcommittee, chaired by Umberto Tupini, concerned itself with the rights and duties of citizens; the second, chaired by Umberto Terracini, concerned itself with the constitutional organisation of the state; the third, chaired by Gustavo Ghidini, concerned itself with economic and social relations.

A drafting committee (the Committee of the Eighteen) formed by the Bureau of the Committee of the Seventy-Five, expanded to include representatives of all the political groups, had the important and delicate tasks of coordinating and harmonising the work produced by the three subcommittees. The end of the work of the Committee of the Seventy-Five coincided with the resignation of Giuseppe Saragat as President of the Constituent Assembly (12 January 1947) as a result of a schism in the Socialist Party (the Palazzo Barberini split). He was replaced by Umberto Terracini, elected to the presidency of the Assembly on 8 February.

The general debate on the Floor of the House on the draft Constitution began on 4 March 1947 at the end of the work of coordinating the text by the Committee of the Eighteen, and continued throughout 1947. Several important changes were introduced to the draft version presented by the Committee of the Seventy-five, one of the most important of which related to the functions of and the rules for election to the Senate.

The Constituent Assembly voted by secret ballot on the draft Constitution on 22 December 1947. The new Constitution was approved with 453 votes in favour and 62 against. It was promulgated by the provisional Head of State Enrico de Nicola on 27 December 1947 and published in the same day in a special edition of the Official Journal. It came into force on 1 January 1948.

The emblem of the Republic

Prime Minister's Decree no. 1 of 19 June 1946 states at Article 7 that the Constituent Assembly should choose the official emblem of the Republic. The emblem had to be simple, aesthetically pleasing and at the same time give a visual representation of the values on which the Republic was to be based.

The question turned out to be more difficult than expected. On 27 October 1947, the Prime Minister appointed a committee which promoted a competition for the design of the emblem of the Republic. None of the projects presented (consisting of more than 600 sketches by 346 aspirants, which are currently housed in the State Central Archives) was accepted by the Constituent Assembly, which resolved to hold a new competition, at the end of which the Assembly adopted a design by Paolo Paschetto (in a vote on 31 January 1948). The special committee formed within the Constituent Assembly received 197 designs from 96 aspirants including established artists and ordinary citizens. These designs are housed in the Historical Archive of the Chamber of Deputies.