Gaining rights and freedoms and having them codified in a document has been a very long struggle for people all over the world. Even in the 21st century, even among the world’s most affluent countries, that quest continues.
To discover the year each of the world’s 25 most affluent nations adopted a constitution (if they did), 24/7 Tempo used GDP per capita to identify the richest nations, and vetted the year each constitution was adopted by reviewing sources including national websites, Britannica, and Global Security.
If you remember your grade-school history, you’ll recall the first written record that limited a monarch’s power was England’s Magna Carta in 1215. That document wasn’t a constitution, but it established the idea of codifying – and limiting – the powers of a head of state.
It would be more than 500 years before the United States adopted its constitution in 1788, after declaring independence from Great Britain. Imbued with the Enlightenment-era beliefs of reason, liberty, and progress, the U.S. Constitution became the benchmark for guaranteeing free speech, freedom of religion, and many other rights and liberties. (How free is the press in the world’s richest countries?)
In the 19th century, the Low Countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg and the Scandinavian nations of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark all adopted constitutions. Some of these countries had recently gained independence and all of them had a monarchy, though the sovereign’s power was constrained by their constitutions.
As nations in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean cast off or redefined the relationship with their colonial overseers in the 20th century and formed representative governments, they also adopted constitutions. Even though countries such as Bermuda and New Zealand loosened their ties with Great Britain, the British monarch still retains the right to name the chief executive who rules in the sovereign’s name in those nations. (Here’s a list of every country in the British Commonwealth.)
Qatar, on the Arabian Peninsula, is the most recent nation on our list to have adopted a constitution, in 2004. Another Middle Eastern nation, Israel, is on our list though its legislators have not yet successfully managed to agree on the terms of a constitution.
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