Natalia Sobrevilla Perea
On 19 March 1812, representatives from across the Hispanic Monarchy put forward a constitution in the Spanish port city of Cádiz. This foundational document was a response to their king’s abdication in favor of Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte, obtained under pressure from invading French troops. The constitution aimed to address what they viewed as a lack of legitimacy because the monarch was captive, as the drafters expected it would be the basis of government in all the corners of the empire, from Madrid to Mexico and Manila. Written under the protection of the British fleet in the last bastion of the Peninsula that remained unoccupied, the constitution instituted a very extensive male suffrage, freedom of the press, national sovereignty, and the abolition of privileges for citizens from all parts of the vast empire. These measures were the reason why the men who debated the constitution were the first ones to be called liberal. The liberalism of the drafters at Cádiz must be considered in the context of the early nineteenth century. When in 1814 Ferdinand VII returned to Spain, he abolished the constitution. But in 1820 a mutiny of troops forced the king to accept it grudgingly. A constitutional monarchy was established lasting until 1823, when the so-called 100,000 sons of Saint Louis crossed from France to reinstate absolutism. This period came to be known as the Liberal Triennium. In 1836 the Progressives reinstated the Cádiz Constitution, albeit briefly when they passed a new charter in 1837.
Until quite recently there was very limited scholarship on the Cádiz Constitution in English, and, as Roberto Breña shows, even the literature in Spanish had been mostly limited to the study of the text itself and its impact in the peninsula. In the past decade, Atlantic history and studies on the Enlightenment’s influence on revolution in general have led to renewed interest in the Spanish constitutional experience. The reevaluation of Spanish American independence movements in light of the Cádiz Constitution have also sparked debate among historians. François-Xavier Guerra (1992) and Jaime Rodriguez O. (1998)1 consider that it is impossible to understand the process of independence if attention is not paid to Cádiz and the enacting of the constitution. Guerra goes as far as to state that the election of deputies to Cortes was the revolution2 (1993) Bicentennial celebrations have led to a dramatic increase of publications on the constitution. Its importance, especially in influencing subsequent constitutions, is increasingly acknowledged today in academic circles.
In this article I will discuss the calling of the Cortes, the elections that brought representatives from all over the empire to Cádiz, the demands made from far-away provinces, and major issues discussed in the constitutional debates. I conclude by assessing the constitution’s reception, as well as the way in which it influenced the advent of modernity in the Hispanic world and beyond. I begin by discussing the development of constitutional thinking in the late eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century. A revision of the events that led to the Peninsular War and the context in which the constitution was put forward follows. The article then analyzes the process through which the constitution was passed, the intellectual debates that surrounded it, the impact the charter had in the wider Atlantic world, as well as the role it played in the process of independence in Spanish America. Finally, it ends with a review of how liberalism developed in the Hispanic Monarchy and the long-lasting legacy of the Cádiz Constitution.
Jaime E. Rodríguez O.
The concept of a constitution, a political entity that determines how a people are governed, emerged in ancient times. The government of the Roman Republic (509–27 BC) influenced the Western world. Later, Romanized Visigoths adopted a charter, the Fuero Juzgo (654), in the Iberian Peninsula that integrated Roman and Visigothic legal systems. The document influenced regional political entities throughout the Middle Ages. In the 13th century, each of the realms of the Iberian Peninsula adopted individual rather than shared fundamental codes. In 1265, King Alfonso X established Castilla’s and Leon’s first constitution, the Siete Partidas. The New World obtained its own legal system, known as the Derecho Indiano (Laws of the Indies). Like the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, those of America created a compact between the monarch and the citizens of each realm rather than Hispanic America as a whole. These systems of uncodified legislation evolved to meet changing circumstances and societal norms. They provided corporations and individuals expanding opportunities for indirect and direct experience in self-government.
In 1808, an unexpected upheaval transformed the Hispanic world. The French invaded Spain. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte lured the royal family into France, compelled them to abdicate in his favor, and then granted the Spanish monarchy to his brother, José. The Spanish people did not accept the usurper king, José I. They formed the Junta Central to oppose the invaders. As the French continued to conquer the nation, they convened a Cortes, which met on September 24, 1810, in the port of Cádiz. Approximately 220 deputies, including sixty-five Americans and two Filipinos, eventually participated in the extraordinary Cortes of Cádiz. Deputies representing overseas dominions played a central role in developing the most progressive constitution of the 19th century. Despite the political chaos that surrounded the constituent congress, the delegates debated and eventually reached consensus on a modern, flexible charter that reconciled the competing interests of the multiplicity of areas and ideological positions represented at the assembly. They produced a constitution for the entire Hispanic world that made the executive and the judiciary subordinate to the legislature. It also increased the scope of political activity by establishing representative government at three levels: the city or town with a thousand or more inhabitants (constitutional ayuntamiento), the province (provincial deputation), and the monarchy (Cortes). The charter transferred political power from the center to the localities, and incorporated large numbers of people into the political process for the first time by redefining the concept of active citizenship (i.e., those eligible to vote). This fundamental document formed the basis for constitutional development throughout the Hispanic monarchy and for most charters promulgated in the nations that emerged after the breakup of that political entity.
In the late 1960s, several leftist political movements in Latin America began to claim the use of political violence as a means of social transformation. This second wave of leftist political violence was distinct from an earlier wave—composed of rural guerillas inspired by the Cuban Revolution, roughly a decade and a half earlier—in several ways. The later proponents of armed struggle emphasized the importance of cities in armed actions, not just rural settings. They also advocated interaction between armed organizations and other actors in social movements, including far-left nationalist and populist factions within traditional political parties and the Catholic Church. Armed action was seen by such groups as a valid response to increasingly repressive governments, and to limitations on political action that made social change through peaceful means impossible. The use of violence provided a way to develop collective action in the hostile environment of the Latin American Cold War, which was marked by extreme political and ideological polarization.
Timothy Wilson and Mara Favoretto
In the 20th century Argentina experienced a series of dictatorial regimes of varying intensity, but the last dictatorship stands apart. The Process of National Reorganization or Proceso (1976–1983) was not only the most brutally repressive, “disappearing” 30,000 of its own citizens into concentration camps, but also the most ambitious in terms of ideological mission. Its campaign, officially called “the war against subversion,” was committed to the total eradication of leftist ideas from the political landscape of the country by any means necessary. This radical transformation was to be brought about not only in the torture chamber, but in the media as well. The regime planned an Orwellian redefinition of words: the systematic creation of a national vocabulary that would exclude certain ideas and parties. In order to achieve its overt project of the appropriation of language, the junta maintained obsessive control over the media, instituted strict censorship reinforced by terror, and bombarded the airwaves and newspapers with official communiqués. In the face of this repression, most journalists and writers and many artists could not express dissent of any kind. Yet singers of a new Argentine music genre that came to be known as rock nacional developed codified and oblique metaphorical expression in their lyrics that allowed them to evade censorship and to continue to criticize the military regime with relative impunity. Moreover, many Argentine youths found solace in the music and used it to create communities in which they could meet and express themselves. The regime had sought to deny young Argentines a forum for public speech; however, together artists and listeners created a rock nacional culture that provided community for the isolated and lent a voice to the silenced.