History of Spain


The Cadiz Cortes

From the first days of the War of Independence, juntas, established by army commanders, guerrilla leaders, or local civilian groups, appeared in areas outside French control. They also existed underground as alternatives to the French-imposed government. Unity extended only to fighting the French, however. Coups were frequent, and there was sometimes bloody competition among military, partisan, and civilian groups for control of the juntas. A central junta sat in Cadiz. It had little authority, except as surrogate for the absent royal government. It succeeded, however, in calling together representatives from local juntas in 1810, with the vague notion of creating the Cortes of All the Spains, so called because it would be the single legislative body for the empire and its colonies. Many of the overseas provinces had by that time already declared their independence. Some saw the Cortes at Cadiz as an interim government until the Desired One, as Ferdinand VII was called by his supporters, could return to the throne. Many regalists could not admit that a parliamentary body could legislate in the absence of a king.

The delegates at the Cortes at Cadiz formed into two main currents, liberal and conservative. The liberals carried on the reformist philisophy of Charles III and added to it many of the new ideals of the French Revolution. They wanted equality before the law, a centralized government, an efficient modern civil service, a reform of the tax system, the replacement of feudal privileges by freedom of contract, and the recognition of the property owner's right to use his property as he saw fit. As the liberals were the majority, they were able to transform the assembly from interim government to constitutional convention. The product of the Cortes' deliberations reflected the liberals dominance for the constitution of 1812 came to be the "sacred codex" of liberalism, and during the nineteenth century it served as a model for liberal constitutions of Latin nations.

As the principal aim of the new constitution was the prevention of arbitrary and corrupt royal rule, it provided for a limited monarchy which governed through ministers subject to parliamentary control. Suffrage, determined by property qualifications, favored the position of the commercial class in the new parliament, in which there was no special provision for the Church or the nobility. The constitution set up a rational and efficient centralized administrative system based on newly formed provinces and municipalties rather than on the historic provinces. Repeal of traditional property restrictions gave the liberals the freer economy they wanted.

The 1812 Constitution marked the initiation of the Spanish tradition of liberalism; by the country's standards, however, it was a revolutionary document, and when Ferdinand VII was restored to the throne in 1814 he refused to recognize it. He dismissed the Cadiz Cortes and was determined to rule as an absolute monarch.

Spain's American colonies took advantage of the postwar chaos to proclaim their independence, and most established republican governments. By 1825 only Cuba and Puerto Rico remained under the Spanish flag in the New World. When Ferdinand was restored to the throne in Madrid, he expended wealth and manpower in a vain effort to reassert control over the colonies. The move was unpopular among liberal officers assigned to the American wars.

Rule by Pronunciamiento

In 1820 Major Rafael de Riego led a revolt among troops quartered in Cadiz while awaiting embarkation to America. Garrison mutinies were not unusual, but Riego issued a pronunciamiento or declaration of principles, to the troops, which was directed against the government and which called for the army to support adoption of the 1812 constitution. Support for Riego spread from garrison to garrison, toppling the regalist government and forcing Ferdinand to accept the liberal constitution. The pronunciamiento, distributed by barracks politicians among underpaid members of an overstaffed officer corps, became a regular feature of Spanish politics. An officer or group of officers would seek a consensus among fellow officers in opposing or supporting a particular policy or in calling for a change in government. If any government were to survive, it needed the support of the army. If a pronunciamiento received sufficient backing, the government was well advised to defer to it. This "referendum in blood" was considered within the army to be the purest form of election because the soldiers supporting a pronunciamiento--at least in theory--were expressing their willingness to shed blood to make their point. A pronunciamiento was judged to have succeeded only if the government gave in to it without a fight. If it did not represent a consensus within the army and there was resistance to it, the pronunciamiento was considered a failure, and the officers who had proposed it dutifully went into exile.

French intervention, ordered by Louis XVIII on an appeal from Ferdinand and with the assent of his conservative officers, brought the three years of liberal government under the 1812 constitution--called the Constitutional Triennium (1820-23)--to an abrupt close. The arrival of the French was welcomed in many sectors. Ferdinand, restored as absolute monarch, chose his ministers from the ranks of the old afrancesados.

Ferdinand VII, a widower, was childless, and Don Carlos, his popular, traditionalist brother, was heir presumptive. In 1829, however, Ferdinand married his Neapolitan cousin, Maria Cristina, who gave birth to a daughter, an event followed closely by the revocation of provisions prohibiting female succession. Ferdinand died in 1833, leaving Maria Cristina as regent for their daughter, Isabella II (1833-68).

Don Carlos contested his niece's succession, and he won the fanatical support of the traditionalists of Aragon and of Basque Navarre (Spanish, Navarra). The Carlists (supporters of Don Carlos) held that legitimate succession was possible only through the male line. Comprised of agrarians, regionalists, and Catholics, the Carlists also opposed the middle-class-- centralist, anticlerical Liberals who flocked to support the regency. The Carlists fielded an army that held off government attempts to suppress them for six years (1833-39), during which time Maria Cristina received British aid in arms and volunteers. A Carlist offensive against Madrid in 1837 failed, but in the mountains, the Basques continued to resist until a compromise peace in 1839 recognized their ancient fueros. Sentiment for Don Carlos and for his successor, remained strong in Navarre, and the Carlists continued as a serious political force. Carlist uprisings occurred in 1847 and again from 1872 to 1876.

Liberal Rule

The regency had come to depend on liberal support within the army during the first Carlist war, but after the end of the war against the traditionalists, both the Liberals and the army tired of Maria Cristina. They forced her to resign in 1840, and a liberal government assumed responsibility for the regency.

The Liberals were a narrowly based elite. Their abstract idealism and concern for individual liberties contrasted sharply with the paternalistic attitudes of Spain's rural society. There was no monolithic liberal movement in Spain, but anticlericalism, the touchstone of liberalism, unified the factions. They theorized that the state was the sum of the individuals living within it and that it could recognize and protect only the rights of individuals, not the rights of corporate institutions, such as the church or universities, or the rights of the regions as separate entities with distinct customs and interests. Because only individuals were subject to the law, only individuals could hold title to land. As nothing should impede the development of the individual, so nothing should impede the state in guaranteeing the rights of the individual.

Liberals also agreed on the necessity of a written constitution, a parliamentary government, and a centralized administration, as well as the need for laissez-faire economics. All factions found a voice in the army and drew leadership from its ranks. All had confidence that progress would follow naturally from the application of liberal principles. They differed, however, on the methods to be used in applying these principles.

The Moderates saw economic development within a free market as the cure for political revolution. They argued for a strong constitution that would spell out guaranteed liberties. The Progressives, like the Moderates, were members of the upper and the middle classes, but they drew support from the urban masses and favored creation of a more broadly based electorate. They argued that greater participation in the political process would ensure economic development and an equitable distribution of its fruits. Both factions favored constitutional monarchy. The more radical Democrats, however, believed that political freedom and economic liberalism could only be achieved in a republic.

The army backed the Moderates, who dominated the new regency in coalition with supporters of Isabella's succession. Local political leaders, called caciques, regularly delivered the vote for government candidates in return for patronage and assured the Moderates of parliamentary majorities. The Progressives courted the Democrats enough to be certain of regular inclusion in the government. State relations with the church continued to be the most sensitive issue confronting the government and the most divisive issue throughout the country. Despite their anticlericalism, the Moderates concluded a rapprochement with the church, which agreed to surrender its claim to confiscated property in return for official recognition by the state and a role in education. Reconciliation with the church did not, however, win the Moderates conservative rural support.

Modest economic gains were made during the administration of General Leopoldo O'Donnell, an advocate of laissez-faire policies, who came to power in 1856 through a pronunciamiento. O'Donnell had encouraged foreign investors to provide Spain with a railroad system, and he had also sponsored Spain's overseas expansion, particularly in Africa. Little economic growth was stimulated, however, except in Catalonia and the Basque region, both of which had already possessed an industrial base. Promises for land reform were broken.

O'Donnell was one of a number of political and military figures around whom personalist political parties formed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most of these parties failed to survive their leaders' active political careers. O'Donnell, for example, formed the Liberal Union as a fusion party broad enough to hold most liberals and to counter the drift of left-wing Progressives to the Democrats. After several years of cooperating with the one-party parliamentary regime, the Progressives withdrew their support, and in 1866 a military coup toppled O'Donnell.

In 1868 an army revolt, led by exiled officers determined to force Isabella from the throne, brought General Juan Prim, an army hero and popular Progressive leader, to power. Isabella's abdication inaugurated a period of experimentation with a liberal monarchy, a federal republic, and finally a military dictatorship.

As prime minister, Prim canvased Europe for a ruler to replace Isabella. A tentative offer made to a Hohenzollern prince was sufficient spark to set off the Franco-Prussian War (1870- 71). Prim found a likely royal candidate in Amadeo of Savoy, son of the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel II. Shortly after Amadeo's arrival in Spain, Prim was assassinated, leaving the new king, without a mentor, at the mercy of hostile politicians. The constitution bequeathed to the new monarchy did not leave Amadeo sufficient power to supervise the formation of a stable government. Mistrustful of Prim's foreign prince, factional leaders refused to cooperate with, or to advise, Amadeo. Deserted finally by the army, Amadeo abdicated, leaving a rump parliament to proclaim Spain a federal republic.

The constitution of the First Republic (1873-74) provided for internally self-governing provinces that were bound to the federal government by voluntary agreement. Jurisdiction over foreign and colonial affairs and defense was reserved for Madrid. In its eight-month life, the federal republic had four presidents, none of whom could find a prime minister to form a stable cabinet. The government could not decentralize quickly enough to satisfy local radicals. Cities and provinces made unilateral declarations of autonomy. Madrid lost control of the country, and once again the army stepped in to rescue the "national honor." A national government in the form of a unitary republic served briefly as the transparent disguise for an interim military dictatorship.

Spain History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress