The Cádiz Cortes was the first national assembly to claim sovereignty in Spain. It represented the abolition of the old kingdoms. The opening session was held on 24 September 1810, in the building now known as the Real Teatro de las Cortes. It met as one body and its members represented the entire Spanish empire. The sessions of the national legislative body (traditionally known in Spain as the Cortes) met in the safe haven of Cádiz during the French occupation of Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. The Cádiz Cortes were seen then, and by historians today, as a major step towards liberalism and democracy in the history of Spain.
From the first days of the Peninsular War, juntas, established by army commanders, guerrilla leaders, or local civilian groups, appeared as underground opposition to the French-imposed government. Realizing that unity was needed to coordinate efforts against the French and to deal with British aid, several provincial juntas—Murcia, Valencia, Seville and Castile and León—called for the formation of a central body. After a series of negotiations which included the discredited Council of Castile, a Supreme Central Junta met in Aranjuez on 25 September 1808. Serving as surrogate for the absent royal government, it called for representatives from local provinces and the overseas possessions to meet in an "Extraordinary and General Cortes of the Spanish Nation," so called because it would be both the sole legislative body for the whole empire and the body which would write a constitution for it. By the beginning of 1810, the forces under the Junta's command had suffered serious military reverses at the battles of Ocaña and Alba de Tormes— at which the French not only inflicted large losses on the Spanish, but also took control of southern Spain and forced the government to retreat to Cádiz, the last redoubt available to it on Spanish soil, and which would lead to the Siege of Cádiz. In light of this, the Central Junta dissolved itself on 29 January 1810 and set up a five-person regency, charged with convening the Cortes. By the time the delegates were to be chosen, some of the American provinces had successfully established their own juntas, which did not recognize the authority of either the central one or the regency, and therefore, did not send representatives, although many other regions did. When the Cortes convened for the first time on 24 September 1810, 104 deputies were present, 30 of them representing the overseas territories, although only one of the thirty-six deputies elected in America arrived in time to attend the opening session. Eventually, about 300 deputies, including 63 from the New World, participated in the Cortes de Cadiz. The composition of the Cortes de Cortes was diverse, with about one third being clergymen, about one-sixth being nobles, and the remainder from the "third estate", that is, what could be considered the middle class.
Reforms and constitution
In the first session, the Cortes promulgated that it was the national sovereign since it represented the people. Afterwards, the national assembly divided the government into three branches: the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary. Given the contingencies of war which resulted from the forced displacement of Fernando VII, the Regency announced that it would act as the executive until the return of Fernando VII. But the legislative was the dominant sector of the government, and when the Regency opposed what it viewed as an infringement of its power, the Cortes arrested its members, and removed them from their position. As a result, the Cortes established a second regency.
The national assembly encountered a pivotal task, which included restructuring the government, and at the same time prosecuting a war in Spain and maintaining its power and control in their overseas possessions. Once deliberations started, the delegates split into two main currents: liberal and conservative. Conservative Spaniards saw the Cortes at Cádiz as at best an interim government until "the Desired One"—as Ferdinand VII was called by all his supporters, both liberal and conservative—could return to the throne. Most regalists, however, could not admit that a parliamentary body could legislate in the absence of a king. The liberals carried on the reformist philosophy of Charles III of Spain 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 a constitutional convention.
The product of the Cortes' deliberations reflected the liberals dominance, for the Spanish Constitution of 1812 came to be the "sacred code" of liberalism, and during the 19th century it served as a model for liberal constitutions of Latin nations. The national assembly created a unitary state with equal laws for all of the Spanish empire. 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. Furthermore, it established that the unicameral legislature would meet annually in the capital. The constitution maintained that suffrage was to not be determined by property qualifications, and it favored the position of the commercial class in the new parliament, since 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 municipalities rather than on the historic provinces. Repeal of traditional property restrictions gave the liberals the freer economy they wanted. However, the Constitution of 1812 denied the people of African ancestry political rights and representation.
A revolutionary document, the Spanish Constitution of 1812 marked the initiation of the Spanish tradition of liberalism, and when Ferdinand VII was restored to the throne in 1814, he refused to recognize it. He dismissed the Cortes Generales on 4 May and was determined to rule as an absolute monarch. These events foreshadowed the long conflict between liberals and traditionalists that marked Spanish history in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Cádiz corts declared that the people of Spain have the sovereignty of all kingdoms of the Monarchy of Spain (including Crown of Castile in Americas) and the extinction of system of kingdoms and provinces of Spain and the Indies. The Criollo people of Latin America reject the pretensions of Spaniards and assume the sovereignty of own American kingdoms of the Crown of Castile, that King of Spain before was sovereign.
Spain's American colonies took advantage of the postwar chaos to proclaim their independence, and most established republican governments. The fact that the Constitution was considered too liberal by the conservative elements in the colonies only precipitated their decision to join the effort for independence from Spain. 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. By second half of 1826 only Cuba and Puerto Rico remained under the Spanish flag in the New World.
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- Rodríguez, Mario. The Cádiz Experiment in Central America, 1808 to 1826. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978. ISBN 978-0-520-03394-8
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies. – Spain