It was founded by Guillermo de Rivas during the controversy originated by the so-called Padlock Bill, against the establishment of any more religious orders in Spain. It suffered a very unsuccessful management during its first months and it was sold to Ángel Herrera Oria and his Asociación Católica Nacional de Propagandistas (ACNdP). Herrera Oria edited the newspaper from 1911 to 1933.
Ideologically, it was very conservative and clerical, and journalistically it was very modern. It imported journalistic techniques from the United States and in 1926 opened the first Journalism School of Spain. It was the first newspaper with specific sport information. During the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923–1930) it supported the previous censorship in order to protect religious, moral and juridical values. When the Second Republic was proclaimed, the newspaper uttered its compliance to the new regime, although this annoyed of many of its monarchist readers.
During the Second Republic (1931–1936) the government suspended its activity several times. It supported the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (CEDA), the rightist and possibilist coalition that won election in 1933. After the beginning of the Civil War, the facilities were the newspapers of the ACNdP publishing house, Editorial Católica, were printed, were confiscated by the Communist Party of Spain and Republican Left. While the Communist voice, Mundo Obrero, was printed using the material of Ya, a little pre-war newspaper, Política, the voice of Republican Left took El Debate ones. After the war, the Francoist government did not wish its reestablishment and Editorial Católica re-issued Ya, a newspaper with less political significance, that was the actual heir of El Debate.
- Bajo el control obrero. La prensa diaria en Madrid durante la guerra civil, 1936-1939, PhD Thesis, by Juan Carlos Mateos Fernández. Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 1996.
- Artola, Miguel (ed.): Enciclopedia de Historia de España, Madrid: Alianza, V, pp. 387–388