Hispanic heritage acquisitions: Constitutions of 19th-century Spain

Constitución política de la monarquía española (1812)
October 14, 2015

Our Hispanic Heritage Month series would not be complete without mentioning our largest single acquisition of Hispanic legal materials in recent memory: a collection 21 volumes containing 25 titles on 19th-century Spanish constitutions, especially the famous Constitution of Cádiz of 1812. The image at left is from the title page of its first edition (Cádiz: Imprenta Real, 1812).

The Constitution of Cadiz and its immediate predecessor, the Constitution of Bayona, emerged from the political and social crises of the Napoleonic wars. Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain in 1808 and replaced the Bourbon monarch Fernando VII with his brother Joseph. My friend and colleague Matthew Mirow gives an excellent summary of its significance:

“[The Constitution of Cadiz] is often considered one of the first liberal constitutions in Europe and in America. Like the United States Constitution, the Constitution of Cddiz had great influence during the drafting of the first constitutions of the Americas during the independence period. This document, consisting of 384 articles in about forty pages of text, established sovereignty in the nation and not in the king. The Roman Catholic religion received substantial preference under the Constitution, and the practice of other religions was prohibited. The text included provisions that evinced a liberal bias: representative elections at multiple levels of government, restrictions on the power of the king, rights to property, and rights for the criminally accused. Because the Constitution was drafted by deputies representing not only peninsular Spain but also the American provinces, it was the first truly transatlantic constitution, and the American influences on the Constitution and vice-versa have been a subject of substantial speculation, historical scholarship, and debate.” – M.C. Mirow, “Pre-Constitutional Law and Constitutions: Spanish Colonial Law and the Constitution of Cádiz,” 12 Washington University Global Studies Law Review 313 (2013), at 315.

The richness of our collection is not only in the various editions of the constitutions themselves, but also in the texts that propose, discuss, and explain the constitutions. In addition to the first edition of the Constitution of Cádiz (shown above), other highlights include:

Alvaro Flórez Estrada’s Constitución para la nación española (Birmingham: Swinney y Ferrall, 1810) is a proposed draft of a new constitution by one of Spain’s leading liberals. Flórez Estrada published his proposed draft of a new constitution while in England. At the end is his vigorous plea for freedom of the press.

This proposed draft of the Constitution of Cádiz was published in Mexico City, a reminder of its transatlantic reach. Many of the delegates to the Cortes that ratified the constitution were from Latin America.

The illustrated edition of 1822 is my personal favorite. Allegorical images depict the adoption of the Constitution of Cádiz and each of its ten titles. In his proposal to Congress, the artist, José María de Santiago, proposed a book that combined the splendor that such a precious text deserved with the convenience of a pocket size. Our copy is the only one in the U.S., according to OCLC.

An 1836 Alicante edition of the Constitution of Cádiz, extremely rare, bears the bookplate of María Cristina de Borbón, Queen consort of Fernando VII, and regent for her infant daughter Isabella II.

The frontispiece of the Constitution of 1837 (Madrid: Imprenta Nacional, 1837) bears an allegorical portrait of María Cristina de Borbón, depicting her as “the Restorer of Spanish Liberty”. Her regency set off the Carlist Wars, and when her re-marriage to an ex-sergeant in her guard came to light, the scandalized Spanish exiled her to France.

Below is a complete list of our newly acquired Spanish Constitutions collection. Hopefully its research value will inspire students and scholars to exploit it.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian





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