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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.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress