Revolutionary Spain by Karl Marx 1854

First Published: in New-York Daily Tribune, December 1, 1854.


There were some circumstances favorable to the assembling at Cadiz of the most progressive men of Spain. When the elections took place, the movement had not yet subsided, and the very disfavor which the Central Junta had incurred recommended its antagonists, who, to a great extent, belonged to the revolutionary minority of the nation. At the first meeting of the Cortes, the most democratic provinces, Catalonia and Galicia, were almost exclusively represented; the deputies from Leon, Valencia, Murcia and the Islas Baleares, not arriving till three months later. The most reactionary provinces, those of the interior, were not allowed, except in some few localities, to proceed with the elections for the Cortes. For the different kingdoms, cities and towns of old Spain, which the French armies prevented from choosing deputies, as well as for the ultramarine provinces of New Spain, whose deputies could not arrive in due time, supplementary representatives were elected from the many individuals whom the troubles of the war had driven from the provinces to Cadiz, and the numerous South Americans, merchants, natives and others, whose curiosity or the state of affairs had likewise assembled at that place. Thus it happened that those provinces were represented by men more fond of innovation, and more impregnated with the ideas of the eighteenth century, than would have been the case if they had been enabled to choose for themselves. Lastly, the circumstance of the Cortes meeting at Cadiz was of decisive influence, that city being then known as the most radical of the kingdom, more resembling an American than a Spanish town. Its population filled the galleries in the Hall of the Cortes and domineered the reactionists, when their opposition grew too obnoxious, by a system of intimidation and pressure from without.

It would, however, be a great mistake to suppose that the majority of the Cortes consisted of reformers. The Cortes were divided into three parties — the Serviles, the Liberales (these party denominations spread from Spain through the whole of Europe), and the Americanos, the latter voting alternately with the one or the other party, according to their particular interests. The Serviles, far superior in numbers, were carried away by the activity, zeal and enthusiasm of the Liberal minority. The ecclesiastic deputies, who formed the majority of the Servile party, were always ready to sacrifice the royal prerogative, partly from the remembrance of the antagonism of the Church to the State, partly with a view to courting popularity, in order thus to save the privileges and abuses of their caste. During the debates on the general suffrage, the one-chamber system, the no-property qualification and the suspensive veto the ecclesiastic party always combined with the more democratic part of the Liberals against the partisans of the English Constitution. One of them, the Canon Cañedo, afterward Archbishop of Burgos, and an implacable persecutor of the Liberals, addressed Señor Mufioz Torrero, also a Canon, but belonging to the Liberal party, in these terms:

“You suffer the King to remain excessively powerful, but as a priest you ought to plead the cause of the Church, rather than that of the King.

Into these compromises with the Church party the Liberals were forced to enter, as we have already seen from some articles of the Constitution of 1812. When the liberty of the press was discussed, the parsons denounced it as “contrary to religion.” After the most stormy debates, and after having declared that all persons were at liberty to publish their sentiments without special license, the Cortes unanimously admitted an amendment, which, by inserting the word political, curtailed this liberty of half its extent, and left all writings upon religious matters subject to the censure of the ecclesiastic authorities, according to the decrees of the Council of Trent. On August 18, 1813, after a decree passed against all who should conspire against the Constitution, another decree was passed, declaring that whoever should conspire to make the Spanish nation cease to profess the Catholic Roman religion should be prosecuted as a traitor, and suffer death. When the Voto de Santiago was abolished, a compensatory resolution was carried, declaring Saint Teresa de Jesus the patroness of Spain. The Liberals also took care not to propose and carry the decrees about the abolition of the Inquisition, the tithes, the monasteries, etc., till after the Constitution had been proclaimed. But from that very moment the opposition of the Serviles within the Cortes, and the clergy without, became inexorable.

Having now explained the circumstances which account for the origin and the characteristic features of the Constitution of 1812, there still remains the problem to be solved of its sudden and resistless disappearance at the return of Ferdinand VII. A more humiliating spectacle has seldom been witnessed by the world. When Ferdinand entered Valencia, on April 16, 1814,

“the joyous people yoked themselves to his carriage, and testified by every possible expression of word and deed their desire of taking the old yoke upon themselves, shouting, ‘Long live the absolute King!’ ‘Down with the Constitution!”

In all the large towns, the Plaza Mayor, or Great Square, had been named Plaza de la Constitución, and a stone with these words engraved on it, erected there. In Valencia this stone was removed, and a “provisional” stone of wood set up in its place with the inscription: Real Plaza de Fernando VII. The populace of Seville deposed all the existing authorities, elected others in their stead to all the offices which had existed under the old regime, and then required those authorities to re-establish the Inquisition. From Aranjuez to Madrid Ferdinand’s carriage was drawn by the people. When the King alighted, the mob took him up in their arms, triumphantly showed him to the immense concourse assembled in front of the palace, and in their arms conveyed him to his apartments. The word Liberty appeared in large bronze letters over the entrance of the Hall of the Cortes in Madrid; the rabble hurried thither to remove it; they set up ladders, forced out letter by letter from the stone, and as each was thrown into the street, the spectators renewed their shouts of exultation. They collected as many of the journals of the Cortes and of the papers and pamphlets of the Liberals as could be got together, formed a procession in which the religious fraternities and the clergy, regular and secular, took the lead, piled up these papers in one of the public squares, and sacrificed them there as a political auto-da-fe, after which high mass was performed and the Te Deum sung as a thanksgiving for their triumph. More important perhaps — since these shameless demonstrations of the town mob, partly paid for their performances, and like the Lazzaroni of Naples, preferring the wanton rule of kings and monks to the sober regime of the middle classes — is the fact that the second general elections resulted in a decisive victory of the Serviles; the Constituent Cortes being replaced by the ordinary Cortes on September 20, 1813, who transferred their sittings from Cadiz to Madrid on January 15, 1814.

We have shown in former articles how the revolutionary party itself had participated in rousing and strengthening the old popular prejudices, with a view to turn them into so many weapons against Napoleon. We have then seen how the Central Junta, at the only period when social changes were to be blended with measures of national defense, did all in their power to prevent them, and to suppress the revolutionary aspirations of the provinces. The Cadiz Cortes, on the contrary, cut off, during the greater part of their existence, from all connection with Spain, were not even enabled to make their Constitution and their organic decrees known, except as the French armies retired. The Cortes arrived, as it were, post factum. They found society fatigued, exhausted, suffering; the necessary product of so protracted a war, entirely carried on upon the Spanish soil; a war in which the armies, being always on the move, the Government of today was seldom that of tomorrow, while bloodshed did not cease one single day during almost six years throughout the whole surface of Spain, from Cadiz to Pamplona, and from Granada to Salamanca. It was not to be expected that such a society should be very sensible of the abstract beauties of any political constitution whatever. Nevertheless, when the Constitution was first proclaimed at Madrid, and the other provinces evacuated by the French, it was received with “exultant delight,” the masses being generally expecting a sudden disappearance of their social sufferings from mere change of Government. When they discovered that the Constitution was not possessed of such miraculous powers, the very overstrained expectations which had welcomed it turned into disappointment, and with these passionate Southern peoples there is but one step from disappointment to hatred.

There were some particular circumstances which principally contributed to estrange the popular sympathies from the constitutional regime. The Cortes had published the severest decrees against the Afrancesados or the Josephites. The Cortes were partly driven to these decrees by the vindictive clamor of the populace and the reactionists, who at once turned against the Cortes as soon as the decrees they had wrung from them were put to execution. Upwards of 10,000 families became thus exiled. A lot of petty tyrants let loose on the provinces evacuated by the French, established their proconsular authority, and began by inquiries, prosecution, prison, inquisitorial proceedings against those compromised through adherence to the French, by having accepted offices from them, bought national property from them, etc. The Regency, instead of trying to effect the transition from the French to the national regime in a conciliatory and discreet way, did all in their power to aggravate the evils and exasperate the passions, inseparable from such changes of dominion. But why did they do so? In order to be able to ask from the Cortes a suspension of the Constitution of 1812, which, they told them, worked so very offensively. Be it remarked, en passant, that all the Regencies, these supreme executive authorities appointed by the Cortes, were regularly composed of the most decided enemies of the Cortes and their Constitution. This curious fact is simply explained by the Americans always combining with the Serviles in the appointment of the executive power, the weakening of which they considered necessary for the attainment of American independence from the mother country, since they were sure that an executive simply at variance with the sovereign Cortes would prove insufficient. The introduction by the Cortes of a single direct tax upon the rental of land, as well as upon industrial and commercial produce, excited also great discontent among the people, and still more so the absurd decrees forbidding the circulation of all Spanish specie coined by Joseph Bonaparte, and ordering its possessors to exchange it for national coin, simultaneously interdicting the circulation of French money, and proclaiming a tariff at which it was to be exchanged at the national mint. As this tariff greatly differed from that proclaimed by the French in 1808, for the relative value of French and Spanish coins, many private individuals were involved in great losses. This absurd measure also contributed to raise the price of the first necessaries, already highly above the average rates.

The classes most interested in the overthrow of the Constitution of 1812 and the restoration of the old regime — the grandees, the clergy, the friars and the lawyers — did not fail to excite to the highest pitch the popular discontent created by the unfortunate circumstances which had marked the introduction on the Spanish soil of the constitutional regime. Hence the victory of the Serviles in the general elections of 1813.

Only on the part of the army could the King apprehend any serious resistance, but General Elio and his officers, breaking the oath they had sworn to the Constitution, proclaimed Ferdinand VII at Valencia, without mentioning the Constitution. Elío was soon followed by the other military chiefs.

In his decree, dated May 4, 1814, in which Ferdinand VII dissolved the Madrid Cortes and cancelled the Constitution of 1812, he simultaneously proclaimed his hatred of despotism, promised to convene the Cortes under the old legal forms, to establish a rational liberty of the press, etc. He redeemed his pledge in the only manner which the reception he had met on the part of the Spanish people deserved — by rescinding all the acts emanating from the Cortes, by restoring everything to its ancient footing, by re-establishing the Holy Inquisition by recalling the Jesuits banished by his grandsire, by consigning the most prominent members of the juntas, the Cortes and their adherents to the galleys, African prisons, or to exile; and, finally, by ordering the most illustrious guerrilla chiefs, Porlier and de Lacy, to be shot.