In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Cádiz Constitution and Liberalism

  • Introduction
  • Historical Overviews
  • Primary Sources
  • Contemporary Debates
  • The Atlantic Approach and the Revoluciones Hispánicas
  • Influence of First Spanish Liberalism in the Western World

Latin American Studies The Cádiz Constitution and Liberalism
Roberto Breña
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0161


In 1812, in the middle of the occupation of almost all of the Iberian peninsula by the French army, a group of around 300 deputies from Spain, Spanish America, and the Philippines promulgated a liberal constitution in the Mediterranean port of Cádiz (this was possible to a large extent because the city was protected by the British Navy). This document meant a radical change from the way in which the Spanish Empire had worked for centuries. The constitutional monarchy that the Constitution of 1812 tried to put in place did not come to fruition because in May of 1814 king Fernando VII declared it invalid and restored absolutism. However, Cádiz and the Constitution of 1812 was a very important period in the political and intellectual history of the Spanish-speaking world and represents a major contribution to Western political thought and practice during the Age of Revolutions. The study of the Cádiz Constitution, of liberalism, and of its manifold relations with Spanish America during the first quarter of the 19th century has witnessed such a revival in the past two decades that it may be a temptation to say that this is a “new” field in the Western academic world. If this may be an exaggeration in the case of Spain and a couple of Latin American countries, it may be correct if we consider the rest of the Western world. This explains one of the main difficulties that any English-speaking scholar that doesn’t read Spanish will face if he or she wants to delve into this topic: the vast majority of the bibliography is in Spanish. The rise of Atlantic history, and more specifically of the literature on the Atlantic revolutions, is changing this situation, but it will be some time before it changes drastically (if it ever does). Another aspect that should be mentioned regarding the study of the Cádiz Constitution and liberalism is that up until fairly recently this study was almost exclusively confined to the Peninsula. That is not the case anymore: Spanish America is now a very large field of research regarding Cádiz, liberalism, and the 1812 Constitution. The bicentennials of the beginning of the crisis of the Spanish monarchy or crisis hispánica (2008), of the beginning of the “independence” movements in Spanish America (2010), and of the promulgation of the Cádiz Constitution (2012) have been the main motive behind the editorial avalanche on these topics that we have witnessed since for the past six or seven years. However, it will be some time before the academic community establishes which titles will make it beyond the “commemorative frenzy.” In any case, the importance of the participation of the Spanish American deputies in the Cádiz Cortes and of the role that Spanish liberal thought in general and the Cádiz Constitution in particular played in Spanish America during the first quarter of the 19th century are now well established. Regarding the 1812 Constitution, the political, ideological, and intellectual aspects of liberalism are essential if we are to understand the main aspects of a legal document that, with all its limitations and its very restricted application in the Peninsula, was revolutionary vis-à-vis the political principles that had sustained the Spanish monarchy for centuries. Cádiz was, more than anything else, a political revolution; however, this fact should not neglect or minimize the social and cultural implications of a period of the history of the Spanish-speaking world that evidently transcends a legal document. Because Cádiz, liberalism, and the 1812 Constitution are the main objectives of this bibliography, it centers its attention in Peninsular Spain during the six years that cover the crisis hispánica and the revolución liberal española (i.e., 1808–1814) and in Spanish America during those six years and the following decade, all through which the presence, weight, and influence of what was still the metropolis was felt in the entire region (with considerable variations among the different territories). In 1820, liberals came back to power in Spain and the Cádiz Constitution was restored. This period, known as the Trienio Liberal, lasted only three years and could not avoid the loss of the whole continental Spanish American empire. In any case, many of the books comprised in this bibliography include the Trienio. Finally, considering the tendency of contemporary Western historiography to amplify chronological spans and to emphasize continuities, some of the titles included in this bibliography cover the first half of the 19thcentury (particularly in some sections devoted to Spanish America).

Historical Overviews

The “modern” academic discussion on the Cádiz Constitution stems from the debate that took place around the middle of the 20th century between two well-known Spanish historians, Federico Suárez and Miguel Artola. Their positions were clear-cut: Suárez was very critical of the Cádiz Constitution, more specifically of its liberalism (Suárez 1950), and Artola 1999 considered that it was precisely this liberalism that gave this period of Spanish history its essential and most distinguished feature (Artola 1959, Artola 1999). Attention then turned to the Constitution specifically. Suárez’s followers considered it a bad imitation of the French Constitution of 1791, while Artola’s epigones praised its revolutionary character. Among the Spanish historians who devoted more attention to this period in the following decades is Josep Fontana. In Fontana 1979 and Fontana 2007, the author’s Marxist position in a certain way superseded the Suárez–Artola debate, but it also created other historiographic questions and problems—among others, an emphasis on “social forces” that is c insufficient to explain a revolution like the one that took place in Spain and Spanish America between 1808 and 1814.

  • Artola, Miguel. Los orígenes de la España contemporánea. 2 vols. Madrid: IEP, 1959.

    This book is the first step to approach the 1808–1814 period for anyone interested in the historiographic origins of the present study of the revolución liberal española. The first volume may be considered the book itself; the introduction (100 pages) is a socioeconomic overview of the Antiguo Régimen in Spain. The second volume is a selection of documents received by the authorities as responses to the Consulta al país carried out by the Junta Central in 1809.

  • Artola, Miguel. La España de Fernando VII. Madrid: Espasa, 1999.

    The foundational work on the reign of Ferdinand VII. Although forty-five years have transpired since its original publication, it still can be read with profit. However, Spanish America and the independence movements are not given any attention. This book originally appeared ol. 26 of the Historia de España dirigida por Ramón Menéndez Pidal (Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1968).

  • Fontana, Josep. La crisis del Antiguo régimen 1808–1833. Barcelona: Crítica, 1979.

    As a book that is part of a collection of guides to Spanish contemporary history, this volume gives a panoramic view that covers not only the political issues but also the social and economic ones. It also includes a very complete chronology of the whole period (pp. 219–260). It is clear, well written, and useful; however, the authors’ emphasis on the social aspects to explain this period is debatable.

  • Fontana, Josep. La época del liberalismo. Barcelona: Crítica/Marcial Pons, 2007.

    This book is Volume 6 of one of the most recent histories of Spain; it covers Spanish history from 1808 to 1874. Only chapter 2 is devoted to Cádiz. The project in general is directed to the educated reader, and this volume in particular fulfills its objective. However, Fontana tends to establish a direct link between the failure of liberalism and the lack of attention the liberals gave to the Spanish people (more concretely, to peasants), an interpretation that is open to debate, for several other variables should be equally taken into consideration

  • Suárez, Federico. La crisis política del Antiguo Régimen en España. Madrid: Rialp, 1950.

    This book establishes what could be considered the standard “conservative” perspective of the transition from the Antiguo Régimen to the Spain that emerges after the death of Ferdinand VII. Although its traditionalism and antiliberalism now appear simplistic and outdated, it still is an important reading for someone interested in the origins of the historiographic debate about Cádiz and liberalism that went on during the second half of the 20th century.

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