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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

The Junta thereupon resigned


sitting at Aranjuez. Two months

later when Napoleon himself advanced upon the capital the _Junta_ fled to Seville, and joining with the _junta_ of that city remained in session there for over a year. It was there that the _Junta_ declared, in January, 1809, that the overseas possessions of Spain were an integral part of the kingdom, refuting the colonial claim of a connection merely through the crown. Driven out again by the French the _Junta_ took refuge in C?diz, where, in January, 1810, it appointed a Regency of five men to arrange for the calling of a _Cortes_ representative of Spain and the Americas. The _Junta_ thereupon resigned. Fearful of the radical tone that a _Cortes_ might adopt, the Regency postponed its summons as long as it could, but at last issued the call, and the _Cortes_ met in September, 1810. Very little was known at the time as to the exact status and powers of the various _Cortes_ of earlier centuries, but nothing was more certain than that the _Cortes_ of 1810 was like no other which had ever met in the peninsula. It was a single chamber body, designed to consist of elected deputies from the towns with a traditional right of representation, from the provincial _juntas_, from groups of 50,000 population, and from the Americas. Since the American deputies could not arrive in time, and since a still greater number of Spanish deputies could not be chosen by the complicated elective machinery provided, with the land mostly in the possession of the French, their places were supplied by persons
from those regions happening to be resident in C?diz. Thus the _Cortes_ came to be made up of men who did not in fact reflect the conservative temperament of the interior districts, but, rather, stood for the radical views of the people of the coast. Most of them dreamed of founding a representative body which should combine the supposed virtues of the French Revolutionary Assembly with those of the British House of Commons and the earlier _Cortes_ of the peninsula kingdoms.

[Sidenote: The Liberal _Cortes_ of 1810 and the constitution of 1812.]

One of the earliest acts of the _Cortes_ was to accept the resignation of the conservative Regency and to appoint a new body of three of that name responsible and subservient to the _Cortes_. Soon the _Cortes_ declared itself to be the legislative power, and turned over the executive and judicial authority to the Regency, following this up by declaring itself to have sovereign power in the absence of the king. When it became clear that these measures, which were bitterly opposed by the church and the other conservative elements, were also distasteful to Ferdinand, the _Cortes_ decided that all acts or agreements of the king during his captivity were to be regarded as invalid. The greatest innovation of all, however, was the famous constitution of 1812. Under a belief that they were returning to the system of the past the members of the _Cortes_ broke sharply from all the precedents of Spanish history, enthroning the people through their representatives, and relegating the crown and the church to a secondary place in the state. Among the several hundred items of this ultra-democratic document were the following: sovereignty was declared to rest with the people, to whom, therefore, was reserved the right of legislation; the laws were to be made through the popularly elected _Cortes_; the king was to be the executive, but was prevented from doing much on his own initiative by the requirement that his decrees should be countersigned by the ministers of state, who were responsible to the _Cortes_; all Spaniards in both hemispheres were declared a part of the Spanish nation; all Spanish men over twenty-five years of age were entitled to vote for members of the _Cortes_, of whom there was to be one for each group of 60,000 people; various paragraphs included a Bill of Rights, a complicated elective machinery, and the abolition of exemptions from taxation. In only one respect did a conservative tone appear in the document,--the Catholic faith was declared to be the religion of Spain, and the exercise of any other was forbidden. Nevertheless, both before and after the adoption of the constitution, the _Cortes_ had shown itself to be distinctly anti-clerical, as witness its overthrow of the Inquisition, its restriction of the number of religious communities, and the expulsion of the papal nuncio when he protested against some of these laws. It was not by their workings in practice, however, that the constitution and the laws of the _Cortes_ became important; rather it was that they constituted a program which became the war-cry of the democratic faction in Spain for years to come. The constitution of 1812 eventually got to be regarded as if it would be the panacea for all the ills of mankind, and was fervently proclaimed by glib orators, who could not have stated the exact nature of its provisions.


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