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Discovering the Constitution of Cadiz

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The following is a guest post by Ángel García, a summer intern in the Law Library’s Global Legal Research Center.

March 19, 2012, will be the 200th anniversary of the Constitution of Cádiz.  Seizing on the opportunity while interning at the Law Library of Congress, I asked the rare book technician, Nathan Dorn, to find me an original copy of this 1812 Constitution.

The Spanish Constitution of 1812 was passed in the Oratorio San Felipe.  Its passage coincided with the celebration of the feast of St. Joseph and it was therefore given the nickname “La Pepa.”  The Constitution was applied during only six years due to the tumultuous period in which it was adopted (independence wars and several revolutions and civil wars).

The Constitution is not only a milestone in Spanish history, but it is also a universal milestone.

The Spanish Constitution of Cádiz was approved during the time of the French invasion (Cádiz was one of the few cities that was not invaded) and its main inspirations were the old laws of the Kingdom of Spain as well as the enlightened liberalism of the French and U.S. constitutions.  It shattered the utopian character of the French constitution, but also used enlightenment elements that constituted a very particular revolution against the “Old Regime” in the Spanish empire.

Furthermore, this constitution had an impact on many other European constitutions, as well as on the American states after independence.  It was the first constitution in Europe to deal with national sovereignty – it recognized sovereignty as coming from the people and not from the king.  Moreover, unlike the French constitution, which applied to all French-speaking citizens of France, the Spanish Constitution of 1812 had a completely universal character (including everyone from overseas – the Italian kingdoms, the Philippines, etc).  Francisco Macías has previously written about how the constitution also applied in Mexico.

The Constitution was written in part by American representatives in the Spanish courts, and was also translated into several languages ​​for its application.  Therefore, we can say that this is the only truly universal constitution approved in a parliament.

With regard to the United States, it is significant that the current states of Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming and were included in the Constitution.  This was therefore the first Constitution to be enforced in those territories.

The Law Library has in its collection many copies of different Spanish constitutions from the past two centuries.  It’s great being around so much of my country’s history, even though I’m far from home!

Comments (8)

  1. Very interesting information about the States included in the spanish Constitution of Cádiz of 1812. Thans for mentioning the celebration of 200 year anniversary.

  2. Can you tell me the name of the representative from New Mexico who attended the signing presentation of this constitution in 1812? Thanks for posting this. Mark

    • Ángel has researched your question and found that the most accurate answer is that the representative was Francisco Xavier Venegas, who was the viceroy of the New Spain Viceroyalty (Virreinato de Nueva España) in 1812. Francisco Xavier Venegas and his government swore allegiance to the Constitution, which was not fully applied due to the Mexican independence movement that was about to start and also due to the Iberian War. In 1820, Spain promulgated another Constitution which was applied in Nueva España also (affecting New Mexico). In 1821, Mexico proclaimed its independence and several years later ceded New Mexico after the Mexican-American war.

      For more information see Fernando Orozco Linares, Gobernantes de México (1985)

      Thanks for your interest!

  3. There is a copy of the 1812 Spanish Constitution dedicated to “AL Liberalismo del Noble, Sabio, Y Virtuoso Brama Ram-Mohan Roy La Compania de Filipinas”. The title page reads “Constitucion Politica de la Monarquia Espanola, Promulgia en Cadiz a 19 Marzo de 1812”. Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) was the great Bengali (Indian) reformer.

    Is there any one who can explain how such an historic document was dedicated to someone who had no direct connection to Spain?

    • At the risk of oversimplifying the spread of “Iberian liberalism,” it appears that ideas associated with it went from Spain and Portugal to India by way of Portuguese India. Sir Christopher Alan Bayly, a British historian whose scholarship focuses on British imperialism and Indian history, has recently published a book for which I’ve included the bibliographic information below. In it he covers the historical and political environment where “the liberal pronouncements of the Cadiz and Lisbon constitution of 1812 and 1822 were spread by newspapers and word of mouth to Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras” (Bayly 42-43). Of particular interest to this subject are chapters 2 and 3: “The advent of liberalism in India: constitutions, revolutions and juries”; and “The advent of liberal thought in India and beyond: civil society and the press.” The book refers to Rammohan Roy in several excerpts; and there is even a subchapter titled “Rammohan Roy and the ‘Ancient Indian Constitution.’”

      Bayly, C.A. Recovering Liberties: Indian Thought in the Age of Liberalism and Empire. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. (

  4. Thank you for this response. I noted this in Bayly’s excellent book. My question is how did it happen that this copy, published during the Tiernio Liberal reform around 1822-23, was dedicated specifically to Raja Rammohan Ray? Were Jeremy Bentham and Francisco Espoz y Mina involved? General Espoz y Mina worked with Bentham on the constitution. during his exile in London. He had also fought under the Duke of Wellington who drove the French out of South India.

  5. this is a list of the delegates from Mexico that worked on the Constitution of 1812.

    Joaquin Maniau Torquemada
    Mariano Mendiola Velarde
    Juan José Garayo
    José María Couto Ibea
    José Ignacio Beye Cisneros
    Octaviano Obregón
    Pedro Bautista Pino
    José Miguel Ramos de Arizpe
    Andrés Savariego

  6. where was it written

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