Event honors 200th Anniversary of Spain’s Constitution of Cádiz

On Friday, October 19, Florida Coastal School of Law, the City of St. Augustine, and Florida International University College of Law collaboratively hosted a conference honoring the 200th Anniversary of Spain’s Constitution of Cádiz.

In conjunction with other celebratory events held in St. Augustine the next day, this on-campus event served to reflect upon Florida’s first constitution and featured panel discussions addressing many facets of the constitution and its anniversary, including the impact on religious freedom, Florida property rights, and other controversies.

“You don’t have an appreciation, in my view, of the law unless you know how it evolved and developed,” said Professor and Director of International Programs John Knechtle. “I think that’s the value of a conference like this. Many Americans don’t realize or are unaware of our Spanish history. It’s important to know our history. It just gives you a richer appreciation of this country to understand our connection to Spain.”

cadizThe keynote speaker, Spain’s Consul General to Puerto Rico Eduardo Garrigues, discussed key provisions of the Constitution of Cádiz, the promulgation of the Constitution in East Florida, the impact of the Cádiz Constitution on the constitutions of Latin America, and religious freedom and property rights under the Cádiz Constitution and the laws of Florida. The event also featured discussions from Professors Matthew Mirow and Victor Uribe of Florida International University; Glenn Boggs, Professor Emeritus of Florida State University; as well as Coastal Law professors John Knechtle and Gerald Moran. (See Moran’s cover story on page 12.)

“The Spanish influence in and about Florida is so distant – it’s really important to reflect on the significance of the Spanish possession of Florida,” said Professor Gerald Moran, who spoke on the political and legal implications of the U.S. Acquisition of Florida. “The Constitution of Cádiz reflects the best side of Spain in terms of trying to reach new standards of human values in a country which was not known for that kind of respect.”

The Cádiz Constitution, named for its signing place located in southern Spain, introduced the Spanish Empire and its colonies to many progressive ideas including fundamental human rights protected by law. Signed on March 19, 1812, this liberal constitution included other drastic changes for the Spanish like the incorporation of elections, representative government, separation of powers and a mandatory balanced budget. Even though it lacked its own bill of rights, the Cádiz Constitution included inspiration from French and American ideals like freedom of speech and thought, freedom of peaceful assembly, property rights and other civil liberties.

The constitution still allowed slavery to continue and prohibited the exercise of any religion other than Roman Catholic. This constitution didn’t necessarily break a lot of new ground internationally but it certainly broke new ground for Spain.

“The concept of a representative government was a huge step forward for Spain at that time – to have a truly democratic election,” said Knechtle. “Spain was very progressive in the breadth of their representation – it wasn’t just a legislative body for Spain but there were also representatives from Florida, from Cuba, from Mexico, Venezuela, Columbia – all the way down through their colonies. I would put that in the category as revolutionary for its time because that was not what England had or France had and it’s really not what the U.S. had, either. You can look at the U.S. territories today and that’s still not the case.”

Drafted by a representative body in Spain called the “Cortes,” which included a representative elected by residents of St. Augustine, Pensacola, and Havana, the Cádiz Constitution radically changed the absolute monarchy that had presided over the Spaniards for the previous 300 years. In St. Augustine, the constitution was proclaimed on October 17, 1812, and with it came a new form of government for the city – a Council consisting of the governor, a mayor, and five aldermen. Unfortunately, the constitution was annulled by decree in 1814, which subsequently ended the government by Council in St. Augustine. By order of the king, all the monuments to the constitution were to be demolished, but the people in St. Augustine refused to destroy theirs. It continues to stand today as a testament to the multicultural development of the city.

“We have a very diverse history,” said Knechtle. “The influences and the development of our law were not just from England but also Spain, France, and there was even some impact from the Native Americans in our development and growth. To get a complete picture of our history you have to be aware of that diversity. When I was growing up I only heard about the British, so I felt like there were huge chunks of our history that I missed out on. I really appreciate going back and learning – filling in those missing chapters.”