National archive marks 200th birthday of Cádiz Constitution

The display at the Archivo Nacional awaits visitors. The Constitution of 1812 is a landmark in the political systems that emerged in the Spanish-speaking world from the absolutism of the early 19th century.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Constitución de Cádiz, an attempt by embattled Spanish to create a modern, democratic society.

Costa Rica’s Archivo Nacional inaugurates a year-long exposition today. The displays are mainly copies of the historical documents relating to that time.

Costa Rica was part of the Spanish empire then, and the effects of this constitution that elevated imperial subjects to citizens generated effects that filtered down here thousands of miles away.

It was the Cortes de Cádiz, the first legislature of Spain, that emitted the decree. The bulk of the country was under the control of the French. Napoleon Bonaparte had named his brother Joseph as the head of government.

The gathering in Cádiz was a government nearly in exile.

Eventually Spanish irregulars and British troops forced the French from Spain in an extraordinarily bloody effort. The 1812 constitution was progressive for its time because it established freedom of the press, a constitutional monarchy and land reform. The document also encouraged education and influenced the philosophy of the current Poder Judicial, said
the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud of which the national archives in Curridabat is a part.

Fernando VII voided the document when he returned from exile in 1814 on the heels of the French retreat. But the seeds had been planted. The document again came into force in 1820 when Fernando was forced to make concessions, but by then the effect on America was moot.

Manrique Jiménez Meza, a constitutional expert, and historians Juan Rafael Quesada Camacho and Manuel Benavides Barquero will discuss the document and its impact on Costa Rica after the inauguration at 5 p.m. today. The title of the exposition is De vasallos a ciudadanos, meaning From “Vassals to Citizens.”

It would be nine more years, until 1821, that the Spanish possessions in America gained their freedom as a result of the Mexican war of independence, although the Cádiz document gave Costa Rica some more autonomy.

Florencio Castillo was a legislator from Costa Rica and Nicoya 200 years ago, and he participated in drafting the Spanish constitution. In all, there were 296 legislative deputies in Spain and the Americas involved. The exposition contains some of his correspondence.

The Spanish Embassy helped with the exposition and supported publication of the catalogue.

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