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Le spectre du jacobinisme

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Jean-Baptiste Busaall

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1Through an approach to comparative constitutional law both cultural and historical, this book seeks to offer a new answer to an old question: whether or not the first Spanish liberal movement and the first written constitutions of the so-called Catholic Monarchy found their models in the experiences and legacy of the French revolution?

2In removing the legitimate king, the French intervention in the Iberian Peninsula in 1808 had sparked off a crisis of sovereignty. Napoleon sought to have a change of dynasty accepted which would allow him to place his elder brother on the last remaining Bourbon throne. To that end, he had a Spanish deputation gather at Bayonne to receive a constitution adapted to those of the Empire. The new constitutional regime of Joseph Bonaparte never succeeded in acquiring a base of support beyond a part of the elite circles, who while desirous of reform, feared nothing more than a popular revolution. On the other side of the political spectrum, both opposing French domination and severing relations with those authorities which subjected to it, local communities (pueblos ) in territories not occupied by imperial troops rose up on both shores of the Atlantic in defence of their king, their religion and their laws. The disappearance in practice of the central State apparatus left a public space open to the expression of hitherto censored ideas. From 1808 onwards, the struggle for independence acquired a dual meaning. The pueblos had to be freed not only from foreign domination but also and most importantly from the political order held responsible for the situation. The need for a constitution arose from the critique of absolutism. The people who would eventually become the liberales strove resolutely and tirelessly to impose one, even though the elites who had restored public authority wished first and foremost to preserve the status quo pending the return of the legitimate monarch. In 1812 the Cortes of Cadiz, having proclaimed themselves representatives of the sovereign nation, adopted a Constitution which, over and above its institutional dimension, became a symbol of the freedom conquered by the nation on its own. The official discourse conceived this constitution as bringing up to date the common traditions of the kingdoms constituting the Monarchy, which guaranteed the freedoms of the pueblos by limiting royal power. For its adversaries, on the other hand, it was a mere copy of the French Constitution of 1791 and the liberales were nothing but afrancesados. As the opposing sides were forming within the camp of the resistance to Napoleon, the word afrancesado also began to be used to designate those collaborating with the Bonapartist regime. The political struggle thus entrenched a long standing opposition between, on the one hand, an association of novelty, constitution and liberal ideas with France, and on the other hand, a definition of the genuine Spanish identity as traditional, monarchical and Catholic. In that opposition «Frenchness» — whatever that may have referred to — served as a referent to define this identity.

3Because the French revolution espoused the aspirations of the Enlightenment and sought to bring reality in conformity with reason, it has impinged on the minds of contemporaries to the point of becoming an inescapable reference mark. Its protagonists and successive supporters had held it up as a model for the liberation of peoples, while among its adversaries — not to say its victims, traumatised by a complete overturning of the social order — it had prompted the emergence of Reaction. This doctrine, underpinning political action, provided the foundation for a new alliance of throne and church against an immediate enemy which in reality was simply the momentary embodiment of what some identified as the spirit of Jacobinism, the root of all dissidences, revolts and disorders.

4For this study it was therefore necessary to enquire into French influence on the Spanish revolution, in terms of both anti-Jacobin bugbears and of actual achievements. The constitutional field imposed itself by the fact that it was the essential stake in the crisis. Since on the one hand the association between constitution and Frenchness has historically had a political dimension, and since on the other hand this reference to foreignness was above all part of a discourse on Spanish identity, then the task of identifying French influences has required us to question a long lasting traditional historiography founded on the idea of the afrancesamiento of Spain following the age of the Enlightenment.

5This book thus revisits the definition and cultural origins of the first written constitutions, linking Joseph Bonaparte’s reign and the patriotic resistance in a same endeavour to propose a solution to the constitutional crisis. An analysis of the Constitution of Bayonne and the differences of interpretation between the French and their Spanish collaborators reveals the limits of the French legal system’s contribution to the traditional Catholic order and the importance of this experience in the emergence of 19th Century conservative liberalism. The study of constitutional debates and of the stakes of a new composition of power, in the absence of a king placed beyond reproach, helps to explain how the constitutional idea which finally succeeded gave birth to a model of jurisdictional constitution in which French precedents were no more than accessories. Thus, although models built on the French experiences held a preponderant place in political discourses, their influence in legal enactments was limited.

6This book is aimed at scholars interested in Spanish revolution, liberalism and constitutional history, and those studying the influence of French models. It might also concern jurists interested in phenomena of transfers of law, imitations of constitutional institutions and in the legal implications of the evolution and shift in mentality from the Modern to the Contemporary Era.

© Casa de Velázquez, 2012

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