Part I: The Road to La Gloriosa

It was the second of September of the year 1868. Isabel II, Queen of Spain and all of its colonies, and the last in a long line of monarchs that descended from the Sun King and Emperor Carlos I of Spain, was walking along the La Concha Beach, in the northern city of San Sebastián. Accompanying her were her son and heir Alfonso, her four daughters Isabel, María del Pilar, María de la Paz and Eulalia, and a large group of courtesans, ready to do anything that may grant them the favour of the Queen, and thus benefits of many kinds.

They did not know that any benefits they may gain would soon turn to ashes, dust and nothing else.

Isabel II had risen to the throne in a tumultuous period of the history of Spain: she was just three years old when her father, the absolutist tyrant Fernando VII, nicknamed El Rey Felón (the Felon King) for his total intransigence that had ruined the start of Spanish liberalism and provoked Spanish America's independence, died from age and illness. Her crowning had been opposed by the Infante Carlos María Isidro de Borbón, who was supported by the reactionary elements of Spanish society, while the liberal politicians and troops had stepped behind her, hoping that she would be the one to bring new glory and freedom to the Spanish nation.

However, that hope was, not shattered, but eventually broken: Isabel had become a sad, capricious woman, who thought of the Crown and what it represented as her own property, to do as she wished; forced into a marriage with Francisco de Asís de Borbón, an homosexual and ambitious man she intensely disliked, both of them sought young attractive men to bed them, an attitude that was causing scandals in the nation; the political system formed by General Ramón María Narváez's Partido Moderado (Moderate Party) and also General Leopoldo O'Donnell's Unión Liberal (Liberal Union), which excluded the more liberal Partido Progresista (Progressive Party) and Partido Demócrata (Democrat Party) had stagnated, and was seen as an absolute failure, as very soon it became clear that the Presidency of the Council of Ministers was open for any high-ranking military officer that managed to seduce the Queen and sleep with her; and the Royal Court was dominated by Neo-Catholic councilors who were trying to convince Isabel to return to the Ancien Régime her father had imposed during his reign

Not all done during Isabel's reign was bad: the relatively long periods of peace between pronunciamientos and revolts allowed for the industrialization of Spain, which had been destroyed by the Independence war and halted by the anti-liberal purges launched by Fernando VII, and a railway network was starting to expand, connecting all towns and cities of Spain to each other. Unfortunately, these economical reforms came with even more problems: Mendizábal's land seizures, while they had given much money to the Spanish battered Treasury, had culminated in the concentration of lands in the hands of a few landowners; the industrial and railroad businesses had been darkened due to great swindles forged by the richest families of the time, including the Royal Family itself; and the dissatisfaction of the lower classes with their economical situation was becoming greater as time passed.

It was all these factors that had led many military men and politicians to realize that Spain was a boiler, and that it would explode if it was not given a proper valve. One of them was other General, Juan Prim, who at the time was the leader of the Progressive Party. Seeing that, if he did not act soon, Spain would not end well, he decided to plan and execute several military uprisings, which led to several short-lived exiles to other European nations.

The last, definite impulse to the would-be revolutionaries was the European economic crisis of 1866, which acquired even greater strength in Spain due to many factors that had highlighted the many problems the economic policies of the successive governments chosen by Isabel, among them the inadequate industrialization of Spain and the concentration of the credit risk on the railroad business and in the public debt, compounded by the loss of many harvests due to floods and the First Pacific War, which had brought no benefits to Spain. The crisis would also highlight the many differences and contradictions of Spanish society, that threatened to break the nation:

  • Most of the population, which worked in the agricultural sector, was given paltry wages for long hours of hard and strenuous work in the fields, while the landowning oligarchy was able to squander their riches without any care.

  • The industrial and commercial bourgeoisie, which was starting to appear in the Spanish cities, had to contend with the financial oligarchy in order to manage to face the many problems they had to expand their businesses.

  • The problems that already existed in Catalonia and were starting to appear in the Vascongadas and Asturias, between the bourgeoisie and a worker class who had to work in very deplorable conditions to earn enough money to feed themselves and their families.

This, and much more, would be the start of the end for Isabel's reign.

Part II: The Last Years of Bourbon Spain

June 1866 had seen the Sargentada of the San Gil Barracks, which had led to the executions of many sergeants that had tried to support another uprising. Prim was exiled to Geneva, from where he left for Ostende (Belgium): it was in this city where the Progressive Party and the Democrat Party (led by Cristino Martos and Francisco Pi y Margall) signed the Ostende Pact in August of that same year, by which both parties agreed to work together in order to force the end of Isabel's monarchy, which was destroying Spain, and replace the current regime with an actual democratic system, with a Constituent Assembly chosen by male universal suffrage deciding the future of the nation after the revolution ended.

1867 say how the plans of the Ostende Pact members gave their first fruits, and, while it was yet too early to sing victory, it did allow for another step to be given in the desired direction. Leopoldo O'Donnell's death in 1867 gave the leadership of the Liberal Union to General Francisco Serrano, previously known as one of the queen's lovers, as well as being suspected to be Alfonso's father. After seeing how the Moderates were monopolizing power and how the Neo-Catholics were gaining more influence with the Queen, the Unionists believed that, in order to keep their influence in Spain, their only choice was to join the winning side, and thus they joined the opposition to Isabel's rule. Serrano was able to bring with him the support of many soldiers and army officers, as well as the generous economic aid of the Duke of Montpensier, Antoine de Orléans, who was Isabel II's brother-in-law by virtue of having married Isabel's sister Luisa Fernanda, and who aspired to become King of Spain, either by his own right or as a consort.

The definite wounding of the Isabeline regime happened in April 1868: Ramón María Narváez, nicknamed El Espadón de Loja and main defender of the monarchy, died. Isabel II decided then to support the continuity of power of the Moderates, giving the position of President to Luis González Bravo. In order to not give the Neo-Catholics or any other military man the chance to take his position, González Bravo decided to govern against everyone, slowly turning Spain into a dictatorship through repression, exile and censure, thus earning the hate of all Spaniards. González Bravo could be heard proclaiming his pride at showing how a civilian could also direct a dictatorship.

Luis González Bravo would soon become known as the last President of Isabel's reign. For this was the situation when an honorable sailor that worked with the opposition decided it was the moment to shout Enough! and initiate the revolution that would conduct them to freedom or death.

Part III: La Gloriosa

September 18th 1868. Port of Cádiz, birthplace of Spanish constitutionalism. Juan Bautista Topete, Admiral of the Spanish Fleet anchored in the city, and member of the opposition, rises up against González Bravo's government and proclaims the end of the Bourbon monarchy, represented by Isabel II.

During the previous sixty years of Spanish history, the Spanish Army had led many interventions against the government in order to impose order, interventions that would become part of the popular memory under the name of pronunciamientos militares. However, this was the first time that the Navy participated actively in a pronunciamiento, and not only that, but they were the ones to lead it. And this time, the uprising was being done with a clear intention: to oust Isabel II from power, to eliminate her dictatorial monarchy and to finally give to Spain the liberalization it deserved, through the recognition of citizens' rights and where national sovereignty would reside in the nation, who would choose their representatives through male universal suffrage.

A day later, Generals Juan Prim (who had arrived from his London exile after a brief stopover in Gibraltar) and Francisco Serrano (who brought with him all the generals that had been exiled in the Canary Islands by González Bravo) arrived to the city of Cádiz, from where they would take the reigns of the revolution that would initially be named the Revolución de Septiembre (September Revolution) but would become part of the history of Spain as La Gloriosa.

Very soon, the revolution found great support from the people, who were fed up with Isabel's reign and wanted to gain their freedom, and rebellions rose up in Andalusia and Eastern Spain. Prim and Topete traveled from port to port along the Mediterranean coast in order to feed the fire that had been lit in the hearts of the Spaniards, while Serrano took an overland route from Cádiz to Seville, from where he would leave for Madrid at the head of an army with which he expected to invade Madrid.

However, this advance was stopped in the town of Alcolea (Córdoba), when Serrano received news that troops loyal to the Queen and led by Manuel Pavía y Lacy, Marquis of Novaliches were advancing towards Andalusia. On September 28th, the two armies met: both armies had a similar number of troops, and the loyalists had more artillery, but the revolutionaries had the knowledge that the events in the rest of Spain were playing in their favour, and this gave them greater courage.

After an initial assault by the loyalists was repealed by Serrano's troops, Novaliches decided to personally lead a second assault in order to prevent demoralization from seeping into his men. This assault ended in complete failure, for not only were the revolutionaries able to stop it, but Novaliches was gravely injured in the face. The loyalist army was forced to retreat towards the north, allowing the revolutionaries to have free passage to Madrid, which they were able to occupy with the support of the local people.

When the defeat of Novaliches' troops arrived to the Court, which was staying in San Sebastián, they realized there were only two options the Queen could take: the forced exile of the Royal Family to nearby France, where they would be able to wait for news about the revolution, and perhaps the possibility of returning, or the immediate abdication of the Queen in the person of her son and heir, Prince Alfonso, perhaps saving in this way the Spanish throne for the Bourbon dynasty. The courtiers gave the queen the best advice they had, which would be forever the best they would offer, and suggested her to choose the first option. Thus, Isabel II decided to keep her historical rights to the Crown of the Catholic Monarchs, exiling herself and her family on September 30th to the city of Biarritz, France, where Emperor Napoleon III put comfortable chambers to their disposition.

The entrance of Serrano's troops in Madrid, and the exile of the Royal Family, meant the end of the revolution. Power was locally transferred from the Isabeline authorities to Revolutionary Juntas that had been chosen by popular acclaim or through democratic elections.

Finally, on October 5th, the Provisional Government was formed. Its task would be long and arduous, for they would have to initiate the process for the establishment of the Constituent Assembly and the development and ratification of a new Spanish Constitution, but when that moment came, Spain would be ready.

Part IV: The Provisional Government and the Constituent Assembly

The Provisional Government was presided by General Serrano and represented, in equal parts, by Unionists and Progressives. Unionists Juan Bautista Topeta, Juan Álvarez Lorenzana, Antonio Romero Ortiz and Adelardo López de Ayala from the Liberal Union took the Ministries of the Navy, Foreign Affairs, Justice and Overseas, respectively, while Progressives Juan Prim, Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, Manuel Ruiz Zorrilla and Laureano Figuerola were chosen as Ministers of War, Home Affairs, Public Works and Treasury.

The election of the Provisional Government was met with the first frictions in the coalition, as the Democrats, who were suffering an internal division between the Francisco Pi y Margall's Republicans and Cristino Martos' Monarchists, had been left out of the government, despite having been on the coalition for far more time than the Unionists.

This, fortunately, did not cause many problems save for a few complaints which were easily handled by the government, especially considering the trove of problems they had to get through: their first actions were aimed at the concession of the promises given to the people, especially those concerning public and political rights. The government also published a manifest to announce the many political reforms they had already established, as well the first economic reforms, impulsed by Minister Figuerola, that would finally allow the Spanish economy to recover from the many disasters of the past.

The local elections to select the mayors that would replace the Revolutionary Juntas would be held in December, while January 1869 would have the long-awaited national election to the Constituent Assembly. During the months between the establishment of the Provisional Government and the national election, the former approved several decrees that would be temporary replacements for the law on certain important matters, and would be legal until the Constitution was finally approved. Thus, the freedom of press, right to assemble and associate, freedom of religion and academic freedom were legislated and confirmed, while the the institution of the jury was recognized, and male universal suffrage was finally granted.

The previous problems within the Democrat Party became exacerbated when the Provisional Government chose the Constitutional Monarchy as the form of government, citing the little success republics had had in Europe, as well as the distrust a Spanish Republic would awake in the rest of Europe: the Republican faction, with Pi y Margall at the helm decided to break up with the Democrats and form their own party, the Partido Republicano, which supported a United States-like federal republic, a move also supported by some of the Revolutionary Juntas and, later, by the local governments where the Republicans had won the local elections, showing that the federalism from the pre-Bourbons' times was not dead, and their anti-militarist and anti-clerical discourse was finding many adepts and supporters.

Unfortunately for those that disliked it, the first main problem the government was forced to concentrate was the Cuban insurrection. Cuba and Puerto Rico, which for years had been treated almost as personal fiefdoms by General Captains that had almost absolute power and that were still held under the yoke of a slave-based economy, had been on the brink of exploding, which happened around the same time La Gloriosa started. The rebellion in Puerto Rico, which started five days before the Battle of Alcolea, had been easily put down by local forces, and although the rebels were condemned to death, the new governor, José Laureano Sanz, dictated a general amnesty for the rebels, some of which were nonetheless exiled.

The Cuban rebellion, which was started by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes on October 10th with the so-called Grito de Yara, was not as easy to put down due to the fact that the rebels would soon initiate a brutal guerrilla war, whose main scenario were bloody machete charges by former slaves that were liberated by the rebels, that would engulf the whole island, thanks to local support for the guerrillas. Many factors came into play, among them Spain's almost brutal economic exploitation of the island, the lack of support for the local economy, the Cuban people's complete lack of political rights and freedoms, and the existence of a society tacitly approved by the Isabeline governments consisting on a class division based on racial prejudices and the existence of slavery. In spite of the rebels' inability to take control of any great city, and the arrival of new Captain General Domingo Dulce with the new measures approved by the Provisional Government, the rebels did not surrender.

Considering the situation as very alarming, the Provisional Government was forced to do what they did not want and initiate a conscription program to form an army with which the rebels could be defeated. This played into the hands of the Republicans, who supported the establishment of a Spanish federal nation where Cuba would be one state, and the popular classes started to feel a certain letdown, and considered that Cuba would become La Gloriosa's cancer if something was not done soon.

All these problems did not mean that political life stopped: on January 15th, the Spaniards were called to the urns, so that they could vote in the Constituent Assembly. 70% of the electoral census, for the first time formed by all Spanish males, chose their representatives to the Assembly, which was formed by the following:

  • Government Coalition: 236 Deputies

  • Partido Progresista: 134 Deputies

  • Unión Liberal: 69 Deputies

  • Partido Demócrata: 33 Deputies

  • Republican Party: 85 Deputies

  • Federalist faction: 83 Deputies

  • Centralist faction: 2 Deputies

  • Carlist Party: 20 Deputies

  • Isabeline independents: 11 Deputies

  • Non-elected: 29 Deputies

    • Cuban representatives: 18 Deputies

    • Puerto Rican representatives: 11 Deputies

After the results were made public, and desiring a continuation with respect of the Provisional Government, Serrano maintained the Presidency of Government with the support of War Minister Juan Prim and the same composition as the Provisional Government, and a Constitutional Commission was formed, consisting on equal numbers of Progressive, Unionist and Democrat politicians and legislators, whose task would be to develop a new Constitution for the Kingdom of Spain.

Part V: The New Constitution

Fortunately for the people of Spain, the Constitutional Commission worked very fast and finished the text, of medium extension, in only three months: having been finished by the end of May, it was approved on June 1st by 214 Ayes, 55 Nays and several abstentions, and finally promulgated five days later by the Constituent Assembly in the name of the Spanish Nation that had chosen them as their representatives. The text would be further expanded with the addition of the Law of June 10th of 1870, related to the election of the King.

As many would be able to read, the Spanish Constitution of 1869 drank from many sources to write down the most important matters: the Constitution of the United States of America gave it a broad declaration of rights and freedoms, the Belgian Constitution provided the role of the Crown in the new kingdom, and, above all, the historical 1812 Constitution, La Pepa, which had a general influence in the text.

The Constitution was a clearly democratic one, a declaration based on the recognition of national sovereignty based on male universal suffrage, as well as an advocacy of individual rights as natural rights, so any posterior legislation could only regulate the bad use of those rights. This stance was opposed by Isabeline politician Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, who stated that individual rights had to be regulated and limited through legislation to prevent social disorders and the violation of those rights.

A very harsh discussion was held around the religious question, the role religion would have in the new Spain. The first days of La Gloriosa had seen the demolition of many convents by the Revolutionary Juntas, and the Provisional Government had already ordered the closure of all monasteries and religious houses built after 1837 (the year of the 1837 Constitution, which established the obligation by the nation to maintain the Catholic cult and clergy as compensation for the land expropriations of 1836) and had banned the Jesuit Company from Spanish territory.

Despite the Spanish Catholic Church's efforts to get the new government to accept the Concordat of 1851, which established Spain's religious union and Catholic denomination, broad jurisdictional attributions and the compliance of the Catholic dogma in public education, among other privileges, the government was clear in that freedom of religion would be an inalienable right, and part of the Constitution. This led to the ironic situation of liberals supporting freedom of religion with religious arguments while conservatives supported religious union with political arguments.

In the end, to keep everybody content, the maintenance of Catholic cult and clergy was kept in the Constitution, while public and private exercise of all cults was allowed for both Spaniards and foreigners, and access to public office and acquisition and exercise of civil and political rights became independent of the religion professed by the Spaniards.

The political system would also gain a complete change, as separation of powers would become effective in order to turn Spain into an actual, effective parliamentary monarchy.

Legislative power would reside in the General Courts, which would be formed by two chambers, the Congress of Deputies and the Senate. Both would be elected through male universal suffrage, and among their attributions was the control of the government's actions. Congress would be voted in every three years through direct suffrage, with each deputy representing a district, while the Senate would be chosen through indirect suffrage, would represent local interests and only a fourth of it would be renewed every three years (so one Senator would hold its position for twelve years) unless the King ordered a renovation. Although both chambers were supposedly equal in functions, Congress would be the most powerful one, as they would be the ones to approve projects of law, taxes and many others, although several other powers were reserved to the Senate to make up for this.

Executive power would, theoretically, reside in the Crown and King, but, as the person of the King was inviolable and legal non-responsibility, executive power would in practice be held by the Government, who would exercise it through the ratification system. The King would also have the power to freely appoint and dismiss his ministers (although this still required the confidence of the Courts), to call and suspend the Courts, the sanction and promulgation of laws and the legal authority and competences concerning the executive power, as well as the classical attributions of a Head of State.

Judicial power would finally become independent from the government and responsible before the law, reinforcing its members' independence through competitive examinations in the judicial career – although the King still had the power, with the approval of the Council of State, to appoint no more than a fourth of the judges of the Courts and the Supreme Court without them having to pass through examinations. Judge by jury was established for all political crimes and those crimes determined by common law. It also advocated the union of codes of law – save for the now limited military and ecclesiastical jurisdictions – which had yet to be finished from the first attempts in the Cádiz Courts.

It was also established that towns' and province's interests would correspond to the respective councils; that, after the deputies from Cuba and Puerto Rico took their seats, the government system in both islands would be reformed, and that a similar reform would be undertaken in the Philippines and the rest of the Spanish Pacific Islands.

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