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Conference examines birth of modern liberalism in Spain

Conference examines birth of modern liberalism in Spain

Scholars from Canada, Spain and Mexico will discuss the birth of liberalism amid the tumultuous struggles for independence in Spain during the 1800s, next week at Glendon.

Cádiz, 1812: The Birth of Modern Liberalism will take place Wednesday, March 21, starting at 4pm in the Glendon Hall BMO Conference Centre, Glendon College. The event is free and everyone is welcome to attend as long as seating is available.

There will be presentations by three speakers – York history Professor Adrian Shubert, history Professor José Álvarez Junco of the Complutense University of Madrid and political history Professor Roberto Breña at the Center for International Studies at El Colegio de Mexico – followed by a Spanish musical interlude and a reception offered by Eudaldo Mirapeix, the ambassador of Spain to Canada.

Junco will talk about the political ideas behind the constitution of Cádiz, particularly the contemporary meaning of "freedom" and "nation". A history professor in Madrid, Junco was the former director of the Center for Political & Constitutional Studies, a role that saw him report directly to the deputy prime minister. He was also a member of the advisory committee that prepared the law on Historical Memory of 2007.

Breña will discuss the importance the constitution of Cádiz had in Latin America. The constitution was proclaimed in 1810 in the midst of struggles for independence in most of Spain's American empire, which complicated those struggles.

The idea and funding for the event came from the Embassy of Spain in Ottawa, particularly from Juan Claudio de Ramón Jacob-Ernst, the newly arrived cultural attaché. “Cadiz 1812 is an enormous milestone in the Spanish political and constitutional history. It was our first constitution and arguably one of the most advanced of its time. It marked the passing from the old to the new regime, from dynastic to popular sovereignty, from absolutism to liberalism,” says de Ramon Jacob-Ernst. “It was revolution amidst war."

In the middle of the struggle against the Napoleonic aggressor, elected representatives from all parts of Spain, including the American territories and the Philippines, gathered in a small town besieged by land and sea to assert the sovereignty of the nation.

“It was during this parliament that the word ‘liberal’ was first used as a political label for people who supported constitutional and elected governments. The constitution was intended to apply to Spain and its American colonies, and the colonies sent deputies to sit in the parliament,” says Shubert. He will talk about the constitution's influence in Spain and its colonies, as well as outside the Spanish world, including its reception by one of the forerunners of nationalism in India. “The constitution of Cadiz was also important in other parts of Europe, especially Portugal and Italy."

As de Ramon Jacob-Ernst says, "To put it in Churchillian terms, we could say that Cadiz, 1812 represents our finest hour, the founding stone of our liberal tradition. It was our tragedy and shame that Ferdinand VII, the very same king for whose return from captivity the Spaniards so fierce fully fought, abrogated the constitution when he came back from exile, with the support of the most conservative sections of Spanish society and other European monarchs, fearful of liberalism in their own constituencies.”

The Constitution was revoked following the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, proclaimed again after a revolution in 1820 and revoked again in 1823.

The Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Russian and Latin-American revolutionaries took it as a model for their own constitutions, says de Ramon Jacob-Ernst. “Because of the epic of the moment, the beauty of the text and the failure to make it a living document, the Constitution of Cadiz was soon idealized and look upon ever since with melancholy by Spanish liberals and democrats. Clearly, it laid the foundation for our current Constitution of 1978.”

The event is organized by the Embassy of Spain, Glendon College, York University, the Consulate General of Spain in Toronto, Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo and Spain Arts & Culture.

To reserve a seat, e-mail or

Republished courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.