Origins of Sovereignty and Rights of Man in French and Spanish Constitutions

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According to this text are all the men equal in rights? What are the rights of man according to the text?

Yes, they are because says that all men are born free.

What is the origin of sovereignty according to the text? According to the text, can you be punished for something that is not forbidden by law? Who can take part in politics (make laws) according to the text?

The origin of sovereignty is the nation (line 6). No, you can be punished for something that is not forbidden by law (lines 11-12). All the citizens can take part in politics (lines 14-15).

Do you know during which phase of the French Revolution was signed this text: National Assembly, Constitutional Monarchy, First French Republic or Directory? Do you think that the principles of this texts were respected during the French Revolution?

The National Assembly because was signed in 1789. No, because the rights of Man were not respected during the Terror neither under Napoleon.

According to this document who is considered a member of the Spanish nation? What is the origin of the sovereignty? What is the religion of the Spanish nation?

All the Spanish people in Spain and America (art. 1). The origin of sovereignty is the Nation (art. 3). The religion of the Spanish Nation is the Catholic (art. 12).

Who has the legislative power according to the document? Who has the executive power? And the legislative power? Do you think that the document recognizes the division of powers? Who choose the Cortes according to the document?

The Cortes and the King shared the legislative power (art. 15). The King has the executive power (art. 16). Yes, because the king has the executive power and the parliament has the legislative power.

Do you think that this is a democratic constitution? What is the name of this constitution? When was signed?

Yes, because the citizens chose the Cortes and recognized division of powers. The 1812 Constitution and was signed in 1812.


What are the territories colored in light brown (1)? What are the territories colored in purple (2)? And the territories colored in orange (3)?

The territories colored in light brown are the territories annexed to France, the ones colored in purple are the satellite states of France, and the ones colored in orange are the countries allied against Napoleon.

Which country controlled this empire (4)? Who was its ruler?

It is the French Empire and was led by Napoleon.

Can you identify the countries numbered 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10?

The number 5 is Prussia; the 6 is Russia; the 7, the Austrian Empire; the 8 is the Swiss confederation; the 9 the Confederation of the Rhine; and the 10, the Grand Duchy of Warsaw (Poland).

What is the meaning of the grey lines (1)? And the meaning of the red lines (2)?

The grey lines are the campaigns of the French Army and the red lines are the offensives of the British army.

What was the chronology of this war? Which country invaded Spain? What was the excuse to introduce troops in Spain?

This war took place between 1808 and 1804. Spain was invaded by France.

Could the invaders control all Spain? Who fought against them apart from Spanish army? Who led the resistance against the invasion?

No, they couldn’t, because they had to fight against the guerrilla, armed civilians that attacked by surprise. The resistance was led by different councils (Juntas).


The colonies had a difficult relation with Great Britain due to:

  • The 1763 Royal Proclamation which banned settlements west of the Appalachian mountains.
  • The tax increases.
  • Lack of representation in the British parliament.
  • The Enlightenment ideas developed a desire for Independence in the colonists.

The American War of Independence.

After the Seven Years War, the British King, George III, needed to reduce the debt of Great Britain. In order to achieve this, he raised the taxes on colonial products. The colonists refused to pay these taxes, and 1773 in Boston they threw the tea of British ships into the sea: the Boston Tea Party. In 1775, after more protests, the American War of Independence broke out between:

  • Great Britain.
  • The colonies supported by France and Spain.

In 1776, by the Declaration of Independence, the 13 Colonies declared themselves an independent republic: the United States of America. In 1783, by the Treaty of Versailles, Great Britain accepted its Independence. In 1787, the United States Constitution established a federal government with George Washington as the president.

The independence of the United States was important because:

  • Led to the United States’ expansion westward through colonization.
  • It inspired the Independence of the Spanish colonies in America.
  • Influenced the events that led to the French Revolution.


The main causes of the revolution were:

  • Economic crisis as a result of the royal court’s excessive spending and the contribution to the American War of Independence.
  • Bad harvests had led to a rise in the Price of wheat and hunger.
  • An unfair tax system. Only ordinary people (the Third Estate paid taxes).
  • The exclusion of the wealthy and educated bourgeoisie from important positions in society led to a desire of change.
  • The ideas of the Enlightenment (social and political reform) and the example of the Independence of the American colonies.

The formation of the National Assembly.

The request of the Third Estate were rejected and their representatives left the hall and meet on the tennis court, where they declared themselves representatives of the French Nation: the National Assembly. They promised to create a constitution for France. The ordinary people of Paris supported the Assembly and stormed the Bastille, a symbol of absolute power, and in the rural areas castles and palaces were also attacked. The union of the bourgeoisie, the urban workers and the peasants forced the King to recognize the new assembly.

The constitutional monarchy (1791-1792).

The National Assembly transformed France into a constitutional monarchy with several reforms:

  • Abolition of the feudal system and the privileges of the estates.
  • Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.
  • Nationalization of the land belonging to the Church.

• French Constitution of 1791 that established a separation of Powers. The monarch retained executive power, but a National Assembly elected by limited suffrage had the legislative power, and independent courts the judicial power.

The First French Republic (1792-1795).

Due to the monarchy’s betrayal and the start of the war people supported a republic. A new National Convention chosen by universal manhood suffrage was elected. The Jacobins won. In 1793, the National Convention tried and executed the King and the Queen, and the European monarchies formed a coalition against the French government. The Jacobins, led by Robespierre and supported by the Sans-culottes, detained the Girondins and established a new government to protect the Republic, the Committee of Public Safety:

  • Period of repression, the Reign of Terror, executing 50,000 people.
  • They mobilized the population to create a million men army to fight against the European coalition.
  • Political and social rights:
    • Constitution of 1793 which established universal manhood suffrage.
    • Control of wages and prices and compulsory education.

From directory to Consulate.

In 1794, the moderates carried out a coup d’etat and removed Robespierre and the Jacobins from power. They drafted the Constitution of 1795 with the following characteristics: limited suffrage, executive power: the Directory, a committee of five people; and legislative power, a parliament with two chambers: the Council of Five Hundred and the Council of Ancients. They persecuted the Jacobins and executed their leaders. Some deputies, led by Babeuf tried to establish a communist regime but were also executed. The government relied on the support of the army. As a consequence, a young general, Napoleon Bonaparte, supported by the conservative members of the bourgeoisie, led a new coup d’etat. Napoleon, created a new system of government, the Consulate, ending the French Revolution.

Domestic policy.

Napoleon imposed a dictatorship on France. First, he was proclaimed First Consul for life and 1804, Napoleon declared himself Emperor of France. He reformed the French society but repressed any opposition. Napoleon approved the French Civil Code or Napoleonic Code, that put an end to the End Regime:

  • Abolished the feudal system and the privileges of the estates.
  • Allowed civil marriage.
  • Defended secular education.

Separation of church and state, although Napoleon signed the 1801 Concordat with the Pope, accepting the Catholic Church.

Foreign policy.

Napoleon created an empire abroad, controlling most of Europe by 1810. Had two parts:

  • Napoleon annexed Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, part of Italy and a part of Germany.
  • Around this, satellite estates governed by members of his family. Were formally independent but under heavy political, economic and military control: the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, the Confederation of the Rhine, etc.

In the conquered lands, he established constitutions spreading the ideas of freedom and equality, but he was seen as a foreign invader.

The reign of Carlos IV.

The reign of Carlos IV was a time of great economic crisis in Spain, due to bad harvests that led to famine and disease and the cost of the wars of the 18th century. After the start of the French Revolution, the Spanish army invaded France but was defeated in 1795. Then, Carlos IV and his minister Floridablanca, closed the frontier and censored any information about the revolution. When Napoleon came to power, the new prime minister, Godoy, signed an alliance with France, the Treaty of San Ildefonso (1799), but as a result the Spanish fleet was destroyed in Trafalgar, making communications with the empire in America difficult. In 1807, Godoy, signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau which allowed French troops to enter Spain in order to occupy Portugal, a British ally. The French troops dispersed across Spain and occupied important cities.

Consequences of the war.

The main consequences were:

  • Nationalism: Spanish people started to feel a sense of belonging to a nation. They became citizens (ciudadanos) instead of subjects (súbditos), but they were divided between patriots, that fought against the French invasion, and afrancesados that supported Joseph Bonaparte.
  • Human and economic losses. About 500,000 people died during the war and entire cities were destroyed with terrible consequences for the economy.
  • The army. After the war, many members of the guerrillas joined the army as officers.
  • The emancipation of the colonies. The Spanish colonies in America took advantage of the war to become independent.
  • The loss of artistic heritage. During the French occupation art was stolen and sent to France. Many of them were never recovered.
  • Exile. More than 10,000 afrancesados fled Spain in fear of reprisals.

The Constitution of Cadiz (1812).

During the war, the Central Council (Junta Central, the Spanish government), took refuge in Cadiz, and under a new name, the Regency Council, convened the Cadiz Cortes in 1812. This Cortes, had 223 deputies, and for the first time in history, they represented the nation and not just the estates. Some deputies supported the absolute monarchy, but others were influenced by the Enlightenment, but reached an agreement to create Spain’s first constitution: the 1812 Constitution of Cadiz. The main characteristics of it were:

  • It established Spain as a constitutional monarchy.
  • Separation of power: the king had the executive power, legislative power shared between the king and the Cortes, and judicial power vested in the courts of justice.
  • Universal manhood suffrage.
  • Recognized rights and liberties, such as freedom of the press.
  • It abolished the Inquisition.

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