The Rise of the Liberal State in Spain (1833-1874)

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The First Carlist War and the Rise of Isabelline Spain

Ferdinand VII's decision to allow female succession through the Pragmatic Sanction sparked conflict with his brother, Carlos Mª Isidro, leading to the First Carlist War (1833-1839). The Carlists, supporters of Carlos, defended absolutism and traditional institutions, while the Isabelline faction, backing Isabella II, embraced liberalism and reform.

Following a series of Carlist defeats, the Isabelline forces, led by General Espartero, emerged victorious. The Vergara Agreement of 1839 officially ended the war, granting amnesty to Carlist soldiers while preserving some regional autonomy (fueros).

The Implantation of the Liberal State (1833-1843)

During Isabella II's minority, her mother, Maria Cristina, assumed regency and formed a liberal government with Martínez de la Rosa, a moderate liberal. The Royal Statute of 1834 introduced limited reforms, including a bicameral legislature. However, dissatisfaction with the pace of change led to the emergence of two main liberal factions:

  • Progressives:

    Advocating for broader freedoms, wider suffrage, and locally elected officials, the Progressives, led by figures like Espartero and Mendizábal, championed economic liberalism and the creation of a national militia.
  • Moderates:

    Supported by the aristocracy and landowners, the Moderates, with leaders such as Narváez and Mon, favored a more conservative approach, strengthening royal power, restricting freedoms, and implementing a limited suffrage based on income.

Despite their differences, both factions shared a commitment to a constitutional monarchy and sought stability for the nascent liberal state.

The Constitution of 1837 and Electoral Reform

In 1836, the La Granja mutiny forced Maria Cristina to reinstate the Constitution of 1812. The Progressive leader Mendizábal, recognizing the need for a more moderate approach, initiated reforms that culminated in the Constitution of 1837. This new constitution established key principles such as national sovereignty, separation of powers, individual rights, and freedom of the press.

Alongside the constitution, an Electoral Law was passed, introducing limited male suffrage based on wealth and education.

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