The Spanish Constitution: History, Development & Key Topics

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

The Spanish Constitution, similar to the U.S. Constitution, outlines their ~'recipe~' for enacting governmental structure and citizen rights. Follow the history of its relatively recent inception and the key topics that were developed since the 1970s. Updated: 10/20/2021

Spanish Constitution

Most things you do have directions. For example, most board games have rule books, and most dishes have a recipe for you to follow. For many national governments, the governing recipe often starts with a constitution. Usually a document or series of documents establishing the basic structure and laws of a country's government and the rights its citizens enjoy, constitutions are used as the founding documents of many Western countries. Spain is no different, though its own constitution was written less than 40 years ago, in 1978. In this lesson, we will explore the history and contents of Spain's Constitution.

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  • 0:02 Spanish Constitution
  • 0:38 History
  • 1:39 Development
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That Spain would write a constitution or become a relatively democratic state in the 1970s was no sure thing. Though incremental moves toward a democratic system were made in the 19th century, in the early 20th century Spain was still technically a centralized monarchy ruled by the king. In the midst of political turmoil in the early 1930s, Spain's King Alfonso XIII abdicated the throne and declared Spain a republic in 1931. Unfortunately, the republic's rule quickly dissolved, and the country fell into a civil war.

In 1937, the Spanish Civil War ended with the triumph of General Francisco Franco, who soon installed a fascist dictatorship with himself as its head. When he died in 1975, he instructed that Juan Carlos de Borbon, Alfonso XIII's grandson, should resume the monarchy. Juan Carlos, however, had other ideas. Soon after Franco's death, the newly coronated king of Spain declared Spain a constitutional monarchy and ordered a constitution to govern the people of Spain and the new government's institutions to be drawn up.


The Constitution was written after elections took place in Spain. For the first time since the rise of Franco's dictatorship, Spain held democratic elections in 1977 for its traditional representative body, the Cortes. After the body met, the 36-member Committee of Constitutional Affairs appointed seven delegates to draft the Constitution. The Constitution was drafted over several months, and after it was finished, it was subject to a protracted debate and political arguments amongst the general Cortes.

For example, even before the Cortes could vote on the Constitution, its members had proposed over 1,000 amendments! Finally, the finished and revised document was put before the Cortes in October 1978, where it passed overwhelmingly. The Constitution was then put to a national referendum, where it passed with 88% of the vote. In December of 1978, the Constitution was ratified by King Juan Carlos I himself, becoming the binding legal basis for the government of Spain.


Writing a constitution for a country like Spain was no easy task. With the exception of the short and tumultuous Spanish republic of the 1930s, Spain had only known authoritarian dictators or monarchs; what legislatures existed were often exclusive bodies with little or no actual power. The writers were essentially starting from scratch. One old institution that the writers did keep was the king.

The Spanish Constitution declares Spain to be a constitutional monarchy, where the king is the official head of state and the symbol of the country. It also establishes Spain as a democratic country where the real political power rests in the hands of the people, who together elect a bicameral representative body, a legislative branch of government with two houses. The longest section of the Spanish Constitution by far is that which sets out the rights and freedoms enjoyed by all Spaniards. After decades of political and social repression under Franco's authoritarian regime, it's no surprise that the framers of the 1978 Constitution expounded the basic rights of Spaniards so forcefully.

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