The Spanish Magna Carta & the Constitutional & Functioning Laws

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  • 0:07 Spanish Magna Carta
  • 0:40 MC in History
  • 1:39 1978 Consitution
  • 3:36 Constitutional &…
  • 4:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

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

In this lesson, we explore both the Spanish historical version of the Magna Carta and the current constitutional document which the term often refers to. In addition, we also explore the difference between laws made by that document and those made by other means.

Spanish Magna Carta

Most companies, organizations, or teams have mottoes or founding principles. For example, the U.S. Marine Corps motto, 'Semper Fidelis,' means 'Always Loyal.' While the spirit of organizations can often be encapsulated eloquently in just a few words, the foundational documents of governments are often far more complex. In this lesson, we'll examine some of the founding documents of the Spanish republic, both historical and modern, and the differences between laws made by these documents and laws made by other means.

MC in History

When you think of the term 'Magna Carta' you probably think of the 1215 English document which set up the parameters for one of Europe's earliest parliamentary systems. What you probably didn't know was that a similar, less heralded evolution of parliamentary government took place in the Spanish kingdom of León even earlier! Indeed, in 1188, King Alfonso IX required new taxation money to continue fighting wars with Portugal and Muslim rulers in southern Spain.

In order to secure this money and ensure the support of the important aristocrats and clergy, Alfonso called for a meeting with these nobles in San Isidoro in León. In exchange for the increased taxation, Alfonso agreed to improve his government's administration and curb any abuses of power. In addition, he made certain guarantees concerning advising the nobility on future matters of war and taxation, though, it should be noted, these promises were broken at times by Alfonso and by future kings.

1978 Constitution

Though this is the closest thing Spain has to the Magna Carta of English history, when most Spaniards today speak of 'La Carta Magna' they are often referring to the 1978 Spanish Constitution which lays out the forms and functions of modern Spanish government and, most importantly, the rights enjoyed by Spanish citizens. The Constitution was written after Spain had endured nearly four decades of military dictatorship under General Francisco Franco. When Franco died in 1975, the succeeding monarch, King Juan Carlos de Borbon, declared Spain a constitutional monarchy and ordered for the drafting of a constitution.

The Spanish Constitution was ratified by Spain's governing bodies, the people, and the king himself in 1978. Most importantly, it lays out the basic rights that all Spaniards enjoy. Many of these are consistent with the rights of other democratic, Western countries, such as the right to due process of the law, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and the equality of all races, religions, and ethnicities in the eyes of the law. Rather uncharacteristically, the Spanish Constitution also includes certain bargaining rights for trade unions and guarantees all of its citizens an old-age pension.

In addition to Spaniard's basic rights, the Constitution also lays out the basic structures of Spanish government. It confirms Spain as a constitutional monarchy, one where most representatives are elected in a democratic process. In addition, it makes Spain a three-branch government, with an executive branch composed of the king (the symbolic head of state) and the president (the de facto head of state). The Constitution also says Spain's legislative branch should be bicameral, with a lower, but more powerful, House of Deputies and an upper, but less powerful, Senate. The third branch is composed of Spain's ordinary courts and courts of constitutional authority.

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