Spanish Constitution of 1931
The Spanish Constitution of 1931 meant the beginning of the Second Spanish Republic
Second Spanish Republic
The Second Spanish Republic was the government of Spain between April 14 1931, and its destruction by a military rebellion, led by General Francisco Franco....

, the second period of Spanish history
History of Spain
The history of Spain involves all the other peoples and nations within the Iberian peninsula formerly known as Hispania, and includes still today the nations of Andorra, Gibraltar, Portugal and Spain...

 to date in which the election
An election is a formal decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office. Elections have been the usual mechanism by which modern representative democracy operates since the 17th century. Elections may fill offices in the legislature, sometimes in the...

 of both the positions of Head of State
Head of State
A head of state is the individual that serves as the chief public representative of a monarchy, republic, federation, commonwealth or other kind of state. His or her role generally includes legitimizing the state and exercising the political powers, functions, and duties granted to the head of...

 and Head of government
Head of government
Head of government is the chief officer of the executive branch of a government, often presiding over a cabinet. In a parliamentary system, the head of government is often styled prime minister, chief minister, premier, etc...

 were democratic. It was effective from 1931 until 1939. The Republic " was the culmination of a process of mass mobilisation and opposition to the old politics of notables." According to the historian Mary Vincent the Constitution envisaged "a reforming regime with an explicit and self-conscious view of what modernising Spain should entail. A secular state operating according to the rule of law with an admittedly ill-defined sense of social justice would open the way for an educated body of citizens to enjoy 'European' prosperity and freedom."

A constitutional draft prepared by a commission under a reformist Catholic lawyer Ángel Ossorio y Gallardo
Ángel Ossorio y Gallardo
Angel Ossorio y Gallardo was a liberal Catholic Spanish lawyer and statesman. He first came to political prominence as leader of the Partido Social Popular. Inspired by Luigi Sturzo's Italian People's Party, the PSP was founded in 1922 but broke up after Primo de Rivera's coup of 1923...

 having been rejected , an amended draft was approved by the Constituent Assembly on 9 December 1931. It created a secular democratic system based on equal rights for all citizens, with provision for regional autonomy. It introduced female suffrage
Women's suffrage
Women's suffrage or woman suffrage is the right of women to vote and to run for office. The expression is also used for the economic and political reform movement aimed at extending these rights to women and without any restrictions or qualifications such as property ownership, payment of tax, or...

, civil marriage and divorce. It permitted the state to expropriate private property, with compensation, for reasons of broader social utility. It also established free, obligatory, secular education for all and dissolved the Jesuits. According to Frances Lannon however, the articles on property and religion, with their exaltation of state power and disregard for civil rights, "virtually destroyed any prospect there had been for the development of a Catholic, conservative, Republicanism." The constitution, essentially establishing an anticlerical government, in general broadly accorded civil liberties, the rights of Catholic being a notable exception. Commentators have noted that the hostile approach to church-state relations was a significant cause of the breakdown of of the republic and of the civil war.

The Second Spanish Republic lasted from April 14, 1931 to July 18, 1936 (military uprising) or April 1, 1939 (republican defeat by Francoist forces).


The Second Republic began on 14 April 1931 after the abdication of King Alfonso XIII
Alfonso XIII of Spain
Alfonso XIII was King of Spain from 1886 until 1931. His mother, Maria Christina of Austria, was appointed regent during his minority...

, following local and municipal elections in which republican candidates won the majority of votes in urban
Urban area
An urban area is characterized by higher population density and vast human features in comparison to areas surrounding it. Urban areas may be cities, towns or conurbations, but the term is not commonly extended to rural settlements such as villages and hamlets.Urban areas are created and further...

 areas. The abdication led to a provisional government
Provisional government
A provisional government is an emergency or interim government set up when a political void has been created by the collapse of a very large government. The early provisional governments were created to prepare for the return of royal rule...

 under Niceto Alcalá Zamora, and a constituent Cortes
Constituent Cortes
Constituent Cortes is the description of Spain's parliament, the Cortes, when convened as a constituent assembly.In the 20th century, only one Constituent Cortes was officially opened , and that was the Republican Cortes in 1931.The Cortes in 1977 enacted the new Spanish constitution...

 to draw up a new constitution
A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. These rules together make up, i.e. constitute, what the entity is...


The Second Republic in 1931 brought enormous hopes for Spanish workers and peasants, and in social terms some advances were made, especially for women. Prime Minister Manuel Azaña
Manuel Azaña
Manuel Azaña Díaz was a Spanish politician. He was the first Prime Minister of the Second Spanish Republic , and later served again as Prime Minister , and then as the second and last President of the Republic . The Spanish Civil War broke out while he was President...

 asserted that the Catholic Church was responsible in part for what many perceived as Spain's backwardness and advocated the elimination of special privileges for the Church on the grounds that Spain basically is horrible at life. Azaña wanted the Second Spanish Republic to emulate the pre-1914 Third French Republic, make secular schooling free and compulsory, and construct a non-religious basis for national culture and citizenship.

Provisions of the Constitution

Following elections in June 1931 the new parliament approved an amended constitutional draft on 9 December 1931.

The constitution introduced female suffrage, civil marriage and divorce. It also established free, obligatory, secular education for all. However, anti-clerical laws nationalized Church properties and required the Church to pay rent for the use of properties which it had previously owned. In addition, the government forbade public manifestations of Catholicism such as processions on religious feast days, dissolved the Jesuits and banned Catholic education by prohibiting the religious communities of nuns, priests and brothers from teaching even in private schools.

The new Constitution provided for universal suffrage
Universal suffrage
Universal suffrage consists of the extension of the right to vote to adult citizens as a whole, though it may also mean extending said right to minors and non-citizens...

 and a created a secular
Secular state
A secular state is a concept of secularism, whereby a state or country purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and claims to avoid preferential...

 but anticlerical state, including the prohibition of teaching by religious orders and the banning of the Society of Jesus
Society of Jesus
The Society of Jesus is a Catholic male religious order that follows the teachings of the Catholic Church. The members are called Jesuits, and are also known colloquially as "God's Army" and as "The Company," these being references to founder Ignatius of Loyola's military background and a...


The constitution also made the right to property subject to the public good, such that it could be nationalized
Nationalisation, also spelled nationalization, is the process of taking an industry or assets into government ownership by a national government or state. Nationalization usually refers to private assets, but may also mean assets owned by lower levels of government, such as municipalities, being...

 as long as the owner was compensated.

Anti-clerical provisions

The Second Republic had an anticlerical bias. Although the constitution generally accorded thorough civil liberties and representation, there was a notable exclusion regarding the rights of Catholics, a flaw which prevented the forming of an expansive democratic majority.
The controversial articles 26 and 27 of the constitution strictly controlled Church property and prohibited religious orders from engaging in education. This was seen as explicitly hostile to religion, both by supporters of the established Church, but also by advocates of church/state separation, one such advocate of separation, Jose Ortega y Gasset
José Ortega y Gasset
José Ortega y Gasset was a Spanish liberal philosopher and essayist working during the first half of the 20th century while Spain oscillated between monarchy, republicanism and dictatorship. He was, along with Nietzsche, a proponent of the idea of perspectivism.-Biography:José Ortega y Gasset was...

, stated "the article in which the Constitution legislates the actions of the Church seems highly improper to me." Pope Pius XI
Pope Pius XI
Pope Pius XI , born Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, was Pope from 6 February 1922, and sovereign of Vatican City from its creation as an independent state on 11 February 1929 until his death on 10 February 1939...

 condemned the Spanish Government's deprivation of the civil liberties
Civil liberties
Civil liberties are rights and freedoms that provide an individual specific rights such as the freedom from slavery and forced labour, freedom from torture and death, the right to liberty and security, right to a fair trial, the right to defend one's self, the right to own and bear arms, the right...

 of Catholics in the encyclical
An encyclical was originally a circular letter sent to all the churches of a particular area in the ancient Catholic Church. At that time, the word could be used for a letter sent out by any bishop...

 Dilectissima Nobis
Dilectissima Nobis
Dilectissima Nobis: On Oppression Of The Church Of Spain is an encyclical issued by Pope Pius XI on June 3, 1933 in which he decried persecution of the Church in Spain, specifically naming the expropriation of all Church buildings, episcopal residences, parish houses, seminaries and...

 (On Oppression Of The Church Of Spain )."

Since the far left considered reform of these aspects of the constitution as totally unacceptable, commentators have opined that "the Republic as a democratic constitutional regime was doomed from the outset". Commentators have posited that such a "hostile" approach to the issues of church and state were a substantial cause of the breakdown of democracy and the onset of civil war. One legal commentator has stated plainly "the gravest mistake of the Constitution of 1931-Spain's last democratic Constitution prior to 1978-was its hostile attitude towards the Catholic Church."

Response of Catholics

The conservative Catholic Republicans Alcalá-Zamora and Miguel Maura
Miguel Maura
Miguel Maura Gamazo was a Spanish politician of the first third of the twentieth century.He was a son of the leading Conservative politician of the Restoration monarchy, Antonio Maura...

 resigned from the government when the controversial articles 26 and 27 of the constitution, which strictly controlled Church property and prohibited religious orders from engaging in education were passed.

In October 1931 José María Gil-Robles
José María Gil-Robles y Quiñones
José María Gil-Robles y Quiñones was a prominent Spanish politician in the period leading up to the Spanish Civil War....

 the leading spokesman of the parliamentary right declared that the constitution was 'stillborn' - a 'dictatorial Constitution in the name of democracy.' Robles wanted to use mass meetings "to give supporters of the right a sense of their own strength and, ominously, to accustom them 'to fight, when necessary, for the possession of the street.'" Frances Lannon
Frances Lannon
Dr Frances Lannon, FRHS is a British academic and educator. She is Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.She was educated at Lady Margaret Hall and at St Antony's College...

 calls the constitution "divisive" in that the articles on property and religion, prioritizing state power, had a "disregard for civil rights" and ruined the prospect of the development of a Catholic, conservative, Republicanism. Likewise, Stanley Payne agrees that the constitution generally accorded a wide range of civil liberties and representation with the notable exception of the rights of Catholics, a circumstance which prevented the formation of an expansive democratic majority.

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